No matter what religious tradition you were raised in, odds are it was never even a question in your home as to whether God is good. It was a given. The idea of His goodness is too ingrained in us at a deeper level than mere words; it is an assumption between every line of scripture, beneath all the rites and traditions. You may not believe in heaven or hell, in angels or demons, but you’ve probably always carried around the general notion that God (or The One or the Universe or whatever you want to call It) is ultimately something non-evil.
But if we rewind the story of Christianity back about 1700 years, we will find, spread around the Mideast and the Mediterranean, an early and growing Christian population of quite diverse beliefs. The beliefs we today associate with Christianity and the Bible became the orthodox set of beliefs, the form of Christianity in which God is good. But there was another form of Christianity, that of the Gnostics. Unlike the Orthodox Christians, many Gnostic Christians believed God to be a malevolent being. Both types of Christians believed in the Savior, but they had different versions of his mission. And whereas Orthodox Christians believed in salvation via faith in the divinity of the Savior, the Gnostics believed that salvation is to be obtained via knowledge (“gnosis“) of our true condition, hence their name.
For the Gnostics, God– the God of the Bible, the Creator God— is “low in the hierarchy of transcendent forces.” He comes, in fact, at the bottom of the totem pole of deity. Above him is his mother, Sophia. Mother Sophia emanates from an even higher being. Different Gnostic mythologies have different numbers of layers of transcendental beings between the Bible’s Creator God, Yahweh, and the ultimate or highest God. This being, the source of it ALLLL, is sometimes known as the Father Of Light or “the Unknown Father.” The Creator God is also often called the “Demiurge,” this name being taken from the works of Plato; it means, if memory serves, “the Craftsman.” The Demiurge is associated by the Manichaean Gnostics with the Zoroastrian deity, Angra Mainyu, the Great Deceiver who opposes the good forces of Light with his evil forces of Darkness.
Some Gnostics believed that Mother Sophia erred when she tried to create offspring by herself, and the result was that “monstrous abortion of Darkness” called “God” in the Bible. Some Gnostics believed that this God was inept and ignorant, and that He did not realize there were other transcendental entities already in existence; He thought he was alone in the Universe, and his mistakes in creating humanity are related to his imperfect birth and his lack of enlightenment.
Other Gnostics contended that Creation was a more purposefully evil act. Under this scenario, the Creator God “is engaged in a pre-cosmic struggle with the God Of Light” and created matter in “an attempt to catch Spiritual Light in ignorance and Darkness.” Some say He took Light particles from Mother Sophia and trapped them inside human beings.
In the next post, I’ll talk about the Gnostic idea of the Savior and his true mission on Earth.