The question of who God is has fascinated humanity since the dawn of civilization. Even today, it remains one of the most fundamental inquiries we can make about our existence and place in the universe.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: God is the supreme being, creator and sustainer of all that exists. God is all-knowing, all-powerful and ever-present.
In this in-depth article, we will dive into the complex nature of God across different faiths and spiritual traditions. We will examine God’s attributes, the evidence for God’s existence, God’s role in shaping human destiny, and the relationship between God and humanity.
The Judeo-Christian Concept of God
God in the Old Testament
In the Old Testament, God is portrayed as the supreme being and sole creator of the universe. Some key characteristics of the Judeo-Christian God described in the Old Testament include:
- God is eternal, existing before the creation of the universe (Genesis 1:1)
- God is all-powerful (omnipotent) and intervenes miraculously in human affairs (Exodus 14:21-22)
- God establishes a special relationship and covenants with the people of Israel (Genesis 17:1-8)
- God is righteous and just, but also loving, forgiving, and merciful (Exodus 34:6-7)
- God reveals his laws, commandments, and instructions to Israel through prophets and covenant (Exodus 19:3-6)
God in the New Testament
In the New Testament, the Judeo-Christian concept of God is expanded and developed further:
- God is revealed as the Father of Jesus Christ, affirming his love for humanity (John 3:16)
- Jesus asserts that he and the Father are one, indicating his divine identity (John 10:30)
- God is portrayed as inviting all nations into relationship with him, not just Israel (Matthew 28:19)
- God is described as triune – the Father, Son Jesus, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:16-17)
- God is love, and the greatest commandments involve love of God and neighbors (Matthew 22:37-39)
- God demonstrates his mercy and grace by sending Christ for humanity’s redemption (John 3:17)
The New Testament develops a fuller understanding of God’s nature and activities, focused on his revelation through Christ. God is the merciful Father seeking to redeem humanity, while also being united with Christ in a mysterious triune identity.
The Trinity refers to the Christian doctrine that God exists as three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – united in one divine being. While not explicitly taught in Scripture, the doctrine developed based on verses suggesting God’s triune nature (e.g. Matthew 28:19, 2 Corinthians 13:14).
Key aspects include:
- There is one God eternally existing in three co-equal, co-eternal persons – not three Gods.
- The persons are distinct, yet completely united in nature, will, purpose, and activities.
- Each person has unique roles, but all are fully God and work harmoniously in creation and redemption.
- Analogies include how one individual can be a parent, child, and spouse.
The Trinity remains a complex doctine. But most Christians affirm God is three-in-one: the Father reigning over all, Christ redeeming humanity, and the Spirit actively working in believers’ lives. This triune understanding of God shapes Christian worship and theology today.
God in Islam
Allah as the One True God
In Islam, God is known as Allah. Muslims believe Allah is the one true God, the all-powerful and all-knowing creator, sustainer, and judge of the universe. Some key points about Allah in Islam:
- Allah has no partners or equals – the core Islamic doctrine is the absolute oneness and unity of God.
- Allah is eternal, absolute, and transcendent – He is beyond time and space.
- Allah is unseen and incomprehensible – no one can fully understand His essence.
- Allah alone deserves worship – He is the sole source of guidance and lordship.
The Quran repeatedly emphasizes Allah’s oneness, majesty, and sovereignty over all things. For example, “Say, ‘He is Allah, who is One, Allah, the Eternal Refuge. He neither begets nor is born, Nor is there to Him any equivalent'” (Surat al-Ikhlas 112:1-4).
The 99 Names of Allah
In Islam, Allah has many names that express His attributes and characteristics. These are known as the 99 Names of Allah (al-asma al-husna). Some examples include:
- Ar-Rahman – The Most Compassionate
- Al-Ghaffar – The Ever Forgiving
- As-Saboor – The Most Patient
- Al-Aziz – The Almighty
Learning and meditating upon the 99 Names is a way for Muslims to grow closer to Allah. Each name evokes certain virtues and provides guidance on how Allah relates to creation. For instance, Al-Ghaffar emphasizes Allah’s limitless capacity to forgive sins, encouraging repentance.
As-Saboor points to Allah’s patience in delaying punishment, giving people chances to reform.
A famous hadith states: “To Allah belong 99 names, 100 minus 1, whoever memorizes them will enter Paradise” (Sahih Bukhari Book 93, Hadith 482). Muslims often use tasbih prayer beads to count and contemplate the names during dhikr (remembrance of Allah).
Islamic Perspective on the Nature of God
The Islamic conception of God’s nature focuses on His absolute unity, transcendence, and utter uniqueness compared to creation. Some key aspects include:
- God has no gender – He transcends human concepts of masculinity and femininity.
- He has no body or form – He cannot be depicted visually.
- No one is comparable to Him – “There is nothing like unto Him” (Quran 42:11).
- He is not part of the creation nor does He mix with it.
This uncompromising monotheism formed a stark contrast to the pagan polytheism prevalent in pre-Islamic Arabia. The Quran rejects any notions of God having sons, daughters, or taking human-like incarnations.
Allah’s transcendence also eliminates the possibility of incarnation or His nature being fully known by humans.
However, the 99 Names also reveal Allah’s immanence in creation. He is Al-Qareeb (The Near) and Al-Mujeeb (The Responsive). Muslims believe His knowledge encompasses all things, and His mercy is boundless.
In a famous hadith qudsi, Allah says: “I was a Hidden Treasure and loved to be known, so I created the world” (Ibn Arabi). Creation thus serves to make Allah’s presence and attributes manifest.
Hindu Conceptions of God
Brahman as the Ultimate Reality
In Hinduism, Brahman is considered the supreme, ultimate reality that is formless, infinite, and eternal. Brahman is not a deity, but the highest universal principle from which all things originate and to which they return.
Brahman transcends names, forms, and concepts while simultaneously existing within everything. The Upanishads describe Brahman as “neti, neti” or “not this, not this” – emphasizing that no words can fully capture the infinite nature of Brahman.
Yet, Brahman is the innermost self (Atman) within all living beings. Meditating on this universal oneness and connecting with Brahman leads to moksha (liberation).
Vishnu, Shiva and Other Prominent Deities
While Brahman is the ultimate reality in Hinduism, the vast array of deities (gods and goddesses) are representations of Brahman that help devotees connect with the divine. The major deities like Vishnu, Shiva, Devi, Ganesha, Murugan, Rama, and Krishna have complex personalities and rich mythologies associated with them.
For instance, Vishnu the preserver has ten incarnations including Rama and Krishna who are hugely popular. Shiva the destroyer is depicted as a yogi and often represented by a lingam. Goddess worship with names like Durga, Kali, and Lakshmi is also prevalent with each goddess displaying a different aspect of the feminine divine.
These anthropomorphic forms of God make it easier for people to comprehend the transcendental Brahman.
God’s Immanence in Hinduism
A key facet of Hindu conceptions of the divine is God’s immanence – the idea that God exists within every living being. This is exemplified by the belief that the atman (soul) within all creatures is none other than Brahman.
The popular greeting “Namaste” traces its origins to the idea of recognizing the divine in each person by bowing to their inner divinity. God’s immanence is also evident in how Hinduism views all creation as sacred.
Nature, animals, trees, and rivers are infused with spiritual significance as manifestations of the divine. This undergirds Hinduism’s emphasis on seeing God in all beings and things rather than an external supernatural force.
Evidence for God’s Existence
The Cosmological Argument
The cosmological argument suggests that the existence of the universe implies the existence of a Creator (God). According to this argument, everything that begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist at some point, evidenced by the Big Bang theory.
Therefore, the universe must have a cause that existed before it – this First Cause is God.This compelling reasoning has convinced many thinkers of a supernatural Creator of the universe.
The Teleological Argument
The teleological argument points to aspects of the natural world exhibiting order, purpose, and design as evidence of an intelligent Creator. Examples include the complex human eye, the information systems of DNA, and the fine-tuning of universal laws to allow for stars, planets, and life.
Many consider aspects of biology and physics to exhibit marks of being skillfully and intentionally crafted.
The Moral Argument
This argument suggests a shared universal sense of morality and justice implies a supernatural source. It questions how unchanging moral truths could arise from changing material processes. Some argue an absolute moral lawgiver such as God best explains objective moral values across humanity. However, others argue shared moral intuitions arose through biological and cultural evolution.
God’s Divine Attributes
God is all-knowing and has infinite wisdom and understanding. As the creator of the universe, God has total knowledge of all things past, present, and future. His omniscience encompasses all places, events, and the hearts of human beings.
As the Bible says, “God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:20). God’s perfect knowledge guides His actions and decisions.
The almighty power of God has no limits. He spoke the universe into being and sustains it by His divine strength. As Jeremiah 32:17 declares, “Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.”
God has power over nature, human affairs, spiritual forces, sickness, demons, death, and salvation. Yet He often chooses to limit His power to allow human free will and natural laws to operate.
God transcends space and distance, being fully present everywhere at once. As David exclaims in Psalm 139:7-10, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”
God’s omnipresence includes dwelling in the heart of every believer through the Holy Spirit while overseeing the universe. This does not mean God is contained in creation or people, but that nothing can exist apart from His sustaining presence.
God exists outside of time in an everlasting, infinite realm. God has no beginning or end; He simply is. God revealed His eternal name ‘YHWH’ to Moses in Exodus 3:14, meaning “I AM WHO I AM.” As Psalm 90:2 proclaims, “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”
While we mark days and years, God inhabits eternity. This means all of history—past, present, and future—is always now to God.
God defines what goodness means. All true love, righteousness, mercy, and justice originate from God’s holy nature. Jesus said in Luke 18:19, “No one is good—except God alone.” As James 1:17 declares, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”
The Psalms often extol God’s goodness enduring forever. Though evil things happen in this fallen world, God works all things for good in conformity to His perfect plan and character.
The Problem of Evil
The existence of evil and suffering in the world poses a significant intellectual and existential challenge to the belief in an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving God. Both natural and moral evils seem fundamentally incompatible with the idea of a compassionate, attentive, and capable Creator.
While the problem of evil does not necessarily disprove God’s existence, it does put pressure on traditional monotheism to provide a cogent account of how evil can exist under the sovereignty of a wholly good deity.
The daunting task of theodicy is to offer an explanation that is plausible and consistent with the core doctrines of theism. There is no consensus on the matter, but it remains one of the most potent issues in the philosophy of religion.
Natural Evil and the Existence of Suffering
Natural evils refer to harms caused by nature, disease, and natural disasters. The very existence of natural evil seems to contradict God’s benevolence and omnipotence. Why would God allow innocents to suffer pointlessly from earthquakes, cancers, and diseases like COVID-19 that have caused millions of deaths?
A good God would want to prevent such horrific suffering and also have the ability to do so. The scale and distribution of natural evil thus creates an acute evidential problem for theism. Some philosophers argue the amount and kinds of suffering we find in nature far exceeds any reasonable divine purpose, which suggests the non-existence or indifference of God.
The most common explanations appeal to God’s higher reasons for allowing suffering, soul-making virtues that suffering produces, and the consequences of free natural laws. For instance, natural law theodicies argue that a world governed by uniform laws that do not constantly intervene with miracles is more desirable than one that is chaotic and unpredictable.
However, such accounts struggle to provide a sufficient moral justification for specific instances of horrendous evil.
Moral Evil and Human Wickedness
Moral evils result from wickedness perpetrated by free creatures. The problem here is not just the existence of moral evil itself, but its sheer excess. Both the scale and intensity of moral depravity stagger the imagination.
Genocides, mass rapes, child abuse, and totalitarian repression certainly seem to cast doubt on the notion of a perfectly good Creator exercising sovereignty over the world.
The most common explanation is the free will defense – God endowed human beings with free will, and freely chosen evil actions are solely the responsibility of the agents themselves. However, this does not entirely absolve God of responsibility.
God still knowingly allows perpetrators to inflict horrific suffering on victims. And free will does not explain natural evils not caused by human agency.
Attempts to Reconcile Evil with a Loving God
Theodicies that justify every instance of evil are rare. More common are partial theodicies that render God’s existence logically compatible with some amount of evil. But ultimately, there is no consensus on how compelling any one of these theodicies are.
Some of the major strategies include:
- Soul-making theodicy – Evil and suffering develop virtues in humans like courage, empathy, and perseverance.
- Free will theodicy – Evil results from human free will, which is an intrinsically valuable good that God allows.
- Afterlife theodicy – God compensates horrendous earthly suffering with eternal happiness in an afterlife.
- Skeptical theism – God has morally sufficient reasons for allowing evil that are beyond human understanding.
- Natural law theodicy – Natural evils occur because God allows nature to operate independently by its own laws.
While these accounts provide plausible explanations for some evils, critics argue they do not adequately justify the totality of suffering in the world. The profundity of evil remains a difficult problem for traditional monotheism.
Ultimately, whether evil definitively disproves God’s existence relies on subjective evaluations of plausibility. The cogency of theodicies varies across individuals, and for many, the problem of evil significantly impacts theological beliefs.
God’s Relationship to Humanity
God as Creator and Sustainer
Christians believe that God created the universe and everything in it, including humanity. As stated in Genesis 1, God spoke the world into being and crafted mankind in His own image. As Creator, He sustains all of life and holds everything together (Colossians 1:17).
Without God’s continuing providence, the world would cease to exist. The Creator bestows worth, value, and purpose on human life. People belong to God and exist to love Him and reflect His glory.
God acts as a loving Father, intimately involved in caring for His children’s needs. Jesus taught that God feeds the birds and clothes the lilies, so will certainly provide for His precious people (Matthew 6:26-30).
The Almighty invites all to cast their cares on Him, for He cares deeply (1 Peter 5:7). As both Creator and Sustainer of life, God relates to humanity with divine love and compassion.
Divine Providence and Intervention
Throughout history, God has guided the course of nations and individuals through His providence and miraculous interventions at pivotal junctures. For example, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to showcase His power through the ten plagues on Egypt, parted the Red Sea to deliver the Israelites, and stopped the sun’s course for Joshua.
In the New Testament, Jesus performed miracles like healing sickness and raising the dead as signs of God’s mercy and authority.
God also ordains the rise and fall of earthly kingdoms (Daniel 2:21). He appoints leaders, defeats armies, and fulfills His sovereign will through human agents. Presently, the Lord works through the church to spread the gospel message globally before Christ’s return.
He empowers believers to courageously testify among all nations (Acts 1:8). Ultimately, providence rests in God’s hands—history unfolds according to His wise plan.
Covenants Between God and Man
A biblical covenant refers to a solemn, binding agreement between God and man outlining required commitments and blessings. Major covenants in Scripture show how God’s relationship with humanity has unfolded through a series of divine initiatives.
|God promises to never destroy the earth again with a flood (Gen. 9:8-17)
|God pledges to make Abraham a great nation and bless all peoples through Him (Gen. 12:1-3)
|God gives Moses the 10 Commandments and the Law for the Israelites (Ex. 19-24)
|God establishes David’s throne forever in Jerusalem (2 Sam. 7:4-17)
|Through Christ’s blood, God writes His law on believers’ hearts (Jer. 31:31-34)
Covenants reveal God’s initiative in establishing committed relationships with humanity through specific promises. They provide a framework for understanding God’s unfolding plan to redeem and bless people across history through Christ.
This examination of the identity of God has shown the multifaceted ways that different faiths conceptualize the Divine. While there is much diversity in specific beliefs, common threads bind these traditions in their awe and reverence for the sacred source and ground of being.
Whether we conceive of God as a personal deity or an impersonal absolute, the quest to understand God intimately relates to our search for meaning and purpose. As we open ourselves to the presence of the Divine in our lives, we perhaps edge closer to unveiling the deepest mysteries of existence.