Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Can God Be Said To Be a Person?

         To answer any question of this nature requires some definition of what a person is, and what we mean by personality. Without wishing to get bogged down in debates about the detail that can arise from this question, let it be generally accepted that a person is an individual human, someone having certain characteristics by which that individual can be identified. Going further, a person is capable of entering into relationships with other persons, and as a result, capable of developing a personality in response to those around him/her. Now the word 'personality' has its origins in the Latin 'persona' which relates to a 'mask', something used by someone whilst acting out a role. Therefore it must be tacitly assumed that a person, as we understand that term, is engaged in activities that are essentially not of the true self, but of the false self. Put another way, personality is a property of the ego. It also follows from these opening thoughts that if the 'personal' is to be investigated, so must the 'impersonal' as well.
         Now if God can be said to be a person then he has a personality; that his personality is merely an act; that he can enter into relationships with other persons; and that he is capable of thought, feeling, and physically sensing his surroundings, this last-mentioned ability arising from the nature of his ego. And let it not be forgotten that the impersonal attributes of God must also be considered.
         Clearly, I have removed the lid from a can, if not full of worms, then certainly full of subjects that cannot be covered in a single essay. I have shared some thoughts in my previous essay on the issue of the supposed gender of God. Here I would like to say something about another aspect of the supposed personality of God, bearing in mind that personality is a function of the ego. I have made the point on a number of occasions that, from readings of the Old Testament which describe, for example, how Jahweh instructs his chosen people to wreak all sorts of vengeance on Israel's enemies, it is inescapable that what is being described is the workings of ego writ large across the cosmos. It is to the credit of his people that they tended to ignore his divine rantings.
         In the (unreferenced) instances to which I have alluded, both the power of the thinking function and that of the feeling function have been brought into play, as well as Jahweh's ability to strike, when necessary, by physical force. On the surface one might consider that all this is a great nonsense. But no, there is something very real going on here, and something we all need to address at some stage in our lives, and it is this. Human beings have a predisposition to indulge in:-

1.          Seeing order, cause and effect, where no such order exists,
2.          Projection of the workings of the inner, psychological world onto the outer world, and
3.          Anthropopathy and anthropomorphism, in short creating God in our egoistic image.

Thus in endowing God with a personality, treating him as a person, is nothing short of a projection of the human ego onto a divinity which, because it is nothing but a projection, is false. I must insist that such a God is a false God, but one which is, nevertheless, worshipped the world over. As is so often the case, blame and judgements tend to be levelled 'out there', onto our projections, rather than ridding ourselves of our denials and seeking reality 'in here'. I shudder at the waste of time that I have indulged in, blaming and judging others when I would have been better occupied seeking my inner truth.
         The statement that the egoistic God is a false God implies the possibility of a true God that has nothing to do with person, personality, ego, gender or relationship as we usually use that word. The search for that kind of God is, in my opinion, a task worthy of humankind, as is the task of addressing our own psycho-spiritual origins and make-up. In the final analysis these activities may be more closely related than we might choose to acknowledge.  


  1. Hi Tom
    I think religion does seek to personify GOD, particularly to emphasize a personal union. The OT references usually distances GOD from humanity but returns in various human guises, in expressions of violence. Finally we have Jesus Christ as the culmination of the messianic expectation and end of time prophesies. But the expectation of a post resurrected personalised kingdom on earth, wanes over time. In the end, in the spirit of freedom, each person will find their own spark and image. But from my perspective I agree GOD cannot be personalised or defined, other than reverting to an image in spirit of truth, love and beauty.
    Best wishes

  2. Consider our limited experience as humans. We live in only three spacial dimensions. We experience time as something linear and unidirectional. We are convinced most of the time that what we can sense is all there is.
    What a difficult time we would have experiencing God in a truly unlimited form. So perhaps when we experience a projection of God, and imagine that They are somewhat like us, it is evidence of one more limitation of humanity, not of God.

  3. Beautifully put, Halle and Lindsay. One of the best parts of coming by to read Tom's posts is getting to read the other comments.

    That our inclination is to imagine God as a person, the most recognizable persona being Jesus in the Christian tradition I think is largely because we need to have an image we can relate to even as we understand that the deeply mysterious Holy Trinity is more the true essence of God. Perhaps this indescribable numinous being could be best understood as the Source.

    "I was a hidden treasure and I longed to be known. Therefore, I created the Creation so that I might be known."
    ~ Hadith Qudsi:

  4. With God defining all possibilities assembled in the universe, I would take the Commandments as universal. They work for a village, a nation, a world and are repeated in one form and another in religions that sprang up independent and ignorant of each other. That reflects a life-affirming personality that seems very much at odds with the contentious O.T. God. My bet is the joy-oriented interpretation got polluted and divided along political lines, like now.

  5. It may be pushing things a little Tom, but this fine morning, surrounded by hundreds of other camping folk from so many different places, I cannot help thinking and believing that in each face I see the light of God looking back.
    I cannot say I understand a mechanism. Just a hunch.

  6. Much to think about here, Tom, but I have to say that I mostly agree with you. The god of the standard definitions is a false god, a projection of some kind of collective species ego.

    So I cannot define god as a person, an individual. God is, for me, the instinct or impulse to seek that ultimate meaning. It is a quality, in the same way that Love, or Honor, or Hate or Courage are qualities rather than concrete objects.

  7. My first thought is 'No, my God is not a person'. I leave it at that for now. No time to think about it but, I may be back.

  8. Thank you all so much for your comments. Whilst I do not write to elicit agreement and confirmation, I was nevertheless pleasantly surprised at your responses. Now, of course, I find myself in the position of having nothing else to say, and I guess that's good.

  9. Tom, what I sense in this post is a dual aim: the first is a desire to clear out false notions which project human characteristics onto God. And the second touches on your search for what a Being we call God actually may be, in relation to what you actually are in your true (not masked) Self. In this two-pronged approach to a very difficult subject I recognise a tendency in myself:
    a)to want to teach or point out what is wrong in prevalent views on the subject;
    b)to search deeper within myself for what the truth may be and how it relates to my life.
    Those two aims, from my own perspective (and not in any way a criticism of yours) are not necessarily compatible. Because the task of searching for the truth,and sharing that search with others, is in itself so demanding and absorbing that it doesn't leave room for focusing on all that's wrong with accepted views on the subject. So much of the Old Testament, for instance, contradicts and offends all that every atom of my being senses to be 'God' that if I were to embark on an analysis of all those wrongs, it would take more than a lifetime. So I've finally come to the conclusion that the search for truth is all that matters.

  10. Natalie; I am uncertain as to whether the two prongs are compatible or not, in my search. I hope they are, but I will bear your thought in mind. You are, of course, correct that there is a dual aim in my work, both of which are about seeking truth. In the end, that is all that matters.

  11. i have always found the god we make to be small, petty, concerned with silly details like what one wears on one's head, and legalistic. while i realise that this does not detract from what the "actual god" is, if such a being were to exist (and i don't believe it does), but it sure makes it difficult to remain respectful towards religion.

  12. i have always found the god we make to be small, petty, concerned with silly details like what one wears on one's head, and legalistic. while i realise that this does not detract from what the "actual god" is, if such a being were to exist (and i don't believe it does), but it sure makes it difficult to remain respectful towards religion.

  13. Agnieska; Herein lies a problem, as to whether God and religion necessarily go together. I do not believe they do. We all have minds and therefore I believe it to be highly possible that one can believe that the higher reaches of our minds, that existing in the unconscious, can be said to be divine. After all, when mankind first began postulating the existence of God, he may well have been ignorant of any concepts relating to the mind as we know it.

    I agree with you that 'it sure makes it difficult to remain respectful towards religion'.