When talking about God, most people seem to think he’s an elderly man with a white beard. Not only so, but there seems to be a common misconception that ‘God lives up in the clouds‘.
I wonder how this view became so mainstream considering how ridiculous it sounds.
I guess it came to pass way back when mankind could only dream about the clouds.
This dumbed-down concept probably became so popular because it was a simple way of explaining something that surpasses our ability to understand.
And now, in this day and age, we have managed to go to the clouds and beyond. We even have programs like SpaceX, which aim to make mankind a space-faring civilization.
So where is God?
There have been no reports of God being in the clouds. There have been no reports of God being in space.
So then, wouldn’t it be reasonable to update this outdated view which depicts God as an elderly man living in the clouds?
Did space exploration help define God?
No. The exploration of space has little to nothing to do with how God is defined. There are plenty of written records here on Earth that provide clear definitions of God.
As mentioned earlier, however, such definitions quite possibly surpass our ability to fully comprehend the subject matter. No matter how smart we may think we are in this day and age, I doubt that we can understand God at this stage in our evolution.
The question is though, can we actually define God?
Plato described the source of everything as ‘the Good‘ or ‘the One‘. Early Christian scholars, on the other hand, talk about God as ‘above being‘.
Medieval philosopher Anicius Boethius argued that God lives in an eternal present, outside of the flow of time. Humans, on the other hand, live within the flow of time. Hence why we describe events in the sense of past, present, and future.
Philosopher Boethius reasoned that things can be known in different ways dependent on the nature of the knower. This means that for a better understanding of God, one needs a vantage point outside of the flow of time.
Considering that from God’s perspective past, present, and future are all the present moment; definitions of God from within the flow of time would be incomplete.
St. Anselm of Canterbury, a medieval philosopher notably influenced by Aristotle’s logic and Plato’s way of thinking, believed that God’s existence is not only a matter of faith but that it can also be proved by rational argument.
St. Anselm asserted that:
1. God is that, which nothing greater can be thought.
2. Existence is superior to non-existence.
St. Anselm’s reasoning is supported by Rene Descartes.
Dubbed ‘the father of modern western philosophy‘, Descartes famously concluded that the mere notion of certainty or uncertainty on whether you exist, proves that you do in fact, exist.
This means that if you have the capacity to question your existence then that is definitive proof of your existence. Hence the famous ‘I think therefore I am‘ quote.
He states that God was present before everything else, even before the possibility of existence. As such, our human minds are unable to grasp what God is.
Summary of God’s known attributes
God’s attributes can be categorized as communicable and incommunicable. Communicable attributes are those that God shares with humans and incommunicable are the attributes unique to God alone. (Source: Visual Theology – The Attributes of God by Tim Challies, via Theopedia)
A list of God’s communicable attributes
Beauty, Blessedness, Freedom, Glory, Goodness, Holiness, Invisibility, Jealousy, Knowledge, Love, Mercy, Omnipotence, Peace, Perfection, Righteousness, Spirituality, Truthfulness, Will, Wisdom, and Wrath.
A list of God’s incommunicable attributes
Aseity, Eternity, Immutability, Omnipresence, and Unity.
1. God is eternal
God has no beginning and no end. This means that when attempting to define God, it should be taken into consideration that God is an entity which has always existed and will always exist.
The very notion of eternal existence can be a stumbling block to human definitions of God because all we know is the exact opposite of eternal.
As Anicius Boethius stated, we live within the flow of time. Hence everything we experience has a defined beginning and a certain end.
So it’s reasonable to assume that any and all human definitions of God are incomplete.
2. God is holy
God is eternally separate and distinct from all impurity. On the other hand, it seems that impurity is a part of human nature.
So how can impure beings accurately define an entity that is the epitome of purity? Moreover, can impure beings become pure? And if an impure being does indeed manage to do away with impurity, does that mean that such a being would be better able to define God?
This whole idea of defining God from a human perspective seems quite difficult considering the fact we humans have free will, hence we can choose to be impure or we can choose to be pure.
Even though God is all-powerful, it doesn’t seem that this choice is available to God because that would go against God’s character.
So then even if a human chooses to be like God in this regard and said human leads a pure life by making pure choices and thinking pure thoughts, such a one would still have a vantage point that is different from God’s vantage point. ie. even the holiest of people would still fall short from the holiness of God. Hence a definition of God as described by a sincerely holy person would still be incomplete.
3. God is immutable
God doesn’t change. He is what he was and will always be what he is. This is quite contrary to human existence. We are born, we learn new things, we experience new things, and become a different version of ourselves with every passing moment.
This goes back to us living within the flow of time, where change is a constant. All we know is ever changing.
So how can we expect to accurately describe an eternal being that never changes?
4. God is impassible
“God is without passions. He is not overwhelmed by any emotion, he is not incapacitated or weakened or stifled by any event or any amount of grief or love. Rather, God is totally self-controlled. While God does grieve, and does passionately love, he does so completely on purpose.” (Source: God’s known attributes | Theopedia)
This, like all other attributes of God, is something God posses from the very beginning.
But then again, what does that mean? God is eternal, so he’s got no beginning and no end. So God would have had this attribute from before there even was a ‘beginning’.
And even though humans have technologically advanced a whole lot over the past century, even the brightest minds of our time can only speculate as to what was before there was anything.
Defining God from a human perspective seems to be an impossible feat as with every known attribute we address there seem to be more questions than answers.
5. God is infinite
God has no limitations whatsoever. And even though mathematicians use the concept of infinity quite regularly when exploring various mathematical theorems, infinity in-itself doesn’t seem to be something that mathematicians even try to explain in detail.
Infinity seems to be an acknowledgement of the great unknown and the recognition of human limitation.
So then maybe as accurate as a definition of God is going to get is just that, the recognition that we as a humans have a whole lot more to learn about life as a whole?
6. God is omnipotent
God is all powerful and can exercise his dominion over the entire universe or rather the entire multiverse.
In regards to this attribute, many seem to question if God is indeed all powerful then why does evil exist? Why doesn’t God just extinguish all evil and allow us to live a heavenly life straight from the get go?
These are reasonable questions, however, they seem to be commonly asked by the same people who think God is an elderly man with a white beard that lives in the clouds.
Even though God is all powerful, it is recorded that he gave mankind free will. This means that humans are free to do as they please.
It is also written that if one genuinely believes in God, trusts in God, and lives life by God’s rules such a one will be protected by God.
St. Augustine reasoned that even though God is the creator of all things, he didn’t create evil because evil is not a thing but rather the lack of a ‘thing’. Much like darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of good.
St. Augustine concludes that God is not the parent of evil but rather that the absence of God permits the existence of evil.
And so a person would need to make a sincere choice to side with God in order to be protected from evil. If such a choice is not made the individual is left to face life’s challenges alone, without God’s help.
Even though God is all powerful, if God were to intervene where God is not genuinely wanted it would defeat the purpose of giving mankind free will.
It is written that God punishes those who break his laws, he also punishes their offspring for generations to come.
On the other hand, it is also written that God sends countless blessings to the offspring of those who love and honor him for generations to come.
If God renders blessings and punishments spanning multiple generations of human existence, then how can we define God within a single generation?
This means that as long as we attempt to define God from a singular human perspective the definition would be incomplete.
Even if we take into account all the definitions of God that precede our time, we would still be unable to come up with an accurate definition of God because we know that there are many more generations to come after us.
Hence, if someone is bold enough to claim that we can define God in our day and age such a one must be arrogant enough to assume that humanity has already figured out absolutely everything about everything.
7. God is omnipresent
God is everywhere – Jer. 23:24; Psa. 139:7-10; 1 Kings 8:27. “This is not to say that God’s form is spread out so that parts of Him exist in every location. God is spirit; He has no physical form. He is present everywhere in that everything is immediately in His presence. At the same time He is present everywhere in the universe. No one can hide from Him and nothing escapes His notice.” (Source: God’s known attributes further reading Omnipresence of God)
This is yet another attribute that we as humans can’t relate to. It goes into the realm of the new age theories on consciousness, which in a way complements some of what’s written in the Bible. Particular this passage here:
“For in him we live, and move, and have our being” – Acts 17:28 KJV (Source: Bible Gateway)
So then, is God some sort of higher intelligence within which we exist?
8. God is all-wise
God knows everything, always. It is written that all things together workout for good and for the benefit of God’s people. ie. those who honor and love God.
This means that God is the ultimate strategist. Much like Sun Tzu said:
All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.
What this means is that tactics are visible to all, but strategy is something that is only visible to the strategist himself.
So then to think that God is only one or two steps ahead would be an inaccurate assumption.
Given that God is outside of the flow of time and outside of our concept of space, it is only reasonable to assume that any strategy employed by God would span years, decades, and maybe even life times.
A human mind, on the other hand, can only “foresee” things in the short term. And if it’s someone really smart, a great strategist, like Sun Tzu, then maybe such a one would be able to foresee things within a full lifetime. But, that would still be a limitation to which God is not bound.
So again, how can we assume to define God accurately if the brightest human strategists are confined to their own lifetime?
9. God is omniscient
“God knows all things – 1 John 3:20; Psa.147:5; Heb.4:13. This includes the past, the present, and the future. It includes actuality, and contingencies. That is, he knows what will happen, and he knows would “could” happen. There was never a time when God did not know anything. The greatest and deepest and most fascinating thing that God knows is himself, for he is infinitely deep in character and substance and beauty and wisdom. “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:34)” (Source: Theopedia)
So then, if the greatest thing that God knows is himself, then we can’t possibly define God because we’re human and as such we’re subject to limitations to which God is not. This means that in order to accurately define God, we must either become God or be shown a glimpse into what God knows.
St. Thomas Aquinas was so dedicated to learning the most he possibly could about God that he was shown a vision or rather provided with a divine revelation. Hence, a glimpse into what God knows.
After that glimpse, he stated:
Such things have been revealed to me that all that I have written seems to me as so much straw. Now I await the end of my life. (Source: Christianity.com)
This means that no matter how hard we try and no matter what we learn, it falls short of what God knows. And yes, St. Thomas Aquinas lived in a time where space travel wasn’t possible. Nonetheless, I think it’s reasonable to assume that we as humans are still much closer to the humans of the middle ages than we are to God.
But then again, it is written that he who seeks shall find. So then, as long as we seek to know God and more about God, we may in fact be granted a glimpse into what God knows?
And if such a glimpse of knowledge is granted to a human, then is that human still considered a regular human?
In the case of St. Thomas Aquinas, he decided to stop writing because it seems he realized that what God knows is beyond comprehension.
In this day and age, with the advent of Quantum Mechanics and theories like that of the Multiverse, what are we to think of life and human existence?
Science as a whole is still dominated by the ideas of Classical Physics, yet Quantum Mechanics seems to contradict many of those ideas. So much so that scientists are mind boggled by these new findings.
As for the Multiverse Theory, this is still considered to be just philosophy and not science quite yet, but at the same time many reputable scientists are in support of it.
Both Quantum Mechanics and Multiverse Theory provide examples that seem to help define God in a more complete way.
So then, a definition of God may need to involve concepts discussed in both Quantum Mechanics and Multiverse Theory.
St. Thomas Aquinas figured the best way to get as close as possible to truth is by combining all types of knowledge in a collaborative manner.
10. God is simple
“The simplicity of God means that God is a unified being – He is one essence. God is not composed of a variety of substances. In this sense he is different from humans who are made up of matter and spirit.” (Source: Theopedia)
And it’s not just God’s composition that is simple, it’s the whole concept of God. We humans seem to complicate things. We go out of our way and attempt to prove things scientifically, which is great.
Scientists, however, are human and many tend to study “popular” topics only. There are many who choose not to challenge age long accepted “scientific truths” for the sake of maintaining their credibility regardless of what the truth may be.
ie. humans are flawed, for the most part we’re ruled by the ego, and scientists are human
God, on the other hand, doesn’t ask for things that go beyond our ability to understand. God’s “rules” are simple to understand and can be followed as long as the person leads a disciplined life.
Scientists seem to ask for proof to believe whereas God asks to believe so that he can show proof.
This is very much inline with the concepts discussed in Quantum Mechanics where reality is said to behave in accordance with the expectations of the observer.
Niels Bohr found that the mere measurement of an electron’s properties affects the result. It turns out electrons take on the specific state of being a particle or a wave only after their properties are measured.
This means that as long as you don’t believe in something, you will most likely never find it, see it, or experience it. On the other hand, if you believe in something, you’re quite probably bound to find it, see it, and experience it.
So I guess any good definition of God should remain open to the possibilities. No matter how smart we may think we’ve become, we are still at an early stage of our evolution.
11. God is self-existent
“Our Maker exists in an eternal, self-sustaining, necessary way—necessary, that is, in the sense that God does not have it in Him to go out of existence, just as we do not have it in us to live forever. We necessarily age and die, because it is our present nature to do that; God necessarily continues forever unchanged, because it is His eternal nature to do that. This is one of many contrasts between creature and Creator.” (Source: Packer, J. I., Concise Theology via AllAboutGod.com)
This means that God doesn’t need us. In fact, God probably doesn’t need us to come up with a definition of God. But then again, if we can’t accurately define God, then how can we expect to engage in intelligent debates about God?
So then, is there even a point in trying to define God? Personally, I’m contempt with an incomplete definition of God. Or rather, a definition that can at least partially be grasped with our human understanding.
But why is it that so many supposedly intelligent people try to discuss things in terms of black and white? Black and white type discussion imply that there’s nothing more for us humans to learn or to know.
12. God is self-sufficient
“This means God is enough all by Himself. God exists and is sustained before us, after us, and independent of us. God does not need us. God does not rely on us. God is without beginning or end. God is forever and always, perpetual, ceaseless, and enduring. God exists outside of all relations to time. God does not change.” (Source: Share A Verse)
Well, okay, I think we’ve covered these concepts already. Though this helps illustrate how God is different from humans yet again.
So when trying to define God, we should acknowledge our limitations because if we don’t we would arrogantly assume that we have got the right answer. This sort of arrogant attititude that seems quite prevalaent in some modern day scientific communities handicaps our ability to uncover the full truth of God, about life, about everything really.
13. God is immaterial
God is not physical, though God can take physical form if he so chooses. Now if God is immaterial then does God exist?
Well, according to Neils Bohr:
Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.
So then reality is made up of things that we as material beings consider non-existent? So an existent reality is composed of non-existent things? What!?
I guess this would explain Albert Einstein’s quote on the illusion of reality:
Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.
Here’s where science gets wacky and this is precisely why it’s so interesting.
Nikola Tesla observed that there was more to the world than what we could see. He concluded that everything around us was waves of electricity travelling constantly.
Louis de Broglie worked on the concept of wave-particle duality and ended up concluding that matter has wave properties.
This means that matter is composed of both waves (immaterial things) and particles (material things).
14. God is good
It is written that all things together work for the good of those who glory and honor God. “But not so for the unbeliever: the goodness of God demands all circumstances to work together for the bad of those rebellious and hateful towards God.” (Source: Blue Letter Bible)
So then God is only good to those who can be categorized as God’s people, ie. those who glory, honor, and love God.
Then it seems that a proper definition of God should take this into consideration. But then again, it’s not that God is bad, it’s that God can’t be fair or just if he’s good even to those who are bad.
So I guess God can be defined as some sort of judge?
15. God is love
Twice the Apostle John categorically stated that God is love (1 John 4:8,16) (Source: Bible.org)
Ok, well I guess here we’re getting into the immaterial part of things. Love is not something material, but rather it’s a feeling that we experience.
So then can we define God as a feeling? This probably wouldn’t be an inaccurate definition, though it seems that it would again be incomplete because this is merely one of many attributes.
A definition of God in conclusion
We know that God is described as haveing more attributes than the ones discussed in this article, such as:
16. God is gracious
17. God is merciful
18. God is just
19. God is sovereign
20. God is freedom
21. God is jealous
This whole subject seems quite complex to be honest and we humans, at least at this stage in our evolution, are incapable of producing a complete definition of God.
It would be helpful to come to terms with the fact that we as a species have a whole lot more to learn about ourselves, the world, the universe, and the multiverse.
How would you define God?