The world’s religions have varying concepts of the Divine, and depict their deities in many different ways. Those diverse traditions have inspired great works of religious art, literature and cinema, and their influence even finds its way into people’s homes, in the form of the devotional objects that they hang on their walls and place on their shelves. Here are basic explanations of how these faiths envision something greater than themselves.
Christianity: Followers of Christianity believe in one God, whose creation of the world is depicted in the Bible’s book of Genesis. God is viewed as eternal, all-powerful, and all-knowing, but also limitlessly benevolent. But from there, it gets a little complicated, because Christians also believe that God is a Holy Trinity of three distinct supernatural persons, all three of which humanity has experienced in different ways. There is the Father, the powerful figure who is depicted in the Bible’s Old Testament. There’s also the Son, Jesus, who is incarnated on Earth in the New Testament to live among people and to die on the cross to atone for their sins. Finally, there’s the Holy Spirit, which represents the supernatural effect that God has upon humans. Christianity has a centuries-old tradition in which artists have depicted Jesus and his life on Earth, as a way of enhancing the experience of the faithful in worship.
Judaism: The Jewish concept of God is expressed succinctly in the Shema, a prayer contained in the Biblical Book of Deuteronomy: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” Jews worship one God, who is omnipotent and omniscient, and whose greatness is so immense that as the 12th Century philosopher Moses Maimonides noted, He cannot be described adequately in human language. Unlike Christianity, Judaism doesn’t believe in physically representing or describing God, out of concern that it will blur the distinction between God and humanity. The faith also teaches that God entered into a special covenant with the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai, following their flight from bondage in Egypt in ancient times. As a result, Jews sometimes refer to God as “elohay yisrael,” the God of Israel.
Islam: Muslims believe there is one God, Allah, who created the universe and reigns supreme over it. Allah is immortal, all-knowing, and omnipotent, but also just and merciful. Allah is majestic but also has a close relationship with each person and provides both guidance and help to those in distress. Allah has no gender, shape or form. The will of Allah, to which believers surrender, is made known through the Koran, the sacred scripture which Allah revealed to Muhammad, the last in a line of prophets that also includes Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Allah has no gender or form, and does not resemble anything else that exists. Unlike Christianity, Islam generally forbids artistic depictions of Muhammad. “The prophet himself was aware that if people saw his face portrayed by people, they would soon start worshiping him,” Akbar Ahmed, chairman of the Islamic Studies department at American University, told CNN in 2015. “So he himself spoke against such images, saying ‘I’m just a man.'”
Hinduism: This religion blends monotheism and polytheism in a complex way. Hindus believe that a single divine presence, the Brahman, is the creator of the universe and connected to everyone and everything in it. The Brahman doesn’t have a gender, and it is formless, so it can’t be depicted. To enable humans to relate to it, the Brahman takes on different manifestations–the vast number of different gods and goddesses, who are depicted in Hindu art and religious writings. There is a trinity of main Hindu deities—Brahma, the creator of the universe, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. Others include Ganesh, the god of wisdom and learning, who is depicted as having the head of an elephant and a human body.
Buddhism: Unlike other religions, Buddhism doesn’t focus upon worshiping a god, but rather upon enabling a person to make spiritual progress and outgrow ignorance and irrationality, and ultimately to become a perfected human being. Instead, Buddhist art depicts the religion’s founder, the Indian prince Siddhartha, who meditated beneath a tree to achieve enlightenment and became known as the Buddha, which means “enlightened one.” Buddhists don’t worship the Buddha, but statues, which sometimes depict him in the act of meditation, are seen as helpful in inspiring devotion and uplifting the mind.
source: nationalgeographic.com By: Patrick J. Kiger