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.