Is God a Person?

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From today’s emailbox:

When you think of G_d, do you think of an “entity” (I know it’s not the right word, hopefully you get what I’m trying to say) with a distinct identity, or as a bit more “formless”? More like a being or more like a force or power?

First, the disclaimer: The following is the personal opinion of one kid with far too little sleep, and not the official ideas or positions of MyJewishLearning.com, Mixed Multitudes, or anyone else. God is completely different for all of us.

chamsa, the hand of g-dI think of God as an entity. I know I’m anthropomorphizing, and in my head, I’m always correcting myself — think of it as the equivalent of an English teacher who knows how to speak textbook Shakespearean English but goes home and speaks in Ebonics. Further, in our tradition, there are some times when it’s okay to actively anthropomorphize God — when we say that God took us out of Egypt with “an outstretched hand,” for instance. When we say that during Passover, is anyone thinking that a giant hand came down from the sky and just scooped the Children of Israel out of the desert?

But there’s an interesting midrash that asks the question, when the Torah says in Genesis that we were created in “God’s image” — what, it asks, is God’s image? By God’s very nature, there’s no such thing as God’s image. God doesn’t look like anything. Or, on the other hand, God looks like absolutely everything.

But then there’s another midrash that says that, yes, God does have hands — as well as arms and toes and a nose (possibly a Jewish nose, possibly not). Humans really were created in God’s image…only, God’s image is the original. Our hands are the smallest, weakest representation in the physical world of the metaphysical image of an actual Hand of God. There’s something called a hamsa in Jewish mysticism that’s a representation of this hand…and it, like many other mystical amulets, is meant to remind us of that greater world.

There’s a line in one of my poems that says that I learned to picture God as a girl with “long, long hair and a short, short skirt,” which gets all the righteous folks a little bit nervous. But it’s just what I was thinking — that I can’t talk to anyone with the candidness and the openness that I used when flirting. (Uh, I wrote it before the marriage-and-kids part of my life.) Because, in the half-nervous and half-say-anything immediacy of flirting, you’re talking about anything you can to keep her interested, you’re not worrying about censoring yourself or holding back and, in that immediacy, you lose the withholding-ness and only say true things…and that, I’ve always thought, is what prayer should be like.

Of course, once it makes its way to God’s ears (again with the anthropomorphizing), God’s no more a hot girl than God is an old dude with a beard. But it’s somewhere to start from. Just like we can’t thank God enough for every aspect of Creation (yeah, by the way, thanks for creating the wood planks on the floor solid enough so that I’m not falling through it…oh, look, I just moved to another part of the room; thanks for creating that part solid enough, too), there’s no way to adequately envision God, physically or mentally or eschatologically or otherwise. And so, to thank God, we grasp a few words and hope it’s enough. And in order to communicate with God, we reach out for whatever medium we can find, and hope that’s enough, too.

Posted on December 12, 2008

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