If you look up the word “God” in the dictionary, you will find the phrase “supreme being” as the primary descriptor. That understanding of God as a “supreme being” has so dominated our cultural understanding of God, that if you ask most Christians, “Do you believe in a supreme being?” They will answer, “Yes.” However, the concept of God as a supreme being, or any kind of being for that matter, is not a Christian concept at all. It is actually a pagan understanding of a god.
In the pagan world, gods were super-beings. They were very human, only at a higher level. They were immortal, but driven by the same thoughts and emotions that drive everyday humans. Many even had bodies of some sort, or could take on bodies if they wanted. They forced their will on humans. Sometimes, they toyed with humans. They fought against each other. They made love to each other. They were beings like us, only super, and there were thousands of them. Every place on earth had a god. Every tribe had a god. Every family had a god. There were far too many gods to worship them all.
Abraham embraced a different idea: one supreme God. He understood that the entire world was governed by one supreme God who was over all the little petty gods. This concept finds expression in the Bible in phrases like, “King of kings,” “Lord of lords,” and “God of gods.” But even acknowledgement of one supreme God did not completely escape the morass of an unknowable pantheon.
While Abraham and the Hebrews who followed him worshipped only one God, the pervasive cultural concept of multiple gods of different clans and places still lurked in the background. People were confused. So much so that when Moses encountered God in the burning bush he asked, “Which god are you? What is your name?” This is a reasonable question, for someone who had been raised in the courts of Egypt. His upbringing undoubtedly included instructions on how to worship all the myriads of gods and goddesses that inhabited Egypt. Naturally, in the midst of this amazing encounter, Moses wants to know how he should worship the god he has just encountered. And God gives him a profound answer. God tells Moses his true name, so holy among the Jews that to this day they refuse to pronounce it. God replies to Moses’ question, “I Am.”
In that profound revelation, God explains to Moses that he is not one of the myriad gods or super beings that inhabit heaven and earth. He is being itself. He is beyond definition. He is beyond comprehension. He is. He is all being. So everything that is, exists because it is an expression of God’s being. If it is, it only is because God is.
St. Thomas Aquinas puts it this way,
God is not only his own essence, but also his own existence. For God is the pure act of existence. He wills both himself to be, and other things to be; but himself as the end, and other things as ordained to that end. ~ Summa Theologica
We are in the world because we are first in God. As St. Paul tells us,
In him we live, move, and have our existence.
There is one body and one Spirit. You also were called into the one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all – who is over all, and through all, and in all. ~ St. Paul of Tarsus (Acts 17:28) (Ephesians 4:4-6)