Is God personal?

Luke Wayne

In many forms of Hinduism (and in a number of other religious movements) "God" is defined as an impersonal essence, force, or source of being from which everything else derives. While personal language may occasionally be used to describe it in a strictly metaphorical sense, this "God" is not a distinct, personal creator with his own intentions, plans, actions, or individual consciousness. In contrast, the God of the Bible is inherently and undeniably personal. Thus, many Christians and Hindus, if we are not careful, can find ourselves talking past one another as we both use the word "God" but mean something entirely different by that term. We must be prepared to explain what we mean by God and why it must be that God is, indeed, personal.

The idea of the distinct, conscious, volitional, and utterly personal nature of God runs throughout the Bible. God's will (1 Thessalonians 5:18), His plans (Isaiah 25:1), His compassion, goodness, and lovingkindness (Isaiah 63:7), His words (Psalm 78:1), His deeds (1 Chronicles 16:8), and His thoughts and purposes (Micah 4:12) are all inherently personal attributes and actions. God is capable of friendship (Job 29:4), love, and fellowship (2 Corinthians 13:14). God enters into covenants (Genesis 15:18), makes promises (Deuteronomy 1:11), and swears oaths (Deuteronomy 7:8). God knows grief (Genesis 6:6), pleasure (Isaiah 42:21), and wrath (Nahum 1:2).

"'Let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord," (Jeremiah 9:24).

These are not occasional poetic devices. The personal qualities of God come out on virtually every page and across every genre of biblical literature. The Bible is not merely concerned with abstract knowledge about God as an entity, but rather about knowing God as a personal Creator, Guide, Sustainer, Ruler, Judge, Lawgiver, and (for those who come to Him in faith and receive His gracious adoption) even as Father. The entire gospel is rooted deeply in the fact that God is personal and that we are persons distinct from Him whom He holds accountable for our sins but whom He also loves and redeems in the person of Jesus Christ. If God were a mere impersonal essence without distinct love, justice, wrath, mercy, or compassion of His own, then there could be no gospel. But God has made Himself known in Scripture and made it clear that He is, indeed, a personal God and therefore we can be reconciled to Him, know Him, receive forgiveness from Him, and enter into fellowship with Him, none of which could be done with an impersonal force or essence.

"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation," (Romans 5:8-11).

Logic also strongly supports the idea that God is personal. Any of the ways in which we know or defend the existence of God are defenses of a personal God. If I know God through revelation, I am speaking of a personal God. Revelation is a personal act. To know of God through divinely revealed Scripture or fulfilled prophecy is to know of a God who is personal and intentionally reveals complex information to the world that would otherwise be unknown. Likewise, other arguments for God's existence point to a personal God. For example, the Cosmological Argument states that:

  1. Anything that begins to exist must have a cause
  2. The universe began to exist
  3. Therefore, the universe must have a cause

What kind of cause does the universe demand? It cannot be a material cause because any material cause would be a part of the universe and thus would not exist until the universe existed and could not cause itself to exist. So, it must be an immaterial cause, and one of immense power to be able to do something like bring the universe into existence. Since it brings time and space into existence, the cause must itself transcend time and space, so we must be talking about a cause that is timeless and atemporal. And yet, the effect (i.e. the universe) is not timeless. This implies a personal cause. It points to creation as an act of volition or divine will. An impersonal cause cannot choose to act. Gravity, for example, does not pull for a thousand years and then suddenly decide to push instead. If an impersonal cause of the universe were timeless, changeless, and eternal, then the universe would have to be eternal with it. The impersonal cause, of its very nature, would always and forever be producing the universe because that's what impersonal causes do. A personal God, however, chooses to create. He can exist without creation and then bring creation into existence by an act of will. The evidence all points to the universe having a beginning rather than being eternal (indeed, that is the reason the argument points to it having a cause in the first place). It has, therefore, existed for only a finite amount of time. It only makes sense to conclude that the universe does not have an impersonal cause that has always been creating it, but rather that it has a personal cause that existed without it and then chose to bring it into existence.

Similarly, the Teleological Argument draws attention to the fact that the universe itself and the objects (and especially living things) within it all point to an intelligent designer. Design, however, is purposeful. It implies a plan and intention which demand a personal will. That is, indeed, the entire point of the argument. The universe contains qualities which cannot be effectively explained by mere impersonal forces and are best explained by the design of a personal, conscious mind with the power to bring about its desired ends. In other words, the universe itself seems to demand the existence of a personal, creator God. As the Bible says:

"Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse," (Romans 1:20).

"The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge," (Psalm 19:1-2).

"You should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness," (Acts 14:15b-17).

As the old Christian hymn expresses:

"Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
sun, moon, and stars in their courses above,
join with all nature in manifold witness,
to thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love."

Nature doesn't merely give us a vague sense of the divine. It points to the will of a Creator and Sustainer. Everything we see around us bears the fingerprints of its personal Maker. When we look to the ultimate authority of God's revealed word and then look around us at all the logical and material evidence, it all directs us to the same obvious conclusion: God is a personal being.