When I was young I asked my mother: How come God is the one who’s God, instead of somebody else?

I don’t remember what she said, and I still don’t know the answer, unless the answer is “That’s the wrong question.” Or: God is not the kind of being who might have been otherwise. Or: God isn’t any kind of being, He’s just Being, full stop.

I often find myself still asking the same question, but in a different form: Who is God? Not what is He — infinite Being, thought-thinking-thought, I AM — but who? The question arises when I suddenly come to myself and remember that Christianity is meant to be, at bottom, a love affair rather than a legal case.

But with whom am I in love?

If he is perfect, must he not be somehow scrubbed clean of idiosyncracies? If he is infinite, then he must somehow be all-things, and if he is all-things, what can be special about him? When we like somebody, don’t we like them for the shape of their nose, or the oddness of their voice, or their particular raucous laugh?

Then how can we like God?

Now of course liking is not loving. “Love your enemies” doesn’t imply liking them (although liking sometimes follows from loving: let the will lead, Fr. T often tells me, and the heart will follow). But wouldn’t a perfect love include liking as well? Agape is all very well, but — well, I’d be disappointed if my eternal love affair with God turned out not have any eros in it.

Two answers suggest themselves, and neither is complete.

The first is, of course, Jesus. Nobody who has read the New Testament with any real attention, engaging their imagination as well as their intellect, would call Jesus bland or featureless. His manner of speech is as peculiar and particular as the smell of cilantro or pipe tobacco. How can the Infinite have a personality? I don’t know, but there He is. And when we see Jesus in all his particularity — we are seeing the Father.

The second answer is harder to define. It involves a knowledge of God that is a kind of knowledge-by-longing. I can only say that when I hear this:

As the deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

…then, Oh, I know who that is. Who is God? He’s the one that I want. He is the one who is wanted. He is the one for whom Wanting was made. He is — He.

14 thoughts on “Who Is God?

  1. Theresa Zoe

    I second Larissa. This is an extremely thought- and emotion-provoking post. There is something in this that has been in me for a long time and something that God is doing within me this Lent. What this suggests is almost a breaking down of what I’ve thought and how I’ve felt about God and what it means to love Him up to this point and starting something new, a deeper, realer new than there was before. That’s what this posts begs for, a deeper and realer new than before. Further up and further in!

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  2. Eric

    This dovetails so very nicely with a passage I read just the other night in Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation:

    In the end the contemplative suffers the anguish of realizing that he no longer knows what God is. He may or may not mercifully realize that, after all, this is a great gain, because “God is not a what,” not a “thing.” That is precisely one of the essential characteristics of contemplative experience. It sees that there is no “what” that can be called God. There is “no such thing” as God because God is neither a “what” nor a “thing” but a pure “Who.” He is the “Thou” before whom our inmost “I” springs into awareness. He is the I Am before whom with our own most personal and inalienable voice we echo “I am.”

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  3. British plant biologist

    Or as Psalm 26(27) has it,

    ‘True to my heart’s promise, I have eyes only for you; I long, Lord, for your presence. Do not hide your face.’

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  4. Contemplative in the Mud

    “If he is perfect, must he not be somehow scrubbed clean of idiosyncracies? If he is infinite, then he must somehow be all-things, and if he is all-things, what can be special about him?”

    I don’t know if this fits the question as it appears in your head, but upon reading your post, a third answer that I thought of is this:

    He’s the one with an idiosyncratic plan or economy of salvation: gracefully and without any necessity calling the Israelites and giving them the Law and the Prophets, which were fulfilled and made realizable for others in Jesus; then opening all of Israel’s history just as gracefully and without necessity and as a gift to Gentiles, if they allow themselves to be grafted on to the Israelites’ root and dependent on it. I don’t know. To me this is a Personality and a Being, but it’s definitely “idiosyncratic” or “special”. It’s like a history — a history of God’s free choices and some gifts, which can only be received as totally gratuitous gifts. Histories give people their specialness. And God’s at the centre of this one.

    Not sure if it really is a third answer, though.

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  5. Rayjo

    I once asked God how I was really supposed to love him, since the analogies of “friend, lover, father, teacher” were all types of humans, and he was definitely more than human. The very next day at mass, the reading was Luke 10:27: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind…”

    It really isn’t often that I get such a clear answer.

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  6. Sarah

    Steve, I just wanted to say that your blog has really enriched my Lent this year. I’ve felt a bit dry for a while, but every time I read a post like this, I feel a spark again, to do and be better and a bittersweet sadness that I’m not trying as hard as I should be. Thanks.

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  7. Ron

    This is a quote that I love. It is from Mary Margaret Brent, OCD (1731-1784), an English Carmelite nun. It doesn’t answer the question “Who Is God?” but it addresses our response to this mystery:

    Others must seek God, but you must find him.
    Others must serve God, but you must cling to him.
    Others must believe in God, know, love, and honor him, but you must taste, understand, know, and enjoy him.

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  8. WSquared

    Wow. This is so eloquently written. Interesting that it should dovetail with the reading that I am doing right now– namely B16, “Jesus of Nazareth” and Robert Barron, “Priority of Christ,” both of whom pose the question of who Jesus is, and how we have to let his particularity (and certainly peculiarity) stand and speak for itself, else we tend to lose him in the shuffle.

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  9. Amos Hunt

    I sometimes find that when prayer seems difficult, it’s because I don’t know how to address the prayer. I need to locate God existentially with a definite description that relates Him to my experience. So, God is He who made me, or He who illuminates. When I think about God in one of these ways while I pray, I feel less like I’m thinking out loud and more like I’m talking to someone. Less like I’m praying just to impress myself with my own piety and more like I actually want God to answer.

    When I was a child, I think I thought of God as “He who is on the other side,” which gradually came to seem more like a blank wall the longer God didn’t bust through with a private revelation or miracle.

    Interesting that your string of paraphrases terminates with simply “He:” The most definite description of God has to be completely simple, of course. But somehow this really has to mean the same as the complex descriptions. Somehow paraphrasing the complex into the simple has to make the simple word speak by itself: Just “He,” but not the “He” that you could have said at the beginning.

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