A Personal God?

A Personal God? March 24, 2024

Art by Didgeman.

Two propositions must be considered foundational for Catholic theology: the existence of God and the fact that God is a personal being.

In this paper, I will seek to prove the validity of the second proposition, that God is a personal being. However, to do so, I must briefly examine the arguments for the first proposition, that is, God’s existence and what Catholicism means by God.

While it may be tempting, it is logically questionable to make claims about the existence of God based on the Bible or, at least, on the Bible alone. The reason is that the various biblical authors presupposed the existence of God. Anyone utilizing the Bible to evidence the existence of God risks arguing in a circle.

Equally dubious are anecdotal arguments. These are personal testimonies by individuals. There may be no question as to the importance that the individuals place on their testimonies. However, the claims are neither systematic nor objective.  

Therefore, the most common arguments are philosophical. To avoid deviating significantly from the subject at hand, I will only mention the forms these arguments take: the cosmological, the ontological, and the teleological. For a treatment of the various proofs for the existence of God, see Does God Exist?

While it is true that every known culture in history has been religious, the concept of God or gods has differed widely. This deviation includes whether there is only one God (monotheism) or many (polytheism) and the nature of that God or gods.

For the most part, the polytheistic gods of the ancient world were forces of nature that had been personified. An example is the Greek deity Zeus, a sky god thought to rule the weather. In Hindu mythology, Indra served a similar role. One hears echoes of these gods in the childish vernacular of modern atheists. God is described as a “sky daddy” or an invisible man living in the clouds. 

A different – and more serious – concept of God is Deism. Deism admits the existence of God but rejects all aspects of the supernatural. Accordingly, revelation, miracles, grace, and mysteries are excluded. Moreover, the God of Deism is distant and uninterested in human affairs. 

Finally, there is Pantheism. This concept of God argues that God is identical to the universe. 

Thus far, the concepts of God or gods have involved anthropomorphized forces of nature, an absentee God, and a divinized universe. So, what do the Bible and Catholicism have to say about the nature of God(s) and whether God(s) is personal? To support the arguments that God is one, that the universe is not God, and that God is intimately involved in the human condition requires that we draw equally from the wealth of Scripture and philosophy. 

Following Scripture, Catholicism denies polytheism. The Shema, as it is formulated in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:4) and re-presented by Christ in the New Testament (Mark 12:29-31), supports a monotheistic theology. Contra Pantheism, the creation stories of Genesis suggest that God is the cause of the universe and, therefore, not identical to it. Placing itself athwart of Deism, Catholicism claims that God “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” (See John 3:16).

One may object at this point. After all, I wrote earlier that using the Bible to prove the existence of God leads to logical problems. However, once one has offered proof of the existence of God, I do not think it is illogical to use the Bible to examine specific characteristics of God. Again, I refer the reader to my series of articles, “Does God Exist?

When Catholicism states the belief in a personal God, it claims that God is intelligent, free, and distinct from the created universe. While these traits can, to some extent, be predicated of human beings (accepting that the soul is not contingent on a physical universe), they find perfection in God. 

Without question, the Bible provides much of the data supporting the belief in a personal God. Can additional arguments for the existence of a personal God be mustered in supplementing the Bible? There are several ways to approach this question.

The first way is based on the contingent nature of existence. Everything that comes into existence requires an extrinsic cause, including the universe. Whatever is contingent does not exist necessarily, and what does not exist necessarily is a result of a choice. Choice is a product of the will, and the will is a power of an intellect. An intellect can only exist in a personal being.

The second argument is predicated on the universe’s diverse nature. An example of this is the various forms of life found on Earth (biodiversity), as well as the physical and chemical properties that compose the universe. It seems to me that a diverse creation requires imagination, and imagination is a property of a personal being.

Finally, it is almost mathematically impossible for a universe capable of sustaining life to exist. According to Oxford University mathematical physicist Roger Penrose, the odds of the universe randomly coming into existence are “1 part in 10 to the power of 10 to the power or 123, that is 1 followed by 10 to the 123rd power zeros” (The Emperor’s New Mind, Oxford University Press, 2002). For all intents and purposes, there should not be a universe.

As an aside, two prominent scientists, Fred Hoyle and N. Chandra Wickramasinghe, calculated the odds of life forming by natural processes. They estimated there is less than one chance in ten to the forty thousandth power that life could have originated randomly. (Hoyle, Fred, and Chandra Wickramasinghe. Evolution from Space. Simon & Schuster, 1984). Simply put, the likelihood of life originating due to some random process is all but mathematically impossible. Therefore, it is reasonable to infer that the universe and the origin of life are the result of a highly intelligent mind, which, again, suggests a personal God.

I will conclude by addressing a question that the reader may entertain. Does it matter to the individual Catholic whether God is a personal being? Is it not enough to believe in God? The answer is that it matters very much. If God is not a personal God who took a human nature, died for our sins, and was resurrected, then we are lost. Our sins are not forgiven, and our faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:14-19).

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