African Religion: Eternal and Intrinsic Attributes of God

A number of African societies consider God to be omniscient (all-wise), omnipresent (all-present), and omnipotent (almighty). God is also perceived in his transcendent form. These are essential aspects of His being, they are part of His nature and no other being can be described in these terms. It is these and other eternal attributes discussed below which distinguish God from His creation and which make Him not only the genesis but also the sustainer of all things.

When African people consider God to be omniscient, they are conferring upon Him the highest possible position of honor and respect; for wisdom from an African perspective commands great respect. The Zulu and Banyarwanda refer to God as “The Wise One,” It is also a common saying among the Yoruba that “Only God is wise,” and they believe that God is the discerner of hearts who sees both the inside and the outside of man.

The metaphor of seeing and hearing explains the concept of God as omniscient in a concrete way which is easy to grasp. So we find examples from many areas of Africa in which God is said to be able to see or hear everything. His revered title among the people of Barundi is “the watcher of everything” while the Ila people say “his ears are long.” Other people like the Baganda visualize God as “the great eye” or “the sun that beams its light everywhere. But whether people refer to God or perceive of Him as “the one with the long ears” or “many eyes” is immaterial; what is important is the point they are trying to express which is “God is omniscient from whom nothing can be hidden since nothing can escape his vision, hearing, or knowledge. He knows everything, observes everything, and hears everything, without exception and without limitation.

When the people of Ila say that God has no-where or no-when, what actually they are trying to imply is that God is omnipresent. The people of Bamum express the same concept in their name for God (Njinyi) which means God is everywhere. There are a couple of other African tribes who hold a similar concept; like for instance the Barundi who say that “God is everywhere” or the Akamba people who say that the presence of God is everywhere and protects everyone or the people of Langi who say God is like the wind or air.

As for God’s omnipotent aspect, His might can be seen through His expression of power over nature. For instance, the Agikuyu make sacrifices to God for rain, they address God as “the one who makes the mountains quake and the rivers overflow” according to the Agikuyu, the wind, the sun, and the rain, are beyond human power and control but not beyond God’s power who works through them. Other African tribes like the Akamba, Teso, and Vugusu, understand God’s omnipotence as His ability to deal with, contain, and subdue spirits which in many beliefs are said to be more powerful than the human being; so in this context power is viewed hierarchically in which God is at the top, beneath Him are the spirits and natural phenomena, and lower still are men who have comparatively little or no power at all.

The attribute of God’s transcendence must be balanced by that of His immanence since these two are paradoxically complementary. This implies that He is so ‘far’(transcendental) that the human being cannot reach Him, yet so near (immanent) which is to say He exists among us and in everything around us.

In terms of time, God ‘stretches’ over and beyond the whole period of Zamani (ancient period beyond the scope of human imagination), the Tonga people refer to Him as the ‘Ancient of Days.’ The Ngombe compare the intrinsic aspect of God to the forest, which is why they refer to Him as the “everlasting one of the forest.” As far as they are concerned, the forest has always been in existence; but God outdates it since He created it.

Practically all African people associate God with the sky in one way or another. Some narrate myths of how their ancestor descended directly from the skies, while others tell of how God separated from men and withdrew Himself into the sky where nobody could access him directly.

The concept of God’s transcendent nature is summarized in a Ba-congo saying that ‘He is made by no other; no one beyond Him is; there cannot be, and there is no beyond God; He is the most abundant reality of being; He transcends all boundaries; He is present everywhere and at all times, He even defies human conception and description, He is simply the unexplainable, self existent creator of all things.’ In terms of status, they perceive of Him as “beyond all physical and spiritual beings; men, spirits, natural objects, and phenomena

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