Whenever the subject of the divine came up, perhaps during a dinner party, a dear old friend of mine who is sadly no longer with us would often say, ‘before we can discuss God, you must first define your terms’. As my recent blogging activity has involved quite a bit of deliberation about this matter, I thought it might be useful for me to attempt some kind of definition. However, immediately I thought about doing so, I could see the difficulty.
God, I want to say, is infinite; unbounded by time and space; omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent and that’s just for starters. For me, that statement – whilst I believe it says some important things about the characteristics and nature of God – really falls some considerable way short of what would be necessary to provide even a cursory description. And yet, even at this first faltering attempt at finding the starting point for a definition, we have already begun to contemplate something, or someone, completely unimaginable.
Whilst it is simple enough to use the word ‘infinite’ and even express the idea conceptually or mathematically (the lemniscate for example), there is absolutely nothing that exists, within our physical realm, that is infinite, not even the universe according to science. You see, if the universe is expanding as the world of science has shown to be the case, then it must also be finite; and once you recognise and accept that proposition, you must also necessarily accept that nothing within the finite universe can be infinite.
Of course, this does not represent any kind of problem for the idea of the existence of God if he created the universe. Such a creator would, of course, not be bounded by the dimensions of his own creation. That’s why, intuitively, if we should for one reason or another come to accept the existence of a creator God, then it also follows that God must be unbounded by time and space. And so it necessarily follows that we are in completely unchartered territory having no direct first-hand experience of such a realm or plane of existence.
So how do we go about describing an infinite God? Well, there are many descriptions of God, within various religious traditions, and we should recognise that whilst they may each be individually valuable, none of them can possibly be complete. For example, we have the notions of God as a father figure; God as love; God as spirit; God as truth; God as light. Of course, all of these ideas can be simultaneously true for an infinite intelligence whilst none of them individually represent the fullness of what it is to be infinite.
Defining the term ‘God’ is therefore an impossible task and indeed, human language shows itself to be a wholly inadequate medium for such efforts. In other words, whatever you imagine God to be, you must be wrong because he is bigger, more powerful and more mysterious than you can possibly begin to imagine – that is a tiny part of what it means to be infinite.