Tag Archives: Monotheism

Is the One True Triune God the Same God Throughout Cultures and Religion?

The Christian idea of the Triune God is a relatively new idea with only 2000 years of history. Truth is, the Trinity is still a hard concept for Christians to grapple even in our day and age. However, if we were to take into consideration the assumption that God is completely sovereign over the made-universe and across space-time, then God must have made His mark in the hearts of all people regardless of differences in culture, history, and environment.

It is on this idea of God’s sovereignty that Christians base our idea of the Trinity on. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1, 14, NIV) The Word, who became flesh, is the one and only Son of God, Jesus Christ. He is God.

Considering that God made humankind from His image (Genesis 1:26-27), and considering that we were made to be reconciled (2 Corinthians 5:19), and to be One with Him (John 17:23), ideas of such divine union should be evident throughout religions across different historical and cultural backgrounds.

Because Abrahamic religions all have their roots on the idea of the One True God – Yahweh, I will focus my discussion for this article on the non-Abrahamic religions – namely Ancient Greek religion and Hinduism – to show how God uses polytheistic religions to teach people about the Trinity and Himself.

The Sovereign Trinity in Ancient Greek Religion

Ancient Greek religion is a polytheistic religion with a collection of gods and goddesses. Different gods belong to different hierarchies and hence have a differing level of control. However, upon closer analysis, one will recognize that all gods in Greek Religion were a personification of something. This something can be a physical thing or an observable phenomenon.

Ancient Greek religion states the god “CHAOS” emerged at the dawn of creation, giving birth to “GAIA” (earth), “TARTAROS” (the pit below), and “EROS” (procreation). (Khaos, n.d.). Subsequently, these gods give birth to other gods and goddesses that resemble other things found on earth like light, darkness, birds, doom, misery, love, fate, etc.

Moirai ('Fate')
The three Fates spinning the web of human destiny, sculpture by Gottfried Schadow, 1790, part of the tombstone for Count Alexander von der Mark; in the Old National Gallery, Berlin.

From these gods, one god stood out – MOIRAI. MOIRAI (also known as ‘Moirae’) were three goddesses who share one role – assign each person his or her fate. Within Moirai, three goddesses operate independently with differing jobs. “Clotho” spun the thread of life. “Lachesis” measured the thread of life allotted to each individual. “Atropos” is the cutter of the thread of life. Everyone, gods and humans alike, have to submit to Moirai (Moirai, n.d.). In other words, MOIRAI has the absolute authority over all beings, mortal and immortal. This gives MOIRAI authority over all things on earth; from rain to thunder, to agriculture, to procreation, to the rise and fall of nations. Everything can be attributed to the Trinity by the name of “MOIRAI”. For this, they cannot be placed alongside other gods and goddesses like “CHAOS”, “GAIA” or “NYX” who play specific roles in creation. Neither can they be placed alongside “ZEUS”, “PLOUTOUS”, or “EUBOULEUS” who need to submit to and obey “MOIRAI”.

Separating gods that represent things and gods that represents sovereignty, we will identify MOIRAI as the ultimate sovereign power over all gods despite her finite being as a daughter of many ‘parent gods’ who came during the creation. After all, the personification of power meant that birth can be used as a careless explanation for their existence. Whether or not the Ancient Greeks made these gods to be worshiped or as an article of expression of God to help them in their worship, we will never know. But one thing is for sure, the presence of a divine guidance is present in Ancient Greece, guiding them in the expression of the Sovereign Trinity in Ancient Greek religion.

The Sovereign Trinity in Hinduism

In Hindu creation mythology, the universe was created by the Trinity (also known as ‘Trimurti’ and ‘Triumvirate’). The three gods in the Trinity are Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Like the Greeks, Hindu mythology also states that these three gods play differing roles independently. Brahma creates, Shiva maintains the balance and destroys when the time comes, and Vishnu preserves.

Trimurti
(From left to right) Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma, the three Hindu gods of the Trimurti. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of Ramesh and Urmil Kapoor (M.86.337), http://www.lacma.org

Like Ancient Greek religions, these gods had wives and children. These wives and children are also gods and goddesses that represent different things and different powers. For example, ‘Parvati’, the reincarnated wife of Shiva represents fertility, love, and devotion, while ‘Indra’ represents lightning, thunder, rain, and rivers. However, the Trimurti is often worshipped as the god of gods, hence they may be in a form that closely resembles Supreme God. In fact, two of the Trimurti – Vishnu, and Shiva – are Para Brahman (or the highest Brahman, or ‘Supreme God’ that is beyond all conceptualization and descriptions).

Strikingly, the story of Krishna – an incarnation of the supreme god “Vishnu” shares startling similarity with Jesus in Christianity. Like the story of how the birth of Jesus caused Herod to initiate a massacre of babies while Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to Egypt (Matthew 2:13), Kamsa (Krishna’s mother brother) wanted Krishna dead. So, Krishna was hidden and he grew up as a simple cowherd. (Cartwright, 2015). Just like Jesus, Krishna’s incarnation brought about enlightenment and education. However, unlike Jesus, Krishna was a great warrior who destroyed many enemies like the ogress Putana, Danava the great bull, Kaliya the great snake, the king of the Hayas, etc. (Cartwright, 2015).

Unlike Jesus who came as a servant who offered Himself as a sacrifice for sin, Krishna came as a punisher of human deeds, bringing judgment to evil-doers. Unlike Jesus who is above all powers and have the ability to free believers from the Mosaic law (Romans 7:4-6), Krishna succumbed to the laws of karma who died because he killed king Vaali in his previous life. (Thakur, 2014).

Different Presentation, One Story

The differing presentation of these polytheistic religions may have its origins from the original rejection of God and the banishment from the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:23). Over time, as people migrated and settled in different places, the different environment may have sparked the growth of different cultures that led to the differing presentation of God based on their fading knowledge of the experiences that they used to have. During the times when the Old Testament (or the Torah) was not written, people only knew key attributes of God – formless, eternal, sovereign, all-powerful, all-knowing, etc. And it might be from these attributes that people find ways to express thoughts of such attributes to love Him.

Without a direct method of worship dictated in writings, the artistic creativity human mind may have sparked the growth of many religions that we see today. Within these two polytheistic religions, one truth stands true – God is One, God is Sovereign. The other gods are but manifestations of all of his other attributes.

I do not know them all, but it’s cool to explore all the other beliefs that the human species developed over time. What say you? Does your religion speak of an all-powerful god too?

 

References:

Brahma. (2009). Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/deities/brahma.shtml

Cartwright, M. (2015). Krishna. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/Krishna/

Joshi, N. (2016, September 02). Brahmanism. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/Brahmanism/

Khaos (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.theoi.com/Protogenos/Khaos.html

Moirai (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.theoi.com/Daimon/Moirai.html

Vishnu (2009). Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/deities/vishnu.shtml

Shiva (2009). Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/deities/shiva.shtml

Thakur, P. (2014). Krishna’s death: A tale of many curses. Retrieved from https://www.speakingtree.in/allslides/krishna-s-death-a-tale-of-many-curses