Perfect Chaos

The Blog of Author Steven Colborne

Describing God

I’ve been thinking a lot about ways of describing God recently. I think it’s a really useful spiritual exercise to try to put our understanding of the being of God into words, and that is exactly what I will try to do in this article, before inviting your suggestions as to the same.

There’s a tendency in Christianity to refer to God in metaphor (think ‘Mighty Fortress’ or ‘Rock of Ages’ or any number of other such depictions commonly found in traditional hymns and in the Bible). In this article, however, I want us to reflect on how we would literally describe God, if we had to. For the philosophers out there, I’m talking about the ontology of God.

In all of my years of spiritual exploration, I have yet to find a word or phrase that I think perfectly captures my understanding of God’s nature, but here are a few thoughts which are about as close as I can get.

The ‘I AM THAT I AM’ (also sometimes rendered ‘I AM WHO I AM’) which is recorded as God’s way of describing Himself in the book of Exodus is incredibly beautiful and I’m not sure whether I can do better than that (though I’ll give it a go, otherwise my aims with this article would come to nought).

Here’s a suggestion: I think of God as being simultaneously absolute nothingness and absolute fullness.

One thing of which I am certain is that God is not simply ‘The Universe’ in the way that ‘Law of Attraction‘ fanatics often suggest. Such people seem to objectify God in a very vague and unhelpful way which makes God impersonal and without attributes. I think when New Agers say things like “Ask the Universe!” and “The Universe has got your back!” they are not being thoughtful about what they are saying.

I feel proponents of Eastern philosophy do better when they describe God as sat-chit-ananda, which directly translated is existence-consciousness-bliss, although there is a similar problem to the New Agers here in that the active personhood of God is nowhere to be found. We are once again in danger of thinking of God as a ‘thing’.

I’ll end with my best attempt at this. I was listening to some music earlier and a song title came up by a band that I’d never heard of. The name of the song was ‘Luminous Emptiness’. I was really struck by this title, even though I’m not sure the musicians in question had any intention of trying to describe God with this phrase. It occurred to me that this phrase could be used in reference to the being of God, not as a perfect description, but as a kind of metaphor.

I gave that phrase some further thought, and felt we could get even closer to the Truth if we described God as Luminous Nothingness. I love the paradox contained in that phrase.

Just as an aside, the fact that we have a common understanding of what we’re referring to when we use the word ‘God’ speaks volumes, and it could actually be that the word ‘God’ itself is the best way to describe God.

This topic is surely inexhaustible, so I’m hoping for a lot of readers to contribute their thoughts, suggestions, anecdotes, and wisdom, in the comments. Perhaps, cumulatively, we can get somewhere close to describing the great I AM in our own words.

11 responses to “Describing God”

  1. Brilliantly written. Those hand pans are pretty cool so thank you for that one. Anyways, do you think it’s our language that fails at describing God? I mean, I feel God in my heart and think I understand until I try to coin a phrase explaining that feeling. It’s like you said, the new Ager’s and the eastern mystics have a beautifully descriptive philosophy that denotes God is a thing. When even the new physics seems to be grasping God as the unified field of everything this description fails. God is living and breathing, within us and somehow in everything. What Eckhart called the “desire behind all desires.” And around in circles we go explaining everything and nothing at once. 😂 I don’t envy you the difficult task of writing this article but I did enjoy reading it. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What a fantastic first comment to receive on this post, thank you so much! I know what you mean about feeling you understand God but then being unable to capture that feeling in words. I guess that’s why we use metaphor and poetic language so much, which can feel very deep and evocative.

      In the East God seems to be thought of more as a state that can be experienced (through meditation, etc), while in the Abrahamic traditions, God is active and personal. I wonder whether there is some truth in both views?

      So glad you enjoyed the post, thank you so much, friend!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. When you say there’s some truth in both views I get really excited as I feel they’re really close to each other no matter how far apart they may seem. Our application of our beliefs may vary but that’s hardly Gods fault. I don’t know, you gave me a lot to think about and that is always a good thing.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Interestingly, in my book God’s Grand Game (any opportunity for a plug!) there’s a section on Interfaith dialogue, and I think there could be (and I’m sure already are) amazing conversations between Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Jews [insert very many other religions!] on the subject of the nature of the being of God.

          I know that religious pluralism is a very contentious topic in Christian spirituality because of the exclusivistic nature of the Christian faith. I understand this very well as I have been a very evangelical Christian myself and I know the power of Jesus’s statements about being the ‘only way’. Nevertheless, I believe God has created every religion. That, to me, is an unavoidable truth.

          I would actually (kindly and respectfully) disagree with your statement that God is not responsible for the application of our varying beliefs, but my views on this would take a long time to explain and discuss. Essentially, I believe God is the animator of the entirety of creation and that we don’t have free will. Apologies if you’re already familiar with my arguments in relation to this, I don’t know how familiar you are with with my writing. Anyway, it’s not a discussion for now, but we could get into it via email sometime, perhaps.

          In any case, I’m glad you found the post thought-provoking and I love your depth of thought and willingness to reflect on all this! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Dude, you’re brilliant. This makes me want to become familiar with your writing on the matter. Um, yeah, email is great. Let’s dance in the mystery of God a bit. Especially, since our beliefs very at free will. I find by being challenged, by really really thinking and reflecting, we are deepening our connection to God. Any time my man, um…

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Justin, thank you for being so gracious! I hate offending anyone and sometimes disagreements can be misunderstood as personal attacks, so I’m relieved you don’t hate me and are potentially up for chatting more!

              Thanks for sharing your email address, but let me know if you’d like me to delete it from your comment because I wouldn’t want you to start getting spam due to bots or crawlers or whatever pouncing on your email address!

              Liked by 1 person

            2. Oh, it’s totally fine, it’s the one linked to my blog so I doubt I’ll get too much hate mail.
              On a side note, I live for these kind of talks. I definitely feel like I found my tribe on WordPress. Take care!

              Liked by 1 person

            3. Glad you’re not worried about the email thing! I live for these kinds of discussions as well, they’re one of life’s best bits, haha 🙂

              I’ll either email you or you can find my email address on the Contact page if you’d ever like to use it.

              I think you’re brilliant too. Glad to have met another philosopher!

              Liked by 1 person

            4. I like that phrase – Let’s dance in the mystery of God. I am a Polytheist, and the idea of dancing in the mysteries is beautiful.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. storeroomsessions avatar

    God is holy. He is first holy before anything else. As He is holy, His love is holy, His justice is holy…and so forth. Jesus called Him, Holy Father.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your contribution! It’s interesting that you chose to strongly emphasise the word ‘Holy’ instead of countless other aspects of the divine nature that you could have chosen. I wonder why that particular word is so important to you?

      You don’t have to answer the question, I’m just curious 🙂


Steven Colborne

About Me

Hello, I’m Steven and I’m a philosopher and author based in London. My main purpose as a writer is to encourage discussion about God. I write about a wide variety of subjects related to philosophical theology, including divine sovereignty, the nature of God, suffering, interfaith dialogue and more. My mantra: Truth heals.

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