The Attributes of God
Different religious traditions assign differing (though often similar) attributes and characteristics to God, including expansive powers and abilities, psychological characteristics, gender characteristics, and preferred nomenclature. The assignment of these attributes often differs according to the conceptions of God in the culture from which they arise. For example, attributes of God in Christianity, attributes of God in Islam, and the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy in Judaism share certain similarities arising from their common roots.
There are also several philosophical positions with regard to the existence of God that one might take including various forms of theism (such as monotheism and polytheism), agnosticism and different forms of atheism. Each positions have different concept, faith, belief, and understanding of God’s properties.
God in philosophy of religion
Monotheism is defined as the belief in the existence of only one god that created the world, is all-powerful and intervenes in the world. A broader definition of monotheism is the belief in one god. A distinction may be made between exclusive monotheism, and both inclusive monotheism and pluriform (panentheistic) monotheism which, while recognising various distinct gods, postulate some underlying unity.
- Theism is broadly defined as the belief in the existence of the Supreme Being or deities.
- Pantheism: The belief that the physical universe is equivalent to god, and that there is no division between a Creator and the substance of its creation.
- Panentheism: Like Pantheism, the belief that the physical universe is joined to a god or gods. However, it also believes that the divine pervades and interpenetrates every part of the universe and also extends beyond time and space. Examples include most forms of Vaishnavism and the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza.
Polytheism is the belief of multiple deities also usually assembled into a pantheon of gods and goddesses, along with their own mythologies and rituals.
Agnosticism Agnosticism is the view that the existence of God, of the divine or the supernatural is unknown or unknowable.
The philosophy of religion recognizes the following as essential attributes of God:
- Eternity (God is not bound by time)
- Gender of God
- Immutability (God is not subject to change)
- Impassibility (God is not affected)
- Incorporeality (God is not material)
- Names (“Word“)
- Omnipotence (limitless power)
- Omniscience (limitless knowledge)
- Oneness (God is wholly benevolent)
- Simplicity (God is not composite)
Traditional religious definition of God:
personal, omnipotent, benevolent, transcendent
In classical theism, God is characterized as the metaphysically ultimate being (the first, timeless, absolutely simple and sovereign being, who is devoid of any anthropomorphic qualities), in distinction to other conceptions such as theistic personalism, open theism, and process theism. Classical theists do not believe that God can be completely defined. They believe it would contradict the transcendent nature of God for mere humans to define him. Robert Barron explains by analogy that it seems impossible for a two-dimensional object to conceive of three-dimensional humans.
In modern Western societies, the concepts of God typically entail a monotheistic, supreme, ultimate, and personal being, as found in the Christian, Islamic and Jewish traditions. In monotheistic religions outside the Abrahamic traditions, the existence of God is discussed in similar terms. In these traditions, God is also identified as the author (either directly or by inspiration) of certain texts, or that certain texts describe specific historical events caused by the God in question or communications from God (whether in direct speech or via dreams or omens). Some traditions also believe that God is the entity which is currently answering prayers for intervention or information or opinions.
Many Islamic scholars have used philosophical and rational arguments to prove the existence of God. For example, Ibn Rushd, a 12th-century Islamic scholar, philosopher, and physician, states there are only two arguments worthy of adherence, both of which are found in what he calls the “Precious Book” (The Qur’an). Rushd cites “providence” and “invention” in using the Qur’an’s parables to claim the existence of God. Rushd argues that the Earth’s weather patterns are conditioned to support human life; thus, if the planet is so finely-tuned to maintain life, then it suggests a fine tuner – God. The Sun and the Moon are not just random objects floating in the Milky Way, rather they serve us day and night, and the way nature works and how life is formed, humankind benefits from it. Rushd essentially comes to a conclusion that there has to be a higher being who has made everything perfectly to serve the needs of human beings.
Moses ben Maimon, widely known as Maimonides, was a Jewish scholar who tried to logically prove the existence of God. Maimonides argued that because every physical object is finite, it can only contain a finite amount of power. If everything in the universe, which includes all the planets and the stars, is finite, then there has to be an infinite power to push forth the motion of everything in the universe. Narrowing down to an infinite being, the only thing that can explain the motion is an infinite being (meaning God) which is neither a body nor a force in the body. Maimonides believed that this argument gives us a ground to believe that God is, not an idea of what God is. He believed that God cannot be understood or be compared.
Non-personal definitions of God
In pantheism, God and the universe are considered to be the same thing. In this view, the natural sciences are essentially studying the nature of God. This definition of God creates the philosophical problem that a universe with God and one without God are the same, other than the words used to describe it.
Deism and panentheism assert that there is a God distinct from, or which extends beyond (either in time or in space or in some other way) the universe. These positions deny that God intervenes in the operation of the universe, including communicating with humans personally. The notion that God never intervenes or communicates with the universe, or may have evolved into the universe, makes it difficult, if not by definition impossible, to distinguish between a universe with God and one without.
Main article: The Attributes Of God According To The Old Testament
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are sometimes called Abrahamic religions because they all accept the tradition of the God, Yahweh, (known as Allah in Arabic), that revealed himself to the prophet Abraham. The theological traditions of all Abrahamic religions are thus to some extent influenced by the depiction of the God of Israel in the Hebrew Bible, and the historical development of monotheism in the history of Judaism. The Abrahamic God in this sense is the conception of God that remains a common attribute of all three traditions. God is conceived of as eternal, omnipotent, omniscient and as the creator of the universe. God is further held to have the properties of holiness, justice, omni-benevolence and omnipresence. Proponents of Abrahamic faiths believe that God is also transcendent, meaning that he is outside space and outside time and therefore not subject to anything within his creation, but at the same time a personal God, involved, listening to prayer and reacting to the actions of his creatures.
When we speak of the attributes of God in Christianity, we are talking about those characteristics that helps us to understand who He truly is. In this article, we are discussed specific characteristics of God in Christian theology. Christians are not monolithic in their understanding of God’s attributes.
A.W. Tozer in Knowledge of the Holy finds 18 characteristics of God in the Bible. They are repeated here, although not in the same order. Tozer’s definitions, when used, will appear in quotes.
“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” So says Tozer in his classic book on the attributes of God, The Knowledge of the Holy. Why would he make such an extreme pronouncement? Tozer goes on to say, “Man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshipper entertains high or low thoughts of God.”
The most common way to classify God’s attributes divides them into:
- Incommunicable attributes (traits that God doesn’t share or “communicate” to others)
- Communicable attributes (traits that God shares or “communicates” with us).
God’s incommunicable attributes
- Aseity (God is so independent that he does not need us)
- Eternal nature (God is infinite, but we are finite)
- Holiness (He is separate from sin and incorruptible)
- Immanence (divine encompasses or is manifested in the material world)
- Impassibility (God does not experience pain or pleasure from the actions of another being)
- Immutability (he never changes, but we do)
- Infinity (God includes both his Eternity and his immensity)
- Impeccability (God cannot sin)
- Incomprehensibility (Acatalepsy; God is not able to be fully known)
- Incorporeality (Not composed of matter; having no material existence)
- Mystery (God only reveals certain knowledge to the human race. “God is ultimate mystery.”)
- Omnibenevolence (“unlimited or infinite benevolence”
- Omnipotence (All powerful, Almighty)
- Omnipresence (God is everywhere at once, but we can only be in one place at a time)
- Omniscience (God has the capacity to know everything including the future)
- Oneness (The oneness, or unity of God refers to his being one and only)
- Simplicity (God is not partly this and partly that, but that whatever he is, he is so entirely.)
- Transcendence (Wholly independent of the material universe, beyond all known physical laws)
God’s communicable attributes
- Goodness (“God is the final standard of good, and all that God is and does is worthy of approval.”)
- Graciousness (“the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not necessarily because of anything we have done to earn it”)
- Jealousy (God “zeal to protect a love relationship or to avenge it when broken”)
- Justice (God is just, and we’re capable of justice)
- Love (God is love, and we’re capable of love)
- Knowledge (God has knowledge, and we can have it, too)
- Mercy (God is merciful, and we’re also capable of mercy)
- Mission (Christian Mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God)
- Righteousness (God’s holiness, to his justice, or to his saving activity)
- Providence (God‘s intervention in the Universe. God’s care for the universe)
- Sovereignty (God being in complete control as he directs all things)
- Trinity (The relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit described in the Bible)
- Veracity (“God, who does not lie.”)
- Wrat (“God’s wrath is his love in action against sin.”)
The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy or Shelosh-‘Esreh Middot HaRakhamim (שְׁלוֹשׁ־עֶשְׂרֵה מִידּוֹת הַרַחֲמִים) as enumerated in the Book of Exodus (Exodus 34:6–7) are the Divine Attributes with which, according to Judaism, God governs the world.
According to the explanation of Maimonides these attributes must not be regarded as qualities inherent in God, but as the method of His activity, by which the divine governance appears to the human observer to be controlled. In the Sifre, however, these attributes are not called “middot”, which may mean “quality” as well as “rule” and “measure”, but “derakhim” (ways), since they are the ways of God which Moses prayed to know and which God proclaimed to him.
The thirteen attributes are alluded to a number of other times in the Bible. Verses where God is described using all or some of the attributes include Numbers 14:18, Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2, Micah 7:18, Nahum 1:3, Psalms 86:15, 103:8, 145:8, and Nehemiah 9:17.
Islam’s most fundamental concept is a strict monotheism called tawhid. God is described in the Qur’an as:
“Say: He is God, the One; God, the Eternal, the Absolute; He begot no one, nor is He begotten; Nor is there to Him equivalent anyone.”.”
According to the religious methodology or the basic principles of religion, the Attributes of God in Islam consist of certain transcending and blessed concepts—whose transcendence and blessedness come from the Being Whom they describe; these describe God Almighty and are, in one sense, regarded as the veils of the Divine Essence. These blessed concepts, mentioned as the Attributes of the Divine Being, are either in the form of nouns, infinitives, adverbs, or of adjectives.
Attributes of God in Islam divided into 5 categories;
Main article: God in Jainism
Jainism does not support belief in a creator deity. According to Jain doctrine, the universe and its constituents—soul, matter, space, time, and principles of motion—have always existed. All the constituents and actions are governed by universal natural laws. It is not possible to create matter out of nothing and hence the sum total of matter in the universe remains the same (similar to law of conservation of mass). Jain text claims that the universe consists of Jiva (life force or souls) and Ajiva (lifeless objects). Similarly, the soul of each living being is unique and uncreated and has existed since beginningless time.
Main article: God in Buddhism
The non-adherence to the notion of a supreme God or a prime mover is seen as a key distinction between Buddhism and other religious views. In Buddhism, the sole aim of the spiritual practice is the complete alleviation of distress (dukkha) in samsara, called nirvana. The Buddha neither denies nor accepts a creator, denies endorsing any views on creation and states that questions on the origin of the world are worthless. Some teachers instruct students beginning Buddhist meditation that the notion of divinity is not incompatible with Buddhism, but dogmatic beliefs in a supreme personal creator are considered a hindrance to the attainment of nirvana, the highest goal of Buddhist practice.
Main article: God in Hinduism
In Hinduism, the concept of god is complex and depends on the particular tradition. The concept spans conceptions from absolute monism to henotheism, monotheism and polytheism. In vedic period monotheistic god Concept culminated in the semi abstract semi personified form of creative soul dwelling in all god such as Vishvakarman, Purusha, and Prajapathy . In majority of Vaishnavism traditions, He is Vishnu, god, and the text identifies this being as Krishna, sometimes referred as svayam bhagavan. The term isvara – from the root is, to have extraordinary power. Some traditional sankhya systems contrast purusha (devine, or souls) to prakriti (nature or energy), however the term for sovereign god, ishvara is mentioned six times in the Atharva Veda, and is central to many traditions. As per Advaita Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy the notion of Brahman (the highest Universal Principle) is akin to that of god; except that unlike most other philosophies Advaita likens Brahman to Atman (the true Self of an individual). For Sindhi Hindus, who are deeply influenced by Sikhism, God is seen as the omnipotent cultivation of all Hindu gods and goddesses. In short the soul paramatma of all gods and goddesses are the omnipresent Brahman and are enlightened beings.
Main article: God in Sikhism
The term for God in Sikhism is Vahigurū. Nānak describes God as niraṅkār (from the Sanskrit nirākārā, meaning “formless”), akāl (meaning “eternal”) and alakh (from the Sanskrit alakśya, meaning “invisible” or “unobserved”). Sikhism’s principal scripture, the Gurū Granth Sāhib, starts with the figure “1”, signifying the unity of God. Nānak’s interpretation of God is that of a single, personal and transcendental creator with whom the devotee must develop a most intimate faith and relationship to achieve salvation. Sikhism advocates the belief in one god who is omnipresent (sarav vi’āpak), whose qualities are infinite and who is without gender, a nature represented (especially in the Gurū Granth Sāhib) by the term ik ōaṅkār.
African Traditional Concept of God
Main article: African Traditional Concept of God
God is the Supreme entity to the adherents of the traditional religions of Africa and is considered to be the origin of everything in this universe. In Africa, God is viewed in both immanent and transcendent dimensions. This very idea of Oneness of the Supreme Being is core to the followers and this belief creates no place for the atheists in their traditional concept of God. There is no sacred text in written form, but the root of this traditional idea of God is mainly taken from proverbs, short statements, stories, religious rituals, prayers, songs, myths, etc.
Main article: The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception
The Western Wisdom Teachings present the conception of The Absolute (unmanifested and unlimited “Boundless Being” or “Root of Existence”, beyond the whole universe and beyond comprehension) from whom proceeds the Supreme Being at the dawn of manifestation: The One, the “Great Architect of the Universe”. From the threefold Supreme Being proceed the “seven Great Logoi” who contain within themselves all the great hierarchies that differentiate more and more as they diffuse through the six lower Cosmic Planes. In the Highest World of the seventh (lowest) Cosmic Plane dwells the god of the solar systems in the universe. These great beings are also threefold in manifestation, like the Supreme Being; their three aspects are Will, Wisdom and Activity.
According these Rosicrucian teachings, in the beginning of a Day of Manifestation a certain collective Great Being, God, limits himself to a certain portion of space, in which he elects to create a solar system for the evolution of added self-consciousness. In God there are contained hosts of glorious hierarchies and lesser beings of every grade of intelligence and stage of consciousness, from omniscience to an unconsciousness deeper than that of the deepest trance condition.
During the current period of manifestation these various grades of beings are working to acquire more experience than they possessed at the beginning of this period of existence. Those who, in previous manifestations, have attained to the highest degree of development work on those who have not yet evolved any consciousness. In the Solar system, God’s Habitation, there are seven Worlds differentiated by God, within Himself, one after another. Mankind’s evolutionary scheme is slowly carried through five of these Worlds in seven great Periods of manifestation, during which the evolving virgin spirit becomes first human and, then, a God.
Main article: Unitarian Universalism
Concepts about deity are diverse among UUs. Some have no belief in any gods (atheism); others believe in many gods (polytheism). Some believe that the question of the existence of any god is most likely unascertainable or unknowable (agnosticism). Some believe that God is a metaphor for a transcendent reality. Some believe in a female god (goddess), a passive god (Deism), an Abrahamic god, or a god manifested in nature or the universe (pantheism). Many UUs reject the idea of deities and instead speak of the “spirit of life” that binds all life on earth. UUs support each person’s search for truth and meaning in concepts of spirituality. Historically, Unitarianism was a denomination within Christianity. The term may refer to any belief about the nature of Jesus Christ that affirms God as a singular entity and rejects the doctrine of the Trinity. Universalism broadly refers to a theological belief that all persons and creatures are related to a god or the divine and will be reconciled to a god (Universal Salvation).
According to Brahma Kumaris, God is the incorporeal soul with the maximum degree of spiritual qualities such as peace and love.
See also: UFO religion
Some comparatively new belief systems and books portray God as extraterrestrial life. Many of these theories hold that intelligent beings from another world have been visiting Earth for many thousands of years and have influenced the development of our religions. Some of these books posit that prophets or messiahs were sent to the human race in order to teach morality and encourage the development of civilization (see, for example, Rael and Zecharia Sitchin).
The spiritual teacher Meher Baba described God as infinite love: “God is not understood in His essence until He is also understood as Infinite Love. Divine Love is unlimited in essence and expression, because it is experienced by the soul through the soul itself. The sojourn of the soul is a thrilling divine romance in which the lover, who in the beginning is conscious of nothing but emptiness, frustration, superficiality and the gnawing chains of bondage, gradually attains an increasingly fuller and freer expression of love and ultimately disappears and merges in the Divine Beloved to realize the unity of the Lover and the Beloved in the supreme and eternal fact of God as Infinite Love.”
Main article: LaVeyan Satanism
Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, espoused the view that “god” is a creation of man, rather than man being a creation of “god”. In his book, The Satanic Bible, the Satanist’s view of god is described as the Satanist’s true “self”—a projection of his or her own personality—not an external deity. Satan is used as a representation of personal liberty and individualism. LaVey discusses this extensively in The Book of Lucifer, explaining that the gods worshipped by other religions are also projections of man’s true self. He argues that man’s unwillingness to accept his own ego has caused him to externalize these gods so as to avoid the feeling of narcissism that would accompany self-worship.
“If man insists on externalizing his true self in the form of “God,” then why fear his true self, in fearing “God,”—why praise his true self in praising “God,”—why remain externalized from “God” in order to engage in ritual and religious ceremony in his name?
Man needs ritual and dogma, but no law states that an externalized god is necessary in order to engage in ritual and ceremony performed in a god’s name! Could it be that when he closes the gap between himself and his “God” he sees the demon of pride creeping forth—that very embodiment of Lucifer appearing in his midst?”— Anton LaVey, The Satanic Bible, pp. 44–45
Relationship with creation
Prayer plays a significant role among many believers. Muslims believe that the purpose of existence is to worship God.He is viewed as a personal God and there are no intermediaries, such as clergy, to contact God. Prayer often also includes supplication and asking forgiveness. God is often believed to be forgiving. For example, a hadith states God would replace a sinless people with one who sinned but still asked repentance. Christian theologian Alister McGrath writes that there are good reasons to suggest that a “personal god” is integral to the Christian outlook, but that one has to understand it is an analogy. “To say that God is like a person is to affirm the divine ability and willingness to relate to others. This does not imply that God is human, or located at a specific point in the universe.”
Adherents of different religions generally disagree as to how to best worship God and what is God’s plan for mankind, if there is one. There are different approaches to reconciling the contradictory claims of monotheistic religions. One view is taken by exclusivists, who believe they are the chosen people or have exclusive access to absolute truth, generally through revelation or encounter with the Divine, which adherents of other religions do not. Another view is religious pluralism. A pluralist typically believes that his religion is the right one, but does not deny the partial truth of other religions. An example of a pluralist view in Christianity is supersessionism, i.e., the belief that one’s religion is the fulfillment of previous religions. A third approach is relativistic inclusivism, where everybody is seen as equally right; an example being universalism: the doctrine that salvation is eventually available for everyone. A fourth approach is syncretism, mixing different elements from different religions. An example of syncretism is the New Age movement.
Jews and Christians believe that humans are created in the image of God, and are the center, crown and key to God’s creation, stewards for God, supreme over everything else God had made (Gen 1:26); for this reason, humans are in Christianity called the “Children of God“.
Various objections have been to certain attributes or combinations of attributes. The omnipotence paradox explores questions like, “Could God create a stone so heavy that even He could not lift it?” The problem of evil and the argument from poor design have been proposed to suggest that God cannot be omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient. Nevertheless, these criticisms have been robustly countered from the Scriptures by apologists from beginning from the early Church and throughout Church history. Some Christians overcome these objections by the notion of free will, in which God chooses not to control all that happens despite being able to because He considers freedom more important than an absence of suffering; by the notion that human experience is so limited that we are unable to fully perceive what a loving and fully powerful God “should” do at any one moment, and by the sheer fact that God, as transcendent creator of all logic and causality, is not bound by these restrictions Himself.
Another school of thought is that man is bound by his nature and his nature is always against God. In this understanding the sovereignty of God demands that a sinful humanity cannot do good apart from God, for to be reconciled to God would be an act of goodness outside of mans natural capabilities. In the act of faithfully believing the life, death and resurrection “for mans sin” by the shed blood of Jesus, the Son of God, till this is done goodness by God’s standard is impossible. Generally instead of Free will a holder of this view will take on a more presuppositionalist approach while at the same time apply simple logic is to any attempt at question God’s attributes/power/sovereignty. The presuppositionalist will proclaim the Gospel in the hopes God will grant the hearer a saving faith in Jesus despite this information and call to faith going completely against their natural inclinations. “Many are called, few are chosen” Matt 22:14, “all who where appointed to eternal life believed” Acts 13:48.
The Bible describes that every human inherently knows they need saving from their sin, from God’s just judgment against them, but refuse because of their sin committed and sinful nature. God calls all to believe but will only save the elect by conforming their heart to faith in Jesus, though it goes against their anti-God nature. All who deny Jesus are given over to what they want, the elect “chosen” on the other hand are given a new heart to believe.
Process philosophy and open theism
Process theology is a school of thought influenced by the metaphysical process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947), while open theism is a similar theological movement that began in the 1990s.
In both views, God is not omnipotent in the classical sense of a coercive being. Reality is not made up of material substances that endure through time, but serially-ordered events, which are experiential in nature. The universe is characterized by process and change carried out by the agents of free will. Self-determination characterizes everything in the universe, not just human beings. God and creatures co-create. God cannot force anything to happen, but rather only influence the exercise of this universal free will by offering possibilities. Process theology is compatible with panentheism, the concept that God contains the universe (pantheism) but also transcends it. God as the ultimate logician – God may be defined as the only entity, by definition, possessing the ability to reduce an infinite number of logical equations having an infinite number of variables and an infinite number of states to minimum form instantaneously.
A posthuman God is a hypothetical future entity descended from or created by humans, but possessing capabilities so radically exceeding those of present humans as to appear godlike. One common variation of this idea is the belief or aspiration that humans will create a God entity emerging from an artificial intelligence. Another variant is that humanity itself will evolve into a posthuman God.
The philosopher Michel Henry defines God from a phenomenological point of view. He says:
“God is Life, he is the essence of Life, or, if we prefer, the essence of Life is God. Saying this we already know what is God the father the almighty, creator of heaven and earth, we know it not by the effect of a learning or of some knowledge, we don’t know it by the thought, on the background of the truth of the world ; we know it and we can know it only in and by the Life itself. We can know it only in God.”
This Life is not biological life defined by objective and exterior properties, nor an abstract and empty philosophical concept, but the absolute phenomenological life, a radically immanent life that possesses in it the power of showing itself in itself without distance, a life that reveals permanently itself.