How do we picture God? Is it even possible to hold a mental concept of God in your head? Do these concepts of God have any basis in “Reality”? Are they even useful? At the heart of things the idea of God is about as abstract as the graphic above. Rotating mathematical constructs aside, one statement I think we can all agree on is “God is not Human!”. In the Book of Ezekiel God refers to the prophet as a “son of man”, as if to say “I AM GOD, and you are not”. To emphasize this separation the New Revised Standard Version translates “son of man” as “mortal”.
Ezekiel 2:1-3 1 He said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. 2 And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. 3 He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day.
Ancient Hinduism, in the Rig Vedas, has one of the very first formulations of a concept of God. Ideas about God go back to the first oral world scriptures, the Rig Vedas. The first written forms of the Vedas are pre 6000 BCE; however, the oral Vedas are possibly thousands of years older. God is thought of in the Vedas as neti neti, which is a Sanskrit expression which means “not this, not that”, or “neither this, nor that”. This concept is elaborated on in the Upanishads and the Avadhuta Gita and constitutes an analytical meditation helping a person to understand the nature of Brahman (God) by first understanding what is not God. This means that God has no “human” characteristics or attributes whatsoever. God is not love, truth, hate, anger, joy, ect. God is also not any type of “stuff”, for example mater. What is left after all the neti neti is the pure creative NOTHING of the universe. The eastern religious concept of “nothing” or “emptiness” that permeates Hinduism and Buddhism is very difficult for the western mind to wrap itself around. It does not mean non-existence or oblivion, but rather, no thing, no stuff, no ideas. The difference is subtle but meaningful.
These eastern ideas also impacted ancient Judaism with it’s monotheistic concept of a single, unified God that can not be expressed through any type of “graven image”. Indeed, the “image”prohibition includes not only pictures or statues, but also mental constructs of God. Even saying a name for God out loud is prohibited. Writing the name of God is also forbidden. Now, there were some exceptions. The vision of God in both the Books of Ezekiel and Daniel were allowed because they concentrated more on the Glory, Radiance, and Magisterial Light of God’s Presence, rather than the image of an old man. In other words, the “human” center of God was secondary to his majesty and power. Mar Yeshua (Jesus) spoke of God as a “Father Figure” As you can see, logic and continuity are the first things out the door when discussing God.
It wasn’t until the middle ages that Judaism finally embraced the “eastern like” nothingness concept with the Kabalistic idea of the Ein Sof.
The first six Hebrew words of the Torah as written in the Hebrew Genesis are “Be-shit bara Elohim shamayim eth erets”.
Genesis 1:1 – In the beginning( בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית) God( אֱלֹהִ֑ים) created( בָּרָ֣א) ( אֵ֥ת) the heaven ( הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם) and( וְאֵ֥ת) the earth.( הָאָֽרֶץ׃)
The grammar as related to subject and object in Genesis 1:1 is open to interpretation. The typical Christian “King James” translation above exchanges the order of bara and Elohim so that God becomes the subject doing the creation. This yields “In the beginning God created…”. Kabbalah, on the other hand, insists on reading the words as originally written, thereby transforming Elohim (God) into the object of creation. This means that the subject doing the “creating” is unnamed. We get, “With beginning ________ created Elohim”. This is perfectly acceptable since the true subject of creation is unnamable (The Ein Sof), hence the blank space. Here Elohim denotes both God as well as the universe itself (cosmos).
In the primal state, “God as creator” is undifferentiated being, neither this nor that, the infinite pregnant nothingness of becoming. In Kabbalah the Ein Sof is the hidden source of all emanation in the universe, the infinite no-thing.
Early Christianity was heavily influenced by Judaism as well as Greek Platonic philosophy. In order to build a Christian understanding of God, one needs to revisit some common assumptions about God that worked their way into Christian thought through Greek philosophy. It seems that most Christians are habituated to ancient Greek and medieval European ways of “God” thinking.
To the Greeks, God was “all everything”, which is summed up in the three “Omni” words which presuppose that God must be simple, eternal, and unchanging; therefore, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. Based on these presumptions: God has—and must have—all the power. God has—and must have—all knowledge, knowing everything that is, was, and will be. God must also be omnibenevolent—pure good. Lets consider the ramifications of each word, for we just might find out that some words are so all encompassing, all inclusive, or just “all everything” as to be functionally useless as far as understanding is concerned. In addition, these words can promote some knotty self-inflicted philosophical dilemmas.
For God to be omnipotent implies that no power exists that is not God; therefore anything that happens must be God’s responsibility. This immediately creates the dilemma of “Where does evil come from?” Everyone at some point in their life suffers some form of suffering or trauma. At the moments that people most need God and a sense of God’s love, they are coerced by their Greek-influenced theology into conceding that God must have had a legitimate reason to cause (or at least to not prevent) the trauma that is occurring. This leads to people feeling that the fault is theirs, with additional feelings of delinquency, abandonment, and punishment.
Now here is where most people bring in Satan or the Devil. First a clarification, Satan simply means “the adversary” and as such does not necessarily imply evil intent, just opposition. The Devil, on the other hand, does imply the personification of evil, perhaps co-equal with God. If God and the Devil are co-equal then God is not omnipotent, if the Devil is powerful but inferior to God, then God is morally deficient in permitting it’s activity.
God’s omnipotence creates another insurmountable challenge. Power is always relational. One has power only to the extent that one has more of it than someone else. To the extent that one has all the power, one actually has no power whatsoever, because power only works when there are two parties engaged in a dynamic situation, one the object of the power of the other. Without that relationship, there is no possibility of demonstrating or using power at all. Absolute total power is self-erasing.
God as omnipotent is a Greek/Christian self-inflicted problem stemming from the improper translation of the Hebrew title “El Shaddai” (The Almighty) for God. While it’s true the Torah does have terms for great power and strength, it has neither the concept nor a term for omnipotence. There is no classical Hebrew or Aramaic term for being able to do absolutely everything, including God. The Bible and the Rabbis portray God as vastly, persistently powerful, but not all-powerful. This distinction is crucial.
Omniscience assumes that God knows everything, including the future as well as the past. Nothing is hidden from an all-knowing God. But if God knows the future absolutely, then there is no room for divine freedom of action. God having perfect knowledge of everything causes considerable concern for human freedom as well. If God knows as a matter of certainty what I am going to do today, then where is my freedom to make choices during the day, For God to be all-knowing makes real human free will impossible. Such perfect knowledge strips God of any freedom as well. If God knows the future absolutely, then God also knows God’s future choices absolutely. Again no freedom, we’re back to a clockwork God unable to act.
Is God unchanging? The conviction that God is eternal, unchanging, and impassive (because emotions causes change) is a direct result of the Omni-triangle of absolutes. To change is either to improve or to worsen from ones current state, God can do neither because of its own perfection.
According to this line of reasoning, God cannot abandon perfection, and God has always been perfect; hence, God must be eternally unchanging. For God to be perfect and unchanging, God has to be beyond time and outside of space. This static, timeless perfection is not how Jewish traditions portray the Divine. The Torah and other Jewish scriptures portray a God who gets angry, who loves, who grieves, who gets frustrated and surprised, and who repents.
Physicists hate infinities, why? Because an infinity in your field equation usually means you’ve made an incorrect assumption, have made a math error, or are just totally lost in the mathematical weeds. The same is apparently true about God. If you end up with an OMNI (all anything) concept for God, you’ve got a theological infarction (heart stopping contradiction).
In the words of Rabbi Harlod Kushner: “A God of power extorts obedience, but cannot command love. A God who could spare the life of a dying child, who could prevent the earthquake but chooses not to, may inspire our fear and our calculated obedience, but does not deserve our love.”
Now one way of dealing with all the “God paradoxes” is to call them a mystery and have done with it. However, rather than cling to this outmoded, unbiblical, and unrabbinic notion of an all-everything God, we can try to find a way to recover a resonant, dynamic articulation of God and cosmos. Of course, that kind of dynamic understanding of a God in relationship to a becoming, evolving creation alters our understanding of the world and its beginnings as well.
It would now appear that modern science (basically quantum field theory) has come full circle to embrace these same ideas. Consciousness, mind and human observations have been an unwelcome part of quantum theory since the early 1900’s. Bell’s Theory and the experimental conformation, in the early 1990’s, of the non-local nature of the universe, has changed dramatically how we think of ourselves, God, and the universe. The perception that we live and function in a isolated local part of the universe is a human sensory based illusion. The recent discovery that the universe is non-local means that every part of the universe is interconnected and is in instantaneous communication with everything everywhere. This has brought us to a new modern conceptualization of “God” and its relationship to conscious minds. It appears that humans are the “local consciousness/mind” and they are an integral part of the universal, non-local consciousness (The Godhead).
So where does this leave us, other than confused!!! Almost all religions attempt to separate the “pure theoretical” God component from the “human interactive” God component. In Christianity the “pure god” component is usually termed The Godhead in theology discussions. The problem is, this Godhead is very difficult for humans to relate to in terms of relationships such as worship, prayer, and personal connection. Enter the Trinity, which is an emanation of the Godhead, that can be personally identified with. Indeed the Trinity has three different personas for human interaction. This does not mean that Christians are not monotheistic and believe in four gods (Godhead + Trinity = 4). The trinity is an emanation of the Godhead. I admit that this is at best a thought experiment necessitated by the limitations of the human mind.
It is important to note that all the divine God ideas, whether in Hebrew, Sanskrit, or any other language, provide merely a tiny, dim spark of the hidden light for which the soul yearns when it says “God”.
Every definition or mental picture of God leads to limiting and “anthropomorphizing” (making human) God.
God “defined” is always spiritual idolatry.
By Jeffrey L. Taylor