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The Supreme Being, Pure Act, First Cause of all, provident conserver and governor of the universe; the Absoluteinfinite, eternal, immutable, intelligent, omniscient, all-powerful, and free; the Creator, to whom creatures owe homage, respect, and obedience; the Sovereign Good, diffusive of all goodness, toward which everything tends as to its ultimate final cause; the supernatural source of revelation; the Godhead composed of three Divine Persons in one divine natureFather, Son, and Holy Spirit. This article treats of God in revelation and in the Christian tradition. Christian philosophical reflection on God is described here as flowing from the Christian tradition; for a fuller treatment of the place, existence, and nature of God in philosophy see god, proofs for the existence of.

1. In Revelation

The Christian Scriptures present for us the God of revelation, the God who makes himself known and gives himself to mankind through his words and deeds. The content of this revelation is nothing other than the personal self-disclosure of God himself, calling forth a corresponding self-giving to God from those with ears to hear it. God's self-communication invites and requires a response of covenant and communion. Yet God's unveiling of himself as love and mercy in the Scriptural narrative never occurs at the loss of God's fundamental mysteriousness and incomprehensibility; the God revealed is the present but hidden God. In this way the God who speaks and acts in creation and history is both one who humbles and accommodates himself for his people, and also one who in that self-revelation remains beyond man's power to categorize and control. Divine self-disclosure never reduces God to man's disposal. In freely revealing himself God remains free; in being present in the midst of his people and acting on their behalf God remains transcendent. The corresponding anthropological truth is that every glimpse of the glory of God and every taste of the divine sweetness inspires within the human person an ever-increasing desire to behold God's beauty and savor his mystery. Revelation therefore also reveals man to be made for the God who exceeds him. Though the human mind and heart are created with a dynamic capacity for self-transcendence, only the self-disclosure and gift of the ever-mysterious God can fulfill their deepest aspirations.

The very notion of revelation implies some fundamental truths about God not generally found in pagan religious myths: that God has an ongoing concern for creation and a special regard for man, that he wishes to be known and loved, that he takes the initiative and is active in developing this relationship, and that this relationship has a crucial moral dimension. It also presupposes certain premises not generally accepted in the modern view of the notion of revelation: that it is ultimately God, not man, who is the author of the human words and historical deeds attributed to him in the Scriptures, that man cannot have sufficient knowledge of either God or the meaning of human existence simply on the basis of reason's grasp of the natural world, and that the primary concern of human life ought to be coming to know and be known by this God who discloses his mystery in revelation (cf. Jer 32:34; 1 Cor 8:3, 13:12). The reduction of God to simply an idea to be understood, especially when it assumes that one can truly know God apart from a wholehearted response to him, is completely antithetical to the nature and purpose of the revelation in both the Old and New Testaments.


Basis for a Theology of God. The God of the Old Testament is primarily and always Yahweh, the God of Israel (Ex 5:1, Is 45:15). The revelation and understanding of God contained therein is thus inseparable from the history of that people, rooted in the covenantal relationship between the Lord God and the people he has chosen to be his own. Its historical and covenantal character means that God reveals himself gradually in the ongoing encounter with his people, through a series of divine manifestations and actions on their behalf that in turn also shape and define the people's identity. Since the medium includes a history of events, Israel's understanding of God is expressed, as one might expect, in functional terms, in contrast to the essentialist approach (i.e., divine being or nature) of Greek philosophy. Likewise, Israel's knowledge of God grows and deepens as the history of God's actions unfolds. This progression is organic and, significantly, never requires rectification or refutation of earlier theological affirmations. In general, biblical understanding of God develops from a more immediate understanding of God as the Lord of the nation of Israel and active in its history to include a more universal understanding of God as the Lord of all creation and beyond all history.

Biblical language is well suited to express the dynamic character of God and the intensity of his love for Israel, and hence is often unabashedly anthropomorphice.g., God is said to have eyes (Am 9:4) and see (Gn 1:4), ears (Ez 8:18) and hear (Nm 11:18), a mouth (Jer 9:12) and speak (Gn 1:3), etc. There are even striking anthropopathismse.g., "I the Lord your God am a jealous God" (Ex 20:5; Dt 4:24; Zec 8:2), and, "the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart" (Gn 6:6; Jon 3:10). Yet any tendency to take this simple and direct way of speaking about God as literal descriptions is countered by the commandment forbidding all images and representations of him (Ex 20:4), and the recognition that God's ways and thoughts are as high above human ways and thoughts as the sky is above the earth (Is 55:8-9; cf. Hos 11:9). Biblical language never intends to reduce God to human characteristics but simply to make God accessible to human beings, even to those with the simplicity of children (Mt 11:25). The concreteness and immediacy of its style demonstrate that God is the personal and living God who is known through his interactions with the people dear to him.

God of the Covenant. Promise to Abraham. The history of the people of God begins with Abraham and his call by God to walk in his presence and be blameless (Gn 17:1). From the beginning God reveals himself as a God of blessing, promise and covenant. The blessings are concreteland and posterityand reflect the major concerns of a semi-nomadic people and God's intimate involvement in the lives and fortunes of the patriarchs. In promising a son to an elderly Abraham and a sterile Sarah, God demands trust that there is nothing "too difficult for him to do" (Gn 18:14). Then in testing Abraham to sacrifice this son, God demands an obedience which withholds nothing from him (Gn 22). God demonstrates his freedom and the primacy of his election in favoring Jacob (Israel) over Esau (Gn 25:2123; cf. Mal 1:23 & Rom 9:1013), and Joseph over his brothers. The story of Joseph (Gn 3750) exhibits how God's providential foresight brings Joseph through the many betrayals of his life to saving stewardship in time of famine (Gn 45:58, 50:20). These early stories of God's presence and activity in the lives of their ancestors provide the foundation for the theology of Israel. Appropriately, Israel will continue to know their God as the "God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Ex 3:15, 4:5), reflecting the tribal character of their faith and that even across the generations their God is one and the same. Addressing God this way reminds them that their own history is a fulfillment of the promises God made to their ancestors, inspiring a confident assurance that God will in turn be true to all his future promises.

These early narratives in some ways borrow, and in many ways transcend, the diverse understandings of deity found in the ancient near East. Abraham's ancestors worshipped many gods (Jos 24:3), and God's call to him to leave the land of his fathers (Gn 12:1) is also a call to faith in the one God. The patriarchs used common words and ancient titles for God (cf. Ex 6:3), such as El (likely from the Semitic for "strength"), the father of the gods and lord of heaven in Ugaritic and Canaanite religions. This name was readily combined with various modifiers: El Elyon "God most high" (Gn 14:1819), El Shaddai "God almighty"/"God of the mountains" (Gn 17:1), El Ro'i "God of seeing" (Gn 16:13), and El Olam "the everlasting God" (Gn 21:33). Early Israel continued to use these ancient names because they invoke divine greatness and transcendence. However, what was not appropriated from the surrounding religions were the ideas that God was head of a pantheon of other gods, had a consort or equal, or could be identified with some element or force of nature. Again in contrast to the norm in ancient religions and cosmogonies, never is there an attempt to explain God's origins, or any suggestion that there are powers that threaten him. God is one and supreme, and Abraham's faith was monotheistic at least in the tribal and personal sense: if the existence of the gods worshipped by other peoples was never explicitly denied, nonetheless they have no meaning or value to those whose only Lord is the God almighty. Even the word Elohim, used more than 2,500 times in the texts to indicate not only "God" and "the God" specifically, but also "a god" and the "gods" generically (e.g., Ex 20:3), need not imply any genuine form of polytheism. When used to refer to the God of Israel's faith (Gn 1:1) the plural Elohim always takes a singular verb, indicating that, like the royal we, the plural of excellence, not number, is meant. "To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God (Elohim ); there is no other besides him (Dt 4:35).

Yahweh. The most definitive event of Israel's history, the exodus from Egypt, and the revelation of the most prominent name for God in the Hebrew Scriptures coincide. Yahweh (scholarship has proven "Jehovah" to be a mispronunciation) is revealed to Moses in the great theophany of the burning bush (Ex 34), and thus in the context of God's solicitous regard for his people enslaved in Egypt. Yahweh occurs over 6,700 times and appears in almost every book of the Old Testament. Unlike other names of ancient deities, like "Baal" (possessor) or "Adon" (master), "Yahweh" is not also a title or derived from one; it is only a name, and unlike a title, cannot be transferred to another. Etymologically related to hwh ("hayah"), the Hebrew verb "to be," Exodus 3:14 renders the name as "I am who am," and more simply as "I am." The meaning is mysterious as well as manifold, depending upon the sense given the verb. Indicatively, Yahweh means "He who is," a meaning which later Christian theology will find particularly significant when it engages Greek philosophy. But the verb can also be taken in the causative sense (which conforms more closely with the Hebrew understanding of God as active Creator), in which case Yahweh can mean: "I cause to be what ever comes to be." The richness of the name allows even a third possibility: "I will be there as who I am (will I be there)." This meaning fits closely with the context in which it appearsthat is, with God telling Moses his intentions to deliver Israel from slavery and to be with Moses as he contends with Pharaoh and leads the people. Every sense, however, suggests that God is unique and incomparable, and therefore his very name is beyond comprehension. In their great reverence for God, and the Semitic mentality that the name itself is identical to the reality named, the Israelites avoided pronouncing the name Yahweh. Their substitution for the name, Adonai, meaning Lord, expresses the power and reign of Yahweh over all things, as well as the claim he has on his people. At the same time, the substitution respected the ineffability of God's name and mystery, while avoiding the risk of taking the name in vain (Ex 20:7).

Moses and the Israelites quickly learn that Yahweh is the God who does great deeds on their behalf. Initially, God's acts include the deliverance from slavery in Egypt, the giving of the law and covenant on Mt. Sinai, leading Israel into the promised land, and granting victory or defeat in Israel's battles. Through these deeds Israel comes to understand God to be in their midst (Ex 40:3438), demonstrating his supreme greatness and power (Dt 4:3240), acting for their good (Dt 5:33, 8:210), fulfilling his promises to their forefathers (Dt 5:37, 9:5), and expressing his choice for them as a people for his own possession (Dt 7:68). These saving deeds become the foundation for the covenant, not only in the sense that God plagues Egypt because of Pharaoh's refusal to let Israel go and worship God on Mt. Sinai (Ex 7:16, 8:2528), but also in that the favor God shows to Israel in these wondrous deeds serves as the basis for the covenantal obligations God expects from them (Dt 6:2125, 11:1ff.). "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord your God" (Nm 15:41). As acts expressive of his gracious favor, they invite Israel to respond with likeminded love and loyalty. As acts expressive of his power, they give Israel reason to revere and fear him, and to believe that there is no other god like him. God's merciful goodness is reason to pay him heed, as is evident in the great and intimate theophany given to Moses upon Mt. Sinai during the making of the covenant: "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children's children, to the third and fourth generation. And Moses made haste to bow his head toward the earth, and worshiped" (Ex 34:67; cf. Dt 7:911 & Jon 4:2).

Through their encounter with God in history and covenant Israel learns that God is holy (Ps 99:3, 5, 9; Is 6:3), "the holy one of Israel" (Is 1:4, 5:19, 30:15, 31:1). Originally referring to ritual items reserved and set apart for worship, holiness applied to God designates his uniqueness, his exalted otherness, his incomparability (Hos 11:9). One of Yahweh 's most distinguishing characteristics, divine holiness sets him apart from all other gods, from all that he has made, from the wicked and from every evil. It means that God is unapproachable, that no one can see his face and live (Ex 33:20; Is 6:5). "Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God?" (1 Sm 6:20). As exalted in holiness over all, he is not to be tested or provoked (Dt 6:16; Ps 95:89), nor his determinations gainsaid (Jb 3841; Is 45:913; Jon 4). As holy, his name is great and terrible (Ps 99:3), and the earth trembles at his approach (Jgs 5:4). Yahweh is "the great, the mighty, and the terrible God" (Dt 10:17; Dn 9:4), in the sense of inducing awe and fear by his powerful deeds on behalf of his people (Dt 10:21; 2 Sm 7:23; Ps 106:22), and the fearful natural events of violent thunderstorm and earthquake (Ex 19:1619; Ps 29; Is 10:33). Thus, a decisive feature of the biblical understanding of Yahweh is that the same God who is immanently present and compassionate towards Israel is transcendently exalted far above the heavens in glory.

Israel's Response. Because "great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel" (Is 12:6), the people of God are set apart as well: to be holy unto the Lord (Nm 15:40; Dt 7:6), and to be a light to the nations (Is 42:6, 49:6). In the covenant God commands Israel to be holy because Yahweh is holy (Lv 11:4445, 19:2), just as he demanded their forefather Abraham before them (Gn 17:1). Their call to holiness is contained in the twin obligations of the covenant: the religious commandments in regards to God and the moral ones concerning neighbor. Though fittingly expressed in the form of law, since obedient action is the heart of the matter, the covenantal demands of the Torah are essentially a teaching of wisdom, a way of acting that leads to life and blessing (Dt 30:1520; Ps 1). Israel was called to listen to God, and respond with the whole of heart and life, as the daily praying of Shema reminded them: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Dt 6:45). The covenantal relationship requires them "to fear God"that is, to walk in all his ways, to love him, serve him, and keep all his commandments and statutes (Dt 10:1213). Living truthfully is to seek the face of the Lord (Ps 24:6). The fear of God, the reverential acknowledgement of God's claims upon man (Ex 20:20), is the beginning of wisdom (Ps 111:10), for the carrying out of God's commands is the whole duty of man (Eccl 12:13). In contrast, it is the fool who says in his heart there is no God (Ps 14:1), who convinces himself that God does not see human behavior or will require an accounting for it (Ps 36:12, 94:411; Is 47:1011). This is not atheism in the strict and ideological sense, where the existence of God is denied outright, but a functional or performative kind of atheism that ignores God and thereby denies his Lordship and right to judgment.

Israel's theology of God, therefore, is a lived one, formed and sustained by moral obedience to God's commands. Equally important in this formation are the cultic practices required by the covenant: the offering of sacrifices of expiation and thanksgiving, the petitions, praise and prayers of the psalms, and the rites of the yearly calendar of feasts through which they remembered the saving deeds of God and sang: "Praise him for his mighty deeds, praise his surpassing greatness" (Ps 150:2). These religious rituals were performed in the family setting, at specific religious shrines of ancestral significance, and eventually in the temple of Jerusalem above all. Central too is the conviction that Yahweh is present in the midst of the people (Ex 25:8), especially in his shekinah (presence) over the ark of the covenant, at first in tent (Ex 40:3438), later in temple (1 Kgs 8:1011). This deep confidence that God was with them communally is an ongoing realization that the name of Yahweh means, "I am he who will be there for you."

God of Creation. As Israel understands Yahweh as the author of wonderful historical deeds on their behalf, in like fashion they conceive the coming to be of all things as a great work of Yahweh. The making of the heavens and the earth by calling them into existence and placing all things in their proper setting is the first of Yahweh's saving deeds, and thus the beginning of salvation history. Creation is a divine act integrated with, and never separate from, the divine work of the covenant. As his own proper actthe Hebrew verb to create, bārā (Gn 1:1), is chiefly reserved for God alonethe work of creation displays God's power and gives evidence of his greatness, beauty, and artistry (Wis 13:19). Creation gives God glory (Ps 19:1), and like his saving historical deeds, inspires Israel to worship and praise him (Ps 95:56, 104:3135).

The work of creation is accomplished by the powerful word (dabar ) and wind or breath (ruah ) of God (Gn 1; Ps 33:6), and the resultant good depends upon God's wisdom and love (Prv 8:2231; Wis 11:2426). While one can find early mythopoetic representations of God's act of creation as a victory over the restless sea (Ps 93:35), personified as the sea-monster Leviathan (Ps 74:1215) or Rahab (Jb 26:12; Is 51:910), the first chapter of Genesis presents it more simply as God bringing order to what is unformed (Gn 1:1). Only after contact with Greek thought is creation expressed as a making ex nihilo (2 Mc 7:8). In striking contrast to other cosmogonies, biblical creation is never portrayed in the terms of some life-giving process found within the worldi.e., sexual reproduction or the natural cycle wherein death leads to life. Because Yahweh has no consort or rival, the creation account is conspicuously monotheistic. The transcendent Yahweh creates without strain by simply commanding, and thus like the lawgiver Israel knew him to be.

As a work of the Lord, creation has a definite beginning, yet it never means a cessation of divine activity. By the same command and power he made all things, God sustains all things in being, prevents their disintegration, and provides for their needs. As the "living God" (Dt 5:26; Jer 10:10), he is the source of life (Nm 27:16; Ps 38:9), who gives breath (Gn 2:7) and takes it away (2 Sm 12:1423; Ps 104:29). In his untiring stewardship over creation Yahweh is the cause of daily events and changes in nature: he authors day and darkness (Am 4:13, 5:8); he calls forth the movements of the heavens (Is 40:26, 45:12, 48:13); even the wind, rain and snow go forth at his command (Jb 37:911; Ps 147:1518). In particular, Psalm 104 praises the Creator for his ongoing care of creation, in watering the earth, giving food for the hungry, sending and taking away the breath of life (cf. Jb 38:3939:30).

Since nature is completely subject to the God who made it, and natural events can spell either blessing or misfortune for man, timely rains that bring forth the earth's bounty indicate God's reward for Israel's covenantal fidelity (Lv 26:4; Dt 11:1314), while drought and natural disasters are punishments from God for the people's unfaithfulness (Jer 5:2425; Am 4:7; Jl 2:111). Therefore God's relation to creation, too, is covenantal (Gn 9:917; Hos 2:18). This understanding of the world stands in stark contrast to, and often intentionally subverts, the pagan tendency to identify natural forces with gods. It is also differs markedly from later conceptions of nature as autonomous, mechanical and impersonal. Creation manifests God's wisdom and goodness, but the order discernible in its unfolding is not due to absolute, inviolable natural laws, but to the constancy and justice of Yahweh. Not only does Hebrew lack a word for "nature," there is little Semitic concern to distinguish between natural causality and divine agency. The one prominent exception is that genuine human deliberation and moral responsibility is always recognized, since it is a necessary presupposition for Israel's participation in the covenant.

Israel's Disobedience and God's Response. As the history of Israel unfolds Yahweh continues to act according to the covenantal relationship, both in the communal fortunes of the nation and in the personal lives of individuals. At the forefront of the covenant is the commandment to worship Yahweh alone (Ex 20:16), and the events of Israel's history are interpreted in respect to the people's wavering fidelity to their one God, so that a cycle of apostasy, divine punishment, petition, divine deliverance, and repentance is repeated over the generations. God raises up "judges" who deliver Israel from their idolatry and thus from their subjection to their enemies (Judges). Though Yahweh is Israel's true King (1 Sm 8:7), he allows the establishment of a monarchy, himself appointing the first kings, and, in response to David's religious loyalty and obedience, secures his lineage as a dynasty (2 Sm 7:816). When the kings and people of Israel succumb to the polytheism present in and around Israel, God responds by sending prophets. Led by the spirit of God to proclaim his judgment, they call Israel back to the demands of the covenant: to worship Yahweh alone, to trust him exclusively for the nation's welfare, and to act justly toward neighbor. Since Yahweh is the protector of widows, orphans and aliens (Dt 10:18; Ps 68:56), acts of injustice to the poor, innocent and defenseless of society are especially condemned by the prophets. The history of Israel proves that the abandonment of the coherence of covenantal monotheism leads inevitably to ritual hypocrisy (Is 1:1017; Am 5:2125), moral degradation (Is 5:20; Hos 4:12; cf. Rom 1:1832), societal injustice (Jer 6:13; Am 8:48), and loss of the nation's identity and independence (2 Kgs 2425; Is 5).

Certainly Israel's disobedience provides the context for one of the most misunderstood and maligned anthropopathisms in the Old Testament: the fierce anger of God (e.g., Ez 5:1317). God's anger in the Scriptures expresses and personifies the justice of God, but this divine dis-pleasure, unlike parallels in ancient Near Eastern religions, is never capriciously without grounds or purpose. The anger of Yahweh is always in response to covenantal unfaithfulness, and always presupposes the holiness of God wholly incompatible with sin. On account of his righteousness which the covenant must manifest (Is 5:7, 16), the holy God is intolerant towards disobedience in the people he desires and commands to be like him, for their own good and that they may be a blessing to the nations (Gn 12:3; Is 19:24). It is always and only as a consequence of their unfaithfulness to the covenant that God punishes the people of Israel (Jer 21:1122:9). They come to experience his "wrath" (Jer 6:11; Ex 7:8; Hos 5:10)that is, the negative consequences of their own idolatry, immorality and injustice. In this way the natural and human disasters of their history (e.g., famine and conquest) are understood theologically. It is Yahweh who through natural calamities and foreign armies accomplishes the demands of his covenantal justice, even to the point of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and the deportation of the people into exile (Is 46:6; Jer 21:37, 27:511). Again this reflects and affirms the radical monotheism of Israel, who is Lord over every natural and human power.

Yet the drama of Israel's failure to keep the covenant and God's punishing mercy upon his people allows for a deepening of the Bible's portrayal of Yahweh as the one and holy God. The divine quality that comes most to the fore through all this turmoil is the hesed of Yahweh : God's loving faithfulness or steadfast love (Ex 34:6; Ps 106:45, 108:4). The prophets, especially Hosea, characterized Israel's exclusive covenantal relationship with God as that of a marriage of love and fidelity between husband and bride. Even as they equate Israel's idolatrous pursuit of other gods with adultery and harlotry (Ez 16; Hos 4:1019), the prophets affirm the constancy of Yahweh 's love and tenderness for Israel his beloved (Is 62:15; Hos 2:1420). While Israel repeatedly breaks the covenant, God remains true to it, certainly by justly punishing wickedness, yet more so by mercifully forgiving, preserving and restoring Israel. Though God always acts for the good of his people, he acts on account of who he is: justice and mercy and love. "For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for why should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another" (Is 48:11; cf. Ez 36:2223). Thus, after originally choosing Israel as his own, God ever after favors them because his love for Israel has become inseparable from faithfulness to his own name. Having punished Israel's idolatry, Yahweh forgets their iniquity but remembers his loving faithfulness which cannot pass away. As the reason for Israel's hope in the goodness of God to them, the hesed of Yahweh elicits Israel's gratitude and praise: "O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever" (Ps 107:1, 117:2, 118:14, 138:2).

Thus the prophets who foretell Israel's pending destruction always also proclaim God's subsequent mercy upon them (e.g., Jer 33; Hos 2:1423; Am 9:1115). Indeed, in the very nadir of Israel's history, the exile of Judah into Babylon, there occurs a profound renewal in theological thought, particularly evident in Second Isaiah (Is 4066), towards a more universal and eschatological understanding of Yahweh 's steadfast love for Israel. At this time, after the bankruptcy of religious syncretism, Israel's faith becomes explicitly and absolutely monotheisticnot only is Yahweh the only God for Israel, he is the only God, period. "I am the Lord, and there is no other" (Is 45:18; cf. 44:68; 46:9). As the Creator of all things, he can be Israel's savior outside the confines of the Promised Land, even in the midst of a people whose gods are nothing more than lifeless idols (Ps 134:1518; Is 44:920; Jer 10:14). Because Yahweh alone is God, he is the Lord of history ruling over all nations, commissioning foreign powers in the work of returning Israel to the land as surely he had used them to drive them from it (Is 45:17; Jer 29:414; Zec 10:312). Rejecting the common belief that the gods of each nation were responsible for its fortunes, the prophets dare to ascribe the destinies of all peoples to the one and only Lord of heaven and earth.

God and the Future Hope. In the honest acknowledgement of Israel's guilt a hope is born for a future great work of the Lord. This hope of the prophets looks forward to a messianic and eschatological future in which God will definitively act to deliver Israel from its own unfaithfulness and establish an everlasting covenant of God's universal reign. In order to express this future hope of what the Lord will do, the prophets speak in terms of what he had done in the past; hope is grounded in and transforms memory. God will act and there will be a new creation of justice and peace (Is 11:69), a new heavens and earth (Is 65:1719), and the desert representing human spiritual lifelessness will become verdant and fruitful (Is 42:1720; Ez 47:112). God will establish a new covenant (Jer 31:3134), so that his people, with a new heart and spirit (Ez 36:2232), will all have knowledge of and steadfast love for God (Is 11:9; Hos 2:1820, 6:6). There will be a new Jerusalem (Is 66:716) and temple (Ez 4047), honored and sought by the nations. God will send his anointed and chosen one, his Messiah, who as a suffering servant (Is 52:1353:12), will expiate faithlessness by his redemptive suffering, and as a king in the line and example of David (Jer 33:1418; Ez 34:2324, Zec 9:910) will restore Israel to glory. In these ways not only God's original intentions for Israel will be realized, but through Israel's restoration, the whole world will come to salvation (Is 2:24, 49:6; Zep 3:813). For the new deliverance of Israel will lead all nations to acknowledge and worship Yahweh alone (Is 45:825, 56:68; Jer 16:1921), and so demonstrate the universal dominion of the one God.

The true character of the God of the Old Testament, Yahweh, is thus to be known through his intimate regard for Israel, which in its very particularity opens up to a true universality, and in its activity in time moves forward to a future beyond history. God is present among and active for his people, yet in his very immanence God remains wholly transcendent. Even as he reveals his glory to Israel (Dt 5:24), he remains hidden, mysterious (Is 45:15). In antithesis to the disregard of pagan deities for what is beneath them, Yahweh is mindful of Israel, with the tenderness of a mother's love for her child (Is 49:15, 66:13). He is their personal and communal shepherd (Ps 23; Ez 34), rock (Ps 18:2; Is 17:10), refuge and shield (Ps 3:3, 27:1). Yet his closeness to those who fear him involves no reduction of his greatness but always affirms his otherness. God has power over all he has made (Jb 12:725), does whatever he pleases (Ps 115:3), and is in no way subject to the constraints that limit the actions of creatures, such as frustration of will (Jb 42:2; Ps 135:57; Is 55:11) or weakness (Is 40:28; Jer 32:17). Responsive to the choices of men and women, still, in contrast to them, God does not change his mind but remains resolute in his determinations (Nm 23:9; Ps 110:4, 132:11; Ez 24:14). While the human heart and its secret thoughts are completely open to him (Ps 139:14, 12, 15), God's own thoughts and ways remain incomprehensible to human minds (Jb 42:3; Ps 139:6; Is 40:28). Even as he abides in the temple that cannot contain him (1 Kgs 8:27), God is enthroned above the heavens, and the earth is his footstool (Is 66:1). God is present everywhere (Ps 139:710; Jer 23:2324), unchanging and everlasting in every age (Ps 90:14, 102:2627), and blessed forever (Ps 41:13, 89:52, 106:48). Thus, while no other god than Yahweh acts so solicitously, yet in doing so Yahweh acts as he is, which is unlike all that he has made.

In summary, the God of the Old Testament is the only living God, before whom all other gods are naught (Is 34:18, 46:9), to whom nothing compares. "Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down upon the heavens and the earth?" (Ps 113:56). He is Yahweh, the one true God, maker of heaven and earth, Lord of all that he has made. Eternal, almighty, dwelling in the heavens, he chooses Israel as his own people, and delivers them from slavery to live his Torah in the land he promised their ancestors. Even as they fail to love the Lord alone and their neighbor in justice, the God of Israel remains true to his name, punishing iniquity while remaining merciful. In loving faithfulness he preserves a remnant of his people until the day when, in a new act of deliverance that establishes a universal and everlasting covenant, all nations will acknowledge, worship and obey the one true God.


Continuity and Difference with the Old Testament. In the New Testament the God of the Old Testament is confessed in light of a new revelation and praised for a new work of salvation. Many passages make it clear that "God" designates the same one attested by the Scriptures and believed by the Jewish people (e.g., Mt 4:10; Mk 7:8; Jn 8:54; Rom 3:2). The Jewish faith is the foundation for the Christian, and the Scriptures of the former are essential to the latter, precisely because the same God acts in a way that reflects but also transcends what he did before. The God of the New Testament is the same God "in whom [Abraham] believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence those things that do not exist" (Rom 4:17). He is the "living and true God" distinct from all idols (1 Thes 1:9; Heb 3:12), the "God of Israel" who has fulfilled the promises he made to their ancestors by doing something amazing and scarcely to be believed (Acts 13:1741).

All the key elements of the Old Testament theology of God are present (often operating to clarify who Christ is): the oneness of God (Jn 17:3; 1 Cor 8:46; Eph 4:6; Jude 25), God's holiness (Mt 6:9; Heb 12:10, 14, 29; 1 Pt 1:1516), condemnation of idolatry (Acts 14:1017, 15:29; 1 Cor 8:46; 1 Thes 1:9), God working wonders and delivering his people (Acts 2:2236; Rom 6:1523; Col 1:1314; 1 Pt 1:18), the presence of God dwelling in the midst of his people (Jn 1:14, 2:21; 1 Cor 3:1617; Rv 21:3), the theme of election (Lk 9:35; Eph 1:4; 1 Pt 1:2), the establishment of a covenant (Mt 26:2628; Heb 9:1128, 13:20), communal identity centered around the praise and worship of God (Acts 2:4247; 1 Cor 11:2332; Eph 5:1820), a spiritual and moral way of life in accordance with the covenant (Mt 57; Col 3:14:6), divine judgment and punishment as a real possibility to be feared (Mt 13:4042, 18:79; Mk 9:4248; Rv 20:1115), a still greater emphasis upon divine mercy (Jn 3:1617; Rom 4:2021; Ti 3:37; 1 Jn 3:1922), and an eschatological hope for a final glory (Rom 8:2225; 1 Cor 15:5157). As before, the God who saves in time is also the God who creates, sustains and rules over all things as Lord of heaven and earth (1 Cor 1:1520; Heb 2:1011). Not only is God understood as remaining faithful to the covenantal promises made to the patriarchs and people of Israel (Rom 11:2532), but all the promises put forth by the prophets of God's future work of salvation are understood as reaching fulfillment in the advent and life of Jesus Christ (Jn 19:28; 2 Cor 1:1820). Indeed, a deep, inspired understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures is considered absolutely essential for understanding Christ and his mission (Lk 19:31, 24:27, 45; Jn 5:39, 4547).

Yet the New Testament bears the additional influence of Greek modes of thought and expression, reflecting the language it was written in, the Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX) it often quotes, and the cultural background of its main audience. In contrast to the Hebrew Scriptures, anthropomorphic and anthropopathic language is atypical (yet cf. Lk 11:20; Rom 1:18; Ti 3:4). The positive vitality of Old Testament descriptions of God are sometimes refined into simple negations of divine imperfectionse.g., "the living God," "whom no man can see and live," is "immortal" and "invisible" (Rom 1:20, 23; 1 Tm 1:17). The God enthroned on the clouds of heaven is "the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see" (1 Tm 6:1516). When familiarity with Old Testament history cannot be presumed, emphasis is given to the universal dominion of God the Creator and Savior (1 Cor 15:2428; Eph 1:2023), "who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tm 2:4). God is Pantokrator, the Almighty (2 Cor 6:18 [citing the LXX]; Rv 4:8), whose power and reign is expressed more generally and on a cosmic scale. "For from him and through him and to him are all things" (Rom 11:36). As the "Alpha and Omega who is, and who was and who is to come, the Almighty" (Rv 1:8), God "accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will" (Eph 1:11; cf. Rom 8:28). The divine favor shown to the Gentiles is not part of the particular election of Israel, but the manifestation of a mystery hidden for all ages (Col 1:26), a plan of God from the foundation of the world to predestine them to glory (Rom 8:2830; Eph 1:4; 2 Thes 2:13; 2 Tm 1:9). This appropriation of Greek modes of thought about God in the task of evangelization can be seen in Paul's sermon to the Athenians at the Areopagus: "The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, for, 'In him we live and move and have our being;' as even some of your poets have said, 'For we are indeed his offspring.' Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man " (Acts 17:24-29).

God as Father. Given this foundation in the Old Testament and context in the Greco-Roman world, the New Testament is entirely distinctive in its theology of God because of its confession of faith in Jesus Christ. The revelation of God in these Scriptures is grounded in the relationship that Jesus Christ has with God, and the work of salvation God accomplishes in and through him. While "God" (theos ) is used a few times to refer to Jesus (Jn 1:1, 20:28; Rom 9:5; Ti 2:13; 1 Jn 5:20), "the God" (ho theos ) is always used in reference to his Father; this usage is evidence that the primary meaning of "God" in the New Testament is "Father." First and foremost, God is "Father" in relation to Jesus Christ, his Son. Paul especially speaks this way in his greetings: "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; Gal 1:3; Thes 1:1). "Father" is the most common appositive for God, and "God" alone or "God the Father" alternate in being frequently paired with "Jesus Christ" (Jn 17:3; 1 Cor 8:6; 2 Thes 2:16; 2 Tm 4:1). In the Johannine writings, "the Father" and "the Son" are indissolubly linked (Jn 5:1923, 14:13; 1 Jn 1:3; cf. Mt 11:27). In an important secondary sense, dependent upon the first and which encapsulates the meaning of salvation in the New Testament, God is "Father" of all those who through faith in his Son become his children by the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:1417; Gal 3:26). Hence, God is frequently named and invoked as "God our Father" (Mt 6:9; Eph 1:2; Col 1:2; Philm 3).

To understand the God of the New Testament, then, requires understanding both these meanings to God the Father. As much as the Old Testament theology of God is rooted in the meaning of Yahweh, so the theology of God in the New Testament centers on the meaning of "God the Father." Again as before, the revelation of this most definitive name for God occurs through great works in history that bring about deliverance and salvation, albeit now universal and eternal in scope. The revelation of God as Father occurs in and through the life, death, resurrection, ascension, glorification of his Son, and his sending of Holy Spirit in the Father's name to make us children of the Father by grace. Moreover, as in the Old Testament too, the fullness of the divine mystery, while truly active and immanent in of salvation of his people, remains transcendent and irreducible throughout that great work. God saves as God is, which means that the temporal and finite conditions under which he saves us are not the conditions of his own eternal being.

Although "Father" as a designation of God is found in the Old Testament (Is 63:16; Tb 13:4; Sir 23:1, 4), it is not foundational or prevalent. God is "Father" for being the Creator and source of all life (Dt 32:6), and in terms of the election of Israel. The angels are "sons of God" because their life is directly from God (Gn 6:4; Dt 32:8; Ps 82:6). God is the "Father of Israel" (Jer 31:9), and Israel his "son" (Ex 4:22; Hos 11:1), not because he has sired them in any natural sense, but because of the covenant in which he claims them as his own, like a father adopting a child into his family, with all the responsibilities and blessings that accrue therefrom. This sense of God's Fatherhood, specific to the chosen people of Israel, continues in the New Testament (Rom 9:4, 11:29). Yet it is radically surpassed in regard to the identity of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God (Mt 16:16; Mk 1:1; Rom 1:34), indeed the only Son of God (Jn 1:14, 18, 3:16, 18; 1 Jn 4:9). Though he is, like Israel, chosen (Lk 9:35, 23:35) and beloved (Mt 17:5; Col 1:13), more than this he alone is begotten by or born of God (Acts 13:33; Heb 1:56, 5:5; 1 Jn 3:9, 4:2, 5:1), chosen before the foundation of the world (1 Pt 1:20), and "in the bosom of the Father" (Jn 1:18).

The Father of Jesus. Foundational to the New Testament, therefore, is the unique relationship that exists between the Father and the Son, one that preexists before his becoming man, one that defines everything the incarnate Son does and says, and one that reigns in glory after his death and exaltation. The Father acts towards his Son in a distinctive manner, authorizing and empowering the Son through the Holy Spirit to act in the Father's name as the agent of our salvation. God the Father sends the Son into the world (Lk 4:43; Jn 6:29; Gal 4:4; 1 Jn 4:910), declares him to be his chosen beloved (Mt 12:18; Mk 1:11; Lk 20:13; 2 Pt 1:17), commands the Son what to do and say (Jn 5:36, 12:4950, 14:31, 17:4, 8), gives all things to the Son (Mt 11:27; Jn 3:35, 13:3, 16:15) including all those who believe in him (Jn 6:44,17:2, 11), gives up his Son to death (Acts 2:22, 3:18; Rom 8:32), raises the Son from the dead (Acts 2:24, 10:40; Rom 10:9; Col 2:12), and glorifies him by seating him at his right hand in heaven (Jn 17:5; Acts 3:13; Eph 1:20; 1 Pt 1:21), thereby giving him perfect authority over all powers and peoples (Mt 18:18; 1 Cor 15:2428; Phil 2:911; Eph 1:21, Col 2:10; 1 Pt 3:22), as well as all judgment (Mt 25:3146; Jn 5:2223, 27; 2 Cor 5:10).

Conversely, in relation to the Father the Son is said to be the perfect image and radiance of the Father's glory (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15; Heb 1:3), and the fullness of God dwells in him (Col 1:19, 2:9; cf. Jn 1:14; Eph 1:23; Phil 2:6). It is from his fullness that we receive the riches of his grace, life, truth and love (Jn 1:1617; Phil 4:19; Col 2:910). Anointed in full with the Holy Spirit (Mk 1:10; Lk 4:1; Jn 3:34), Jesus reveals the Father whom he alone knows and sees (Lk 10:22; Jn 1:18, 6:46, 10:15). In a striking and unprecedented manner, Jesus addresses God as "Abba," evocative of his great intimacy with one whom he spent long hours in prayer (Lk 5:16, 6:12, 11:1). To express the uniqueness of his relation to God, he says, "my Father" (Mt 7:21, 10:3233), while to his disciples he says, "your Father" (Mt 5:16, 45); never does he collectively say with them, "our Father" (Jn 20:17). The Father and Son are so inseparably conjoined (Jn 10:30), that to accept and receive the Son is to accept and receive the Father (Lk 9:48; Jn 13:20), to deny or reject the Son is to deny or reject the Father (Lk 10:16; 1 Jn 2:2223, 5:1011). In short, one's relationship to God is in and through one's relationship with Jesus Christ, for "through him we have access in one Spirit to the Father (Eph 2:18; cf. 2 Cor 1:20). "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all" (1 Tm 2:56).

In his teaching, especially the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expresses who God the Father is. God the Father is in heaven (Mt 6:9, 18:14), enthroned (Mt 5:34; Rv 7:10), in secret (Mt 6:6, 18), Lord of heaven and earth (Mt 11:25). The Father is perfect and holy (Mt 5:48, 6:9; 1 Pt 1:1516), for whom all things are possible (Mk 14:36; cf. 9:23), and nothing impossible (Lk 1:37). God the Father, who knows everything (1 Jn 3:20) because everything is open and laid bare before him (Heb 4:13), even the hearts of men (Acts 1:24; Rom 8:27), knows what we need before we ask him (Mt 6:8, 32). The Father knows how to give good things to his children, and thus can be trusted to provide for daily needs (Mt 6:2534), give abundantly for every good work (2 Cor 9:8), and to reward what is done for love of him (Mt 6:6, 18). "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Lk 11:13).

God alone is good (Mt 19:17; Lk 18:19; Jas 1:5), blessed (1 Tm 1:11, 6:15), even "kind to the ungrateful and the selfish" (Lk 6:35), making his sun to rise and his rain to fall on the just and the unjust (Mt 5:45). Jesus' miracles of healing "the lame, the maimed, the blind, the dumb, and many others" (Mt 15:30) reveal that the Father is compassionate (Lk 6:36). Jesus' eating with tax collectors and forgiving the repentant (Mt 9:913; Lk 7:3650) demonstrate that God is forgiving (Mt 6:14; Mk 11:25). Indeed, the Father is superlatively merciful (Lk 1:72, 78, 6:36; 2 Cor 1:3; Eph 2:4; Ti 3:5; 1 Pt 1:3), and the source of grace, mercy and peace (1 Tm 1:2; 2 Jn 3; Jude 2). He is patient with sinners (Rom 2:4; 2 Pt 3:9), desiring that all repent and come to salvation, unwilling that any should perish (Mt 18:14; 1 Tm 2:4; 2 Pt 3:9). Still, he is to be feared because he "has the power to cast into hell" (Lk 12:45; 1 Pt 2:17). Most of all, the Father is gracious (Mt 11:26), for it pleases him to give the greatest gift: "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Lk 12:32). In sum, there is simply nothing that we have that we have not received from God our Father (1 Cor 4:7), for "every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (Jas 1:17).

The Father of All. In his passion and death Jesus reveals the depths of his Father's generous love and mercy. Divine love for men and women in danger of perishing in death is the motive for the sending of the Son (Jn 3:16), and his sacrifice for the unworthy the fitting manifestation of the depth of that love: "God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8; Eph 2:47). "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins" (1 Jn 4:910). In this way the "God of love" (2 Cor 13:11) reveals himself to be love itself: "God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (1 Jn 4:16). The sacrificial suffering and death of Jesus is thus the definitive divine act expressing the mystery of God and his immeasurable love for the human race. Upon this "rock" (cf. 1 Cor 10:4) lies the Christian faith and hope in God which cannot disappoint (Rom 5:111; Heb 11:1). It is a love which no tribulation or power can overcome (Rom 8:3139), which promises all good things: "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?" (Rom 8:32; cf. Eph 1:3).

Through Jesus' suffering and death, the Father, the "God of peace" (Rom 15:33; Phil 4:9; 1 Thes 5:23), reconciles the world to himself (2 Cor 5:19; Col 1:20), and all peoples to one another (Eph 2:13). "God our Savior" (1 Tm 1:1; Ti 1:3, 2:11; cf. Lk 1:47) has freed men and women from the reign or power of sin and death (Rom 8:2), ransomed them from a futile way of living (1 Pt 1:18), and in the end, will deliver them from death and bodily corruption (Rom 7:24; 1 Cor 15:5357; 2 Cor 5:45). This work of salvation is accomplished in us by the Holy Spirit, "the promise of the Father" (Lk 24:49), sent by the glorified Jesus exalted at the right hand of the Father (Jn 7:39, 16:7; Acts 2). "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given us" (Rom 5:5). Through the Holy Spirit believers are able to cry, "Abba, Father," for as the "spirit of sonship" he makes us children of God, fellow heirs with Christ (Rom 8:1417). Through the Holy Spirit abiding in us the Father of Jesus Christ is truly our Father as well, who in the gift of the Spirit pledges his promised inheritance to his children (Rom 8:17; 2 Cor 1:2122; Gal 3:18, 29; 1 Pt 1:35), nothing less than the a sharing in the eternal glory of his Son (Jn 17; Rom 8:2930), a graced participation in the divine nature itself (2 Pt 1:4). "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." (1 Jn 3:12).

To truly know God as Father and be his child requires living the commandment of his Son to love others (Jn 13:3435, 15:817; Rom 13:810; 1 Jn 4:7; 5:12), and thus imitate the Son of the Father. "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1 Jn 3:16, 4:11). Those who despise their neighbor cannot be said to be children of the loving Father, for it is impossible to know and to love God unless one love and serve others (1 Jn 4:8, 2021). Because Jesus is the definitive revelation and saving work of God, the response must be wholehearted, transforming the mind (Rom 12:1), and bearing fruit in good works (Gal 5:1325). "Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Phil 1:27). The calling is from repentance (Mk 1:15; Lk 13:19; 2 Cor 7:10) to the Father's perfection (Mt 5:48; Eph 5:1; Heb 12:23), to be holy, by the power of the Holy Spirit, as God is holy (2 Cor 7:1; 1 Pt 1:16). Since "our God is a consuming fire" (Heb 12:29; cf. 1 Cor 3:1215), nothing less than absolute purity of heart and freedom from all sin is required for the children of the Father to see God and enter into his glory (Mt 5:8; Heb 12:14).

For this purpose, our loving Father treats us as his children when he chastises and "disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness" (Heb 12:7, 10). Suffering and trials, persecution and the world's rejection, are to be expected of followers of the Son whose destiny was the cross (Mt 5:11, 16:2128; Jn 15:1821). Suffering purifies faith (1 Pt 1:67, 4:12, 1216), for through the trial of affliction humbly accepted one places God the Father's will over one's own (Mk 14:36; 1 Pt 4:12). Since "all who desire to lead a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tm 3:16), suffering is the great opportunity to follow the Son in trusting in the goodness of the Father, by repaying evil with good (Mt 5:2842; Rom 12:1421), forgiving, blessing and praying for one's enemies (Mt 5:4348; Mk 1l:25), and rejoicing that one's reward from the Father will be great (Mt 5:12; Jn 16:33; Jas 1:23). "Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator" (1 Pt 4:19). God, who protects and guards those who believe (1 Pt 1:5), will sustain them with a peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7; cf. Jn 14:27), for he is the "God of steadfastness and encouragement" (Rom 15:5). And after having tested them through temptation or suffering, God "will restore, establish and strengthen" his children (1 Pt 5:10; cf. Mt 4:11).

The Father is worthy of such trust because "God is light and in him is no darkness at all" (1 Jn 1:5). Though no one can know the mind of the Lord for no one can counsel him (1 Cor 2:16, quoting Is 40:13), his judgments are just and true (Rv 16:7, 19:2), and he judges impartially (1 Pt 1:17). "O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable are his ways!" (Rom 11:33). He alone is wise (Rom 16:27), and he is incapable of deceit, for lying and being proved false are impossible for him (Ti 1:2; Heb 6:18). God is faithful (1 Cor 1:9; 2 Cor 1:18; Heb 10:23), and even when we are faithless, "he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself" (2 Ti 2:13; cf. Rom 3:3). Therefore, even in the experience of anguish and tragedy one is called to trust and "know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose" (Rom 8:28). We "must consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us" (Rom 8:18), "an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Cor 4:17). We must be patient and hope for what is beyond our understanding: "'what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him"' (1 Cor 2:9, quoting Is 64:4). In the end, God, "the Father of mercies and of all comfort" (2 Cor 1:34, 6:6), "will wipe away every tear" and "make all things new" (Rv 21:45).

In summary, the God of the New Testament is revealed to be the Father of an only Son, Jesus Christ, whose life, death and glorification manifest the Father's great love for us. God is also Father of those redeemed by his Son, and this relationship is realized in us by the work of the Holy Spirit, who makes us children of the Father in the Son. The word "Father" expresses simultaneously that God is the source and destination of all things, the authority over all things, the merciful and compassionate provider for every good, and the giver of an eternal and glorious inheritance to his children. The greatness of his love for us means that God does not in this life deliver us from suffering, but saves us through suffering, so that the perfection of the Father's love for all and the Son's self-denial for others may be realized in us. This God cannot be truly known or rightly understood apart from the experience and living of the salvation won for us. And yet because this salvation is the Father's eternal plan accomplished by his Son and Spirit sent from heaven, God acts for us as God truly is in his own mystery. Therefore, the God of the New Testament, though nearly always addressed simply as "Father," is indeed the one God with the single name of "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:19).

Bibliography: w. kasper, The God of Jesus Christ, tr. m. j. o'connell (New York 1997). l. kÖhler, Old Testament Theology, tr. a. s. todd (Philadelphia 1957). k. rahner, "Theos in the New Testament," Theological Investigations, v. 1, tr. c. ernst (Baltimore 1961) 79148. e. l. mascall, He Who Is: A Study in Traditional Theism (London 1962). r. sokolowski, The God of Faith and Reason: Foundations of Christian Theology (Washington, D.C. 1982, 1995). g. wainwright, Doxology: The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrine and Life: A Systematic Theology (New York 1980). t. g. weinandy, Does God Change? The Word's Becoming in the Incarnation (Still River, Mass. 1985). t. e. fretheim, The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective (Philadelphia 1976). j. lambrecht and r. collins, eds., God and Human Suffering (Louvain 1990).

[m. a. hoonhout]

2. In Christian Tradition

The formation of an intellectually mature concept of God is one of the principal goals of theology. This notion has been the fruit of a long evolution of human reason seeking to understand divinely revealed truths. The evidences of this progress and development are present in the writings of the Fathers and ecclesiastical authors as well as in the formal statements of the Church. This development occurs within a process where the subject and methodology of theology itself, as well as the philosophical wisdom it employs, evolves and changes. While this growth in understanding is organic, building upon the achievements of earlier generations, still, it is not without regressionover time there occur various failures to maintain the multi-faceted fullness of who and what the God of Christian faith is. Thus one must attend to the overall dynamics of each era that shapes and limits the way the one, enduring Christian faith in God is explained theologically. This section will trace this development through four distinct periods: patristic, medieval or scholastic, modern, and contemporary, as it focuses upon the growing understanding of God's attributes and existence, his relation to the world, and in what sense his ineffable mystery can be understood and expressed by us.

The Patristic Period. In the early centuries the Church had the double task of transposing the Hebraic, biblical portrait of God to fit the cultural mindset of the Greco-Roman world and defending the faith against external criticisms and internal corruptions. While remaining devoted to and grounded in the revelation of the Sacred Scriptures, early Christian writers appropriated the reasoned wisdom of Greek philosophy as they engaged in controversies with Judaism, paganism, and heretical alterations of Christian belief. The polemics of the time required both clear presentations and forceful arguments, and it is not surprising that the most literate and able apologists for the faith often had learning in classical philosophy and rhetoric. At this point faith is seeking primarily the understanding needed to refute the criticisms put against the faith. Because the philosophy used in these first theological endeavors was for the most part that of Plato (origen and augustine) and neoplatonism (pseudo-dionysius), the mystery of God was primarily expressed in essentialist terms. This usage, however, was not uncritical, for naïve appropriations of philosophical ideas judged to compromise the revelation of God always merited vigorous opposition by the Church fathers.

In the first few centuries of the Church, Christian writers such as the apologists had much to do in defending the monotheism, and thus the overall integrity, of the Christian faith. Against Jewish critics and in a wider climate of pagan polytheism they had to refute the charge that Christians believed in three gods. Against the dualism of gnosticism which disparaged the material creation, they had to affirm that creation and salvation are the work of the one God revealed in both Testaments. Emphasis is given to the one monarchy of God, ruling over all things. Thus the creeds of the Church begin the confession of the faith by declaring the one God is Pantokrator, the Almighty, who redeems and restores that which he made. To counter widespread belief in fate and astrology, the Church fathers spoke of the divine economy of salvation and the mystery of divine providenceGod's pronoia or foresight to order all things so that his plan for creation is accomplished. In God they knew of a hope beyond fatalism, and emphasized human responsibility against those who used the alignment of celestial bodies or the existence of evil gods as excuses for immoral behavior.

Early patristic literature was content to describe God by his attributes of omnipotence, goodness, and mercyi.e., those which God must have to be the one Author of creation and salvation. At this stage little attempt was made at transforming the metaphorical language of the Scriptures themselves. The first conciliar creeds (Nicene and First Constantinople) reflect this language in their simple affirmation of divine unity, omnipotence, and causality (H. Denziger, Enchiridion symbolorum, 32nd ed. 125, 150). But by the fourth century there is evidence of both wider investigation and more penetrating analysis into God's nature and the proper expression of it. Both Eastern and Western fathers, writing in Greek and Latin respectively, worked towards a purification of thought regarding the understanding of God. The eternity of God beyond all change comes to the fore, and more abstract language regarding the perfection of the divine essence in itself becomes more common. This is in large part owing to the controversies with Arius and Eunomius. The Arian controversy required the Church to unequivocally declare the absolute equality of the three divine persons, and thus their possession in common of one eternal divine substance or nature. Whatever transcendent, essential qualities that had tended to be reserved to God the Father (ho theos )eternity, unknowability, absolute unity and supremacynow passed to the divine nature according to the demands of homoousios. In contrast to Eunomius who taught that the divine essence could be adequately comprehended, orthodox theologians stressed the utter mysteriousness and ineffability of God's nature, a position confirmed in the later creedal statements (D.S. 294,501).

In order to speak of the eternal mystery of God and not betray his incomprehensibility Christian thinkers contrasted God with the world that he made, using terms of negation that excluded from the divine nature the conditions and limitations that mark our existence. Creatures suffer, but God is impassible; creatures die, but God is immortal, etc. Theologians also took the various positive qualities or faculties present in the world and applied them to God in a supreme manner: an elder may be wise, but God is supremely wise; a king may be powerful, but God is all powerful. Now it is natural to give special prominence to one aspect above all others that is most uniquely true of God, the quality proper to him whereby he is distinguished from all other beings. In the light of the revelation of God's name in Ex 3:14, the Fathers considered existence to be that which is most characteristic of him. ephrem the syrian, commented, "by this one exclusive name [God] let it be known that he alone is Being, which can be said of no other" (Adversus haereses serm. ; Assemani ed. 2:555, cf. Enchiridion patristicum 729). After reading the words of this passage Hilary of Poitiers confessed that:

I was amazed to find in them an indication concerning God so exact that it expressed in the terms best adapted to human understanding an unattainable insight into the mystery of the Divine nature. For no property of God which the mind can grasp is more characteristic of Him than existence, since existence, in the absolute sense, cannot be predicated of that which shall come to an end, or of that which has had a beginning, and He who now joins continuity of being with the possession of perfect felicity could not in the past, nor can in the future, be non-existent; for whatsoever is Divine can neither be originated nor destroyed. Wherefore, since God's eternity is inseparable from Himself, it was worthy of Him to reveal this one thing, that He is, as the assurance of His absolute eternity. (De Trinitate 1.5; Patrologia Latina 10:28)

Recognizing the parallels between the God of revelation and the God of the philosophers and scholars, Augustine too was intrigued that God revealed his name as a declaration of his existence. Reflecting on this passage from Scripture he wrote, "perhaps it ought to be said that God alone is essence. For He alone truly is, because He is unchangeable, and it is this He declared to Moses, His servant, when He said, 'I am who am"' (De Trinitate 7.5.10; Patrologia Latina 42:942). In Augustine's judgment the name "I Am" is best translated by the abstract term essence, meaning above all else, God's perfect immutability. If God is that which is then God is beyond the flux of coming into and passing out of existence, and to be contrasted with all things that have their existence from him:

I considered all the other things that are of a lower order than yourself, and I saw that they have not absolute being in themselves, nor are they entirely without being. They are real in so far as they have their being from you, but unreal in the sense that they are not what you are. For it is only that which remains in being without change that truly is. (Confessions VII, 11)

While Augustine clearly recognized the incomprehensibility of God's being, he also labored to correct misconceptions of God's mystery, remembering from his own experience the tendency to apply spatial and temporal categories to our thinking about God. With the help of philosophy he had come to realize that what is immaterial is more genuinely real, true and good, and from the sorrows of loving the mutable good of fleeting pleasures and friends who had passed away, he learned the attractiveness of the beauty which cannot fade and the good that cannot be lost. It is important to appreciate, therefore, that Augustine stressed divine immutability because it ensured the incomparable desirability of God's goodness. As the unchanging Good, the "Beauty ever ancient, Beauty ever new" (Confessions X, 27), God alone could be sought as the true light and love of the human mind and heart, the one alone in whom our restless hearts can finally find peace. God's immaterial greatness means he must always be pursued because he cannot be comprehended, while his immutability guarantees that he cannot disappoint when he is finally beheld in glory. "Eternal Truth, true Love, beloved Eternityall this, my God, you are, and it is to you that I sigh by night and day" (Confessions, VII, 10). In this way God serves to anchor all human aspirations and pursuits, in that he alone is to be enjoyed and loved for his own sake. In turn, all other things are to be used only insofar as they help one attain the enjoyment of God, and all other persons loved only for the sake of the love of God. "For he is the best man who turns his whole life toward the immutable life and adheres to it with all his affection" (De Doctrina Christiana, I, 22).

A representative expression of the understanding of God found in the thought of the Fathers can be found in this quotation from Augustine, one which underscores that in all that God is and does for his creatures he remains perfect and unchanging in his transcendent greatness:

What, then, is the God I worship? He can be none but the Lord God himself, for who but the Lord is God? What other refuge can there be, except our God? (Ps 18:31). You, my God, are supreme, utmost in goodness, mightiest and all-powerful, most merciful and most just. You are the most hidden from us and yet the most present amongst us, the most beautiful and yet the most strong, ever enduring and yet we cannot comprehend you. You are unchangeable and yet you change all things. You are never new, never old, and yet all things have new life from you. You are the unseen power that brings decline upon the proud. You are ever active, yet always at rest. You gather all things to yourself, though you suffer no need. You support, you fill, and you protect all things. You create them, nourish them, and bring them to perfection. You seek to make them your own, though you lack for nothing. You love your creatures, but with a gentle love. You treasure them, but without apprehension. You grieve for wrong, but suffer no pain. You can be angry and yet serene. Your works are varied, but your purpose is one and the same. You welcome all who come to you, though you never lost them. You are never in need yet are glad to gain, never covetous yet you exact a return for your gifts. We give abundantly to you so that we may deserve a reward; yet which of us has anything that does not come from you? You repay us what we deserve, and yet you owe nothing to any. You release us from our debts, but you lose nothing thereby. You are my God, my Life, my holy Delight, but is this enough to say of you? Can any man say enough when he speaks of you? Yet woe betide those who are silent about you! For even those who are most gifted with speech cannot find words to describe you. (Confessions I, 3)

The Medieval Period. The medieval period of Western Christianity sees the emergence of theology as a distinct field of study with its own highly developed methodology. Whereas within the patristic period development in theological understanding is closely connected with the process of clarifying the faith against heretical distortions, development in the Scholastic period is free to be more purely speculative, the pursuit of theological understanding and subtler distinctions for their own sake. Like the early Fathers, the great medieval theologians continue to write commentaries on Scripture, but this primary responsibility is at first supplemented with, and only much later supplanted by, the task of writing highly organized summaries of theology. The systemization of scholastic theology began with Peter Lombard who collected and arranged by topic biblical and patristic statements on the diverse elements of the faith. His Sentences set off a new application of dialectical reasoning, in which seemingly contradictory statements from different sources were reconciled according to higher, more distinguished, viewpoints. In the process a method of discussion evolved: an article of faith was broken down into a series of questions, an authority quoted supporting the proper conclusion, counter-arguments arrayed against it, an answer developed elaborating the principles at stake, and refutations of the objections given. Through the theological influence of Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius, theology continues to depend upon Platonic and neo-Platonic philosophical ideas for its expression. Yet at this time theology begins to make use of the philosophy of Aristotle, and through the exemplary achievement of thomas aquinas his metaphysics will provide the standard explanatory categories employed by Catholic theology for centuries to follow.

The Sentences of peter lombard begins with the mystery of God, discussing the one divine nature and the three divine persons together. As his ordering of the subject matter of theology came to be improved upon, these different aspects of our knowledge of the one divine mystery came to be delineated into two distinct treatises. In part this was justified as a better way to handle the material; another justification was that the delineation made clear what could be known by the demonstrations of reason, and what could be known only by revelation. The discussion of the divine nature, which concerns us here, focused upon the attributes and operations of that nature which express why God is wholly other than all things in this world. As the Fourth lateran council of 1215 confessed, "We firmly believe and profess without qualification that there is only one true God, eternal, immense, unchangeable, incomprehensible, omnipotent, and indescribable, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; three Persons but one essence, substance, or nature that is wholly simple" (H. Denziger, Enchiridion symbolorum, 800). Other essential attributes include his goodness, beatitude and omnipresence, while perfections of his eternal operations of knowing and willing include his omniscience and wisdom, and the benevolence, justice, mercy and absolute efficacy of his will. These affirmations about God say as much about our inability to comprehend God's essence as they truly point to what God must be, for they are put forth with an awareness of how we may properly speak of God. What the early Fathers practiced often implicitly is now itself discussed and made explicit: all human knowledge of God, whether by way of reason or by faith, is analogical: whatever perfections found in creation are present in God in a manner that completely transcends all limitations in creation, including the way we understand them. analogy affirms a positive correspondence of what is true and good in creation to its Maker, for it can only reflect its Source, while maintaining a much stronger denial: no thing in creation or concept in human understanding is in any way comparable to God, who is not delimited in any way. Again the Fourth Council of Lateran: "between Creator and creature there can be found no similarity in which an even greater dissimilarity cannot be found" (H. Denziger, Enchiridion symbolorum, 806).

The key difference between the perfections of creatures and that of God is not intensity of degree, as if creatures and Creator could be placed in the same scale of proportion. Rather, the difference lies in God's absolute simplicity. Whereas perfections like wisdom and goodness in a creature are qualities that enhance, and thus are added to, its basic constitution, wisdom and goodness in God are identical to the whole of his very essence, for he cannot but be perfectly wise and good. Therefore, God does not have a quality that makes him wise or good; rather, God is his wisdom and God is his goodness. The one and indivisible God is his every perfection. Although we must distinguish every attribute in God from every other because our minds can grasp only what has been delineated, in the divine mystery, every perfection we name is in the reality of God absolutely and simply identical to God himself. God is mercy and God is justice, and because it is his essence to be both perfect and simple, his mercy is his justice and his justice his mercy. What in human situations are often irreconcilable opposites are in God one mystery without requiring any reconciliation or dilution.

Theological refinement of the understanding of God advanced by the double process of removing all imperfections from the divine essence (the way of remotion), and by affirming the incomparable manner in which God simply is his every perfection (the way of eminence). For anselm of canterbury, this process of correcting and uplifting our thoughts about God is expressed in his judgment that God is aliquid quo maius nihil cogitari potest that than which nothing greater can be thought. In addition to serving in his demonstration that God must exist or else he would not exceed the best we can think of him, this principle inspired a theological pursuit of the reasons we can surmise why God has revealed himself and saved us as he has. Since theology is faith seeking understanding, Anselm strived to show, for example, how the humiliation of God in becoming man and dying on the cross does not disparage but is indeed in perfect accordance with God's transcendent greatness. Other theologians influenced by Anselm would probe divine mysteries further.

For Thomas Aquinas, the utter simplicity and fullness of perfection that is the divine essence are also central to his theological presentation of God's mystery. Demonstrating God's existence, not from the idea of God as with Anselm, but from the insufficiency of created reality to explain why anything exists, is good, and acts in an orderly fashion, Thomas concludes that only as the simple, pure act of existence itself can God be the true cause of all that is. His judgment is that God is ipsum esse subsistens subsistent existence itselfutterly without composition, potency or imperfection since any of these conditions would render God in need of something greater to perfect him (Summa theologiae, I, q. 3, a. 4). "Existence" here is not a quality or even a state but the dynamic act of being "what God is" is that he is. Like the Fathers before him, St. Thomas appealed to the revelation of God's name in Ex 3:14 to confirm this demonstration of reason.

God's essence is therefore His act of being. Now this sublime truth God taught Moses, when Moses asked what to reply if the children of Israel should ask His name. Thus He showed that His proper name is "Who is." Now every name is intended to signify the nature or essence of something. It remains then that the divine act of being itself [ipsum esse divinum ] is the essence or nature of God. (Summa Contra Gentiles, Bk I, 22)

The judgment that God's essence is "active existing" functions as the foundational premise for the rest of Thomas' theology. First of all, it is the touchstone for all theological judgments about what is and is not true about God. Every perfection is contained simply and every limitation excluded absolutely in the Is that God is. Secondly, it sets God apart from all else, for everything created is a composition of its essence (what it is) and its existence (that it is). God alone is existence itself; all created things have existence. In contrast to God who is ipsum esse per se subsistens, creatures have esse per participationem existence by a direct participation in God's own existence (Summa theologiae I, q. 44, a. 1). Thirdly, since God is pure Act, he actively relates to creation in the most dynamic manner conceivable, and creation is nothing apart from the continuous extension of God's Act to it. It is true that Thomas repeatedly affirms that God has no "real relation" to creation (Summa theologiae I, q. 6, a. 2, ad 1; q. 28, a. 1, ad 3; q. 45, a. 3, ad 1)meaning that it is not necessary for God to create in order to be truly God. Yet the whole of his thought is suffused with the active presence of God operating in, through and with all things, for to Aquinas the subject of theology concerns God and all things in their relation to God as their origin and end (Summa theologiae I, q. 2, a. 7). Even as he labors to express more than any other theologian before him the integrity and causal responsibility of the natural order, he always sees all things in their fundamental dependence upon God's active esse. Given that Thomas consciously developed the systematic order of the Summa theologiae so that primacy is given to that which is most fundamental and consequential, the entire discussion begins with God so that all things distinct from God can be understood as always inherently and necessarily related to God.

With Thomas there occurs a fundamental shift in theological thinking, away from an essentialist understanding of God and things which tends to see created reality primarily as symbolic representations of the divine essence, to a metaphysical approach that emphasizes the existence and causality of things as instruments of God's agency. Thomas puts to wide-ranging theological use the different kinds of causality outlined in Aristotle's metaphysics in order to give expression to how God actively relates to his creation. God is the First, Exemplary and Final Cause of all that is: the universal Cause of all causes, the one Exemplar of all diverse forms and perfections, and the ultimate End to which all things tend. Every existence, every nature, every action, every good pursued is such because of its created participation in God. Created reality proceeds forth from God the Creator endowed with natural capabilities which make them genuinely coresponsible for the perfecting of the universe under the direction of God's providence. Human beings, through the further perfection of God's grace, are called to the redemption and perfection of their nature in their living, knowing and loving, so that through them, creation returns to God. Since God is Act, the world and the human are dynamically conceived: the realization of creation's perfection and human salvation is a matter of acting well, and in the end the final state of the glorified is the perfect activity of knowing and loving God in the beatific vision.

Thomas has been appropriately described as a theologian of the Creator, since everything in his thought is always considered as so radically related to and dependent upon God's agency, even as created nature is acknowledged to be distinct and integral in its own existence and operation. His use of aristotle was controversial at the time, however, not just because it moved beyond the neo-Platonism of Augustinian theology, but especially because some Christian thinkers were using Aristotle to demonstrate that the world was eternal and necessary. Ironically, the philosophy Thomas used to give deeper expression to the meaning of the relationship of creation to God came under ecclesial condemnation for denying the gratuitous non-necessity of the creation. These censures and their emphasis upon the Creator's freedom and omnipotence to make all things as he pleased contributed to the rise of nominalism. This was a late medieval mode of thought that in theology preserved the transcendent freedom of the Creator at the expense of his other attributesnamely, the wisdom and goodness of God to act providentially and purposefully through the created natural order. Thinkers like william of ockham gave such theological precedence to God's absolute will and power to do anything that little could be said about the character of God from the nature of things, since God could just have easily made all things differently than he did. This loss of a proper theology of the Creator and his providence would have a deleterious effect in the ensuing periods as the relation of the world to God came to be such a crucial issue with the rise of modern science.

In organizing the subject matter of theology into a discipline, scholastic theology of the Medieval period tended to discuss God and the works of God not in the historical order of the economy of salvation, but in a systematic or synthetic order in which terms and topics are related to one another. The dialectical reasoning and the metaphysical framework gave precision in defining and relating theological doctrines for the sake of clarity in understanding. A natural consequence of its abstract, universal and technical language was that it was hardly suited to express the immediacy and vitality of the experiential, concrete and historical through which God is encountered. Since its rational investigation of the divine mystery always presupposed the foundational necessity of faith and never claimed to comprehend the ineffable God, scholastic theology in no way replaced the God of revelation with the God of philosophy. Even as the task of interpreting Scripture remained the primary responsibility of the medieval theologian, theology sought not to reiterate the historical manifestation of God in the economy of salvation but to explicate the attributes and operations of God such an economy presupposes.

The Modern Period. The period from the Reformation to the First vatican council at the end of the nineteenth century sees a gradual break-up of the medieval synthesis, as new discoveries and new questions lead to fundamental revisions in how the world, society and the human individual are conceived. In an era that saw the loss of the religious unity of western society, the emergence of the modern scientific understanding of nature, and the development of nation states, political rights, and the industrial economy, the centrality and universality of God for the understanding of the world and the human weakens over time. The emergence of secular society and atheistic totalitarian states by the twentieth century will be due in large part to a growing opposition between reason and faith and a more autonomous understanding of the world and human existence. Over time the idea of God becomes a "problem" for intellectuals who have difficulty considering revelation as anything more than a primitive, man-made conception of God, and who deny human reason the ability to know anything definitive about God, including whether he exists.

In the heritage left by nominalism, it is not surprising that major Reformation writers like Martin luther and John calvin have little place in their thought for a theology of creation. In their defense of the utter gratuity of salvation they tended to exalt God over and against natural causality, with the God of revelation placed in opposition to the God of philosophy and the life of grace opposed to the life of natural virtue. Luther was dismissive of the contribution Aristotle or philosophy could make to theology, and sought to develop a purely Scriptural theologia crucis which in its focus upon the paradox and foolishness of the crucified God overturned the theologia gloriae of scholastic theology. For Calvin, the sovereignty of God, divine honor and glory, and the determinations of his will are central to his theology. Providence is not the Creator working through and with creatures so that they might act for the greater good, but God acting arbitrarily either with, without or even against natural means in order to manifest his sovereign glory (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk 3, 17). The clear opposition in Reformation thought between grace and nature, faith and reason reflects an assumption that affirmations of the created good come at the expense of God's greatness. The "world" in their thinking is not the goodness of God's creation, but another sense found in Scripture: the world as "all that is opposed to God."

From its beginnings and throughout much of its progress modern science was the achievement of men who were quite religious in their thinking. They saw nature as the creative work of God, and studying it as a way to know the ways of God. Yet their tendency to conceive of nature as inert matter subject to mechanical forces ordered by absolute, universal and immutable laws ultimately fostered a worldview in which the historical actions of the personal God of the Scriptures could only be an alien interference. As science endeavored more and more to explain all reality with totally natural explanations, the universe came to be understood as a closed system, the cosmos a giant mechanism of rigidly determined outcomes, with God's role reduced simply to setting things up. This was the God of deism, and as science advanced further and found the origins of the universe and life to be different than that of the biblical account, nature came to be seen as the only necessary and reliable "revelation" of God. Miracles were denied outright not only because the biblical accounts could not be trusted in their historical accuracy or understanding of nature, but also because they were seen only as violations of the laws of nature, reflecting badly on God the perfect engineer and lawgiver. Even though the theories and discoveries of twentieth-century science led to a correction of the closed, mechanical worldview of early science, there survives the propensity to limit reality only to what is material (i.e., natural materialism) and knowledge only to what science can demonstrate (i.e., positivism or scientism). Gradually the cosmos loses its sacred character, as science no longer considers it to be the creation authored by a personal God, the arena in which God is providentially active, and the symbol and image of a greater, heavenly reality that is the true home for the human spiritual animal. Religion and science come to be seen as opposed or irrelevant to one another, to the detriment of both.

Parallel to the development of modern science is the emergence of modern philosophy which again at first was the work of believers but contained within it principles that tended toward atheism. Modern philosophy was concerned most of all with epistemological questions and politics, and in both a dualism develops between what is rational and what is religious. God was central to the thought of early modern philosophers like René des cartes and Benedict Spinoza, who variously endeavored to demonstrate his existence and the implications God has for knowledge and ethics. But Descartes would contribute to the future split between reason and faith by rejecting all previous philosophy, espousing a radical dualism between mind and matter, and practicing a radical skepticism of all that is not innately clear to the mind or demonstrably proven. In his pantheism Spinoza would collapse the distinction between God and the world and labor to replace what he considered to be the weaknesses of Scriptural revelation with a more rational philosophical conception of God. In both thinkers faith is not an admirable form of knowledge, and the incomprehensibility of God's mystery does not temper the reliance upon reason.

The philosopher Immanuel kant, on the basis of his epistemological critique of pure reason, came to deny the very legitimacy and value of metaphysics, throwing into doubt whether it is possible to know any reality beyond the appearances of things. Because his position ruled out all cosmological proofs for God's existence, Kant developed one on the basis of practical reason. Moral behavior depends upon an absolutely universal or "categorical imperative" which points to the existence of a God who alone is in position to posit such a law. The net effect is to remove God from the dimension of what is true to what is valued. Eventually the fact that human knowledge is acquired in a subjective process leads to the conclusion that objective knowledge of God is impossible; the human encounter with God can only take place in the will and the emotions. By the nineteenth century, this agnosticism flowers into an explicit atheism of radical autonomy. Ludwig feuerbach reduces theology to anthropology by claiming God is the projection and image of human ideals and aspirations. Karl marx considers religion to be a man-made illusion, numbing mankind to tolerate political and economic injustices in the false hope of a heavenly kingdom to come. Friedrich nietzsche proclaims that "God is dead for we have killed him," an indictment of the insignificance God has for modern culture as much as an acknowledgement that the idea of God is no longer tenable. In all of these ideologies there lies an assumption that atheism indicates a new maturity in human thought, and a hope that men and women emancipated from their childish dependency on God can create an ideal human future.

The ecclesial divisions arising after the Reformation and the warfare between Catholics and Protestants initiated a search for civil peace and social cohesion that did not have to depend upon a unity in belief, a major contributing factor to the eventual displacement of God from the center of human political life. The bad example of violent persecution given by both sides promoted a distrust of religious authority and extremism, and as tolerance of diversity in belief became a social necessity religious faith moved from the category of universal, binding truth to that of personal opinion. The Reformation's call for emancipation from religious authority was extended to unwanted civil authority, and over time a theory of individual, inalienable rights and government established by the will of the people replaced the more medieval politics of monarchial rule established by the will of God. The organization of industrial production and the application of scientific discoveries in new technologies supported the new hubris that man has mastery over nature and can re-deem himself from problems and miseries that in the past he could only pray to God to alleviate. These great political and economic changes confirmed that the modern world was indeed a new age, making it easier for many to believe more in human progress than in any religion from the past.

Catholic theology in this period solidified into a practice and a posture better able to critique the erroneous than appreciate and engage what was novel and worthwhile in the modern era. Theology corrected the mistaken notions concerning God's nature, existence and action, refuting pantheism, deism, atheism and denials of revelation and the supernatural. It also challenged the opposition modernity put between faith and reason in human knowledge of God, countering the rationalism, fide ism and agnosticism of the age. Yet even as theology disputed modern ideas and values there was often an unrecognized assimilation of some of its principles or perspectives. For example, the Cartesian quest for indubitable certainty influenced theological practice as it became as much concerned about the varying degrees of credibility and authority of different doctrines as their understanding. And the arguments theologians gave for God's existence and relevance favored the abstract, universal and thus rather impersonal ways of reasoning that were closer to the tone and language of their opponents than that of the biblical revelation. There was much reliance upon demonstrations of the truth and refutations of error to convince, less upon showing the meaning, beauty and contemporary significance of divine mysteries in order to inspire and move the heart. The success of scholastic theology in organizing the subject of theology discouraged different ways of arranging and discussing the material more suitable for the times, and eventually its distinctions calcified into divisions that often left the doctrines isolated from one another and their interconnections.

Vatican Council I, echoing the teaching of St. Paul in the Epistle to the Romans, declared that God's existence can be "known with certainty by the natural light of human reason from the things that have been made." In response to the extreme immanentism so conducive to agnosticism and the equally perilous fideism of extreme traditionalism, ecclesiastical documents were forthcoming to express Catholic teaching more specifically. Against traditionalism, Gregory XVI taught that "reason can prove with certainty the existence of God"(H. Denziger, Enchiridion symbolorum, 2751; cf. Pius IX, Denziger 2812). Pope Pius IX taught that "human reason perceives and well understands many truths such as the existence of God [and] demonstrates these by arguments drawn from its own principles" (H. Denziger, Enchiridion symbolorum, 2853). Pope leo xiii in the encyclical letter Aeterni Patris taught that "certain truths that are either divinely proposed for belief, or are bound by the closest ties to a doctrine of faith, were known by pagan sages with nothing but their natural reason to guide them, were, moreover, demonstrated and proved by suitable arguments" (H. Denziger, Enchiridion symbolorum, 3136). He affirmed that the demonstration of God's existence is a great and noble fruit of human reason. With particular reference to the Modernists, Pope St. pius x insisted on this explicit statement of Catholic belief "that God, the origin and end of all things, can be known with certainty by the natural light of reason 'from the created world' [cf. Rom 1.20], that is, from the visible works of creation, as a cause from its effects, and that His existence can even be demonstrated" (H. Denziger, Enchiridion symbolorum, 3538). Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Studiorum ducem [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 15 (1923) 317] called this an outstanding statement of the dogma solemnly defined by Vatican I, although it is true that the Council for reasons of its own used its own expression and omitted the word demonstration. Yet to say that man can know God with certainty by the light of human reason by means of things that are made implies at least the kind of intellectual operation that man ordinarily calls proof.

Nevertheless, Vatican I reminded theology that its primary task is to shed light upon the mysteries of the faith and their interrelations, not to determine their credibility: "Nevertheless, if reason illumined by faith inquires in an earnest, pious and sober manner, it attains by God's grace a certain understanding of the mysteries, which is most fruitful, both from the analogy with the objects of its natural knowledge and from the connection of these mysteries with one another and with our ultimate end" (Vatican I, Dei Filius, chap 4; H. Denziger, Enchiridion symbolorum, 3016).

The Contemporary Period. As with the preceding eras, the contemporary understanding of God is an understanding of the Christian revelation of God by means of certain forms of thought characteristic of the times. The contemporary way of thinking theologically is well represented in vatican council ii, a pastoral, as distinct from a dogmatic, council, called for the purpose of better communicating the Gospel to the modern world. Although the council did not concern itself with a further elaboration of the Church's doctrinal teaching about God's nature in himself, in its declaration on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum ) the council presented a summary of the biblical revelation of the God of salvation. While the council considered its teaching in perfect conformity with that of Vatican I, there is a marked shift in the style and language of theological presentation. Instead of listing the essential attributes of the eternal God in the terminology of scholastic theology, Vatican II returns to language of Scripture to emphasize who God is for us and how the good news remains relevant for the modern world. Vatican II acknowledges that Christian understanding of the faith has undergone historical development, and that communication of the truth of God must include a process of enculturation in order to be effective. In the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes ), the Church enters into dialogue with the modern world, distinguishes different kinds and causes of modern atheism, and through a theological anthropology revealed in the humanity of Jesus Christ makes the counter-argument that only faith in God manifests, preserves and upholds the greatness of human dignity.

This conciliar change in theological presentation is symbolic of a wider, methodological shift within the contemporary practice of theology: a change from metaphysical formulations and categories (being, causality, relation) to historical descriptions and the categories of personal experience (event, meaning, relationship). In the effort to promote the relevance and meaning God should have for the modern person, and thus to counteract modern ideological atheism and secularism, theology after the Council has made great effort to connect the mystery of God with the mystery of the human person and salvation. This is done with explicit attention to the human contribution in the mediation of revelation and tradition and consideration of the way God is experienced within the conditions of human subjectivity. Consequently, God is considered less in terms of the eternal perfections of his own being expressed in an unchanging, technical vocabulary purged of historical referents, and more in terms of the meaning and transformative effect he has upon those whom he encounters. The challenge is to reaffirm God's active immanence in the world without compromising his transcendence, and to express the meaning he represents while not reducing his mystery to that meaning or making it entirely relative to the disparities of times, cultures, and individual experiences.

Within contemporary Catholic theology there are different approaches that try to bridge the gulf that has appeared between God and modern experience. Historical theologians like Henri de lubac and Yves congar contributed much to the renewal of theology by initiating a project of ressourcement that sought to recover the richness and diversity within the long Catholic tradition. De Lubac in particular argued against atheism and secularism not by rational demonstrative proofs of God's existence but by giving expression to the deep-seated experience of and orientation to God, fundamental to the human creature made in the image of God. The principle that it is natural and constitutional, not extrinsic or supplemental, for the human person to desire and seek God is the premise of his repudiation of a dualistic conception of the natural and supernatural within neo-Thomistic theology, a dualism that facilitated and reflected the modern tendency to divorce the human good from eternal blessedness.

In a manner more epistemological and psychological, Karl rahner and Bernard lonergan also made the openness of the human person to the transcendent fundamental to their theological approach. For Rahner, human experience in the world involves an engagement with finite being that presupposes an unrestricted openness of the human mind to Absolute Being; God is the transcendental a priori the condition for the very possibilityof human knowing. Because of his infinite transcendence beyond all human conceptions, God who is Absolute Being is also Absolute Mystery. In order for man to fulfill his inherent orientation to God he stands in need of divine revelation, in which God communicates himself while remaining wholly mysterious. Along similar lines, Lonergan built upon his historical research in the thought of Thomas Aquinas on grace and the word of understanding (verbum ) in order to represent and advance that achievement within the modern context. His work on grace and freedom resolved the centuries old De auxiliis controversy between the positions of Luis de molina and Domingo baÑez on how to reconcile God's eternal knowledge and will with the contingent free acts of human beings, and prepared for further work that outlined how a world that develops according to statistical probabilities and the dynamics of human behavior can be understood in a theology of God's providence. His work in epistemology recovered the critical realism lost in modern philosophy's collapse into subjectivism, reaffirmed the possibility of metaphysics, and showed how human reasoning retains its natural authenticity as it moves on to and is transformed by the act of faith.

All these theologians whose work straddle Vatican II were aware of the inadequacies of neo-scholastic theology, and they developed new theological methods in order to overcome its deficiencies. Though they considered a strictly metaphysical approach incomplete, still they did not doubt its legitimacy. It is evident, however, that many theologians after them are less discriminating in their dismissal of this earlier theological method and its achievements. One finds today a rather widespread rejection of the God of "classical theism" (i.e., medieval scholasticism) and its philosophical presentation of the attributes of God's being. As theology has become so firmly rooted in human experience that God is only considered in relation to us, an approach that seeks to relate God and creation through the universal category of being is found to be rather alien and too impersonal. Yet the God of classical theism is primarily rejected for more specific reasons: the attributes of absolute divine immutability and impassibility central to its understanding of God are denounced as incompatible with the God of Christian faith. A fundamental theological revision of God's perfection first proposed at the end of the nineteenth century has been embraced by a growing majority of both Protestant and Catholic theologians at end of the twentieth. Much of recent contemporary theology is beholden to the idea that God indeed changes and suffers, whether in the sense that it is his eternal nature to do so, or because he freely chooses to make himself be affected by creation and its outcomes. There are many and various contributing causes for this, including biblical hermeneutics, process philosophy, and an extension of the dynamics of relationship which constitute the Trinity to God's relationship with the world.

The justification for divine mutability and passibility in some contemporary biblical exegesis arises when the anthropopathisms of the biblical language are considered not as an accommodation to its human audience but as expressive of the true character of God. The Old Testament revelation of a God who so intimately covenants with his people that he grieves over their infidelity is taken to mean that the Scriptures reveal God to be truly affected and changed by his relationship with humanity. Similarly, the crucifixion of Jesus in the New Testament, when considered as the definitive moment of God's self-revelation, indicates that suffering is at the very center of the mystery of God. Influential here are Luther's theology from the cross (kreuzestheologie ) and kenotic Christology of the nineteenth century, leading Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann and others to argue that the passion and death of Jesus, one who is God, occurs in and impacts the divine nature. For God to truly suffer on the cross, he must suffer divinely, and so the cross becomes expressive of the mysterious nature of divine suffering itself.

These readings of Scripture are bolstered by the historical claim that the Christian tradition compromised biblical revelation when it accepted the influence and principles of Greek philosophy. Briefly stated, the early Church fathers replaced the passionate God of the Hebrews with the more rationally appealing Unmoved Mover of the Greeks, and only now is theology correcting this mistake by once again daring to uphold that God truly changes and suffers. Despite the growing acceptance of this understanding of revelation and tradition, it is ultimately untenable. Biblically, it fails to account that Yahweh is always immanent in creation and covenant in a completely transcendent manner, and that the kenosis of the Logos is the assumption of a human nature which according to Chalcedon remains integral and unconfused with his divine nature (H. Denziger, Enchiridion symbolorum, 300302). (On the cross God did indeed suffer and die, but precisely as a man did the Son of God do so.) And in regard to the early tradition, not only would such a fundamental distortion of the Gospel be impossible to reconcile with the Holy Spirit's guidance of the Church, it is wholly incongruent with the great effort of the Church fathers to refute many Greco-Roman ideas about God precisely in order to remain true to the Scriptural revelation.

In process thought, developed by Alfred whitehead and applied to theology by Charles hartshorne and John Cobb, Jr., "becoming" replaces "being" as the fundamental category of reality. God is reconceived as absolute infinite possibility in the process of realization through the world's becoming. Though distinct from the world in his necessary primordial nature, God in his conditional consequent nature is identified with the world (panentheism), as he actualizes his possibilities in and through the good that comes into concrete existence in the world. Process thought is favored by many endeavoring to rework theology in the light of modern science, convinced that a God in process with the world corresponds to the current scientific worldview of the natural world as fundamentally evolutionary. The immutability, omniscience and omnipotence of the classical God of theism may have fit a static world proceeding whole and complete from its Creator, but such attributes could only preclude a true divine openness to and involvement in a world of random, undetermined outcomes. Thus process theology is considered a better alternative for contemporary theology than traditional metaphysics for explaining the God-world relation, even though it is incompatible with official Church teaching on the absolute perfection and immutability of God. Yet in compromising the transcendence of God for the sake of his immanence, process theology loses the full sense of God as Creator and Lord (Pantokrator ), and changes the meaning of salvation from a free work on our behalf to a necessary process needed as much by God as by us. And in preferring the God of becoming over the God of pure act, process theologians sacrifice the distinction between God and the created order, that which is precisely so crucial for a genuine dialogue between theology and science.

Finally, the God of absolute perfection without need of or real relation to the world is also critiqued and dismissed upon the basis of the renewal in Trinitarian theology. One of the positive developments in contemporary theology has been to make the trinity once again central to all theological discussion. Yet following Rahner's rejection of the traditional procedure in Western tradition to discuss the divine essence before the distinction of the divine persons, contemporary discussion of the Trinity usually begins and stays focused upon the dynamics of the divine persons in relation to one another. While this allows a proper characterization of divine nature within the terms of relationship and being-for-the-other, it is not complemented with discussion of the divine essence in contrast to the created order. Instead, under the influence of Rahner's axiom that the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity and vice versa, the essence of God to be intrinsically relational is often applied without proper qualification to the God-world relation. It is argued that since God is love, and to love is to be for the other, for God to truly love the world as he has revealed is for him to make himself open to its response and vulnerable to its rejection. The relationship between God and the world must therefore be genuinely mutual, co-defining to both, in which each is deeply affected by the other. Classical theism, therefore, was mistaken to place God's perfection in his being complete in himself and unaffected by the world, for divine immutability and impassibility are antithetical to his Triune nature as pure relationship and love.

The current judgment within theological circles that divine immutability and impassibility are actually imperfections, suggesting that God is aloof, apathetic and unsympathetic to the tragic suffering in the world, is, however, simply mistaken. It reflects a failure to truly engage and appreciate the concerns and achievement of patristic and medieval theology, which focused upon the revelation of God as existence (Ex 3:14) in order to relate all creation, including that which is impersonal and thus outside the category of relationships, with the transcendent and actively immanent Creator. The strength of traditional theism to properly express the dynamics of the Creator-created relation should not be abandoned. The created order is the necessary foundation for rightly understanding the economy of salvation in which God is revealed as Trinity. Without the judgment that God is pure Act, achieved through the analogical contrast of God and his creation, the perfection of the triune God as purely relational risks the reduction of God's transcendent mystery to the conditions of human experience and finite existence. As God is, so does God save us, but under conditions that are not the equal of him; Yahweh is indeed present in the midst of his people, but always as wholly other.

What is needed today is a theology of God that can effectively combine the traditional and contemporary emphases together: the one God who as the act of existence itself is also and therefore the triune God of pure relation. God is, and so the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who are for each other so perfectly that their love cannot be lessened or augmented, act through the missions of Son and Spirit to bring human creatures into the fullness of who they are. Divine immutability and impassibility function here in the positive manner in which they were originally affirmed: as a safeguard which preserves divine transcendence and consequently allows the immanent Trinity to act economically, not by readjusting their nature but in complete conformity to it. In this way salvation is the perfection of human creatures by graced participation in the perfect life God is as Trinity, not the completion of God by what human beings can do to God. How much the world matters to God is shown not by how much it changes him, but that in perfect fidelity to his unconditional mystery God the Father has loved us with and in the love he always has for the Son. In turn, his receptivity to the perfect love of the Son has always included an eternal openness to the love of those whom his Son redeems.

Bibliography: y. congar, A History of Theology (Garden City, N.Y. 1968). g. l. prestige, God in Patristic Thought (London 1936). l. scheffczyk, Creation and Providence (New York 1970). d. f. ford, ed., The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology in the Twentieth Century, 2nd ed. (Oxford 1997). t.g. weinandy, Does God Suffer? (Notre Dame, Ind. 1999). h. de lubac, The Discovery of God, tr. a. dru; footnotes tr. m. sebanc and c. fulsom (Grand Rapids, Mich. 1996); The Mystery of the Supernatural, tr. r. sheed (New York 1967). m. j. buckley, At the Origins of Modern Atheism (New Haven 1987). d. b. burrell, Aquinas: God and Action (Notre Dame, Ind. 1979). w. j. hankey, God in Himself: Aquinas' Doctrine of God as Expounded in the Summa theologiæ (New York 1987). a. f. kimel, jr., ed., Speaking the Christian God: The Holy Trinity and the Challenge of Christian Feminism (Grand Rapids, Mich. 1992). b. j. f. lonergan, Philosophy of God, and Theology (London 1973). t. c. oden, The Living God: Systematic Theology, Volume 1 (San Francisco 1987). k. rahner, "The Concept of Mystery in Catholic Theology" in Theological Investigations, v. 4, pp. 3673, tr. k. smyth (New York 1982). j. m. stebbins, The Divine Initiative: Grace, World-Order, and Human Freedom in the Early Writings of Bernard Lonergan (Toronto 1995). p. s. fiddes, The Creative Suffering of God (New York 1988). c. hartshorne, Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes (Albany 1984). e. jÜngel, God as the Mystery of the World: On the Foundation of the Theology of the Crucified One in the Dispute between Theism and Atheism, tr. d. l. guder (Edinburgh 1983). j. moltmann, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology, tr. r. a. wilson and j. bowden (London 1976).

[m. a hoonhout/

j. r. gillis/

r. j. buschmiller]


views updated May 08 2018


in the bible

The Bible is not a single book, but a collection of volumes composed by different authors living in various countries over a period of more than a millennium. In these circumstances, divergencies of emphasis (cf. Kings with Chronicles), outlook (cf. Jonah with Nahum), and even of fact (cf. Gen. 26:34 with 36:2–3) are to be expected. These factors have also affected the biblical presentation of the concept of God. There are passages in which Israel's monotheism is portrayed in unalloyed purity and incomparable beauty (i Kings 19:12; Isa. 40:18), and there are other verses in which folkloristic echoes and mythological reflexes, though transmuted and refined, appear to obscure the true character of the Hebrew concept of the divine (Gen. 2 and 3). Notwithstanding these discrepancies the Bible is essentially a unity; its theology is sui generis and must be studied as a whole to be seen in true perspective. This total view of biblical doctrine does not seek to blur differences and to harmonize the disparate; rather it resolves the heterogeneous elements into a unitary canonical ideology – the doctrine of the final editors of the Bible. It blends the thoughts, beliefs, and intuitions of many generations into a single spiritual structure – the faith of Israel – at the heart of which lies the biblical idea of God. It is this complete and ultimate scriptural conception of the Deity that will be described and analyzed in this section.

The One, Incomparable God

God is the hero of the Bible. Everything that is narrated, enjoined, or foretold in biblical literature is related to Him. Yet nowhere does the Bible offer any proof of the Deity's existence, or command belief in Him. The reason may be twofold: Hebrew thought is intuitive rather than speculative and systematic, and, furthermore, there were no atheists in antiquity. When the psalmist observed: "The fool hath said in his heart 'There is no God'" (Ps. 14:1), he was referring not to disbelief in God's existence, but to the denial of His moral governance. That a divine being or beings existed was universally accepted. There were those, it is true, who did not know yhwh (Ex. 5:2), but all acknowledged the reality of the Godhead. Completely new, however, was Israel's idea of God. Hence this idea is expounded in numerous, though not necessarily related, biblical passages, and, facet by facet, a cosmic, awe-inspiring spiritual portrait of infinite magnitude is built up. Paganism is challenged in all its aspects. God is One; there is no other (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 45:21; 46:9). Polytheism is rejected unequivocally and absolutely (Ex. 20:3–5). There is no pantheon; even the *dualism of Ormuzd and Ahriman (of the Zoroastrian religion) is excluded (Isa. 45:21); apotheosis is condemned (Ezek. 28:2ff.). Syncretism, as distinct from identification (Gen. 14:18–22), which plays a historical as well as a theological role in paganism, is necessarily ruled out (Num. 25:2–3; Judg. 18). Verses like Exodus 15:11 – "Who is like Thee, O Lord, among the gods?" – do not lend support to polytheism, but expose the unreality and futility of the pagan deities. The thought is: Beside the true God, how can these idol-imposters claim divinity? The term "sons of gods" in Psalms 29:1 and 89:7 refers to angels, the servants, and worshipers of the Lord; there is no thought of polytheism (see E.G. Briggs, The Book of Psalms (icc), 1 (1906), 252ff.; 2 (1907), 253ff.). The one God is also unique in all His attributes. The prophet asks: "To whom then will ye liken God? Or what likeness will ye compare unto Him?" (Isa. 40:18). Though the question is rhetorical, the Bible in a given sense provides a series of answers, scattered over the entire range of its teaching, which elaborate in depth the incomparability of God. He has no likeness; no image can be made of Him (Ex. 20:4; Deut. 4:35). He is not even to be conceived as spirit; the spirit of God referred to in the Bible alludes to His energy (Isa. 40:13; Zech. 4:6). In Isaiah 31:3, "spirits" parallels "a god" (ʾel, a created force), not the God, who is called in the verse yhwh. Idolatry, though it lingered on for centuries, was doomed to extinction by this new conception of the Godhead. It is true that the Torah itself ordained that images like the cherubim should be set up in the Holy of Holies. They did not, however, represent the Deity but His throne (cf. Ps. 68:5[4]); its occupant no human eye could see. Yet the invisible God is not a philosophical abstraction; He manifests His presence. His theophanies are accompanied by thunder, earthquake, and lightning (Ex. 19:18; 20:15[18]; Hab. 3:4ff.). These fearful natural phenomena tell of His strength; He is the omnipotent God (Job 42:2). None can resist Him (41:2); hence He is the supreme warrior (Ps. 24:8). God's greatness, however, lies not primarily in His power. He is omniscient; wisdom is His alone (Job 28:23ff.). He knows no darkness; light ever dwells with Him (Dan. 2:22); and it is He, and He only, who envisions and reveals the future (Isa. 43:9). He is the source of human understanding (Ps. 36:10[9]), and it is He who endows man with his skills (Ex. 28:3; i Kings 3:12). The classical Prometheus and the Canaanite Kôtharand-Ḥasis are but figments of man's imagination. The pagan pride of wisdom is sternly rebuked; it is deceptive (Ezek. 28:3ff.); but God's wisdom is infinite and unsearchable (Isa. 40:28). He is also the omnipresent God (Ps. 139:7–12), but not as numen, mana, or orenda. Pantheism is likewise negated. He transcends the world of nature, for it is He who brought the world into being, established its laws, and gave it its order (Jer. 33:25). He is outside of time as well as space; He is eternal. Everything must perish; He alone preceded the universe and will outlive it (Isa. 40:6–8; 44:6; Ps. 90:2). The ever-present God is also immutable; in a world of flux He alone does not change (Isa. 41:4; Mal. 3:6). He is the rock of all existence (ii Sam. 22:32).

The Divine Creator

God's power and wisdom find their ultimate expression in the work of creation. The miracles serve to highlight the divine omnipotence; but the supreme miracle is the universe itself (Ps. 8:2, 4 [1, 3]). There is no theogony, but there is a cosmogony, designed and executed by the divine fiat (Gen. 1). The opening verses of the Bible do not conclusively point to creatio ex nihilo. The primordial condition of chaos (tohu and bohu) mentioned in Genesis 1:2 could conceivably represent the materia prima out of which the world was fashioned; but Job 26:7 appears to express poetically the belief in a world created out of the void (see Y. Kaufmann, Religion, 68), and both prophets and psalmists seem to substantiate this doctrine (Isa. 42:5; 45:7–9; Jer. 10:12; Ps. 33:6–9; 102:26; 212:2). *Maimonides, it is true, did not consider that the Bible provided incontrovertible proof of creatio ex nihilo (Guide, 2:25). The real criterion, however, is the overall climate of biblical thought, which would regard the existence of uncreated matter as a grave diminution of the divinity of the Godhead. God is the sole creator (Isa. 44:24). The celestial beings ("sons of God") referred to in Job 38:7, and the angels who, according to rabbinic aggadah and some modern exegetes, are addressed in Genesis 1:26 (cf. 3:22) were themselves created forms and not co-architects or co-builders of the cosmos. Angels are portrayed in the Bible as constituting the heavenly court, and as taking part in celestial consultations (i Kings 22:19ff.; Job 1:6ff.; 2:1ff.). These heavenly creatures act as God's messengers (the Hebrew malʾakh and the Greek ἁγγελος, from which the word "angel" is derived, both mean "messengers") or agents. They perform various tasks (cf. Satan, "the Accuser"), but except in the later books of the Bible they are not individualized and bear no names (see *Angels and Angelology). Nor are they God's only messengers; natural phenomena, like the wind (Ps. 104:4), or man himself, may act in that capacity (Num. 20:16). Some scholars think that since the Bible concentrated all divine powers in the one God, the old pagan deities, which represented various forces of nature, were demoted in Israel's religion to the position of angels. The term shedim (Deut. 32:17; Ps. 106:37), on the other hand, applied to the gods of the nations, does not, according to Y. Kaufmann, denote demons, but rather "no-gods," devoid of both divine and demonic powers. The fantastic proliferation of the angel population found in pseudepigraphical literature is still unknown in the Bible. It is fundamental, however, to biblical as well as post-biblical Jewish angelology that these celestial beings are God's creatures and servants. They fulfill the divine will and do not oppose it. The pagan notion of demonic forces that wage war against the deities is wholly alien and repugnant to biblical theology. Even Satan is no more than the heavenly prosecutor, serving the divine purpose. The cosmos is thus the work of God above, and all nature declares His glory (Ps. 19:2, 13ff.). All things belong to Him and He is the Lord of all (i Chron. 29:11–12). This creation theorem has a corollary of vast scientific and social significance: the universe, in all its measureless diversity, remains a homogeneous whole. Nature's processes are the same throughout the world, and underlying them is "One Power, which is of no beginning and no end; which has existed before all things were formed, and will remain in its integrity when all is gone – the Source and Origin of all, in Itself beyond any conception or image that man can form and set up before his eye or mind" (Haffkine). There is no cosmic strife between antagonistic forces, between darkness and light, between good and evil; and, by the same token, mankind constitutes a single brotherhood. The ideal is not that of the ant heap. Differentiation is an essential element of the Creator's design; hence the Tower of Babel is necessarily doomed to destruction. Although uniformity is rejected, the family unity of mankind, despite racial, cultural, and pigmentary differences, is clearly stressed in its origin (Adam is the human father of all men) and in its ultimate destiny at the end of days (Isa. 2:2–4). The course of creation is depicted in the opening chapter of the Bible as a graduated unfolding of the universe, and more particularly of the earth, from the lowest levels of life to man, the peak of the creative process. God, according to this account, completed the work in six days (that "days" here means an undefined period may be inferred from Gen. 1:14, where time divisions are mentioned for the first time; cf. also N.H. Tur-Sinai, in EM, 3 (1958), 593). The biblical accounting of the days, however, is not intended to provide the reader with a science or history textbook but to describe the ways of God. Running like a golden thread through all the variegated contents of the Bible is the one unchanging theme – God and His moral law. Of far greater significance than the duration of creation is the fact that it was crowned by the Sabbath (Gen. 2:1–3), bringing rest and refreshment to the toiling world. The concept of the creative pause, sanctified by the divine example, is one of the greatest spiritual and social contributions to civilization made by the religion of Israel. The attempts to represent the Assyro-Babylonian šabattu or šapattu as the forerunner of the Hebrew Sabbath are without foundation. The former was a designation for the ill-omened 15th day of the month, and the notions associated with it are as polarically different from those of the Sabbath, with its elevating thoughts of holiness and physical and spiritual renewal, as a day of mourning is from a joyous festival.

God in History

The Sabbath did not mark the retirement of the Deity from the world that He had called into being. God continued to care for His creatures (Ps. 104), and man – all men – remained the focal point of His loving interest (Ps. 8:5[4]ff.). The divine providence encompasses both nations (Deut. 32:8) and individuals (e.g., the Patriarchs). Cosmogony is followed by history, and God becomes the great architect of the world of events, even as He was of the physical universe. He directs the historical movements (ibid.), and the peoples are in His hands as clay in the hands of the potter (Jer. 18:6). He is the King of the nations (Jer. 10:7; Ps. 22:29). There is a vital difference, however, between the two spheres of divine activity. Creation encountered no antagonism. The very monsters that in pagan mythology were the mortal enemies of the gods became in the Bible creatures formed in accordance with the divine will (Gen. 1:21). Nevertheless, the stuff of history is woven of endless strands of rebellion against the Creator. Man is not an automaton; he is endowed with free will. The first human beings already disobeyed their maker; they acquired knowledge at the price of sin, which reflects the discord between the will of God and the action of man. The perfect harmony between the Creator and His human creation that finds expression in the idyll of the Garden of Eden was disrupted, and never restored. The revolt continued with Cain, the generation of the Flood, and the Tower of Babel. There is a rhythm of rebellion and retribution, of oppression and redemption, of repentance and grace, and of merit and reward (Jer. 18:7–10). Israel was the first people to write history as teleology and discovered that it had a moral base. The Bible declares that God judges the world in righteousness (Ps. 96:13); that military power does not presuppose victory (Ps. 33:16); that the Lord saves the humble (Ps. 76:10) and dwells with them (Isa. 57:15). The moral factor determines the time as well as the course of events. The Israelites will return to Canaan only when the iniquity of the Amorite is complete (Gen. 15:16); for 40 years the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for accepting the defeatist report of the ten spies (Num. 14:34); Jehu is rewarded with a dynasty of five generations for his punitive action against the house of Ahab; and to Daniel is revealed the timetable of redemption and restoration (Dan. 9:24). It is this moral element in the direction of history that makes God both Judge and Savior. God's punishment of the wicked and salvation of the righteous are laws of the divine governance of the world, comparable to the laws of nature: "As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before fire, let the wicked perish before God…" (Ps. 68:2–3; cf. M.D. Cassuto, in Tarbiz, 12 (1941), 1–27). Nature and history are related (Jer. 33:20–21, 25–26); the one God rules them both. The ultimate divine design of history, marked by universal peace, human brotherhood, and knowledge of God, will be accomplished in "the end of days" (Isa. 2:2–4; 11:6ff.), even as the cosmos was completed in conformity with the divine plan. Man's rebellions complicate the course of history, but cannot change the design. God's purpose shall be accomplished; there will be a new heaven and a new earth (Isa. 66:22), for ultimately man will have a new heart (Ezek. 36:26–27).

God and Israel

Within the macrocosm of world history there is the microcosm of Israel's history. It is natural that in the context of national literature the people of Israel should receive special and elaborate attention, although the gentile world, particularly in prophetic teaching, is never lost sight of. The Bible designates Israel ʿam segullah, "a treasured people," which stands in a particular relationship to the one God. He recognized Israel as His own people and they acknowledge Him as their only God (Deut. 26:17–18). He redeems His people from Egyptian bondage, brings them to the promised land, and comes to their aid in periods of crisis. Israel's election is not, however, to be interpreted as a form of favoritism. For one thing, the Exodus from Egypt is paralleled by similar events in the histories of other peoples, including Israel's enemies (Amos 9:7). In truth, Israel's election implies greater responsibility, with corresponding penalties as well as rewards: "You only have I singled out of all the families of the earth; therefore I will visit upon you all your iniquities" (Amos 3:2; see *Chosen People). The choice of the children of Israel as God's people was not due to their power or merit; it was rather a divine act of love, the fulfillment of a promise given to the Patriarchs (Deut. 7:7–8; 9:4–7). The Lord did, however, foresee that the spiritual and moral way of life pioneered by Abraham would be transmitted to his descendants as a heritage. Subsequently this concept found material expression in the covenant solemnly established between God and His people at Sinai (Ex. 24:7ff.). This covenant demanded wholehearted and constant devotion to the will of God (Deut. 18:13); it was an everlasting bond (Deut. 4:9). Thus to be a chosen people it was incumbent upon Israel to become a choosing people (as Zangwill phrased it). The rhythm of rebellion and repentance, retribution and redemption, is particularly evident in the story of Israel. Yet the fulfillment of the divine purpose is not in doubt. God's chosen people will not perish (Jer. 31:26–27). It will be restored to faithfulness, and in its redemption will bring salvation to the whole earth by leading all men to God (Jer. 3:17–18). Until that far-off day, however, Israel will remain God's witness (Isa. 44:8).

The Divine Lawgiver

The covenant that binds the children of Israel to their God is, in the ultimate analysis, the Torah in all its amplitude. God, not Moses, is the lawgiver; "Behold, I Moses say unto you" (cf. Gal. 5:2) is an inconceivable statement. It would not only be inconsistent with Moses' humility (Num. 12:3), but would completely contradict the God-given character of the Torah. However, notwithstanding its divine origin, the law is obligatory on Israel only. Even idolatry, the constant butt of prophetic irony, is not regarded as a gentile sin (Deut. 4:19). Yet the Bible assumes the existence of a universal moral code that all peoples must observe. The talmudic sages, with their genius for legal detail and codification, speak of the seven Noachian laws (Sanh. 56a). Although the Bible does not specify the ethical principles incumbent upon all mankind, it is clear from various passages that murder, robbery, cruelty, and adultery are major crimes recognized as such by all human beings (Gen. 6:12, 13; 9:5; 20:3; 39:9; Amos 1:3ff.). It would thus appear that the Bible postulates an autonomous, basic human sense of wrongdoing, unless it is supposed that a divine revelation of law was vouchsafed to the early saints, such as assumed by the apocryphal and rabbinic literatures (and perhaps by Isa. 24:5). The Torah – which properly means "instruction," not "law" – does not, in the strict sense of the term, contain a properly formulated code; nevertheless, detailed regulations appertaining to religious ritual, as well as to civil and criminal jurisprudence, form an essential part of pentateuchal teaching. The halakhic approach is reinforced by a number of the prophets. For instance, Isaiah (58:13), Jeremiah (34:8ff.), Ezekiel (40ff.), and Malachi (1:8; 2:10) lent their authority to the maintenance of various religious observances. Ezra and Nehemiah rebuilt the restored Jewish community on Torah foundations. Yet paradoxically the Bible also evinces a decidedly "anti-halakhic" trend. In Isaiah the Lord cries: "What to Me is the multitude of your sacrifices… I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts… who requires of you this trampling of My courts?… Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates… When you spread forth your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen" (1:11–15). Jeremiah not only belittles the value of the sacrifices (7:22); he derides the people's faith in the Temple itself: "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these" (7:4). Even the Book of Psalms, though essentially devotional in character, makes an anti-ritual protest: "I do not reprove you for your sacrifices… I will accept no bull from your house… For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills… If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world and all that is in it is Mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?" (50:8–13). These and similar passages represent a negative attitude towards established cultic practices. No less inconsonant with Torah law seems the positive prophetic summary of human duty formulated by Micah (6:8): "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love lovingkindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" A similar note is sounded by Hosea (2:21–22 [19–20]): "I will espouse you with righteousness and with justice, with steadfast love, and with mercy. I will espouse you with faithfulness; and you shall be mindful of the Lord"; by Amos (5:14): "Seek good, and not evil, that you may live"; and by Isaiah (1:17): "Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow." The emphasis here is on moral and spiritual conduct; the ceremonial and ritualistic aspects of religion are conspicuously left unmentioned. The paradox, however, is only one of appearance and phrasing. Inherently there is no contradiction. The ostensibly antinomian statements do not oppose the offering of sacrifices, prayer, or the observance of the Sabbath and festivals. It is not ritual but hypocrisy that they condemn. Isaiah (1:13) expresses the thought in a single phrase: "I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly." Organized religion must necessarily have cultic forms; but without inwardness and unqualified sincerity they are an affront to the Deity and fail of their purpose. The underlying motive of the precepts is to purify and elevate man (Ps. 119:29, 40, 68). The Torah (Wisdom) is a tree of life and its ways are ways of peace (Prov. 3:17, 18). Sin does not injure God (Job 7:20), but is a disaster to man (Deut. 28:15ff.). It is heartfelt devotion that saves the mitzvah from becoming a meaningless convention and an act of hypocrisy (Isa. 29:13). The specific commandments are in a sense pointers and aids to that larger identification with God's will that is conterminous with life as a whole: "In all your ways acknowledge Him" (Prov. 3:6). Just as the divine wonders and portents lead to a deeper understanding of the daily miracles of providence, so the precepts are guides to the whole duty of man. Biblical religion is thus seen to be an indivisible synthesis of moral and spiritual principles, on the one hand, and practical observances on the other.

The Biblical Theodicy

The moral basis of providence, reinforced by the ethic of the Torah, also raises another kind of problem. Can the biblical theodicy always be justified? The issue is raised already in the Bible itself. Abraham challenges the divine justice: "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen. 18:25). Moses echoes the cry in another context: "O Lord, why hast Thou done evil to this people?" (Ex. 5:22). The prophets are no less perplexed: "Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?" (Jer. 12:1). The psalmist speaks for the individual and the nation in many generations, when he cries: "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" (22:2[1]), and the Book of Job is, in its magnificent entirety, one great heroic struggle to solve the problem of unwarranted human suffering. The biblical answer appears to point to the limitations of man's experience and understanding. History is long, but individual life is short. Hence the human view is fragmentary; events justify themselves in the end, but the person concerned does not always live to see the denouement. In the words of the psalmist: "Though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever" (92:8–10; cf. 37:35–39). The brevity of man's years is further complicated by his lack of insight. God's purpose is beyond his comprehension: "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:9). In the final analysis, biblical theodicy calls for faith: "But the righteous shall live by his faith" (Hab. 2:4); "they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength" (Isa. 40:31). It is not an irrational faith: – Certum est quia impossibile est (Tertullian, De Carne Christi, 5), but is necessitated by innate human intellectual limitations. In another direction the problem is even more formidable. God, the Bible states categorically, hardened Pharaoh's heart; nevertheless the Egyptian ruler was punished for this. Indeed his obduracy was induced in order to provide the occasion for his punishment (Ex. 7:3). Here the fundamental norms of justice by any standards are flagrantly violated. The explanation in this sphere of biblical theodicy is not theological but semantic. Scripture ascribes to God phenomena and events with which He is only indirectly concerned. However, since God is the author of all natural law and the designer of history, everything that occurs is, in a deep sense, His doing. Even in human affairs the king or the government is said to "do" everything that is performed under its aegis. Thus God declares in Amos 4:7: "And I caused it to rain upon one city, and I caused it not to rain upon another city," although the next clause uses passive and impersonal verbal forms to describe the same occurrences. The processes of nature need not be mentioned, since the laws of the universe are dictates of God. Similarly Exodus states indiscriminately that "Pharaoh hardened his heart" (8:28), that "the heart of Pharaoh was hardened" (9:7), and that "the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh" (9:12). In the end it is all one; what God permits He does. This interpretation does not, however, fit another area of divine conduct. Uzzah, the Bible states, was struck dead for an innocent act that was motivated by concern for the safety of "the ark of God" (II Sam. 6:6–7). Wherein lay the iniquity? Here the reason appears to be of a different character. Even innocent actions may in certain circumstances be disastrous. Uzzah's attempt to save the ark from falling was well meant, but it was conducive to irreverence. Man needs God's help; God does not require the help of man (Sot. 35a; for a similar thought cf. Ps. 50:12; another explanation is given by Kimhi, ii Sam. 6:6). In one thoughtless moment Uzzah could have reduced the sacred ark in the eyes of the people to the impotent level of the idols, which the prophets depicted with such scathing mockery. The same principle operated in the tragedy of Nadab and Abihu, and Moses explained the underlying principle in the words: "I will show Myself holy among those who are near Me" (Lev. 10: 1–3).

The Limitation of the Infinite God

Is the Godhead subject to restriction? The irresistible conclusion to be drawn from biblical teaching is that such a limitation exists. Man's freedom to resist or obey the will of God is a restriction of the Deity's power that is totally unknown in the physical universe. It must be added, however, that this restriction is an act of divine self-limitation. In His love for man God has, so to speak, set aside an area of freedom in which man can elect to do right or wrong (Deut. 5:26; 30:17). In rabbinic language: "Everything is in the power of Heaven except the reverence of Heaven" (Ber. 33b). Man is thereby saved from being an automaton. It adds a new dimension to the relationship between God and man. Man may defect, but when, on the other hand, he chooses the path of loyalty, he does so from choice, from true love. Needless to say, without such freedom there could be neither sin nor punishment, neither merit nor reward. The divine humility, which permits human dissent, is also the grace to which the dissenter succumbs in the end. Man is a faithful rebel, who is reconciled with his Maker in the crowning period of history. God's self-limitation is thus seen as an extension of His creative power. Other biblical concepts that might be construed as restrictions of God's infinitude are, on closer scrutiny, seen not to be real limitations. The association of the Lord with holy places like the Tent of Meeting, the Temple, Zion, or Sinai does not imply that He is not omnipresent. In prophetic vision Isaiah saw the divine train fill the Temple, and at the same time he heard the seraphim declare: "the whole earth is full of His glory" (6: 1–3). God's geographical association, or His theophany at a given place, signifies consecration of the site, which thus becomes a source of inspiration to man; but no part of the universe exists at any time outside God's presence. Sometimes God is depicted as asking man for information (Gen. 3:9; 4:9). On other occasions He is stated to repent His actions and to be grieved (Gen. 6:6). These are mere anthropomorphisms. The Lord knows all (Jer. 11:20; 16:17; Ps. 7:10), and unlike human beings He does not repent (Num. 23:19). Genesis 6:6 is not a contradiction of this thesis; its "human" terminology does not imply a diminution of God's omniscience, but emphasizes the moral freedom granted to man. In addition to spiritual option, the Creator, as has been stated, gave man knowledge. This finds expression, inter alia, in magical powers, which, in as much as they are "supernatural," constitute a challenge to God's will. In Moses' protracted struggle with Pharaoh, the Egyptians actually pit their magical powers against the Almighty's miracles. In the end they acknowledge their relative weakness and admit that they cannot rival "the finger of God" (Ex. 8:15). This is to be expected, for the divine wisdom is unbounded (Job 11:7), whereas human understanding is finite. Nevertheless the use of all forms of sorcery, even by non-Israelites, is strongly denounced (Isa. 44:25); to the Israelite, witchcraft is totally forbidden (Deut. 18:10–11). The differentiation between magic and miracles had deep roots in Hebrew monotheism. To the pagan mind magical powers were independent forces to which even the gods had to have recourse. The miracle, on the other hand, is regarded in the Bible as a manifestation of God's power and purpose. It is an attestation of the prophet's mission (Isa. 7:11); whereas divination and sorcery are either forms of deception (Isa. 44:25) or, where magic is effective, as in the episode of the witch of Endor (i Sam. 28:7ff.), it represents an abuse of man's God-given knowledge. There is no independent realm of witchcraft, however; all power, natural and supernatural, emanates from the one God. To the Israelite all that happens is wrought by God.

The Divine Personality

Though inconceivable, God is portrayed throughout the Bible as a person. In contradistinction to the idols, who are dead, He is called the living God (ii Kings 19:4, 16). He is neither inanimate nor a philosophical abstraction; He is the living source of all life. Anthropomorphisms abound in the Bible, but it is not by these that the divine personality, so to speak, is depicted. Anthropomorphic figures were intended to help early man to grasp ideas that in philosophical terms transcended the human intellect. God's essential personality is primarily reflected in His attributes, which motivate His acts. He is King, Judge, Father, Shepherd, Mentor, Healer, and Redeemer – to mention only a few of His aspects in His relationship to man. Different biblical teachers conceived God's character from different historical angles. Amos was conscious of God's justice. Hosea underscored the Lord's love, and made forgiveness and compassion the coefficient, as it were, of divinity: "I will not execute My fierce anger… for I am God and not man" (11:9). Ezekiel stresses that God does not desire the destruction of the wicked but that through repentance they may live (18:23). The heart of the matter is clearly stated in the Torah: "The Lord passed before him (Moses), and proclaimed, 'The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…" (Ex. 34:6–7). Maimonides was philosophically justified in insisting that God has no attributes and that the epithets applied to Him in the Bible really represent human emotions evoked by His actions (Guide, 2:54). The Bible, however, which is little interested in the speculative approach to the Deity, but teaches practical wisdom and religion as life, without the help of catechism or formulated dogmas, prefers to endow God with personality to which it gives the warmth and beauty of positive characterization. In sum, the divine nature is composed of both justice and love. The Bible recognizes that without justice love itself becomes a form of injustice; but in itself justice is not enough. It can only serve as a foundation; the superstructure – the bridge between God and man – is grace.

Between Man and God

Grace is the divine end of the bridge; the human side is existential devotion. Otherwise, what M. Buber felicitously called the "I-Thou" relationship cannot come into being. Hence, underlying all the commandments is the supreme precept: "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deut. 6:5). This love is unqualified: "You shall be whole-hearted with the Lord your God" (Deut. 18:13). It calls for complete surrender; but this is not conceived as a narrow, if intense, religious attitude. It is broad-based enough to allow for deep-rooted spiritual communion. Man pours out his heart in prayer to God; it is to Him that he uplifts his soul in thanksgiving and praise; and it is also to Him that he addresses his most searching questions and most incisive criticism of life and providence. Sincere criticism of God is never rebuked. God reproaches Job's friends, who were on His side; but Job is rewarded despite his searing indictment of God's actions. The God-man relationship flowers in an evolutionary process of education: Man is gradually weaned from his own inhumanity, from atrocities, like human sacrifice (Gen. 22:2–14), from bestial conduct, and from wronging his fellowman. The goal again is love: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18). It is a corollary of the love of God: "I am the Lord." Reward and retribution play a role in the divine educational procedures; but their functions are limited – they are not ultimates. The eternal fires of hell are never used as a deterrent, though punishment of the wicked after death is obscurely mentioned (Isa. 66:24; Dan. 12:2), nor is paradise used as an inducement. The Torah-covenant is an unquenchable spiritual light (Prov. 6:23); but the "I-Thou" relationship does not end with the written word. God communes with man directly. The prophet hears the heavenly voice and echoes it; the psalmist knows, with unfaltering conviction, that his prayer has been answered and that salvation has been wrought before he actually experiences it. At one with God, man finds ultimate happiness: "In Thy presence is fullness of joy, in Thy right hand bliss for evermore" (Ps. 16:11).

The Hebrew term for the love that binds man to God (as well as to his fellowman) is ʾahavah; but sometimes the Bible uses another word, yirʾah (literally: "fear"), which seems to turn the "I-Thou" nexus into an "It" relationship. The psalmist declares: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (111:10), and Ecclesiastes comes to the conclusion: "The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man" (12:13). The picture is thus completely changed. The heavenly Father suddenly becomes a divine tyrant, before whom man cowers in terror, as does the unenlightened pagan before the demonic force that he seeks to appease. This might be consonant with the notion of "the jealous God" (Ex. 34:14), but it would appear to be irreconcilable with the concept of the God of ḥesed ("lovingkindness," "grace"). Here, too, this is not a theological but a semantic problem. Yirʾah does not signify "fear"; it is best rendered by "reverence." "Love" and "reverence" are not antithetic but complementary terms. They are two aspects of a single idea. ʾAhavah expresses God's nearness; yirʾah the measureless distance between the Deity and man (see *Love, Love and Fear of God). God spoke to Moses "mouth to mouth" (Num. 12:8), yet in his human frailty the Hebrew leader could not "see" his divine interlocutor (Ex. 33:20). The inner identity of "love" and "reverence" is reflected in the Torah's religious summary: "And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you but to revere the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. 10:12). Talmudic Judaism (Shab. 120a) drew a distinction between ḥasidut (steadfast love of God) and yirʾat shamayim ("reverence of Heaven"), but this represents a later development. In the Bible this bifurcation does not exist; "reverence of God" is by and large the biblical equivalent of "religion."

Likewise there is no spiritual contradiction between the "gracious" and the "jealous" God. "Jealousy" is an anthropomorphic term used to define God's absolute character, which excludes all other concepts of the Godhead. It does not detract from the divine love and compassion; it serves only to protect them. The sum of all the divine attributes finds expression in the epithet "holy." It is the highest praise that prophet and psalmist can give to the Lord (Isa. 6:3; Ps. 22:4[3]), and since man is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26), the attribute of holiness becomes the basis of the concept of "the imitation of God": "You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy" (Lev. 19:2). The Bible makes it clear, however, that, in seeking to model himself on the divine example, it is primarily God's moral attributes that man must copy. Even as God befriends the sojourner and acts as the father of the fatherless and as the judge of the widow, so must man, on his human scale, endeavor to do (Deut. 10:18–19; cf. Sot. 14a). Indeed all that uplifts man, including the Sabbath and abstention from impurity, is comprised in the concept of the imitation of God. At the highest level Israel's ethic and theology are indissolubly linked.

To sum up: The biblical conception of God was revolutionary both in its theological and its moral implications. The pagan world may occasionally have glimpsed, in primitive form, some of the higher truths inherent in Israel's ethical monotheism. Egypt for a brief span attained to monolatry (Akhenaton's heresy); Babylon had a glimmering of a unified cosmic process; Marduk, Shamash, and Aton punished evildoers; and some Greek philosophers commended the imitation of the godhead. Yet no cult in antiquity even remotely approached the elevated conceptions associated with the one God of the Bible. This spiritual revolution not only eventually brought paganism to an end, but its inner dynamic gave birth, in time, to two daughter religions, Christianity and Islam, which, despite their essential differences from Judaism, are deeply rooted in biblical thought.

[Israel Abrahams]

in hellenistic literature

Certain Jewish concepts of God were apparently known to the circle of Aristotle. His pupil Theophrastus (fourth century b.c.e.) said of the Jews that they were "the philosophers among the Syrians," because of their concept of the unity of God. The skeptic *Hecataeus of Abdera, the first of the Greek thinkers to attempt to define the substance of the Jewish concept of God, states that the Jews do not give form or image to God, because they regard the cosmos – which includes everything – as God. Their idea of the unity of God, according to Hecataeus, includes all existing things. Megasthenes, a Greek writer of the early third century, also notes that the important philosophers, outside of Greece, were the wise men of Israel. He arrived at this conclusion because of the fact that the unity of God was an accepted idea in Israel. Thus the Greek thinkers regarded the Jewish notion of divine unity as a view founded upon philosophic meditation in the spirit of the ideas common in their own circles, and in the spirit of the Ionian monists.

However, the primary quality of God according to Jewish teachings – ethical personalism – was not considered by the Greek writers. This idea of God's ethical will, which is beyond the universe and beyond nature and has absolute dominion over nature and over man, was far from the Greek mode of thought. Strangely no signs of influence of the Greek concept of God's unity are found in the early Jewish compositions in Greek. In the Septuagint, for instance, there is a recognizable tendency to avoid anthropomorphism (e.g., "And they saw the God of Israel" (Ex. 24:10) is translated as: "And they saw the place where the God of Israel stood"). This tendency, however, has deep roots in the Jewish concepts of God during the period of the Second Temple, which found expression in the abstention from uttering the Tetragrammaton or in applying to God terms taken from everyday usage. This should not be regarded as intentional avoidance of anthropomorphism, as there are no signs of such avoidance in the Bible. It rather expresses a reverence for the majesty of God, which compelled the choosing of special expressions relating to divine matters. In any event the Septuagint contains no trace of the terms or linguistic usages current in Greek philosophic literature. All those terms to which the philosophers gave a special abstract connotation, such as Nous ("Mind"), Cosmos ("Universe"), Psyche ("Divine Soul"), occur in the Septuagint not in their abstract philosophical sense but in their normal concrete daily usage. Even in the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon – a book undoubtedly influenced by Greek philosophy – the concepts of God are no different from those found in the Bible. Although the author of the Wisdom of Solomon praises the value of Wisdom in his book and regards it as a sort of partner in the creation of the world, this idea does not in the slightest detract from the concept of the unity of God for God is the Creator of the world, and Wisdom is not regarded as an independent or separate entity from God. The moral value of Wisdom in the life of man is particularly stressed as a force which refines the spirit of man and elevates him to a higher intellectual moral level. In so doing the author reduces the importance of Wisdom as a cosmic force. Man, according to the Wisdom of Solomon, seeks a personal closeness with God; God reveals Himself by signs and wonders in the history of the Jewish nation and by utilizing reward and punishment. All this accords with what is found in the Bible. Yet in contrast to the later Jewish view, the author of the Wisdom of Solomon regards God as a creator from existent material (not ex nihilo) as in the doctrine of matter and form found in Plato. The philosopher *Aristobulus of Paneas (first half of second century b.c.e.) already clearly expressed his opposition to anthropomorphism, and explains such expressions as "the hand of God," or "the voice of God" allegorically (see *Allegory) as the power of God, the expression of God's power of dominion in the world, etc. In the teaching of Aristobulus there is already a clear attempt to make the Jewish view of God correspond to the teaching of the Greek philosophers, even though it is difficult to determine to which school of philosophy Aristobulus himself belonged. The author of the Letter of *Aristeas too was influenced by Greek philosophy. God rules over all creatures and all are dependent upon Him, while He himself is not dependent upon any creature. The author of the Letter of Aristeas lays down that all men are aware of the unity of God as the Creator of everything, the director of everything, and the ruler over everything, but different peoples designate Him by different names (Letter of Aristeas 16). The name of the chief god current among the Greeks, Zeus, indicates his character as the source of life in nature and it too therefore is nothing else but a term for the one God.


The influence of Greek philosophy is especially strong on *Philo. Philo, under the influence of Plato, frequently uses for God the terms τό ὄν, τό ὄν ὄντως which in the teaching of Plato signify "existence" or "true existence" (see Timaeus, 27d–29d). Philo points to a basis for these in the expression "I am that I am" (cf. Som. 1:230–31, Ex. 3:14). There is no hint of such terminology in the Septuagint (the sentence used by the Septuagint for "I am that I am" has no connection with the above-mentioned terms used by Plato and Philo). Philo also uses such terms as "the one," "unity," etc., for the purpose of stressing God's transcendence over perfection, over all concepts of the good and the beautiful, and for His being above human comprehension. Such a degree of philosophic abstraction in the conception of God rules out any possibility of personal relations between man and God, examples of which are found in the Bible and the later literature. However as a Jew Philo was unable to content himself with mere abstraction, and he frequently raises the question of the relations of man to God, particularly on the methods by which man can come to apprehend God. Apprehension of God is possible, according to Philo, from two aspects: that of His existence, and that of His subsistence. A conception of God's existence can be achieved without great difficulty, since His works testify to this: the universe, man, and all other creatures.

However many aberrations occur in such a conception, since many people do not distinguish the ruler of the world from the powers subject to him; these people are compared to one who ignores the chariot driver and thinks that the horses are directing the movement toward the goal with their own powers; in such a manner the distorted concepts of God current in the circles of idolaters are created. Philo battled with exceptional vehemence against the views of those who regard the various heavenly powers or other hidden forces as independent active causes. It is his opinion that sound human intelligence has the power to avoid such aberrations in the understanding of God and this was achieved, according to Philo, by the greatest of the Greek philosophers whose names he mentions with much respect. However, this recognition of God's existence founded upon contemplation of the material world is very far from perfect, since it judges the uncreated from the created, whereas it is impossible to judge the reality of God by the creatures He created. A more perfect apprehension of God's reality is attained by those who "apprehended him through Himself, the light through the light." This was achieved only by the few intimates of God who are in no need of external analogies as aids to the apprehension of God. This type of person is called by Philo, "Israel," i.e., according to his etymology, "seers of God" (Praem. 43ff.). This level of understanding of the Divine existence was attained by Moses. The conceptual level of apprehension of the Divine existence is the highest that a mortal can attain. For as a result of the frailty of human nature man does not possess the power to apprehend anything of the nature of the Divine. Even the sharpest vision is not capable of seeing Him who was not created, since man possesses no instrument which could prepare him to apprehend His image, and the most man can attain is the apprehension that the nature of God is not within the bounds of human apprehension. Nevertheless the attempt at such apprehensionis not in vain. For even though the results of such effort will always be negligible, the effort itself elevates man and lifts him to a high degree of spiritual purity. Examples of such endeavor by man to apprehend the Divine nature are described in Philo's writings. After human intellect investigates everything to be found on earth, it turns to the contemplation of heavenly causes and partakes of their harmonious motion. From there it rises to the sphere of the intelligibles and at the time it contemplates the ideas of sensible things and absorbs their spiritual splendor, "a sober intoxication" (νηφάλια μέθη) assails it and elevates it to the level of prophecy. With a spirit full of supramundane yearnings it is elevated to the highest level of the intelligible world and already beholds itself approaching the King Himself in His glory. Now, however, when the craving for vision is greatest, dazzling beams of abounding light pour themselves over it and the brilliance of their glitter dims the eye of reason (Op. 69–72; Praem. 36f.). The impossibility of direct contact between God's nature and the sensible world created the concept of duality in Philo's understanding of the world, a concept much influenced by Plato. According to this view it does not become the majesty and elevation of God to be in direct contact with matter, and the forces within God or the activities overflowing from him fulfill the function of the intermediaries. The great gap between the sublime God and the perceptible world is bridged in Philo's teaching by the idea of level and intermediaries which serve as a connection between the absolute being of God and the changing level of the perceptible world. Angel, Idea, Logos – are the terms utilized by Philo to formulate the principles of the theory of levels whose influence upon subsequent religious thought was enormous.

[Joshua Gutmann]

in talmudic literature

Abstract philosophical concepts, such as are found in Philo, are foreign to the thought system of the rabbis of the Talmud and Midrash. However, a marked tendency is discernible among them to present an exalted picture of God, as well as to avoid expressions that could throw the slightest shadow on the conception of His absolute Oneness. In the *Targums, the early Aramaic translations of Scripture, the name God is frequently rendered "memra ('word') of God." It is certain that no connection whatsoever is intended between this word and the "logos," or with the idea of an intermediary between God and the world. Were this the intention, the word "memra" would have been used in the Targum to such verses as: "The Lord sent a word unto Jacob" (Isa. 9:7); "so shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth" (ibid. 55:11); "He sent His word and healed them" (Ps. 107:20). It is precisely in these verses that the Targum employs the word pitgam ("word") or nevu'ah ("prophecy"). Even in the verse "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made" (Ps. 33:6) "word" is rendered by the Targums as milta ("word") of God. Nor is there any mention of the expression "memra" in the Targums of the account of creation. It is therefore certain that this word, which occurs only in the Targums, but not in the Talmud and the Midrash, was used only to guard against any idea which (in the minds of the common people for whom the Targum was intended) might militate against the exalted conception of the Divinity or tend to diminish the pure concept of God. For the same reason one finds many euphemisms employed as substitutes for the names of God, such as Ha-Gevurah ("Might"), Raḥmana ("the Merciful"), Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu ("The Holy One, blessed be He"), or such terms as Shamayim ("Heaven"), Ha-Makom ("Omnipresent"), Ribbono shel Olam ("Lord of the Universe"), Mi-she-Amar ve-Hayah ha-Olam ("He who spoke, and the Universe came into being"), Avinu she-ba-Shamayim ("Our Father in heaven"), Mi she-Shikken Shemo ba-Bayit ha-Zeh ("He who caused His name to dwell in this house"). A special significance was given by the rabbis to the tetragrammaton, and to Elohim, the tetragrammaton denoting the attribute of mercy, and Elohim, that of judgment (Gen. R. 33:3). That this was a time-honored distinction is evident from its occurrence in Philo where, however, in conformity with the tradition of the Septuagint to translate the tetragrammaton by the Greek word κύριος which corresponds more closely to the concepts of rule and judgment, the name is regarded as the symbol of the attribute of judgment, and the name Elohim (translated in the Septuagint by θεóς) as a symbol of the attribute of mercy. The idea of the unity of God, which was widely discussed in non-Jewish circles at the time, receives strong emphasis in the aggadah. The concept of the unity of God is based upon the premise that the cosmos, with all its activities, is inconceivable without the existence of a single power which determines and directs it in accordance with a preordained plan and in conformity with a definite purpose. In order to give concrete expression to this idea, the rabbis of the aggadah utilized various parables, whose prototypes are found in Philo. They were particularly fond of the parable of "the ship and the captain," or of "the building and its owner," or of "the building and its director" (Sif. Deut. 341; Gen. R. 12:12; Mid. Ps. 23 to 24:1ff.; Gen. R. 39:1). Just as it is impossible for the ship, for example, to reach its destination without a captain, so administration of the cosmos and of individuals is impossible without a directing and supervising force. Other parables frequently found in the aggadah were intended to bring about reverence for the might of God, whose awesomeness is rendered even greater for the very reason that it defies man's powers of comprehension. If the brilliance of the sun blinds the human eye, how much more so the light of God (Ḥul. 59b). Man is unable to observe more than a particle of His grandeur and sublimity. The rabbis of the aggadah also use the soul as an example in teaching this doctrine. If a man's own soul, the source of his life, is beyond his intellectual comprehension, how much less can he comprehend the Creator of the universe and the source of its life (Mid. Ps. to 103:1; Lev. R. 4:3).

The recognition of the oneness of God is regarded by the scholars of the Talmud as a cardinal principle of religion, concerning which mankind as a whole was commanded, the seven precepts binding upon Noachians including idolatry (see *Noachide Laws).

If there is any difference between the biblical concept of God and that of the Talmud it lies in the fact that the God of the Talmud is more "homey," so to speak, than the God of the Bible. He is nearer to the masses, to the brokenhearted, to the ordinary person in need of His help. Only in this sense, does He at times appear to be an even greater epitomization of ethical virtues than the God of Scripture.

One finds no echo in the aggadah of the arguments for and against idolatry, such as occur in the Greek literature of that period. The aggadah's attacks on idolatry are much more extreme than those of the biblical period, the dominant note being one of contempt and disdain for those who presume to desecrate in a degrading and crude manner that which is most holy in human life – the service of God. In the course of their violent attacks on idolatry, the rabbis did not shrink from denouncing with equal vehemence the cult of emperor-worship, a type of idolatry for which Nimrod, Sisera, Sennacherib, Hiram, and Nebuchadnezzar served as the prototypes.

In apocalyptic circles, among those who expounded *Merkabah mysticism and those who entered *paradise, there is no discernible variation from the aggadic concept of God, the restrictions that the scholars of the Talmud placed upon the study of the esoteric doctrine of the Ma'aseh Merkavah and upon those of whom it was said that they "entered paradise" having a great deal to do with this. Despite this there were many in these circles "who looked and became demented," or "who cut down the saplings" (i.e., led astray the youth). The Talmud applied to them the term *minim ("sectarians"), a term which also included Christians, Gnostics, and other sectarians, whom the rabbis regarded either as complete disbelievers (Sif. Deut. 32, 39) or as rejecting the oneness of God. Regardless of whether these sectarians were Jews or whether they wished to identify themselves with them, the rabbis made every effort to exclude them from the fold, at times taking drastic measures to do so. The reaction of the rabbis to the varying concepts of God that were widespread in their time was thus characterized by exceptional vigilance. Even more significant, however, was the complete absence, in their doctrine of the Deity, of any materialistic elements. Though, according to the rabbis, angels play an important role in the lives of human beings, this does not in the least affect the closeness of God to every person in his daily life: "When trouble comes upon a man, he does not burst upon his patron suddenly, but goes and stands at his door… and he calls his servant who announces: 'so and so is at the door'…. Not so, however with regard to the Holy One, blessed be He. If trouble comes upon a man, he should cry out neither to Michael nor to Gabriel, but let him cry out to me, and I shall answer him immediately" (tj, Ber. 9:1, 13a).

The nearness of God is the predominating idea of the Talmud and Midrash. God mourns because of the evil decrees He has pronounced upon Israel; He goes into exile with His children; He studies Torah and gives His view on halakhic topics, and is overjoyed if the scholars triumph over him in halakhah. Every generation of Israel has been witness to the nearness of God. God revealed Himself at the Red Sea as a warrior; at Sinai as a sage filled with mercy; after the incident of the golden calf, as a congregational reader draped in a tallit ("prayer shawl"), instructing the people how to pray and repent. These metaphors are not intended anthropomorphically, but are rather devices for driving home the idea of God's nearness to his people, by the use of striking and daring images. The sages see no difference between God's closeness to Israel in the past and in the present. The idea of the selection of Israel and the greatness of its destiny stands, both in the past and in the present, at the very center of the relationship between God and His people, and complete confidence therefore exists that God will answer His people whenever they seek Him. The concept of God's nearness to man is also enshrined in the ethical teaching of the time, the rabbis enjoining man to imitate the attributes of God: "Just as He is merciful and compassionate, be thou too merciful and compassionate" (Mekh., be-Shallaḥ 14:2; Sifra 19:1).

[Yehoshua M. Grintz]

in medieval jewish philosophy

Medieval Jewish philosophy concentrated very heavily on problems concerning the existence and nature of God, His knowability, and His relationship to man and the world. Neither the Bible nor rabbinic literature contain systematic philosophic treatments of these topics, and it was only under the stimulus of Greek and Arabic philosophy that Jews engaged in such inquiries. In natural philosophy, metaphysics, and theology Jewish thought was influenced by *Kalām thinkers and by Arabic versions of neoplatonism and Aristotelianism. Fundamental to Jewish philosophic speculation about God was the conviction that human reason is reliable (within its proper limits), and that biblical theology is rational. Most medieval Jewish philosophers considered intellectual inquiry essential to a religious life, and were convinced that there could be no real opposition between reason and faith. Thus, *Saadiah Gaon held that, "The Bible is not the sole basis of our religion, for in addition to it we have two other bases. One of these is anterior to it; namely, the fountain of reason…" (Book of Beliefs and Opinions, 3:10). *Bahya ibn Paquda believed that it is a religious duty to investigate by rational methods such questions as God's unity, because, of the three avenues which God has given us to know Him and His law, "the first is a sound intellect" (Ḥovot ha-Levavot, introduction; cf. 1:3). Even *Judah Halevi, who distrusted philosophy, said, "Heaven forbid that there should be anything in the Bible to contradict that which is manifest or proved" (Kuzari, 1:67). This attitude toward the relationship between reason and faith dominated medieval Jewish philosophy. It reached its highest, most elaborate, and most familiar expression in the thought of *Maimonides, and was reaffirmed by later philosophers, such as *Levi b. Gershom and Joseph *Albo.

The Existence of God

The first task of philosophical theology is to prove the existence of God, though medieval philosophers did not always begin their treatises with this topic. Of the familiar philosophic arguments for the existence of God, the ontological argument, i.e., that God's existence follows necessarily from a definition of what He is, seems to have been unknown to medieval Jewish thought. Emphasis was placed on the cosmological argument, according to which the existence of God was derived from some aspect of the world, such as the existence of motion or causality. Some attention was also given to the teleological argument, according to which the existence of God was derived from order existing in the world.

teleological argument

The simplest form of the teleological argument, the argument from design, was used by Saadiah and Baḥya. Both derided those who claim that the world arose by chance without an intelligent and purposive creator. They pointed out the high improbability (in their view, incredibility) that the extremely complex and delicately balanced order of the universe could have come about accidentally, since even ordinary artifacts are known to require an artisan. A more sophisticated version of this argument was offered by Levi b. Gershom. From the teleological nature of all existing things, i.e., the fact (as he supposed) that each thing is moved toward the realization of its own proper end, he concluded that all things together move toward their common ultimate end. This is the final cause of the world, namely God.

cosmological argument

In Saadiah's versions of the cosmological argument, following the Kalām closely, he deduced the existence of God from the creation of the world. He first demonstrated that the world must have been created in time out of nothing, and he then showed that such a world could only have been created by an omnipotent God whose essence is an absolute unity. Bahya followed a similar method. His basic argument was that since the world is composite, it must have been put together at some point in time; it could not have made itself, because nothing can make itself; therefore, it must have been created, and the creator of the world we call God. The earliest Jewish philosopher to turn away from the Kalām in favor of a stricter Aristotelianism was Abraham *Ibn Daud, and the most prominent by far was Maimonides (see *Aristotle and Aristotelianism). In contrast to the followers of the Kalām, Maimonides rejected the view that proofs for the existence of God are contingent on proofs of the creation of the world. He showed that in principle one cannot prove either that the world is eternal or that it was created, but went on to argue that even if we grant the eternity of the world, we can still demonstrate the existence of God. The arguments he used, two of which had already been set forth in Abraham Ibn Daud's Emunah Ramah, are essentially cosmological. The most familiar of Maimonides' arguments is the argument from motion. Since things in the world are in motion and no finite thing can move itself, every motion must be caused by another; but since this leads to an infinite regress, which is unintelligible, there must be an unmoved mover at the beginning of the series. This unmoved mover is God. Another of Maimonides' arguments begins from the fact that the existence of all things in our experience is contingent, i.e., their existence begins and ends in time, so that each thing can be conceived as not existing. Contingent existence is unintelligible, unless there is at least one necessary existence, one being whose existence is eternal and independent of all cause, standing behind it. Maimonides laid great stress on the conception of God as necessary existence. This argument was the only one that Hasdai *Crescas found acceptable, though he was a severe critic of the Aristotelianism of his predecessors. In addition to other arguments, Saadiah and Judah Halevi offered a non-philosophical argument. Since the revelation at Sinai took place in the presence of 600,000 adults, there is public evidence that places the fact of God's existence beyond all reasonable doubt.

The Nature of God

For Judaism, the proof of God's existence is incomplete unless it also establishes His absolute unity. Though Jewish philosophers conceived this unity in different ways, none deviated from the fixed belief in God's unity. In reflecting on this question, practically all Jewish philosophers of the Middle Ages came to the conclusion that the unity of God necessarily implies that He must be incorporeal. This conclusion then required them to set forth figurative or metaphorical interpretations of the many biblical passages that ascribe bodily characteristics to God, because no proper philosophical understanding of God can accept a literal reading of these anthropomorphisms. As Abraham Ibn Daud pointed out, Jewish thinkers were particularly sensitive to this problem because many non-Jews held the slanderous opinion that the Jews believe in a corporeal God. Thus, it is understandable that medieval Jewish philosophers devoted much attention to arguments for God's incorporeality and the detailed exegesis of anthropomorphic passages in Scripture. Some scholars even suggest that the primary purpose of Saadiah's philosophical work was to refute all claims that God is corporeal. Maimonides began his Guide of the Perplexed with an elaborate and comprehensive effort to refute all literal interpretations of passages in the Bible that speak of God as having corporeal features.

Divine Attributes

Having rejected the literal meaning of biblical statements about God, the medieval philosophers had to determine what may be considered a legitimate description of God. Can attributes of God, such as goodness, mercy, wisdom, and justice be predicated of Him positively? The bulk of medieval opinion held that one cannot properly say anything positive about God, for two reasons. First, ascribing multiple attributes to Him compromises His unity. Second, human language reflects the limitations of the human perspective, so that describing God by way of human predicates reduces Him to the finiteness of man. Therefore, a majority of the medieval philosophers held that nothing positive can be said about God. However, since there is no choice but to talk about God in some way, despite the limitations of human language, they had to find some interpretation of the divine attributes which would not be a positive one. The most widely accepted solution was to understand all the essential attributes, such as living, wise, powerful, which describe the divine nature, as negative, so that every seemingly positive assertion about God only says what He is not. For example, the statement, "God is wise," can only mean that He is not ignorant. In this way one may speak of God's nature in the language of men without compromising His unity and without reducing Him to human form. Because God transcends all knowledge and all experience, one can only affirm that He exists and even this must be interpreted as negating that He lacks existence and describes what He is solelyin terms of negative attributes. This view was held with minor variations by Saadiah, Baḥya, *Joseph ibn Ẓaddik, Judah Ha-levi, Ibn Daud, and Maimonides. Besides these descriptions of God's nature which were interpreted as negative attributes, there are others, such as merciful and just, which appear to describe what God does rather than what He is. These could also not be interpreted positively since such positive predication of these descriptions, too, could compromise God's unity. These descriptions were therefore interpreted as attributes of action, i.e., as describing God's effects without, however, attempting to account for a property in God which causes these effects. This non-positive predication of the attributes of action again safeguards divine unity. Maimonides gave the most subtle and comprehensive treatment to the problem of attributes. While holding rigorously to the negative interpretation of essential attributes, he also followed some of his predecessors in affirming the doctrine of attributes of action. Thus, a great calamity may be interpreted in human eyes as an expression of God's anger, and a seemingly miraculous rescue of men from danger will be understood as an instance of God's love and compassion. Two major figures of the late medieval period rejected the doctrine of negative attributes. Both Levi b. Gershom and Ḥasdai Crescas argued in favor of the view that if God is to be intelligible, His attributes must be understood as positive predications. They did not think that positive predication compromises the divine unity and perfection. Moreover, Levi b. Gershom believed that positive predicates could be applied to God literally because their primary meaning is derived from their application to God, while their human meaning is secondary. The position of Joseph Albo, the last of the medieval Jewish philosophers, is ambiguous. Although he affirmed the doctrine of negative attributes, he also tried to argue that the divine attributes have a descriptive-positive meaning.

Relation of God to Man and the World

In denying God's corporeality and in developing the doctrine of negative attributes, the philosophers went far toward protecting the unity of God. However in proclaiming this absolute metaphysical unity they also generated serious problems. If God is conceived as the metaphysical One, eternal, absolute, unique, and incomparable, how should His relationship to man and the world be understood? In every relation there is multiplicity, and in relations with the corporeal world there is also inescapable temporality. With respect to *creation the problem was often solved (or at least avoided) by invoking various forms of neoplatonic theories of emanation.

divine providence

The issue was particularly acute with respect to the question of divine providence and God's relationship to man. To remain consistent with the Bible and rabbinic teaching, the philosophers had to affirm the doctrine of *reward and punishment and, thus, support the view that God knows and is concerned about individual human life and action. Yet, such a God seems to be a temporal, changing being, not the absolute, eternal One. In a most radical statement Maimonides asserted that, "the relation between us and Him, may He be exalted, is considered as non-existent" (Guide of the Perplexed, 1:56). Maimonides tempered this view, however, and developed a theory according to which God shows providence to the human species. God is removed from any direct involvement with individual animals or with inanimate objects: "For I do not by any means believe that this particular leaf has fallen because of a providence watching over it; nor that this spider has devoured this fly because God has now decreed and willed something concerning individuals" (ibid., 3:17). Moreover, according to Maimonides, the providential care of man is totally dependent on the level of the individual's intellectual development. As the human intellect develops in its highest form, it is brought into progressively closer contact with the divine nature which overflows toward it; for the individual human intellect is only a particularization of the divine overflow. "Now if this is so, it follows necessarily…that when any human individual has obtained… a greater proportion of this overflow than others, providence will of necessity watch more carefully over him than over others… Accordingly, divine providence does not watch in an equal manner over all the individuals of the human species, but providence is graded as their human perfection is graded… As for the ignorant and disobedient, their state is despicable proportionately to their lack of this overflow, and they have been relegated to the rank of the individuals of all the other species of animals" (ibid., 3:18). Maimonides solved the problem by making providence an extension of the divine nature in the perfected human intellect, and thus succeeded in preserving God's unity and eternity. Similar views were held by Levi b. Gershom and Abraham *Ibn Ezra. While the medieval Jewish philosophers succeeded in meeting the challenge of their intellectual environment, many Jews felt that in the process they had sacrificed the spiritual satisfactions of simple piety. As the French philosopher Pascal (17th century) once observed, the God of the philosophers is no substitute for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Many great Jewish teachers opposed such philosophical conceptions of God, because they felt that they robbed the Jew of his intimate relationship with a God who is loving and compassionate, as well as stern, judging, and commanding. In the centuries since the Middle Ages, Judaism has made room for both the God of the philosophers and the God who lives in the emotions and aspirations of simple, non-philosophical men.

[Marvin Fox]

in kabbalah

The kabbalistic view of God is in principle a derivation from the desire to abolish the contradiction between the two concepts: God's unity and God's existence. The emphasis of God's unity leads the philosopher to reject anything that could undermine that absolute unity – any attribute, determination, or quality that can be interpreted as an addition to His unity and as evidence for plurality. On the other hand, the emphasis on God's life which is characteristic of religious faith endangers His unity, since life is variegated by its very nature: it is a process and not a state. In the opinion of many kabbalists the divinity should be conceived of in the following two fundamental aspects:

(1) God in Himself who is hidden in the depths of His being;

(2) the revealed God who creates and preserves his creation.

For kabbalists these two aspects are not contradictory but complement one another. Regarding God Himself the first aspect suffices, and in the opinion of some (Moses *Cordovero, and the Chabad Ḥasidism), one could doubt whether from this point of view anything at all exists apart from God. It is precisely the second view, however, that is required by religious faith: namely, a revealed God who can be recognized by His action and revelation.

In terms of God Himself, He has neither a name nor an attribute and nothing can be said of Him except that He is. This absolute divinity is usually called in Kabbalah *Ein-Sof ("the Infinite"). Ein-Sof lacks any attributes, even more than, if one may say so, does the God of Maimonides. From the sayings of some early kabbalists, it is apparent that they are careful not even to ascribe personality to God. Since He is beyond everything – beyond even imagination, thought, or will – nothing can be said of Him that is within the grasp of our thought. He "conceals Himself in the recesses of mystery"; He is "the supreme cause" or "the great existent" (in Berit Menuḥah, Amsterdam, 1648), appellations which contain a negation of the personal nature of God. There were also kabbalists, however, who wished to give a personality to Ein-Sof, though in their opinion too this personality was indefinable: according to them the Ein-Sof is ba'al ha-raẓon, "the possessor of will" (Menaḥem Azariah da *Fano), hence it is possible to say of Him, as do faithful pious Jews, "Blessed be He"; "May He be blessed and exalted," etc. Both these conceptions are met with in the pages of the *Zohar. In favor of the personal character of Ein-Sof weighed the argument that even without the existence of emanations, the Sefirot, and the worlds, His perfection would not lack anything, hence one should not think that God acquired personality through the emanation of the "attributes" or the Sefirot, which determine for us the personal character of God. It should be said that, in the opinion of all kabbalists the Ein-Sof is divinity itself, but some kabbalists doubt whether it is also "God." For the life of the Ein-Sof is concealed within itself and is not revealed, while the religious man seeks the revelation of this concealed life. This revelation comes through the emanation of the Sefirot, which are the domain of the life of the revealed God. This emanation is not a necessity, according to the nature of the Ein-Sof; it is a voluntary activity of the emanator.

The special difficulty in connection with this view is that according to kabbalistic doctrine the ten Sefirot or worlds of heavenly Parẓufim ("configurations," in the Lurianic Kabbalah) are not created regions distinct from the Ein-Sof, like other creations, but are included within the divine unity (see *Emanation). The Sefirot are also attributes (and some kabbalists explicitly identify them with the "attributes of action" of the philosophers) but in actual fact they are more than attributes: they are the various stages at which God reveals Himself at the time of creation; they are His powers and His names. Each quality is one facet of his revelation. Hence every name applied to the divine is merely one of these qualities: Eheyeh, Yah, El, Elohim, Ẓeva'ot, Adonai – each points to a special aspect in the revealed God, and only the totality of all these qualities exhausts the active life of God. It is this totality, its order, and its laws, in which the theology of the Kabbalah is fundamentally interested. Here the personality of God is manifested even if it is not developed: God revealed himself not only at Mt. Sinai; He revealed Himself in everything since the beginning of the creation, and will continue to reveal Himself until the end of time; His act in creation is His main revelation. From this position stems a certain dualism in the realm of the revelation of the divine: on the one hand there is Ein-Sof which is transcendental and its traces are not discernable in the creatures; yet on the other hand the traces of the living God, who is embodied in the world of the Sefirot, are found in everything and discernable in everything – at least to the mystic who knows how to interpret the symbolic language of outer reality. God is in His creation, just as He is outside of it. And if the Sefirot, active in the creation, are the "souls" and the inwardness of everything, then the Ein-Sof is the "soul of the souls." By the mere fact of being a creature, no creature is divine, though nevertheless something of the divine is revealed in it. The world of Sefirot then is the region of divine revelation per se, for the flow of divine life rises and descends in the stages of the Sefirot. The divine revelation emanates also upon the region of creation, through the "clothing" of the Sefirot in the mundane world.

In critical literature on Kabbalah opinions vary on the question to what extent the formulations of this fundamental standpoint are pantheistic. At various times a pantheistic view of God had been attributed in particular to the Zohar, to Moses Cordovero, and to Abraham *Herrera. Important in the theology of the Kabbalah is the new view of the divine presence, which is no longer a synonym for God Himself, but a name for the last Sefirah which is the passive and receptive element in God, although it is simultaneously active and emanating upon the creatures. The unity of God in the Sefirot is dynamic and not static and all explanations by kabbalists of the Shema ("Hear O Israel") testify to this: this is the unity of the stream of life flowing from the Ein-Sof, or, according to some opinions, from the will which is the first Sefirah (See *Kabbalah).

[Gershom Scholem]

in modern jewish philosophy

Moses Mendelssohn

Moses *Mendelssohn, the first modern Jewish philosopher, believed that, "Judaism knows nothing of a revealed religion in the sense in which Christians define this term." The truths of religion, particularly those that have to do with the existence and nature of God, are principles of reason and, as such, are available to all men. Through rational reflection we know that God exists, that He is a necessary and perfect being, creator of the world, omnipotent, omniscient, and absolutely good. These truths, which constitute the essential grounds of salvation, are the elements of a natural religion shared by all men. What is peculiarly Jewish is not religion at all, but only divine legislation, God's revealed law, which binds and obligates the Jewish people alone and is the necessary condition of their salvation. True religion, on the other hand, is universal. God has made known to all men, through reason, the essential and eternal truths about His nature and the world He created.

Solomon Formstecher

Solomon *Formstecher was especially indebted to the idealist philosopher *Schelling for the metaphysical foundations of his theology. He conceived God as the "world-soul," which is the ultimate ground of the unity of all reality. While nature is the open manifestation of God in the world of our experience, it is only as spirit that God can truly be conceived. His essence is beyond all human knowledge, and to restrict God to the necessarily anthropomorphic conceptions of man borders on paganism. Formstecher believed that the world-soul is not in the world, but is prior to and independent of it. God is an absolutely free spirit, whose freedom is most clearly evident in His activity as creator of the world. Because of His absolute freedom, God is understood as the ultimate ethical being and as the ideal that man should strive to imitate and realize in his own ethical life.

Samuel Hirsch

Samuel *Hirsch taught a doctrine similar to that of Formstecher, although he was more dependent on the philosophy of *Hegel. He emphasized the centrality of the ethical even more than Formstecher did. Man discovers his freedom in his own self-consciousness. He knows himself, not as part of nature, but as an "I" who stands in freedom over against the world. God is conceived, on this human model, as a being who is absolutely free and supreme in power over all that exists. Through the miracles that He performs, God exhibits to man His absolute power and freedom. For Hirsch, Judaism is, above all, the religion of the spirit. Its highest purpose is the actualization of human freedom in the ethical life, because only in free and moral acts does man truly serve God.

Solomon Ludwig Steinheim

Unlike most of his contemporaries, Solomon Ludwig *Steinheim thought that philosophy and religion are radically opposed. He held that the true knowledge of God can be acquired only through revelation, and that scriptural revelation contradicts the canons of human reason. If God is conceived in purely rational terms, then His freedom must necessarily be denied, because rationality entails causal necessity. The God of reason is subject to causal rules, since, even as first cause, He is limited to that which reason finds possible. Such a God is not absolutely free. Neither is He a true creator, for according to the principle that nothing comes from nothing, He could not have created the world freely and ex nihilo. Steinheim rejected reason in favor of revelation, denied the principle of causality, and represented God as the true and free creator who stands above the limitations of rational necessity. Only through such a theology does man become free. Freedom is possible for man only if he subordinates his reason to the God of revelation, whose creative freedom provides the sole ground of genuinely human existence.

Nachman Krochmal

Nachman *Krochmal, although living in Eastern Europe, was more fully Hegelian than his Western Jewish contemporaries. They modified the prevailing philosophy to accommodate the personal God of traditional Judaism, but Krochmal developed a doctrine which borders on pantheism. He conceived God as Absolute Spirit, containing in itself all reality. Absolute Spirit has none of the characteristics of a personal God. Even as cause, He is impersonal: He causes the world only in the sense that He is its totality. The world is derived from God through emanation, which Krochmal understood as a form of divine self-limitation. In this Krochmal was affected by kabbalistic doctrines, which he combined with Hegelianism.

Hermann Cohen

Three figures of major importance appeared in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Hermann *Cohen, Franz *Rosenzweig, and Martin *Buber. In his early years Cohen thought of God as a philosophical construct that served as the guarantor of morality and moral progress. The existence of God, according to this conception, cannot be proved. He is beyond all positive descriptions, and is thought of only as an "idea" in the technical Kantian sense. Though His nature is absolutely unknown to us, God as idea is the one absolutely necessary ground of morality. His reality is affirmed because the alternative of denying morality cannot be accepted. In his later years Cohen adopted more traditional language as he became more deeply concerned for Judaism. He then spoke of God as the Creator, the God of love, and the source of all being, who is absolutely one and unique.

Franz Rosenzweig

In Rosenzweig's view, God is not known through philosophic inquiry or rational demonstration. He is met in direct existential encounter, which is true revelation. In the anguished consciousness of his own creaturely contingency, man encounters God, who is the creator of the world, and above all he encounters dependence. This meeting reveals God as an all-powerful and loving father. His love for man results in commandments that bind every individual for whom the divine-human encounter is a reality.

Martin Buber

Like Rosenzweig, Buber stressed, above all, the personal quality of God. He is the Eternal Thou, whom one meets as the supreme partner in dialogue. This is not the depersonalized God of the philosopher-theologian, whose nature is expressed in a set of formal propositions. Man knows Him only as the Ever-Present, who meets him in true encounter. No effort to give a consistent definition of God succeeds. "Of course God is the 'wholly Other'; but He is also the wholly Same, the wholly Present. Of course He is the Mysterium Tremendum that appears and overthrows; but He is also the mystery of the self-evident, nearer to me than my I" (I and Thou (1937), 79).

Mordecai Kaplan

In the United States Mordecai *Kaplan developed a naturalistic view of God in conscious opposition to the traditional, supernatural views. Convinced that modern science makes it impossible to believe in a transcendent, personal God, Kaplan nevertheless saw value in retaining the idea and the name "God." He conceived God simply as that power in nature which makes possible the fulfillment of man's legitimate aspirations. Despite his commitment to scientific naturalism, Kaplan believed that the world is so constituted that valid human ideals are supported and helped toward realization by the cosmic process. It is this force making for human salvation that Kaplan called God.

[Marvin Fox]

attributes of god

The discussion in Jewish philosophy of the attributes or predicates (Heb. te'arim; Arab. ṣifāt) of God is based on the problem of how God, whose essence is presumed to be unknowable, can be spoken of in meaningful terms.


Philo was the first to introduce the doctrine of the unknowability of God, which he derived from the Bible (see C. Siegfried, Philo (1875), 203–4; H.A. Wolfson, Philo, 2 (1947), 86–90, 119–26). He interprets Moses' prayer, "Reveal Thyself to me" (according to the Septuagint version of Ex. 33:18) as a plea for a knowledge of God's essence, and God's answer as pointing out that only His existence, and not His essence, can be known (Wolfson, op. cit., 86–87). From God's unlikeness to any other being follows His simplicity, i.e., essential unity, indivisibility, and His being "without quality," i.e., without "accidents" such as inhere in corporeal objects, and without "form," such as inheres in matter. God belongs to no class. He is without genus or species, and consequently no concept can be formed of Him (ibid., 97–110). The scriptural passages describing God in anthropomorphic and anthropopathic terms must, therefore, be understood as serving a merely pedagogical purpose. Since God's essence is unknowable, all the predicates of God in Scripture describe Him only by what is known of Him through the proofs of His existence, and they refer only to the causal relation of God to the world. Philosophical discussion of the problem of God's attributes gained new impetus under the influence of Muslim philosophy, especially the Kalām.


The most elaborate Jewish Kalām discussion of attributes is found in Saadiah's Emunot ve-De'ot (Book of Beliefs and Opinions, tr. by S. Rosenblatt, 1948). Saadiah finds in Scripture the following attributes assigned to God: He is one, living, omnipotent, omniscient, and unlike any other being. His unity and incomparability follow logically from the notion of "Creator" (1:1), as do the notions of existence, omnipotence, omniscience. The latter three attributes do not imply diversity in God. Just as the attribute of "Creator" does not add anything to the essence of God, but merely expresses His causal relation to the world, so do these three attributes, which explain the term Creator, add nothing to His essence, but merely denote the existence of a world created by Him (1:4). It would seem to follow that these three attributes are active, not essential attributes, but this is not Saadiah's ultimate meaning. Since these attributes, when applied to God (unlike the case when they are applied to man) are not distinct from God's essence, Saadiah upholds positive essential attributes (existence, omniscience, omnipotence), but reduces their meaning to that of God's causality as Creator. He does, however, distinguish between these essential attributes and attributes of action. Attributes such as merciful, gracious, jealous, and avenging are attributes of action in the sense that they express a certain affection for the creatures produced by the causality of God (1:12).


Jewish neoplatonic writings are marked by a new emphasis on the unity of God. At the same time the notion of the will of God was injected into the discussion. The extant writings of Isaac *Israeli, the earliest Jewish neoplatonist, contain few references to the attributes (see A. Altmann and S.M. Stern, Isaac Israeli (1958), 151–8). Solomon ibn *Gabirol's views are more explicit. In his Mekor Hayyim and his poem Keter Malkhut, Ibn Gabirol emphasizes God's unity (Mekor Ḥayyim, 3:4; 5:30). Negative terms are used particularly with reference to the "mystery" (sod) of the divine unity, concerning which we do not know "what it is," but which may be described as unaffected by plurality or change, or by attribute (to'ar) and designation (kinnui). His negative interpretation of the divine attributes is, however, complicated by Ibn Gabirol's doctrine that matter and form, the two principles which constitute all created beings, derive from the essence and the will of God respectively. Matter (which is originally "spiritual" matter) proceeds from the very essence of God, and form is impressed upon, and diffused in matter by virtue of God's will. Ibn Gabirol's will tends to assume the character of an intermediate between God and the world and, in certain respects, shares in the divine absoluteness (ibid., 5:37–9; 4:20). Bahya ibn Paquda's elaborate treatment of the attributes in the "Sha'ar ha-Yiḥud" ("Chapter on Unity") of his Ḥovot ha-Levavot starts from the thesis that from the existence and order of the universe, the existence of one single creator can be inferred. Like Aristotle (Metaphysics, 5, 5, 1015b, 16–7), Baḥya distinguishes between the "accidental" and "absolute" senses of the term "one" and concludes that the truly One is God alone, who is incomparable and unique (1:8–9). Having established God's unity in the neoplatonic sense, Bahya proceeds to discuss the meaning of the attributes, which may again be classified under two heads: essential attributes and attributes of action. The essential attributes are existence, unity, and eternity. They do not imply a plurality in God's essence, but must be interpreted negatively, i.e., God is not nonexistent; there is no plurality in Him; He is not a created thing. The attributes of action which describe God's actions either in anthropomorphic terms or in terms of corporeal motions and acts are used by Scripture in order to establish a belief in God in the souls of men (1:10), i.e., for pedagogical reasons.


In Jewish Aristotelianism the discussion of the divine attributes reached a new level, reflecting the influence of Avicenna and, subsequently, of *Averroes. The notion of God as the "necessary being" which was introduced by Avicenna, contested by al-*Ghazālī, and modified by Averroes, replaced, in some measure, the neoplatonic concept of the One. Moreover, the problem of the meaning of terms like "one" and "being" came to the fore, for even though these terms were predicated of God in a peculiar sense, they seemed also to bear a generic sense in which they were predicated of other beings as well. Al-*Fārābī held the notion that common terms of this kind are predicated of God "firstly" or "in a prior manner," and of other beings "secondly" or "in a posterior manner," i.e., that the perfections implied by the particular predicate derive from God as their cause or exemplar. According to Avicenna, the term "one" is predicated of God and other beings "in an ambiguous sense" (see H.A. Wolfson, in Homenaje a Millás-Vallicrosa, 2 (1956), 545–71), which implies the doctrine of the "analogy" of being (A.M. Goichon (tr.), Ibn Sina, Livre des Directives et Remarques (1951), 366–9, n. 2), a view which was not adopted by the first Jewish Aristotelians (Abraham ibn Daud and Maimonides), who substituted for it the notion of the purely homonymous character of these terms, that is that terms applied to God and other beings share only the name but not the meaning. Only under the influence of Averroes did the doctrine of the "analogy" of being eventually command the assent of Jewish Aristotelians (notably Levi b. Gershom, see below). Abraham Ibn Daud, in his Emunah Ramah (ed. by S. Weil (1852), 48–57), follows Avicenna in establishing the existence of God as "the necessary being" in the sense that God's essence necessarily implies His existence, while in the case of all other beings their existence is only "possible" and extrinsic to their essence. True unity is therefore established in the case of God alone by virtue of His intrinsic necessary existence. Ibn Daud enumerated seven positive attributes: unity, truth, existence, omniscience, will, omnipotence, and being. These neither imply definitions of God nor constitute a plurality in Him. They have to be interpreted as either negations or as asserting God's causality. Unlike Avicenna, he asserts the homonymity of the term "being" in the case of God as compared with its application to all other beings. God's being is true and necessary because it alone has an underived and independent existence. The other eight attributes are explained by Ibn Daud as negative.


The most incisive treatment of the attributes is found in Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed (1:50–60). Maimonides argues that every attribute predicated of God is an attribute of action or, if the attribute is intended for the apprehension of His essence and not of His action, it signifies the negation or privation of the attribute in question (1:58). There cannot be affirmative essential attributes, i.e., affirmative predications relating to the essence of God which is unknowable (1:60). The anthropomorphic and anthropopathic descriptions of God in Scripture have to be understood as attributes of action, or as assertions of God's absolute perfection (1:53). Novel elements in Maimonides' discussion of attributes are his fivefold classification; his rejection of relational attributes; and his interpretation of negative attributes. Maimonides lists and discusses five kinds of attributes:

(1) A thing may have its definition and through it its essence is predicated of it. In the case of God, who cannot be defined, this kind of attribute is impossible.

(2) A part of a definition may be predicated. This, again, is inapplicable to God; for if He had a part of an essence, His essence would be composite.

(3) A quality subsisting in an essence may be predicated. None of the genera of quality is applicable to God.

(4) A relation to something other than itself (to time, place, or another individual) may be predicated of a thing. This is inadmissible in the case of God who is not related to time or place and not even to any of the substances created by Him.

(5) The action performed by a certain agent may be predicated of him. This kind of attribute makes no affirmation of his essence or quality and is therefore admissible in the case of God (1:52).

The "13 attributes of mercy" revealed by God to Moses (Ex. 34:6–7) are attributes of action. They do not denote affections (e.g., compassion) on the part of God, but merely express the actions proceeding from Him in terms drawn from analogous human experience. Maimonides makes the point that not only the many attributes of God used in Scripture, but also the four intellectually conceived attributes of existence, omnipotence, omniscience, and will are attributes of action and not essential attributes (1:53). Because of God's absolute uniqueness and unlikeness to anything else, God's essence is unknowable (1:55). The only correct way of speaking of God's essence is that of negation. Maimonides lists eight terms (existence and life, incorporeality, firstness, omnipotence, omniscience, will, and unity), all of which are interpreted as negative in meaning and as expressing the dissimilarity between God and all other beings, e.g., "God exists" means "God is not absent"; "He is powerful" means "He is not weak." The negation means that the term in question (e.g., "weak") is inapplicable to God. It also means that the affirmative term (e.g., "powerful") is equally inapplicable, and that it can only be used in an equivocal sense. Maimonides' doctrine of attributes reflects, fundamentally, Avicenna's position as represented by al-Ghazālī in his Tahāfut al-Falāsifaʾ (i.e., denial of essential attributes based on the concept of God's "necessary existence," which, in turn, is based on the Avicennian ontological distinction between essence and existence in the cases of all beings except God), but goes beyond Avicenna in rejecting relational attributes.

Post-Maimonidean Philosophy

In post-Maimonidean Jewish philosophy the influence of Averroes became increasingly pronounced. Averroes' attack on Avicenna's ontological distinction between essence and existence (Tahāfut al-Tahāfut, ed. by S. van den Bergh (1954), 179–81, and passim) achieved particular prominence and led to the adoption of the theory that the divine attributes did not imply homonymous terms, but rather that essence and existence are identical in all beings, including God.

levi ben gershom (Gersonides)

The full implications of Averroes' critique of Avicenna appear in the doctrine of Levi b. Gershom (Milḥamot Adonai, 3:3). The attributes are not to be interpreted as equivocal in meaning. They are to be understood secundum prius et posterius (both by a priori and a posteriori reasoning). They do not thereby imply a kind of relation and similarity between God and other beings, nor do they involve plurality: "For not every proposition in which something is affirmed of something implies plurality of that thing" (see H.A. Wolfson, in jqr, 7 (1916/17), 1–44, 175–225). Gersonides quotes scriptural passages affirming God's oneness (Deut. 6:4) and existence (Ex. 3:14), and he concludes from them the attributes of intellect, life, goodness, omnipotence, and will must likewise be predicated of God in a positive sense.

Ḥasdai crescas

The last significant development of the doctrine of divine attributes in medieval Jewish philosophy is found in Hasdai Crescas (Or Adonai, 1:3, 1–6). He distinguishes between the essence of God, which is unknowable, and essential predicates which are knowable. The latter are neither identical with God's essence nor merely accidental to it, but inseparable from it in the sense that the one cannot be thought of without the other. This distinction is not in conflict with the notion of God's absolute simplicity. Nor is God's unlikeness to any other being thereby denied. The attributes of omnipotence and omniscience may be predicated of God secundum prius et posterius. There are, however, some attributes which are, in the final analysis, negative in meaning, namely existence, unity, and eternity. These too apply to God and all other beings secundum prius et posterius and are thus not equivocal. Crescas thus firmly rejects denial of affirmative attributes, and suggests that such denial may be interpreted as really referring only to God's essence, where it is legitimate, but not to His essential attributes (1:3,3 end).

Modern Philosophy

In modern Jewish philosophy the divine attributes are no longer discussed with the stringency imposed by the medieval tradition as inherited from Philo and the neoplatonists and modified by the Aristotelians. Nevertheless, the concepts evolved by the medieval thinkers are not entirely lost. Both Moses Mendelssohn and Hermann Cohen reflect in different ways, according to their respective positions, essential elements of the earlier discussion. Mendelssohn deals with the attributes particularly in his small treatise Die Sache Gottes oder die gerettete Vorsehung (1784). He asserts in the name of "the true religion of reason" the conjunction in God of his "greatness" and His "goodness." The greatness of God contains two parts: His power or omnipotence and His wisdom or omniscience. Mendelssohn's discussion of the divine attributes (he does not use this term) is directed towards the problem of theodicy. The essential point is that the infinite wisdom of God is allied to His infinite goodness, which constitutes God's "justice." In its highest degree justice is "holiness" in which equity and mercy are included. The concept of the goodness of God implies that God's punishment of the sinner is meant for the sake of the sinner's improvement. Hermann Cohen presents his concept of the attributes of God in much closer dependence on the medieval Islamic and Jewish philosophers, particularly on Maimonides. The concept of the unity of God in Judaism, according to Cohen, must not be confounded with that of mere "oneness," which is merely negative in meaning. Cohen adopts the term "uniqueness" (Einzigheit), which denotes God as the only Being in the true sense of the word, and signifies also His incomparability (Isa. 40:25), eternity, and causality (Religion der Vernunft (1929), 51–54, 70), as well as the concept of God as creator (ibid., 73–77). He interprets Maimonides' theory of negative attributes as the absolute negation of negativity and the affirmation of positivity. Thus, propositions such as "God is not weak" are given in the logical form "God is not non-active" (Juedische Schriften, 3 (1924), 252, 257; Religion der Vernunft, 72–73). Moreover, he links this interpretation with his own concept of Ursprung (principium; Gr. arché) as the thinking which alone can produce what may be considered as being, and which does not depend on the data of sense experience. Cohen interprets Maimonides' attributes of action as expressing the "correlation" between God and men (see A. Altmann, In Zwei Welten (1962), 377–99). They denote exemplars for man's action rather than qualities in God (Religion der Vernunft, 109ff., 252, 313). The attributes of action can be reduced to two: love and justice which, in Cohen's ethical monotheism, become "concepts of virtue for man" (ibid., 475, 480).

[Alexander Altmann]

justice and mercy of god

Central among the biblical affirmations about God are those that emphasize His justice (mishpat) and righteousness (ẓedakah) on the one hand, and His mercy (raḥamim) and loving-kindness (ḥesed) on the other. God's justice and mercy are both affirmed in God's proclamation to Moses at Sinai before the giving of the Decalogue: "The Lord, the Lord, a God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; yet He does not remit all punishment, but visits the iniquity of the fathers upon children and children's children, upon the third and fourth generations" (Ex. 34:6–7). Justice and mercy are the bases of the covenant between God and the Israelites. God's mercy is revealed in the fact that he redeemed the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt to make them His people and contract a covenant with them: "When Israel was a child, I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son" (Hos. 11:1). His justice is revealed in the fact that He punishes the Israelites if they sin and do not uphold their side of the covenant: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you all your iniquities"(Amos 3:2). Both the justice and mercy of God are evident in the biblical portrayal of God's relationship with Israel; "I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy" (Hos. 2:19). In exercising justice and punishing the people of Israel when they sin God reveals His power and lordship not only to Israel but to the world as a whole. God's justice is often tempered by His mercy: "My heart recoils within me, My compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute My fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man…" (Hos. 11:8–9). By exercising His mercy God hopes to encourage the people of Israel to uphold their side of the covenant and fulfill His demands as expressed in the Torah. The relationship between justice and mercy in God's attitude toward the people of Israel is intricate and varied, and while some biblical verses emphasize His justice and others, His mercy, it is impossible to say that one or the other is predominant.

In Post-biblical Judaism

This same intermingling of justice and mercy is to be discerned in the works of Philo and other post-biblical writings (see G.F. Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, 1 (1927), 386–400). In rabbinic Judaism a vivid expression of this intermingling is found in a parable in Genesis Rabbah (12:15) comparing God to a king who in order to prevent a fragile goblet from shattering must mix hot and cold water when filling it. Thus the world exists because of the admixture of the attributes of mercy and justice (middat ha-rahamim and middat ha-din). Behind this parable lies a complex development of biblical ideas in which the two divine appellations, the Tetragrammaton (yhwh) and Elohim, were understood to refer to the two main manifestations of God's providence: the first, to express the attribute of mercy; the second, that of justice (see A. Marmorstein, The Old Rabbinic Doctrine of God, pt. 1 (1927), 43–53, 181–208). The presence of both names in Genesis 2:4 signifies that mercy and justice were both necessary in order to make creation possible. Genesis Rabbah 39:6 expresses a similar notion: "If thou desirest the world to endure, there can be no absolute justice, while if thou desirest absolute justice the world cannot endure.…" Insofar as God's justice and mercy are necessary for creation it is not only the community of Israel that is the major object of these divine activities but the world as a whole. Nonetheless, it must be recognized that rabbinic Judaism was more concerned with the divine activities of mercy and justice as they were directed toward the community of Israel. The fate of the Jewish people in the Roman period was a tragic impetus to this discussion. Faced, too, with the problem of the suffering of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked, the rabbis examined the concept of divine justice and advanced a number of new interpretations of it in an effort to justify the apparent imbalance of suffering and prosperity in the world. It was suggested that ultimate reward and punishment would take place in the *afterlife, that suffering was a process of purification (yissurin shel ahavah), and that the individual often suffered for the sins of his ancestors or of the community at large.

While various trends in medieval Jewish philosophy and mysticism interpreted the divine attributes of justice and mercy differently, they all affirmed that these were qualities of God. In the face of the Holocaust in the 20th century, some thinkers, for example, R. Rubenstein, have seriously questioned the concept of divine justice and mercy, while others, for example, Emil Fackenheim, maintain that it is a major obligation of Jewish religious thought to rediscover the meaning of the concept in the face of the contemporary situation.

[Lou H. Silberman]

conceptions of god


The normative Jewish conception of God is theism, or more exactly, *monotheism. It conceives of God as the creator and sustainer of the universe, whose will and purposes are supreme. He is the only being whose existence is necessary, uncaused, and eternal, and all other beings are dependent on Him. God as conceived by Judaism transcends the world, yet He is also present in the world, and "the whole earth is full of His glory" (Isa. 6:3). He is a personal God, whom man can love with the highest and most complete love, while confronting Him as father, king, and master. He loves man and commands him, and His commandments are the criterion of the good. He is absolutely one, admitting no plurality in His nature, and absolutely unique, so that no other existing thing can in any way be compared to Him. This is essentially the picture of the biblical God as it was developed and understood in classical Jewish thought.

This conception of God contrasts sharply with the mythological gods, who have parents and children, eat and drink, have desires and passions. Judaism categorically rejected the mythological gods. However, a variety of more sophisticated conceptions of God confronted Judaism, presenting challenges and evoking responses.


It might be supposed that the greatest threat to monotheism would be atheism, but throughout most of Jewish history this was not the case. In the Bible there is no awareness of genuine atheism. The biblical authors attacked idolatry and other mistaken conceptions of God. Frequently, they attacked those who deny that God is concerned with man and the world, but seemed unaware of men who did not believe in a superior power.

Atheism was known in the Middle Ages, and was countered by the various proofs for the existence of God that were common to all medieval philosophical theology. Yet, since the dominant medieval culture was overwhelmingly religious, atheism constituted only a minor threat. In modern times atheism became a significant and widely held doctrine, based on and reinforced by naturalistic scientific ideas and scientifically oriented philosophy. The classical proofs for God's existence have been largely discredited and no longer provide a satisfactory ground for theism. Modern theists usually offer arguments for the existence of God, but do not claim that they have proofs. These arguments, though not decisive, provide a justification for the theistic option, since it is claimed that these are matters about which no demonstrative certainty is possible. In the 20th century theistic belief usually rests on a combination of admittedly incomplete intellectual evidence and personal faith and commitment.

Polytheism and Dualism

Polytheism, the belief that there are many gods, was never a serious threat to normative Judaism, because it is a form of idolatry which could not be readily confused with biblical doctrine. Wherever polytheism appeared among Jews, recognized authorities rejected it vigorously.

Dualism was the only version of polytheism which made serious inroads into the cultural world of the Jews. Dualism teaches that there are two cosmic powers, each of which has dominion over one portion of the universe. The Zoroastrian version has a god of light and a god of darkness, while the Gnostics taught that there is a hidden god who is beyond all knowledge and the evident god who created and formed the world. Dualism is soundly rejected in a classical biblical passage which says, "I am the Lord, and there is none else, beside me there is no God… I form the light and create the darkness; I make peace and create evil; I am the Lord that doeth all these things" (Isa. 45:5, 7). This forceful denial of dualism is repeated in a slightly modified form in the daily liturgy. The Talmud challenges the heresy of dualism explicitly with strong prohibitions against any deviations from standard liturgy that might have dualistic implications. Rabbinic rulings proscribe any form of prayer that suggests that there are shetei reshuyot, two independent powers controlling the world (Ber. 33b).

The medieval philosophers also argued against dualism. Saadiah Gaon dealt with the problem explicitly, offering three arguments against the dualistic position. He first showed that if the doctrine of one God is abandoned, there is no reason to restrict the cosmic powers to two. Arguments can then be made for almost any number one chooses. A second objection is that dualism makes unintelligible the fact that there is an ordered world, since, presumably, each power could frustrate the designs of the other. Finally, he argued that we cannot conceive of such powers as gods at all, since each would limit the other (Beliefs and Opinions, 2:2). Other medieval philosophers attacked dualism indirectly through their arguments for the necessary unity of God.

Though there are similarities between Kabbalah and *Gnosticism, the kabbalists did not succumb to the temptations of dualism. "On the contrary," says Gershom Scholem, "all the energy of 'orthodox' Kabbalistic speculation is bent to the task of escaping from dualistic consequences; otherwise they would not have been able to maintain themselves within the Jewish community" (Scholem, Mysticism, 13).


The Trinitarian conception of God is associated especially with *Christianity. Though Christian theologians normally intepret the Trinity as a doctrine of one God in three persons, Jewish thinkers rejected it categorically as a denial of the divine unity. Since only heretical Jewish sects could even entertain the possibility of a Trinitarian God, most Jewish anti-Trinitarian polemics were directed specifically against Christianity. Occasionally, kabbalistic doctrines seem to have a Trinitarian cast, as is the case in the thought of Abraham *Abulafia (ibid., 123ff.). However, these Trinitarian formulations are always interpreted in such ways that they clearly do not refer to a triune God. Some Shabbateans (see *Shabbetai Ẓevi) developed a trinity consisting of the unknown God, the God of Israel, and the Shekhinah ("Divine Presence"; ibid., 287ff.). Their heresy was vigorously attacked by official Jewish spokesmen.


A far more complex problem is posed by Jewish attitudes toward pantheism. This doctrine teaches that God is the whole of reality and that all reality is God. Because it does not involve any polytheistic notions and seems, therefore, compatible with standard Jewish doctrines about God's unity, pantheism found occasional followers among even highly respected Jewish thinkers. It also evoked great opposition, because it denies some of the fundamentals of Jewish monotheism. The pantheistic God is not a separate being who transcends the world, nor is he even a being who is immanent in the world. He is identical with the totality of the world. He is not a personal God; he neither commands men nor seeks their obedience. Consequently, there are almost no instances of pure pantheism within the normative Jewish tradition, though pantheistic tendencies have appeared at various times. They derive from an overemphasis on the immanence of God or an excessive stress on the nothingness of the world. They must be considered in any account of Jewish conceptions of God. Hermann Cohen expressed the extreme view of many thinkers when he stated categorically "Pantheism is not religion" (see Ethik des reinen Willens (19212, 456–66). Nevertheless, one can find various traces of pantheistic thought, if not actual pantheism, in many deeply pious Jewish thinkers. Some scholars attempted to put a pantheistic interpretation on the rabbinic use of Makom ("Place") as a name for God because "He is the place of the world, but the world is not His place" (Gen. R. 68). (The original significance of Makom as a divine name has no pantheistic connotations.) Philo also spoke of God as "Place" and for this reason is considered by some interpreters to have a pantheistic doctrine. H.A. Wolfson however, argues that for Philo the doctrine that God is the place of the world means that "God is everywhere in the corporeal world, thereby exercising His individual providence, but He is no part of the corporeal world and is unlike anything in it" (see his Philo (1947), 245ff.). The elements of pantheism which appeared periodically in the history of Jewish thought were almost always tempered by the use of theistic language and adjustments to theistic claims. Solomon ibn Gabirol conceived of reality as a graded continuum, moving from the Godhead through a series of levels of being down to the corporeal world (Mekor Ḥayyim, passim). His system seems pantheistic, because it treats all reality as one continuous emanation of the divine substance. Nevertheless, in his general religious orientation he returns to standard conceptions of a personal God who is the creator of the world. The thought of Abraham Ibn Ezra exhibits a similar ambiguity. He used purely pantheistic language when he said that "God is the One. He is the creator of all, and He is all… God is all and all comes from Him" (Commentary to Genesis, 1:26; to Exodus, 23:21). Yet, there are countless places in his writings where he also uses strictly conventional theistic terminology. Wherever there is strong neoplatonic influence on Jewish thought a suggestion of pantheism is usually present. Pantheism also appears in mystical doctrines that stress the immanence of God. In the Kabbalah there is an ongoing struggle between pantheistic and theistic tendencies. The former often provide the doctrinal base of a kabbalistic system, while the latter determine the language in which the system is expressed. Scholem states, "In the history of Kabbalism, theistic and pantheistic trends have frequently contended for mastery. This fact is sometimes obscured because the representatives of pantheism have generally endeavored to speak the language of theism; cases of writers who openly put forward pantheistic view are rare… The author of the Zohar inclines toward pantheism… On the whole, his language is that of the theist, and some penetration is needed to lift its hidden and lambent pantheistic core to the light" (Mysticism, 222). The same tendency can be observed in Ḥasidism. In a key passage R. *Shneur Zalman of Lyady asserted that "there is truly nothing besides Him" (Tanya, Sha'ar ha-Yiḥud ve-ha-Emunah, ch. 3); yet, he can hardly be called a pure pantheist when we consider the many conventional theistic formulations in his writings. Only in the case of Nachman Krochmal does there seem to be an instance of genuine Jewish pantheism. Krochmal ascribed true existence only to God, who is Absolute Spirit. In his thought only the Absolute Spirit truly exists, and he denies any other mode of existence. Krochmal was far less inclined than earlier Jewish thinkers to adopt language appropriate to a doctrine of a personal, theistic God.


Deism was still another conception of God that confronted Jewish theology. Deistic doctrine contains two main elements. First is the view that God, having created the world, withdrew himself from it completely. This eliminates all claims of divine providence, miracles, and any form of intervention by God in history. Second, deism holds that all the essential truths about God are knowable by unaided natural reason without any dependence on revelation. The vast bulk of Jewish tradition rejected both deistic claims. It is hardly possible to accept the biblical God and still affirm the deistic view that he is not related to the world. Numerous rabbinic texts are attacks on the Greek philosophers who taught such a doctrine. Similar attacks continued throughout the history of Jewish philosophy. Of the medieval philosophers, only Levi ben Gershom seems to have had deistic tendencies.

Among modern Jewish thinkers, Moses Mendelssohn is sometimes classified as a deist because he held that there is a universal natural religion, whose doctrines are known by reason alone. It does not seem correct, however, to identify Mendelssohn's God with the deistic God, because he ascribes to God qualities of personality and involvement with the world that are hardly in accord with standard deism (see Guttmann, Philosophies, 291ff.). However, Mendelssohn is open to varying interpretations, and Leo *Baeck was not alone when he propounded the view that for Mendelssohn "Judaism had become merely a combination of law and deistic natural religion." Over the centuries of its history Judaism has been exposed to a variety of conceptions of God, but none has ever been strong enough to overcome the basic Jewish commitment to monotheism. Other doctrines have influenced Jewish thought and have left their traces, yet, the monotheistic faith has consistently emerged as the normative expression of Jewish religion.

[Marvin Fox]


in the bible: Kaufmann Y., Toledot (incl. bibl.); Kaufmann Y., Religion; M. Buber, I and Thou (1937); em, 1 (1950), 297–321; U. Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis (1961); A.J. Heschel, The Prophets (1962); R. Gordis, The Book of God and Man (1965). in hellenistic literature: J. Klausner, Filosofim ve-Hogei De'ot, 1 (1934); H.A. Wolfson, Philo, 2 vols. (1947). in talmudic literature: Ginzberg, Legends, index; M. Lazarus, Ethics of Judaism, 2 vols. (1900–01); G.F. Moore, Judaism, 2 vols. (1927), index; C.G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology (1938), index; A. Marmorstein, The Old Rabbinic Doctrine of God (1927, repr. 1968); A. Cohen, Everyman's Talmud (1932), 1–71 and index; M. Guttmann, Das Judentum und seine Umwelt (1927); H. Cohen, Religion der Vernunft aus den Quellen des Judentums (19292); P. Kuhn, Gottes Selbsterniedrigung in der Theologie der Rabbinen (1968). in medieval jewish philosophy: Guttmann, Philosophies, index; Husik, Philosophy, index; D. Kaufmann, Attributenlehre (1875). in the kabbalah: Scholem, Mysticism, index; idem, Reshit ha-Kabbalah (1948); I. Tishby, Mishnat ha-Zohar, 1 (1949), 95–282; M. Ibn Gabai, Derekh Emunah (1890, repr. 1967); M. Cordovero, Elimah Rabbati (1881, repr. 1961), Ma'ayan 1. in modern jewish philosophy: J.B. Agus, Modern Philosophies of Judaism (1941); Guttmann, Philosophies, index; S.H. Bergman, Faith and Reason: An Introduction to Modern Jewish Thought (1961). attributes of god: D. Kaufmann, Attributenlehre (1875); idem, Gesammelte Schriften, 2 (1910), 1–98; H.A. Wolfson, in: Essays and Studies in Memory of Linda R. Miller (1938), 201–34; idem, in: Louis Ginzberg Jubilee Volume (1945), 411–46; idem, in: Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 56–67 (1947), 233–49; idem, in: htr, 45 (1952), 115–30; 49 (1956), 1–18; idem, in: Mordecai M. Kaplan Jubilee Volume (1953), 515–30; idem, in: jaos, 79 (1959), 73–80; idem, in: Studies and Essays in Honor of Abraham A. Neuman (1962), 547–68; A. Altmann, in: bjrl, 35 (1953), 294–315; idem, in: Tarbiz, 27 (1958), 301–9; Guttmann, Philosophies, passim; S. Rawidowicz, in: Saadya Studies (1943), 139–65; A. Schmiedl, Studien ueber juedische, insondere juedische-arabische Religionsphilosophie (1869), 1–66; G. Vajda, Isaac Albalag, Averroiste Juif, Traducteur et Annotateur d'Al-Ghazali (1960), 34–129, and passim; idem, in: Jewish Medieval and Renaissance Studies (1966), 49–74. add. bibliography: G. Scholem, Origins of Kabbalah; M. Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives, 112–55; S.O. Heller-Willensky and M. Idel (eds.), Studies in Jewish Thought (Heb.; 1989), 7–230.


views updated Jun 08 2018


Few concepts are as widely disputed as that of God. Therefore, it would be foolishness to write an article that purported to discuss simply the concept of God. So what follows needs a bit of refining. The focus of this philosophical article is the Judeo-Christian conception of God, which, broadly speaking, is the notion of God most widely accepted in the United States today. Of course, the concept of God within the American Jewish and Christian communities is not uncontroversial or monolithic either. Nevertheless there is a shared traditional conception of God that will be the focus of this essay.

Although the Judeo-Christian conception of God is several millennia old, its theological and philosophical development jumped by leaps and bounds in the medieval period. While St. Anselm of Canterbury (ca. 1033–1109 c.e.), lived during the latter part of this era, his crystallization of this conception of God (which owes a great debt to the writings of St. Augustine) is still widely regarded as its best statement.

In Chapter Two of his meditative work, The Proslogion, Anselm sets up his justly famous ontological argument for the existence of God by first offering a definition of the Being the existence of which he intends to prove. He defines God as "the being than which nothing greater can be conceived." Anselm believed that from this short definition one could derive all the attributes traditionally ascribed to God. In order to see how this is plausible, we will examine his formula a bit more closely.

The first thing to notice about Anselm's definition is that it does not claim that God is merely the greatest being that happens to exist; in Anselm's view, if that were the best that could be said, then that being would not be God. In order to be counted as God, the being must be such that we cannot conceive of anything greater. But what exactly does this mean? Is Anselm saying that God is the greatest being that humans can form a conception of? That would be problematic, since it would apparently limit God to the conceptual powers of human beings. Fortunately, this is not the way Anselm is to be understood. For consider the conception of a being that is the greatest conception we are able to construct, but which is nevertheless limited in ways that we are not capable of seeing. Would such a conception satisfy Anselm's definition? No, it would not. For if we have the concept of a being who surpasses the greatest being that we can conceive of (where "conceive" requires our having a somewhat detailed understanding of the relevant concept), then the concept of the being who is surpassed is not the concept of the being than which nothing greater can be conceived.

A second point about Anselm's definition: the notion of "greatness" at issue is not moral, and it is not greatness as power; nor is it greatness with respect to any particular characteristic, attribute, or ability. Rather it is what might be dubbed "overall metaphysical greatness." The more metaphysical greatness one has, the more power, knowledge, wisdom, goodness, and so on that one has.

Here is a way of understanding Anselm's definition that deviates a bit from his terminology but is closer to his intention: God is the greatest possible being. Anselm wanted his definition to explain why the idea of something being greater than God is nonsense. If the concept of God is the concept of the greatest possible being, then by definition nothing can be greater.

Earlier it was noted that Anselm believed that all the traditional divine attributes or properties could be derived from his terse definition; it is time to see why he thought this. The greatest possible being is the being that has the greatest possible combination of "great-making" properties. A great-making property is a property that it is intrinsically better to have than to lack. Let us take knowledge as an example. Is knowledge in general a great-making property? It would certainly seem so. A being that has knowledge is, other things being equal, greater than a being that lacks it. So knowledge is a great-making quality. But since one can have less or more knowledge, even if we know that the greatest possible being has knowledge, how do we know how much this being possesses? If we keep in mind Anselm's definition, this question has an easy answer. God is the most perfect being possible. How much knowledge would an unsurpassably great being possess? All that there is to have. So one who adopts Anselm's formulation of the concept of God will have reason for thinking of God as omniscient, or allknowing.

Many of the traditional divine properties are relatively well known and can be discussed only briefly. In addition to omniscience, God is also believed to be omnipotent(all-powerful), omnibenevolent (all-good), and omnipresent (everywhere present). In distinction from most forms of pantheism, the Judeo-Christian God is regarded as personal. A personal being is a being with knowledge and a will, and who is capable of acting on them.

The Judeo-Christian conception of God also portrays the deity as being the sole creator of the universe and of all that it contains. God is thought to be immanent in creation (that is to say, involved with and to be found in it) and yet transcendent from it. According to the traditional Judeo-Christian model, God is not to be confused with creation; even taken as an entirety, creation is metaphysically distinct from God. If creation were to cease to exist tomorrow, God would remain largely unchanged. The insistence on the ontological distinction between Creator and creation is a major point of distinction between the God of theism and the God of pantheism. Also, the insistence on the immanence of God distinguishes theism from some forms of deism popular during the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. The deistic God was believed to be an absentee Creator who no longer had anything to do with the operation of the universe. This God is like a clockmaker who builds then winds a clock, which henceforth runs entirely on its own.

In addition to these more popularly known attributes, the classical Christian conception of God includes several components that are apparently in part the result of Greek philosophical influences during the formative period of Christian theology. We will briefly look at four. The first is the notion of divine timelessness. To say that God is timeless is not to say merely that God has always existed and will always exist; it is rather to say something about God's very mode of existence. Whereas beings that are "in time" move through it from moment to moment, the past being moments that are no more and the future being moments yet to come, a timeless God will experience every moment together in an eternal present. God's life is not divided into the past, present, and future but is had forever all at once. God's timelessness is supposed to follow from the Anselmian definition of the perfect being, since a being not bound by time is thought to be, other things being equal, greater than one that is.

A closely related component of the classical conception of God is that of immutability. To be immutable (as it is traditionally understood) is to be not only changeless but also without the possibility of change. The motivation for this was straightforward: if God is perfect, then any change is for the worse. So God would not change; furthermore, even the possibility of change is the possibility of ceasing to be perfect, and the greatest possible being would be incapable of ceasing to be perfect. Although this line of reasoning has been influential, it should be noted that it is not at all clear that perfection requires the inability to change.

The third classical property we will consider is divine simplicity. To be "simple" in this sense is to have no parts of any kind. The idea is that not only does God, being an immaterial being, not have physical parts, but God is without complexity of any sort. In particular, God does not even have distinct characteristics or properties; all God's properties are identical to each other and even to the very Being of God. Simplicity was thought to be a great-making property because a metaphysically simple entity could not possibly come apart or decompose; hence change and eventual nonexistence were impossible.

The final traditional metaphysical property we will here consider is divine impassability. Although there are many different understandings of this property, they all have in common the belief that God is not affected by what humans do. It is thought inappropriate for finite beings to have any power over God; hence, he is impassable. One further wrinkle in the notion of impassability is that it is generally thought to entail a lack of emotional life in God. If God reacted to what humans do with emotions of anger, jealousy, or even compassion, then humans are exerting influence or control over God. This is traditionally thought unbecoming of the Greatest Possible Being. Although God might behave in ways that suggest the emotions of anger, jealousy, or compassion, his behavior does not in fact reveal those underlying emotional states.

These four traditional properties (timelessness, immutability, simplicity, and impassability), although absolutely fundamental to the Christian conception of God in the Middle Ages, have come under heavy attack during the latter part of the twentieth century. First, regarding timelessness, many theologians and philosophers believe that a being outside of time would in principle not be able to act in the temporal world. In particular, there is the difficulty of how response to petitionary prayer is possible if God is aware of every event in the temporal world at once. For responding to prayer seems to require being aware that the petition was made and then acting upon it. But such a sequence of events is by nature temporal with some events that come before others in the series. Also, there are difficulties for Christian theism in squaring timelessness with the doctrine of the Incarnation. For this doctrine states that the Second Person of the Trinity became incarnated in the person of Jesus Christ. Yet being a human being, Jesus Christ was surely temporal. Timelessness, then, seems at odds with the cornerstone of Christian theology and thus is looked at with suspicion by many.

The doctrines of immutability and simplicity have also come under sharp attack in the latter part of this century. First, process theologians claim that change is an essential part of being; they flatly reject the Greek and early Christian notion that immutability is a metaphysical virtue. But even many philosophers and theologians who strive to remain more traditional than the process theologians in their understanding of divinity believe that the notions of immutability (as classically conceived) and divine simplicity should be altered or even jettisoned. From the philosophical side, the grounds for immutability seem suspect. For instance, an omniscient being would know that what is happening now is happening now and that what happened yesterday happened yesterday. But in order for such a being to have knowledge that keeps up with the facts, as it were, the being's mental life would have to undergo change. As for simplicity, it has been argued that there is little sense to be made of the idea that, for example, omniscience and omnipotence are identical, and even less to be made of the claim that God's very being is identical to a single property. This is a very obscure doctrine indeed.

While timelessness, immutability, and simplicity do not enjoy the acceptance they once did, it is the doctrine of divine impassability that has come under the most serious and sustained fire in the latter part of this century. While perhaps there is something to be said for the idea that God is so ontologically above humans that God is completely unaffected by human actions, when the full implications of this view are considered, it surely seems that the conception of God that includes it will include some pretty undesirable features. For an impassable God is, it seems, a fundamentally uncaring God. For although God might behave toward humans as if God cares, the bottom line is that, if impassability is true, then God has nothing analogous to emotional states. Yet in recent years the theology of God as a suffering God, a God who loves creation so much as to enter into it and take on its burdens and hardships has been at the core of much of Christian theology in the United States and elsewhere.

There is little doubt that just as recent Christological trends have tended to stress the humanity and historicity of Jesus, recent work in theology has by and large been a move away from the conception of God as a timeless, immutable, metaphysically simple, impassable being like that imagined by Greek philosophers. (There are, however, notable opponents to the current trends; philosophers Norman Kretzmann and Eleonore Stump have been remarkably successful at meeting objections to these traditional attributes and at giving explications of them that are as clear as one could hope for.) Current theology emphasizes God's interaction with creation, God's concern for the poor and dispossessed (liberation theology speaks most strongly to this), and God's willingness to make humanity God's partners in the redemption of creation. While many theologians who stress this side of divinity are not particularly concerned with theological orthodoxy, there are many others who note that what might be regarded as the "metaphysical excesses" of the classical conception of God are not to be found in the ancient creeds of the church, or in the Scriptures.

Let us conclude by considering again Anselm's definition of God as the greatest possible being. Medieval scholars and many traditionalists since would argue that this conception of God grounds the notions of timelessness, simplicity, and impassability. Yet this is controversial. For example, one might think that the ability to enter into creation and intimately interact with creatures is a great-making property but that this property is inconsistent with timelessness. If that is right, then timelessness might not be a great-making property after all, and being in time is. Similarly, if being able to have genuine love and compassion for all persons is a great-making property and if this precludes impassability, then the latter is cast into doubt as a property that the greatest possible being would have. In short, then we can see the disagreement between those who accept the classical conception of God and those who accept more modern conceptions not as a dispute about whether Anselm's definition is right but rather a disagreement about how to flesh out the surprisingly flexible skeleton that Anselm has left us with.

See alsoAgnosticism; Allah; Atheism; Buddha; Deathof God; Divinity; Judeo-Christian Tradition; Liberation Theology; Pantheism; Process Theology; Religious Experience; Theism; Transcendence; Trinity.


Brummer, Vincent. Speaking of a Personal God: An Essayin Philosophical Theology. 1992.

Moltmann, Jurgen. The Crucified God: The Cross of Christand the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology. 1993.

Morris, Thomas V. Our Idea of God. 1991.

Pinnock, Clark, et. al. The Openness of God: A BiblicalChallenge to the Traditional Understanding of God. 1994.

Thomas D. Senor


views updated May 14 2018


Taken in its subjective sense, the word God refers to whatever is the object of one's ultimate concern. Thus one might judge about a person, "Money or power is his god." But one can also ask whether his "god" really is God, whether what he treats as god possesses the properties one would expect in an object of ultimate concern. In this second or more objective sense, then, God refers to whatever is truly ultimate: the greatest being, the highest object of belief, the ground of all being. Most often, to believe in God means to believe that the ultimate reality is personal. That is, the divine possesses all the positive features that one associates with "mind" (intellect, will, self-consciousness, and perhaps emotions), but possesses them in an infinitely higher and more perfect form than humans do. For virtually all theists, God is understood as the creator of all things. For most theists, God is also understood as providentially involved in guiding the world subsequent to its creation.

Two major sources have added more specific content to the notion of God. The various religious traditions have developed extensive beliefs about the nature of God, the actions and self-revelation of God in the world, and the sorts of ethical and moral principles that most correspond to the divine nature. In a similar fashion, but not always in lockstep, the philosophical traditions have reached conclusions on what most appropriately count as attributes of God, how (if at all) the divine could be known, and why an infinite God could never be fully comprehended by finite knowers. Theologians have combined features from both of these approaches. They draw on beliefs from one or more of the religions, while analyzing and reformulating these beliefs using conclusions and conceptual tools developed by philosophers over the centuries. The result is a spectrum of positions on whether there are many gods or only one, on what it means to say that God is personal, and on how God is related to the world.

A brief history of God

Before there was belief in one God (monotheism), there was belief in many gods (polytheism). The earliest cultural remnants show humans relating to parts of the natural world (mountains, bodies of water, thunder and lightening, changes in climate) as if they were the product of personal forces. Finding reasons for natural events was perhaps the first step toward science, which gives explanations based on impersonal forces rather than on super-natural agents.

As cultures became more sophisticated, the gods took on personalities distinct from natural objects. Some of this evolution is visible in the Hebrew Bible, an authoritative text for Jewish, Christian, and Muslim views of God. Yahweh, the God of Abraham and his clan, was "a jealous God" (Exod. 20:5) who would allow "no other gods" before him (Deut. 5:7). Gradually the Israelites realized that Yahweh was "a great King above all gods" (Ps. 95:3), indeed so all-encompassing that there could be no other gods: "For I am God, and there is no other" (Isa. 45:22). Hence, the three Western monotheisms came to hold that God's power must be unlimited (omnipotence), as must be God's perception (omnipresence), God's knowledge (omniscience), and God's goodness (omnibenevolence). Yahweh must be the sole creator of all that is. All must stem from God, and God must have created all out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo ). God became the ultimate ground and explanation of all things, the One who alone is worthy of worship.

In addition to this shared basis, the Western monotheisms also evidence important differences, regarding, for example, whether the divine nature is trinitarian (three-in-one) or not. Even if the full variety of specific beliefs about God cannot be treated in this entry, the differences remain vital for many believers. Indeed, many would resist the notion of "generic theism." That is, many would say that they are not believers in God in general but believers in "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," or disciples of Allah as he revealed himself to the prophet Mohammed, or believers in the Holy Trinity of "God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit."

God and contemporary science

Some leading philosophers and scientists (for example, in the twentieth century, Bertrand Russell, Antony Flew, Edward O. Wilson, and Richard Dawkins) hold that belief in God as an explanatory principle is incompatible with science. Clearly, if science entails some form of metaphysical naturalism (physicalism, materialism, or nontheistic emergence), then all forms of theism are excluded; belief in a single act of divine creation would be no better off than the belief that one must sacrifice to the rain god. By contrast, other leading scientists are theists and find no conflict between their religious belief and the practice of science.

Among the latter group one finds stronger and weaker claims. For example, many hold that science and personalist theism are at least compatible and can coexist without contradiction or tension. Perhaps science explains the "how" of the universe, theism its ultimate "why." Perhaps divine actions concern only the "before" and "after," the moment of creation that led to the existence of physical laws and the final act that establishes "a new heaven and a new Earth" (Rev. 21:1). Or perhaps God-language refers to the ground of all existence and all value but can never be used to explain any particular thing or event.

Others make stronger claims: The order in the universe is best understood as an expression of the nature of God. Without God one cannot finally make sense of the lawfulness and mathematical simplicity of the physical world ( John Polkinghorne), or of the evolution of intelligent life (theistic evolutionists and Intelligent Design theorists such as William Demski), or of human rationality and morality (Alvin Plantinga). It is argued that the fundamental physical constants are "fine-tuned" so as conjointly to make it possible, or even likely, that intelligent life would emerge, and that a supernatural agent offers the best explanation of this fact. To use Robert John Russell's distinction, they argue either that the universe is consistent with what the believer in God would expect (the theology of nature) or that the fine-tuning of physical constants actually provides evidence that God exists (natural theology).

Those who find science and theism in conflict suggest two different answers. One group responds that belief in God has to be eliminated, or at least radically modified so that it fits into the gaps left by science and makes no claims incompatible with it (the "god of the gaps"). For example, theistic language could be viewed as an expression of a cultural, emotional, or psychological particularity, similar to one's manner of dressing or speaking. If God-talk makes no truth claims, it cannot conflict with scientific results. Another group responds that the results and methods of science should instead be set aside whenever they conflict with theological truths. Religious fundamentalism may employ scientific-sounding language, as in "young Earth creationism"; it may refute science by appeal to scriptural texts; or it may associate God with "truths beyond the reach of reason" seen only through "the eyes of faith."

In summary, the differences in the logic of scientific theories and God-language are generally acknowledged. Proponents differ on whether the differences are tensions and, if so, how serious they are. Should the tensions be minimized, bringing science and religion into the greatest consonance possible, or should they be maximized, making the contrasts as stark as possible?

Issues on God and science

The God-science relationship has continually fascinated reflective persons for its alternating resonances and dissonances.

The problem of divine action. For Jews, Christians, and Muslims, God creates the world, sustains it in existence, and acts providentially to bring about divine purposes. Far from being deists, these traditions espoused miracles (supernatural interventions into history that set aside natural law). Indeed, the miracle of the resurrection lies at the center of Christian faith. But such miracles are by definition inaccessible to scientific study; indeed, they seem to imply the negation of scientific results and methods. Contemporary efforts to minimize the conflict include developing noninterventionist accounts of divine action in the world, reducing God's role to a single all-encompassing act, and offering fully naturalized reworkings of the traditional religions that eschew all miracle claims.

Evidences for and against God. Do human beings inhabit a cosmos that displays the signs of creation by a benevolent, omnipotent deity? Some say no. Vast regions are cold and uninhabitable; does all this exist just for the sake of intelligent animals on one planet? Entropy means the universe will wind down; what sign is there of "a new heaven and a new Earth"? Finally, why would a benevolent God allow such incredible evil, suffering, and wastefulness of lifeboth in the natural world and at the hands of man?

Others argue that the cosmos does display signs of creation by God. Could a random origin and evolution have produced beings capable of rational thought and moral action? The improbability suggests design. Moreover, they argue, the result is different in kind from physical evolution; consciousness, rationality, and morality are better explained by a "first cause" that itself possesses these features. The universe possesses a mathematical simplicity that evokes a religious (or quasireligious) response from many scientists, and a beauty that for some is both awe-inspiring and sublime. The argument for God as the best explanation becomes more compelling when supplemented with personal religious experience of the divine or, in Immanuel Kant's phrase, of "the moral law within."

God and specific scientific results. In cosmology, the "singularity" of the Big Bang seemed to offer support for a doctrine of creation. In Jim Hartle and Stephen Hawking's quantum cosmology, however, there would be no t = 0 (time equals zero), hence no time at which God could create. Perhaps creation could be understood as the contingency of the world on God, even if there were never a "moment of creation," as Robert John Russell posits.

Neo-Darwinian evolution involves random genetic variation and selective retention by the environment. Denying evolution seems impossible, but theists have argued that the process may be "guided" by God in ways not yet fully visible or understood. Sociobiology and evolutionary psychology also challenge the ontological uniqueness of the human animal and hence challenge claims that humans are created "in the image of God."

The neurosciences can increasingly reconstruct the neural correlates of cognitive functions. Will they someday be able to detect the neurological footprints of God's interactions with individuals? Might they discriminate between genuine and counterfeit experiences of God? Or will God's interactions with the world always escape human detection and rational analysis?

"God beyond God," experience, and mystery

The history of the interrelations between God and science mirror something of the history of God and philosophy. Like philosophy, science uses its analytic tools to falsify an ever larger number of specific claims about God. Yet neither can verify the divine, and neither can rule out God's existence. The experiences of something transcendent, someone divine, remain; hence room remains for conceiving God in a way that conflicts with neither science nor philosophy (the Transcendent Other, the "God beyond God"). New philosophical theologies, such as panentheism, can reformulate traditional claims about God's relationship with the world in new and more adequate ways. In the end, the question of God remains part of the ultimate mystery that faces humans in their walk between birth and death.

See also Creatio Ex Nihilo; Divine Action; Emergence; God of the Gaps; Monotheism; Natural Theology; Omnipotence; Omnipresence; Omniscience; Panentheism; Theism; Theology


armstrong, karen. a history of god: the 4000-year quest of judaism, christianity, and islam. london: heine-mann, 1993.

clayton, philip. god and contemporary science. grand rapids. mich.: eerdmans, 1998.

clayton, philip. the problem of god in modern thought. grand rapids, mich.: eerdmans, 2000.

davies, paul. god and the new physics. new york: simon and schuster, 1983

moltmann, jürgen. god in creation: a new theology of creation and the spirit of god. minneapolis, minn.: fortress press, 1993.

peacocke, arthur. theology for a scientific age: being and becomingnatural, divine, and human. minneapolis, minn.: fortress, 1993.

polkinghorne, john. belief in god in an age of science. new haven, conn.: yale university press, 1998.

philip clayton


views updated Jun 11 2018

God / gäd/ • n. 1. [without article] (in Christianity and other monotheistic religions) the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being.2. (god) (in certain other religions) a superhuman being or spirit worshiped as having power over nature or human fortunes; a deity: a moon god an incarnation of the god Vishnu. ∎  an image, idol, animal, or other object worshiped as divine or symbolizing a god. ∎  used as a conventional personification of fate: he dialed the number and, the gods relenting, got through at once.3. (god) an adored, admired, or influential person: he has little time for the fashion victims for whom he is a god. ∎  a thing accorded the supreme importance appropriate to a god: don't make money your god.4. (the gods) inf. the gallery in a theater. ∎  the people sitting in this area.• interj. used to express a range of emotions such as surprise, anger, and distress: God, what did I do to deserve this? | my God! Why didn't you tell us sooner? ∎  to give emphasis to a statement or declaration: God, how I hate that woman!PHRASES: for God's sake!see sake1 (sense 3).God bless an expression of good wishes on parting.God damn (you, him, etc) may (you, he, etc.) be damned.God the Father (in Christian doctrine) the first person of the Trinity, God as creator and supreme authority.God forbidsee forbid.God grant used to express a wish that something should happen: God grant he will soon regain his freedom.God help (you, him, etc.) used to express the belief that someone is in a difficult, dangerous, or hopeless situation: God help anyone who tried to cheer me out of my bad mood.God the Son (in Christian doctrine) Christ regarded as the second person of the Trinity; God as incarnate and resurrected savior.God willing used to express the wish that one will be able to do as one intends or that something will happen as planned: one day, God willing, she and John might have a daughter.in God's name used in questions to emphasize anger or surprise: what in God's name are you doing up there?play God behave as if all-powerful or supremely important.please God used to emphasize a strong wish or hope: please God the money will help us find a cure.thank Godsee thank.to God used after a verb to emphasize a strong wish or hope: I hope to God you've got something else to put on.with God dead and in heaven.DERIVATIVES: god·hood / -ˌhoŏd/ n.god·ship / ship/ n.god·ward / -wərd/ adj. & adv.god·wards / -wərdz/ adv.


views updated May 21 2018

God. The absolute and real who is, than which nothing greater can be conceived, the unproduced Producer of all that is, without whom nothing that is could be or could remain in being; or, alternatively, the projection into supposed reality of human fears, neuroses, and abject needs (Freud), or of human ideals which can never be realized (Feuerbach), or of the requirements to perpetuate the conditions of alienation in the interests of some party (Marx); in this second case, language about ‘God’ is a surrogate language about humanity or human persons (‘Theology is anthropology’). The possibility of so wide a contrast between theistic realism and psychological unrealism arises because God (supposing God is) is not an object among objects in a universe, able to be discovered and/or explored, as are atoms, quasars, and the dark side of the moon. Nor is God the conclusion of an argument, although argument points to the probability of God, at least in the sense that the universe makes more sense if it exists as a consequence of one who produces and sustains it, than otherwise. For examples of such arguments, see QUINQUE VIAE. Since God cannot be produced as an object among objects, and since God is, whether this or any other universe happens to exist, it follows that God cannot be described in language, since God is far apart from humanly apprehended categories in time and space (i.e. is transcendent). In all theistic religions, this has led inevitably to apophatic theology, to the recognition that we can only say with confidence what God is not, (e.g. via negativa, neti neti, ein-sof).

Theistic religions have always been aware of the inadequacy of human language about God (hence the importance of analogy). Even in the human affection of worship, it is known that no words or images can contain or describe God, and yet the experienced consequence of God creates its own and continuing demand for, or invitation into, relationship. Religious and theological traditions then offer the inadequacies of language, sign, symbol, icon, etc. (or images in the case of Hindus), as a means of initiating an apprehension of God which is qualitatively sui generis—one which is capable of lifting life from the mundane to a point of balance and rescue where the entire universe is seen as a start and not as a conclusion.

In the terms, therefore, of a critically realistic theology, religions accept that anything which is said about God is approximate, provisional, corrigible, and mainly wrong; but the question still remains, Is it wrong about some One? Even those religions which are most secure in their confidence that God has overcome the epistemic gap of transcendence, by revealing his word and his will, accept that all revelation is conveyed contingently through words which are not identical with that concerning which they purport to be about—in terms which are approximate. In the end, all religions are bound to issue the invitation, ‘Taste and see’. The experience and procedures of relatedness to what has been described in those approximate ways as El, Zeus, Allāh, Viṣṇu, Amida, Brahman, etc., have built up through the millennia an impressive reliability of reference and relationship—and a reliability which has encouraged constant correction as successive generations have learnt, with increasing security, something more of the nature of the One with whom they have to deal. At the same time, that which is God has seemed, unequivocally, to be, so to speak, ‘dealing with them’: it is in this way that the major transformations in the human understanding of God have been made. In ways (which humans have tested and winnowed through time, and in virtually all cultures) of prayer, worship, sacrifice, contemplation, meditation, art, music, artefact, the reliability of the communities of faith has been tested. In each tradition, there emerge characterizations of God which impress themselves on the style in which its adherents live. In Judaism, the major emphasis is on holiness, in Christianity on the commitments of love which reflect a relatedness in the Godhead itself; in Islam on mercy and demand; among Hindus on the real presence of God in every circumstance.

The logic of God, therefore, remains, that if God does indeed turn out to be God, it is God that God will turn out to be. The ways and the words of human attentiveness to God leave such a mark on the possibilities of life now, that the nature of the future remains open: it is necessarily the case that All remains yet to be known.

God (in Occult Perspective)

views updated May 23 2018

God (in Occult Perspective)

According to the ancient magical conception of God in the scheme of the universe, evil is the inevitable contrast and complement of good. God permits the existence of the shadow in order that it may intensify the purity of the light. He has created both and they are thus inseparable, the one being necessary to and incomprehensible without the other.

The very idea of goodness loses its meaning if considered apart from that of evilGabriel is a foil to Satan and Satan to Gabriel. The dual nature of the spiritual world penetrates into every department of life, material and spiritual. It is typified in light and darkness, cold and heat, truth and error, in brief, the names of any two opposing forces will serve to illustrate the primary law of naturenamely, the continual conflict between the positive or good and the negative or evil.

For a scriptural illustration of this point, the story of Cain and Abel can be used. The moral superiority of his brother is at first irksome to Cain, finally intolerable. He murders Abel, thus bringing on his own head the wrath of God and the self-punishment of the murderer. For in killing Abel, Cain has done himself harm. Cain has not done away with Abel's superiority, but has added to himself a burden of guilt that can end only by much suffering.

Suffering is shown in the Judaeo-Christian scriptures to be one means evil is overcome by good. Cain reappears in the story of the prodigal son, who after deprivation and suffering is restored to his father who forgives him fully and freely.

It is believed that the possibility of sin and error is consistent with and inseparable from life. The great sinner is a more vital being than the colorless character, because having greater capacity for evil he has also greater capacity for good, and in proportion to his faults so will his virtues be when he turns to God. "There is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth than over ninety and nine just persons," because more force of character, more power for good or evil is displayed by the sinner than by the feebly correct. And that power is the most precious thing in life. The apostle Paul specifically rejected this approach to understanding sin and redemption in Romans 6: 1-2.

This dual law of right and wrong, two antagonistic forces, is designated by the term "duad." It is the secret of life and the revelation of that secret means death. This secret is embodied in the myth of the Tree of Knowledge in Genesis. At death the discord will be resolved, but not until then.

From the duad is derived the triad based on the doctrine of the Trinity. Two forces producing equilibrium, the secret of nature, are designated by the duad, and these threelife, good, and evilconstitute one law. By adding the conception of unity to the triad the tetrad is produced, the perfect number of four, the source of all numerical combinations.

According to orthodox theology there are three persons in God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and these three form one Deity. In occult speculations, three and one make four, the fourth reality being the unity required to explain the Three. Hence, it is suggested, in many languages (most notably Hebrew), the name of God is symbolized by four letters. Again, two affirmations make two negations either possible or necessary. According to the Kabalists the name of the Evil one consisted of the same four letters spelled backward, signifying that evil is merely the reflection or shadow of good"The last reflection or imperfect mirage of light in shadow." Everything exists in light or darkness, good or evil, and exists through the tetrad. The triad or trinity, then, is explained by the duad and resolved by the tetrad.

Such occult interpretations of God echo the ancient mysticism such as the Eastern religion of Hinduism, where the pairs of opposites like good and evil are regarded as twin poles of a larger reality, where anthropomorphic concepts of God the creator are considered legal fictions for a divine infinity, beyond time, space, and causality.


Achad, Frater. The Anatomy of the Body of God. Chicago: Collegium ad Spiritum Sanctum, 1925.

Akiba ben Joseph Rabbi. The Book of Formation. (Sepher Yetzirah). London: William Rider, 1923.

Angeles, Peter A. The Problem of God; A Short Introduction. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1981.

Arya, Ushbarbudh. God. Honesdale, Pa.: Himalayan International Institute, 1979.

Brightman, Edgar S. The Problem of God. New York: Abingdon Press, 1930.

Goblet D'Alviella, E. F. Lectures on the Origin and Growth of the Conception of God. London, 1892. Reprint, New York: AMS Press, 1982.

Pereira, Jose, ed. Hindu Theology: A Reader. Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books, 1976.


views updated May 14 2018

God in Christianity and other monotheistic religions, the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority, the supreme being. In certain other religions (with lower-case initial), a superhuman being or spirit worshipped as having power over nature or human fortunes; a deity.
act of God an instance of uncontrollable natural forces in operation (often used in insurance claims, as being exempted from cover given).
God helps them that help themselves often used in urging someone to action. The saying is recorded in English from the mid 16th century, but is found in the early 15th century in French. In classical Greek, the tragedian Aeschylus (c.525–456 bc) has, ‘God likes to assist the man who toils.’
God made the country and man made the town proverbial saying, mid 17th century, contrasting rural and urban life; a similar idea is found in De Re Rustica by the Roman scholar and satirist Varro (116–27 bc), ‘divine nature gave us the fields, human art built the cities.’
God makes the back to the burden an assertion that nothing is truly insupportable used in resignation or consolation; saying recorded from the early 19th century.
God never sends mouths but He sends meat used in resignation or consolation (meat here is used for ‘food’). Saying recorded from the late 14th century.
God of the gaps God as an explanation for phenomena not yet explained by science; God thought of as acting only in those spheres not otherwise accounted for. The phrase itself is recorded from the mid 20th century, deriving from earlier (critical) accounts of this mode of thought.
God save the Queen (or King) the British national anthem. Evidence suggests a 17th-century origin for the complete words and tune of the anthem. The ultimate origin is obscure: the phrase ‘God save the King’ occurs in various passages in the Old Testament, while as early as 1545 it was a watchword in the navy, with ‘long to reign over us’ as a countersign.
God sends meat, but the Devil sends cooks anything which is in itself good or useful may be spoiled or perverted by the use to which it is put; saying recorded from the mid 16th century.
God's in his heaven; all's right with the world proverbial saying, from early 16th century in the form ‘God is where he was’; now largely replaced by this quotation from Robert Browning's Pippa Passes (1841).
God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb God so arranges it that bad luck does not unduly plague the weak or unfortunate. The saying is recorded in English from the mid 17th century, but a French source of the late 16th century, Estienne's Premices (1594), has the comment, ‘these terms, God measures the cold to the shorn sheep, are the correct terms of the proverb.’
where God builds a church, the Devil will build a chapel the establishment of something which is in itself good may also create the opening for something evil; saying recorded from the mid 16th century.
you cannot serve God and Mammon now generally used of wealth regarded as an evil influence. Originally with biblical allusion to Matthew 6:24, ‘No man can serve two masters…Ye cannot serve God and mammon.’ Mammon is the Aramaic word for ‘riches’, taken by medieval writers as the proper name of the devil of covetousness. The saying is recorded from the mid 16th century.

See also all things are possible with God, the land God gave to Cain, gods, man's extremity is God's opportunity, the mills of God grind slowly at mill, the voice of the people is the voice of God.


views updated Jun 08 2018

303. God

  1. Abba title of reverence for God the Father. [N.T.: Mark 14:36; Romans 8:15]
  2. Adonai spoken in place of the ineffable Yahweh. [Judaism: NCE, 22]
  3. Aesir the Teutonic pantheon. [Norse Myth.: Leach, 17]
  4. Ahura Mazda (Ormuzd, Ormazd ) the spirit of good and creator of all things. [Zoroastrianism: Payton, 11]
  5. Allah Arabic name of the Supreme Being. [Islam: Benét, 24]
  6. Amen-Ra national and chief god of Egyptians. [Egypt. Myth.: Leach, 42]
  7. Ancient of Days scriptural epithet for God. [O.T.: Daniel 7:9]
  8. Assur principal god. [Assyrian Myth.: Benét, 59]
  9. Brahman supreme soul of the universe. [Hindu Phil.: Parrinder, 50]
  10. Buddha the Enlightened One; mystical supremacy. [Hinduism: Payton, 108]
  11. Creator, the common sobriquet for God. [Pop. Usage: Misc.]
  12. El rare Biblical appellation of the Lord. [Judaism: Wigoder, 169]
  13. Elohim spoken in place of the ineffable Yahweh. [Judaism: NCE, 22]
  14. Huitzilopochtli supreme war god of the Aztecs. [Aztec Religion: NCE, 1286]
  15. Jehovah the ancient Hebrew name for God. [Heb. Lang.: NCE, 1407]
  16. Manitou supreme deity of Algonquin and neighboring tribes. [Am. Indian Religion: Colliers, X, 91]
  17. Marduk warrior god, chief of the Babylonian pantheon; creator of heaven, earth, and man. [Babylonian Myth.: Benét, 634]
  18. Ormuzd supreme deity and embodiment of good. [Persian Myth.: Wheeler, 272]
  19. Osiris supreme deity and ruler of eternity. [Ancient Egyptian Myth.: Benét, 745]
  20. Quetzalcoatl god of the Toltecs. [Toltec Religion: NCE, 2258]
  21. rays, garland of emblem of God the Father. [Christian Iconog.: Jobes, 374]
  22. Sat Nam true name of the one God inclusive of all others. [Indian Religion: Colliers, XVII, 304]
  23. Shekinah equivalent for Lord in Aramaic interpretation of Old Testament. [Targumic Lit.: Brewer Dictionary, 991]
  24. Tetragrammaton Hebrew word for Lord: YHWH; pronunciation forbidden. [Judaism: Wigoder, 593]
  25. Yahweh reconstruction of YHWH, ancient Hebrew name for God. [Heb. Lang.: NCE, 3019]


views updated Jun 08 2018

God One of the supernatural, divine and usually immortal beings worshipped by followers of polytheistics religion such as those of ancient Greece and Rome. Also, the single supreme being, creator, and mover of the universe, as worshipped by the followers of monotheistic religions such as Judaism or Islam. Allah is God of Islam and Yahweh is God of Judaism. Christianity, a monotheistic religion, conceives of one God with three elements – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Hinduism, Brahma is considered the soul of the world, but there are lesser gods. See also agnosticism; atheism; Buddhism; Deism; monotheism; polytheism; Zeus