Is God a person?

Many people like to think of God as a supernatural person. Indeed, the Quran describes events in which God is interacting with humans as if He is a person. But does this really mean that God is a person?

“God the Father” sculpture at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, part of a German Expressionist exhibition

Does person-like interaction with humans prove that God is a person? Here, I’m arguing that the answer is no, though this argument can’t prove that God is not a person. Let’s consider an analogy. Imagine that you’re a White American who grew up in White community, but you learnt Japanese in school, and learnt about Japanese culture. One day, you visit Japan. In order to allow Japanese people to better understand you, you speak Japanese and perform Japanese cultural rituals to Japanese people. In other words, you behave Japanese. Yet this doesn’t mean that you’re Japanese; you still identify as a White American. Since Japan is pretty international, Japanese people can understand other cultures. But imagine that you visit Papua New Guinea or other more primitive and secluded nations; you speak the local language and adop the local culture in order to be understood, and the local people are unlikely to understand other cultures and languages so this is the only way to communicate. Similarly, God’s person-like behaviors in the scripture doesn’t prove that God is a person. God can do so to help humans to understand; in other words, God’s person-like behavior is specific to the relationship between humans and God. If God is a person by nature, then some human behaviors must be absolute, yet it’s extremely difficult to prove this point (the Quran says God preferrs humans over many other creations, yet this doesn’t mean that humans are the supreme creation). What about angels? Their human-like behaviors described in the Quran can be personification that helps us to understand them, and can’t prove their human-like nature. Also imagine instead of humans, we’re intelligent cats that have free will. Then the Scripture must be completely different and God must be interacting with our messengers in a completely different way (such as sending messages by words of scents rather than words of letters). The Quran is written for a human audience; examples such as ships, gardens, and livestock are specific to humans, and cats will not make sense of them.

I’ll consider an objection. If God is not a person but pretends to be a person, then God is deceiving us, which is inconsistent with God’s characteristics; therefore, God must be a person. My answer is: This is the human perspective to interact with God. We have no better way to interact with God (God can also put thoughts into our minds, but they have to be thoughts we can understand, so have to be in human terms), since it’s impossible for us to behave in a fully non-human way (even if we know the language of cats, we can’t be fully proficient because of our physiology). We can’t be free from an incomplete perspective unless we’re omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent, which we can’t achieve. Due to our limitations, we can’t fully understand God’s essence, but this doesn’t forbid interactions with God. Again, return to the analogy from the previous paragraph. You’re not deceiving in any way when you’re speaking Japanese, nor is a Japanese deceiving by speaking English to an international audience; speaking Japanese doesn’t mean that you are Japanese. This is what real deceiving is like: While you were born and raised in the US, you pay a company to produce a fake Japanese birth certificate and Japanese school diploma, and undergo plastic surgery to look Japanese, in order to convince people that you’re Japanese by nature while you’re not. Similarly, by interacting with humans in a person-like way, God is not deceiving us, but is doing us a favor.

The analogy does not assume that God is a person like we are. The purpose of analogies is to illustrate an abstract point in more accessible terms, and the abstract point here is language and interaction, not personhood. Here, person-like behavior is likened to language. Being able to communicate with something doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a person. For instance, we all can communicate and interact with our computers, yet computers are not persons. Being able to initiate communication also doesn’t necessarily indicate personhood. For instance, when afflicted with a virus, your computer can initiate communication by showing a warning in the antivirus, but your computer is not a person. Furthermore, your computer interacts with you in a way humans can understand, such as displaying graphics in visible light instead of X-ray and showing interrogatives in a human language like English in a human-like tone to be user-friendly. How does your computer know how to communicate with humans (note that this is a personification)? Because it’s been programmed to do so. But since God is omniscient and infinitely mightier than a computer, He definitely knows how to make humans understand. Finally, we can’t say for sure that what’s superior than persons are necessarily persons; we can communicate with cats in terms of cat language, such as slowly closing our eyes when they close their eyes to reply to their “kiss,” and we are superior to cats, but we’re not cats.

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