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God! Who? What? Where? and Why? - The Full Version

by: Shmuel ben Shlomi


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 a somewhat 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 want; 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. [NOTE: One other group of ancient tribes, the Hopi, a Native American peoples located in the desert Southwest of America hold a similar view as the Australian aboriginals calling God "The Great Spirit," however their lineage doesn't date back as far in history as that of the Aboriginals.]

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."

CHAPTER TWO - “What is God?”

The next question — What is God,? may actually seem to be a tad easier to answer using the same source material we foraged in Chapter One, but don’t be fooled by that.

Perhaps at this point it is important to correctly define terms as they are being used in this enquiry. In Chapter One the question asked was “Who is God?” The meaning of Who was meant as an interrogative expressing the purpose of identifying a subject, in this case the subject being God. For this chapter we are interested in the question “What is God?” By the term ‘What’ we are concerned with the formal use of the word versus the informal. ‘What’ here implies learning about the nature, character, traits and very Essence of God.

We will not dabble into the views of Hinduism and other Asian concepts of ‘What’ God is since there is not just one god to place our focus on with most of those ideologies, philosophies and religions. Our main focus will be on the Abrahamic faiths developed over the centuries in the Middle East and within the Greco-Roman influence upon all three of those faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Both Judaism and Islam have a very distinct and clear concept of ‘What’ God is. Basically it can be summed up in one Hebrew word — אחד (Echad/One). What God is Is One. By this term אחד is meant the simplest form of its meaning. God is the ONLY One, there is no other. What God is is not only relegated to “His” display of attributes; although we will endeavor to look into those expressions as focused elements of how God wishes to display to "His" creation as to ‘What’ “He” is.

Apart from the arguments made mainly by the trinitarian Christian view that the term אחד can be derived from the idea that it can represent as more than one in number (a plurality) while expressing One in essence — such as the use of the term in the Torah when describing the אחד of grapes brought out of the Promised Land during the exodus (Numbers 13:23). However, as intriguing as it may be to ponder such ideas, the fact of the matter is that within Judaism, going all the way back to its traditional founding by Moses and its religious/philosophical understanding of its tenets during the first Temple period and taught by generations of sages and rabbis and later Muslim Imams, the idea has been firmly understood as meaning One in Essence, One in Being and One as in The Only One without division of any kind. For Muslims this idea is as firmly entrenched in their minds as it has been in the mind of traditional Judaism — “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one (אחד) God.” [Deuteronomy 6:4] The meaning of One in this foundational verse of the Torah is expressly clear from the ancient Hebrew. God is One - not many, not composite, not three not a hundred, not even a many unified one (yachid). God is One!

The early Christian view of ‘What’ God is was greatly influenced by the end of the 1st Century CE by the Greco-Roman worldview. Having made substantial inroads into the Greco-Roman world through the efforts of the Apostle Paul and his disciples (none of which, including Paul, ever met or were taught directly by Jesus or any of Jesus’ original followers); the idea of ‘What’ God is can be best summed up by a man in around 100 to 150 CE who either was named John, or as was common in past times, took on the name of the famed “Beloved Disciple” of Jesus. He wrote these very famous words in his Gospel of John describing the essence of God (and to his mind Jesus) this way: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1). Written several years after the death of Paul this verse can best be understood as the pinnacle of Paul's teachings to the non-Jewish world concerning the essence of Jesus as God. By this time, beginning where Paul left off, the Christian world had completely left behind its Jewish roots and totally embraced a Hellenistic spiritual worldview, which would allow for the later Constantine Trinity Doctrine to take hold as Church law in the Nicene Creed adopted by the Roman Church in 325 CE and fully amended in 381 CE. This was the final and lasting break of Christianity from its Jewish anchor causing the birth of a new religion that combined Greco-Roman spirituality to now become the foundation of the Christian faith and something that was totally foreign and unrecognizable from the Judaism from which it originally sprang three hundred years earlier.

The concept of God being the Word (Logos in Greek - the language John wrote his gospel in) changed the idea of ‘What’ God is from the One to that of an expression of God that can be identified in a myriad of ways. It no longer kept God ‘intact’ so to speak as the One but allowed for division within the Source of all, again, laying the groundwork for a trinitarian god that would find its full expression in the Nicene and later creeds of the Roman/Christian Church that still are practiced and taught in the 21st Century CE. When John employed the Greek word λόγος (Logos) to describe what the essence of God, and by attrition Jesus is, he moved the concept of the One God into the nebulous idea of a God that is no longer One but can be seen as many in one; as an analogy of divine utterance instead of a Being of One Essence. To John, and later Christianity, God was now the expression of the thoughts of the Father God through the Spirit God within the Son God (Jesus); as can be seen from the rest of the verse in John 1:14 — “And the Word (Logos) was made flesh [Jesus], and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” By relegating the original Jewish and later Islamic idea of the Oneness of God as God’s Essence to the trash heap John, in one stroke of the pen caused a division in God’s people the repercussions of which still reverberate all these millennia later.

To say that God is One in the truest sense of the meaning of echad doesn’t mean that this God cannot or will not find ways to express “His” Oneness through what could best be described as attributes.

If you wish to know ‘what’ a fellow human being is or even ‘what’ other creatures are you simply have to look no further than how one exposes themselves in various situations. When put to the test how does this One God attribute “Himself?”

Within Judaism we find in the pages of the Tanakh (the sum total of the Jewish Bible which includes the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings) many ways in which the One God reveals by “His” actions and words ‘What’ “He” is. From them we learn that he is All-Powerful, All-Knowing, All-Wise, Omnipresent, has Creative Expression, can get angry, hostile, even jealous, loving, caring, protective and a bevy of other anthropomorphic expressions that help to define the “What’ of God.

One of the best sources of learning “What God is” can be found in the Kabbalah. I’m not talking about the pseudo Kabbalah being tossed around and taught in Hollywood elitist circles or at your nearby corner storefront and bookstore gathering. The Kabbalah I am speaking about here is that which is taught within limited Jewish circles by highly respected Kabbalistic Rabbis well versed in the art of understanding the wisdom found within the pages of its sacred writ. The Kabbalah that cannot even be undertaken by an initiate until the age of at least forty years and one who has already spent their entire lives in the study of Torah, Talmud and Midrash.

I will not go too deeply into it here as to not give cause for stumbling to those who are not quite ready for a deep dive into this area of Jewish teachings. But, as it relates to ‘What’ God is there is a Kabbalistic teaching known as Ein Sof (boundless) which reveals the pure transcendence and essence of the ‘what’ of God. Ein Sof gives revelation to the expressive attributes of God in the form of the Tree of Life with its roots, trunk, branches and head as all being the the revelation of the expression of the Divine Essence — or the “What is God?”

Without getting too deeply into the teachings of Kabbalah as written in the Zohar, a basic understanding of the Tree of Life can be seen in its Ten Sefirot or branches. These are, beginning from right to left — Netzach, Chesed (Hesed), Hokhmah, Hod, Din, Binah; and bottom to top — Malchut (Shekhinah), Yesod, Tiferet and Keter.

As the name of each Sefirot implies they help us in our limited capacity to try and grasp the ‘What’ of the One Eternal, Everlasting, Infinite and Unknowable God in our finite created existence while in a corporeal state. Each section of the Sefirot is divided into halves with a bottom, middle and top. The right side composed of Netzah (Eternity), Hesed (Mercy) and Hokmah (Widom). These represent the harmonious benevolence of the One God while the left side - Hod (Glory/Radiance), Din (Justice) and Binah (Understanding) give rise to the justice, reverence and unified respect/fear and awe of God.

At the bottom of the Sefirot acting as the foundation for the entire Tree of Life is the Shekinah which represents and gives expression to God’s very Presence within “His” creation which includes all that has been, is and ever will be in the Eternal Now. The rest of the middle section of the Sefirot is what gives a balance to the ‘What’ of God between the right and left sides of the Tree. While the left side is feminine and the right is masculine the middle, particularly the branch known as Tiferet (Beauty), brings harmony between the two sides with Yesod (Foundation) acting as the cornerstone and trunk, and Keter (Knowing/Intuitive) as the Divine Crown. {Special thanks to Prof. Eliezer Segal for the image of the Tree of Life}

We can then sum up our discussion about “What is God” with this:

While in our current corporeal and finite life we cannot ever fully understand ‘What’ the Unknowable is, we can from a serious intent of study come to recognize through the means and ways provided by God through His Word and earthly teachers come to realize that the Essence of What God is are the following:

Glorious, Brilliance, Awesome, Mighty, Knowing, Love, Righteous, Forgiving, Just, Good, Retributive, Spiritual, Creative, Wise Beyond human understanding, Merciful, Eternal, Infinite, Understanding of “His” creation - including those made in “His” Image and Likeness, Beautiful beyond measure, All Intuitive and the Source and Resting Place of all Knowledge. What then is God? God is One!

CHAPTER THREE - “Where Is God?”

Where does God hang out. Where does “He” call home? Does God even have a residence, a home base, a central location?

Is God with us always or just comes around from time to time? Have you ever had that experience where God seemed so close you thought your heart would explode just trying to contain the moment, and yet, other times God was nowhere to be found or seemed so far away you thought your heart would break into tiny pieces?

I think every human being on planet Earth has had those Job times in their lives when the closeness and distance of God from us was physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually palpable.

Many philosophies and religions down through the ages have spoken of the omnipresence of the Supreme Being; “His” ability to be present everywhere simultaneously in and out of time and space. Several Native American and Near/Far Eastern religions state that God contains all that is and is not within “Himself” and is therefore always present - or it is rather we are always in "His" Presence. From Christianity comes the idea that God is not located somewhere “up there” or “down there” but is as near and close as one’s own spirit (heart). Judaism also makes the point that God is everywhere. Speaking metaphorically King Solomon stated in Proverbs 15:3, “The eyes of Adonai are everywhere, observing the bad and good.” The implication from King David found in the entire Psalm 139 is that God is everywhere giving witness to the lives of “His” creation. He uses terms like You observe my walking and reclining, and are familiar with all my ways….where can I escape from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your Presence? If I ascend into outer space You are there; if I descend to Sheol, You are there too!”

While pondering this same question of “Where is God?,” the prophet Jeremiah heard from God 'Himself' — “Am I only a God near at hand - says Adonai - and not a God far away? If a man enters a hiding place, Do I not see him - says Adonai - For I fill the universe and Earth - declares Adonai.” (Jeremiah 23:23-24)

By these and other things written in Jewish and other sacred texts we get the concept of the omnipresence of God. However, there are other times when God seems to confine “Himself” to a particular place and time and even within a physical object of some kind. On the mountain with Moses while giving the Torah “He” seems to contain “Himself” within great fire and heat. Forty years earlier “His” Presence was isolated within a burning bush that was not consumed. Later prophets such as Elijah and Ezekiel would witness God actually sitting in a craft of some type and being whisked away by “Him” to some other location.

Finally, Isaiah probably sums it up as to the ‘Where’ of God. “For so says He Who high aloft forever dwells, Whose Name is holy: I dwell on high, in holiness; yet with the contrite and the lowly in spirit—reviving the hearts of the contrite.”

God’s whereabouts is not too baffling for us, nor is “He” out of reach. “He” is not in outer space, that we should say, “Who among us can go up to outer space and get “Him” for us and receive “His” Torah and impart it to us that we may observe it.” Neither is “He” beyond the oceans, that we should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the oceans and get “His” Torah, “His” Presence for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” No! “He” and “His” Presence and Torah, “His” instruction is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart… (SEE: Deuteronomy 30:11-14)

Therefore, to answer the question “Where is God?” “He” is as close to you as you are to yourself.

CHAPTER FOUR: “Why Is God?” This is the fourth and final chapter on our journey to find the answer to "God! Who? What? Where? and Why?" Several years ago singer/songwriter Kris Kristofferson wrote a song titled “Why Me Lord?” The opening lyrics asked “What have I ever done, to deserve even one, of the pleasures I’ve known…?” A profoundly deep question that is as old as humanity itself. Yet, there is one other ‘Why’ question that is more fundamentally significant than the “Why Me Lord” question. It is “Why is God?” The 18th Century philosopher Voltaire quipped, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him.” While Voltaire was being somewhat satirical his point was yet well made — the drive within human beings to need to believe and trust in something bigger and greater than themselves is so ingrained within a human’s makeup that God becomes humanity's greatest “Why” in life. This however, leads to another contemplative: How and why did this innate drive to look to something greater and beyond themselves become such a part of the human (both individual and collective) consciousness and identity? Some may argue that this draw to a Greater does not exist in all humans. After all the world is full of what has been termed atheists (people who do not believe in the existence of a God or any gods). Some of the most famous in the 20th and 21st Century were and are Richard Dawkins, George Carlin, Warren Buffett, Stephen Hawking, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Branson, Adam Carolla and Mark Zuckerberg. There have been many ancient humans known for their atheism, including Greek philosophers Theodorus and Aristippus, Epicurus, Lucretius, poet Xenophanes and more. When one takes a closer look at each and every one of these so-called atheist it will be clear that they have simply changed their belief and trust of a God into another avenue or vein. The drive to find or look for something greater than themselves is still very much at the core of their lives. Each of them have, at times, openly admitted that they have replaced a Supreme Being as the Source of their ‘Why’ to things like science, mathematics, logic, art, creativity, economics, politics, communications and on and on and on. The inner nature of the beast hasn’t changed at all, only its focus. History and academic study has made it very clear that human beings are creatures on the search for something greater than themselves and are forever exploring new/old paths of that discovery of the “Why?” History is replete with myths, tales, folklore, religions and spiritual disciplines that speak to this exploration. That journey, regardless of the trail chosen, always leads back to the ultimate question — “Why is God?” Assuming my assessment of the human condition is correct then some amount of rational logic combined with the intuitive might lead us to at least a glimpse into why there is a God, a Supreme Creative Being/Force/Source. In one of the earlier chapters I used the example of a watch and if you will indulge me I will return to that. Not a digital one, albeit those are also uniquely made; but an old 15th to 18th Century pocket watch. If you have ever seen one of those, held them in your hand, opened it to look at its intricate design and movable parts then you become acutely aware that something this magnificent in structure and function must have had an experienced and knowledgeable watchmaker behind its creation. All those parts did not just haphazardly or by the sheer force of eons of time come together as the work of genius you are holding in your hand at that moment. It had a source, a designer, a creator who was intelligent and purposeful. That same premise can now be applied to the entire Universe, and as we now understand from Quantum Physics/Mechanics - the Multiverse. As Earthling humans we, since the Renaissance (some would say as far back as the first post-Deluge civilization of Sumer) are only now taking the first baby steps into unlocking many of the mysteries of the Universe in which we find ourselves while physicists, geneticists and other scientific disciplines are beginning to unlock the treasure trove of knowledge and information behind the workings of this world, this Universe, our genetic code and the actual history of us and the planet we have been inhabiting for at least 2.5 million years at various levels of our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual development as a species. 2.5 million years is a drop in the ocean of time compared to the at least 13.8 billion years since the creation/big band of when we suppose this entire Universe began. And, in all that time — nearly 14 billion years, not one pocket watch just happen to come together on its own. It had to wait until its maker, its creator, its designer came up with the idea, manufactured the parts and put it all together as a functional working timekeeping device. Why is God? Because, the Universe, the Multiverse and all that is and is not, including us intricately designed human pocket watches, need “Him.”

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