Patheos answers the question:

Is God a Person?

God's Hand

When people think about God, some think of him as a divine force or a great spirit or the underlying power of the universe. Some Eastern religions, like Hinduism or Buddhism, have a broad understanding of deity that infuses the natural world. While avatars and representatives of the deities might have personhood, the general idea of the divine is impersonal.

Abrahamic religions, which include Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, are monotheistic. That is, they believe there is only one God, and they talk about God as a person. It can be confusing to use the word “person” in reference to God, however, because none of these monotheistic faiths thinks of God as a physical person in the same way that a human being is a person. Rather, God is personal; God has the characteristics of a person. A common theological definition of a person is “a self-aware, rational individual being with a mind, emotions, and a will.” Even that, though, can be misleading, because God is not just a being of a higher or greater or more powerful sort than other beings. God is Being itself, yet still personal.

All three monotheistic religions accept the general picture of God painted by the Hebrew Scriptures (called the Old Testament). God is shown repeatedly to have his own thoughts and emotions and will. He has plans, develops relationships with certain individuals, engages in conversation, and is variously pleased or angered by human behavior. According to scripture, God is clearly not an impersonal force or amorphous divine essence. But neither is he bound by human definitions of personhood—God is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (in all places), omnipotent (all-powerful), and holy (without any shadow of selfishness or fickleness or double-mindedness).

Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe that God is one, alone, sharing his deity with no one else. God is transcendent—above and separate from all else that exists. Scripture teaches that while we are like God, made in his image (Genesis 1.26), God is not like us. In the book of Isaiah, God told his people, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55.8). The psalmist recorded similar words when he wrote, “You thought I was altogether like you” (Psalm 50.21). Nevertheless, knowing that God is a person makes it possible for believers to enter into a relationship of trust and love.

While Christians believe that God is one, they teach that the one God exists in three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—who share a single common will and essence. According to Christianity, one of these Persons, the Son, became incarnate in Jesus, so Christians believe that we can learn about the nature of God by looking at the life of Jesus Christ. The Gospels show Jesus with a full array of personal qualities—will, emotions, desires, purposes, plans. Thus, in a unique way, Christianity teaches that God is both transcendent (completely other than anything created) and immanent (fully present and engaged with creation).

Learn more about the ways Judaism understands the nature of God here.

3/23/2021 6:32:40 PM
About About Kathleen Mulhern, Ph.D.
Kathleen Mulhern is a writer, editor, historian, speaker, and professor. She teaches courses in world history, European history, and history of Christianity. She has taught at Colorado School of Mines and Regis University, and is currently an adjunct professor at Denver Seminary in the areas of Church History and Spiritual Formation. Kathleen graduated with a B.A. from Wheaton College, earned an M.A. in French Literature from the University of Denver, an M.A. degree in Church History from Denver Seminary, and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Colorado.