Who is God?
by: Shmuel ben Shlomi
Over the next few weeks we will be looking at four important questions concerning God. Who, What, Where and Why. Each section will deal exclusively with those four questions individually.
God is probably the most discussed, talked about, debated, argued and thought about subject on planet Earth between human beings and within a person’s own private thoughts and meditations. More has been written and taught about God than love, hate, peace, war and sex - the other subjects of intense interest that occupy a great deal of human thought and data collection. So, I decided why not include my two-cents on the concept and idea of God.
I must admit that the greater part of my own life has been dedicated to this topic. Not only in academic pursuit but also in a personal and relational way. After all, if God is for real then I would certainly wish to know this Person on a much deeper level than just from a logical or philosophical endeavor; but in a much more intimate and private relationship. And, how does any relationship grow and develop into one of love and trust but by getting to know the person of interest much better.
I have also decided to tackle this search for God in a way that looks closely into how others have depicted this Being through the ages of human habitation on this planet through the folklore, myths, tales, stories, scriptures, traditions and religions; and yes, even scientific enquiry that have grown up around God in our effort to answer the questions posed in the title of this journey — the Who, What, Where and Why of God.
If we are to get to know (Him) better in order to better relate to Him then we must get some clues, some fixed points as to Who God is. What God is. Finally, of lesser importance as compared to the first two is the question of Where is God and Why do most of us think there is a God in the first place and what purpose does God serve?
As a Jew I do come to the subject with some bias having learned most of what I know of God from the Jewish Torah, prophets and writings, as well as, from our thousands of years of tradition, Talmud and midrash. But, I will not be limiting myself to just those ideas and views of God. I have spent a great deal of my seven-plus decades looking into other views and ideas, scriptures, teachings and traditions found mainly in other parts of the world such as Africa, the Middle East, in Asia and India and throughout much of the Greco-Roman epoch, the Christian world, beginning with the early followers of a Jew named Jesus, through the stages of the Roman Catholic/Byzantine and Ethiopic Church eras and the traditions of aboriginal tribes, the native tribes of Mexico, Central, North and South America.
While this will be an exhaustive look at God, it is certainly not intended to be the final word on the Who, What, Where and Why. My hope is that it will crack open the door of thought on God for the reader so that they can begin or continue with their own journey of God and self discovery.
CHAPTER ONE: Who is God?
Well, if you are looking for that answer from a Jewish perspective — good luck with getting any kind of definitive answer. Throughout the Jewish scriptures starting with the Torah (the first Five Books in the Bible called The Law of Moses) you will find all kinds of entries, stories and tales about what God does and doesn’t want for His pinnacle of creation, mankind, particularly one group of humankind today called the Jewish people, aka the Hebrew peoples. The Law of Moses is pretty specific on many details of what God wants, not so clear on others (which is why we Jews have an oral tradition eventually put in writing called The Talmud - it explains all those little bits left out of the written Torah).
The section of the Jewish scriptures called The Prophets basically lets us know how God responds to “His people” when they do as He wants and what happens to them when they don’t.
Finally, the third section of the Jewish scriptures, called The Writings, contains some historical data but is mostly filled with poetry, songs and wisdom writings, meant to inspire the reader to seek a personal, more deeper walk with God. However, very little, if anything substantial is revealed in all these sacred texts that explains Who God is. From them we can get a few ideas about His character, which in a limited way might point to the Who, but most of those character traits are anthropomorphic, giving God human-like mannerisms and traits whether than Divine. God is angry, jealous, righteous, good, loving, hates and so forth. This mainly describes humankind’s wanting attempt at answering the Who question by pulling God from His lofty heights down to Earth and making Him somehow more relatable to His creation, but never really answers the question of Who is God. It only shows us what we humans think God is or what we wish God to be, but is lacking in any real definitive concept of Who God really is.
This now leads us to a group of people that are most likely the oldest existing groups of humans on planet Earth, the aboriginal tribes of the Continent of Australia. The Aboriginal peoples likely lived as long as 25,000 to 40,000 years ago in much the same way until more recent times. They have a view of God that is the oldest of any human beings still around. They were here at the same time the Neanderthals were beginning to go extinct and represent for us what is probably the oldest ideas of Who God might be.
What anthropologists and sociologists have learned from their decades of study among the aboriginals came as a real shock to them. These scholars supposed that the aboriginal idea of who God is evolved over a long period of time from a sort of nature worship, as has been displayed by many African tribes to one of a belief in a One Supreme Being. However, what they found was that the Aboriginal Peoples, from their inception nearly 40,000 years ago always believed God to be a One Supreme Being, a First Cause of All That Is. While it is true that small details about the nature of this God has varied between aboriginal tribes over the millennia, the very nature of Who this God is has not altered or faltered. For them the Who of God is quite simple — The Supreme Being — The First Cause. Of course one could argue that this tells us more about the job or function of God more than it does about Who “He” is. And, one could be correct in that assumption. I could argue that the only Who I could gather from the title Supreme Being or First Cause is that this God likes to make things; but, not Who this God is.
In all three Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam the question of Who God is comes with a myriad of packaging that describe, again, more of what “He” does rather than Who “He” is. He is personal, totally independent from “His” creation, all-powerful, all-knowing, unchanging, all-loving, righteous, lawful, great, etc. But this is like trying to describe a human being based upon the kind of job he does. If a person is a doctor or lawyer or refuse collector, does that really tell us who that person is? It may tell us what are some of his or her preferences, skill level, educational level and so forth, but it says very little as to who that person is. That person’s co-workers will describe who he/she is one way while his/her spouse and children may well describe the who of that person in quite a different way. Therefore, while we may get a few small hints as to the who by the things they do or do not do; say or do not say; it is all very subjective and doesn’t answer the heart of the question — Who is that person?
Within the faiths of India and Asia, which consist mainly of Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism and others we run into a pantheon of descriptions of God but very little of Who “He” is.
Hinduism describes God as Creator of what we call reality (Brahma), Preserver of that reality (Krishna-Vishnu) and Destroyer of all created realities (Shiva) — again, more of a job description that a Who definition.
Buddhism makes the search for Who is God really easy. It simply does not believe in a Supreme God, a First Cause or Creator. The core concept of Buddhism after all the curtains are pulled back is very basic — the personal realization of enlightenment which consist of a deep understanding that you, yourself are God, bringing to mind the plaque on the wall in the Oracle's kitchen to Neo in The Matrix - "Know Thyself."
The main religion of Japan called Shintoism have gods, not just a God. The three most prominent among the pantheistic lineup of Shinto gods (kami) are the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, Tsukuyomi No Mikoto the Moon god and Susanoo, the Imperial god from which all Japanese Emperors acquire their right to rule. Apart from Susanoo nearly all Shinto gods are nature kami with little to no insight into Who God is.
Nearly all other religious and philosophical concepts of Who God is fall even shorter than those already listed.
To better answer the question of Who is God there is one question we must address first. Has God revealed “Himself” to humanity? That is another tough one. And, like the Who question is quite subjective.
I am going to now go out on a limb and give my opinion on the Has God revealed “Himself” to humanity question. My personal answer is also a subjective one based on some logical objectivity but it is not empirical since it cannot be proven in a scientifically reproducible way: Yes, I believe God has revealed Himself in the same way when I look at a watch and all of its intricate mechanisms at work in an orderly, logical, and functional way I know it must have had an intelligent design which logically leads the rational mind to assume it had an intelligent creator. When I look at everything in creation, from the subatomic particle, to the human genome to the vast workings of the universe - the full micro and macrocosm - I see intelligent design and in that design I see an Intelligent, Creator God who has revealed Himself through it. Subjective? Yes; but based on objective observation.
Now the other question: Who is God? I personally have no idea who God is. I can tell you based on my subjective experience with this God what “He” may be like, what “He” may prefer and what may be “His” desire for me, humanity and “His” creation. However, that does not presuppose I know Who “He” is.
I will leave this question and the other we will not be addressing (Does God exist?) to the wisdom of the writer of Ecclesiastes Chapter 12 verse 13 -
"The sum of the matter, when all is said and done: Revere God and observe His commandments! For this applies to all humankind: that God will call every creature to account for all their conduct, be it good or bad."
The next Chapter will address the second question - "What is God?" Be looking for it soon on this website.