The Ambo people in Zambia call the Creator Cuta; the Bacongo people in Angola call him Nzambi; the Digo people in Kenya call God Mulungu; the Kpelle people in Liberia call the Almighty Yala; and the Ndebele people in Zimbabwe call the All Knowing Unkulukulu. These are but a few names our brothers and sisters in the Motherland call the being whom most of us call God. Living worlds apart, yet connected through ancestry and even spirituality, African Americans have long been consciously disconnected to whom we used to call God.
Looking at America’s religious landscape according to Pew Forum Research, 83 percent of African Americans are Christian; 12 percent are unaffiliated and 5 percent other. Most Blacks in the Americas are Christian, which means a majority of Black people possibly perceive God from a Christian perspective. Coupled with personal revelations, experiences, and relationships with God, many people in the Christian faith have developed their personal understanding of who God is.
The Bible says God is love (1 John 4:8), jealous (Exodus 20:5), is all knowing (1 John 3:20), and just (2 Thessalonians 1:6). And the list goes on.
Let’s not forget the Christian belief that God is three persons in one (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
Thomas Torrance explains that it is through Jesus Christ people better understand who God really is.
“It is in the Lord Jesus, the very Word and Mind of God incarnate in our humanity that the eternal God ‘defines’ and identifies himself for us as he really is. Only in Christ is God’s self-revelation identical with himself, and only in Christ, God for us does communicate his self-revelation to us in such a way that authentic knowledge of God is embodied in our humanity, and thus in such a way that it may be communicated to us and understood by us,” Torrance writes in “The Christian Doctrine of God.”
Similarities exist between the Christian perspective of God and the traditional African point of view, however there are some distinct differences worth pointing out.
Festus Ugboaja Ohaegbulaum writes in “Towards an Understanding of the African Experience from Historical and Contemporary Perspectives,” “He is the God that creates. He dwells on high, beyond the clouds, in heaven. He is self-sufficient, all powerful and all knowing. He is eternal, animates and sustains all living things. He is the Great Ruler over all things visible and invisible. He is spirit, limitless and present everywhere. He is without blemish, pure and holy… He hates evil and punishes evil doers.” He then adds, “Adherents of traditional African religion also believe in the existence of minor gods, distinct from the Almighty God, the Great Creator, who are variously referred to as Sons of God, Messengers of the Almighty God.”
Ohaegbulaum explained that God’s intercessors or “workers” usually work on behalf of humans to interact with God because he is too powerful, too mighty, and too great to deal with man directly “efficaciously.”
For clarification, followers of traditional African religions do not worship multiple gods. They worship the Creator of the universe through their intermediary gods.
Like the Christian understanding of God, many African spiritual beliefs call on the name of an intercessor in order to reach God (Jesus being the middle “god”). However, God is typically less human-like than the Christian God.
In an article published by Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, written by Matt Slick, God is often depicted in an anthropomorphic way.
Slick writes that in several places in the Bible, God relates to humans through his own human characteristics by resting, changing his mind, being jealous, regretting, and even expressing sorrow.
The writer does not reflect that these human elements of God do not make him less godly, but by showing these attributes, God is able to descend to the level of his children’s understanding.
Researcher and author of “The Individual and Community in African Traditional Religions,” Theo Sundermeier, explains that in African religions God is omnipresent.
“God is experienced in, with and through the world … God speaks-not loudly, and not directly. He speaks through the world … He can be perceived through his works. Though omnipresent, he is visible only there (through his works). That is why everybody knows him,” Sundermeier writes.
Clearly Christians may experience God in a similar fashion, but a system and apparent hierarchy may be seen in the Christian experience. Traditional African religion practitioners see God as present in all things all around. God is not human and is much greater than any human’s understanding of him or her.