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General conceptions
Atheism · Deism · Henotheism · Monolatrism
Monotheism · Panentheism · Pantheism

Specific conceptions
Creator · Architect · Demiurge · Devil
Sustainer · Lord · Father · Monad
Oneness · Supreme Being · The All
Personal · Unitarianism · Ditheism · Trinity
in Abrahamic religions
(Bahá'í Faith, Christianity, Islam, Judaism)
in Ayyavazhi · in Buddhism · in Hinduism
in Jainism · in Sikhism · in Zoroastrianism

Eternalness · Existence · Gender
Names ("God") · Omnibenevolence
Omnipotence · Omnipresence · Omniscience

Experience and practices
Faith · Prayer · Belief · Revelation
Fideism · Gnosis · Metaphysics
Mysticism · Hermeticism · Esotericism

Related topics

Philosophy · Religion · Ontology
God complex · Neurotheology
Euthyphro dilemma · Problem of evil
Portrayal in popular media
List of religious texts

Conceptions of God can vary widely, despite the use of the same term for them all.

The God of monotheism, pantheism or panentheism, or the supreme deity of henotheistic religions, may be conceived of in various degrees of abstraction:

Monotheist conceptions of God appear in the Hellenistic period, out of predecessor concepts of monism (mostly in Eastern religions) and henotheism.


Religion and Theology


Abrahamic conceptions of God

Judaism, Christianity and Islam see God as a being who created the world and who rules over the universe. God is usually held to have the following properties: holiness, justice, sovereignty, omnipotence, omniscience, benevolence, omnipresence, and immortality. It is also believed to be transcendent, meaning that God is outside space and time. Therefore, God is eternal and unable to be changed by earthly forces or anything else within its creation.

In the Abrahamic traditions there are many differences in how these properties are expressed. The importance placed upon those properties is often debated by each group. In the past, as well as modern times people have suggested each group is speaking of a different god, or that each individual human has his own personal conception of God; thus God can only be approximately known.

God in Judaism

Mainstream Orthodox Judaism teaches that God is neither matter nor spirit. They teach that God is the creator of both, but is himself neither. They believe that there are two aspects of God: God himself, who in the end is unknowable, and the revealed aspect of God, his "light", which created the universe, preserves the universe, and interacts with mankind in a personal way. Over time, this view evolved into the belief that all of creation and all of existence was in fact God itself, and that we as humanity are unaware of our own inherent godliness and are grappling to come to terms with it. The standing view in Hasidism, currently, is that there is nothing in existence other than God - all being is God.

God in Christianity

Within Christianity, the doctrine of the Trinity states that God is a single being that exists, simultaneously and eternally, as a perichoresis of three persons (personae, prosopa): Father (the Source, the Eternal Majesty); the Son (the eternal Logos or Word, human as Jesus of Nazareth); and the Holy Spirit (the Paraclete or advocate). Some people have illustrated this concept by saying that the Father, Son and Spirit are one yet distinct, in the same way that ice, steam and water are one, yet distinctly different from each other. Since the 4th Century AD, in both Eastern and Western Christianity, this doctrine has been stated as "One God in Three Persons", all three of whom, as distinct and co-eternal "persons" or "hypostases", share a single divine essence, being, or nature. Following Thomas Aquinas and others, the Son is described as eternally begotten by the Father. This generation does not imply a beginning for the Son or an inferior relationship with the Father. The Son is the perfect image of his Father, and is consubstantial with him. The Son returns that love, and that union between the two is the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Again, the Holy Spirit is consubstantial and co-equal with the Father and the Son. Thus God contemplates and loves himself, enjoying infinite and perfect beatitude within himself. This relationship between the other two persons is called procession. It should be noted that although the theology of the Trinity is accepted in most churches, there are theological differences, notably between Catholic and Orthodox thought on the procession of the Holy Spirit (see filioque). Many Christian communions do not accept the Trinitarian doctrine, at least not in its traditional form. Notable dissenting groups include the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Christadelphians, Unitarians, Arians, and Adoptionists.

God in Islam

Allah (Arabic: اللهallāh) is the Arabic proper name of God whereas "ilah" (Arabic: إلهellāh) is the Arabic word for "god" or "deity". Both are used by Arabic-speaking Muslims, Christians and Jews and Mizrahi Jews alike. Muslims consider God to be singular, perfect, unique, eternal, self-sufficient, omnipotent and omniscient. He is said not to resemble any of his creations in any way. The Qur'an describes God as being fully aware of everything that happens in the universe, including private thoughts and feelings.

Muslims are not iconodules and this extends to all religious aspects (including any iconographic depiction other than in writing) so that it does not lead to idolatry. The doctrine of belief in the singular nature of God is a paramount tenet of Islam and is referred to as tawhid (Arabic: توحيد). Muslims focus on God's 99 "names" that are stated in the Qur'an, the holy book of the Muslims. Nearly one third of the book is used describing God's attributes and actions. Also, "hadith qudsi" are special recorded sayings of Muhammad to Muslims where he quotes what God has taught him.

God in Bahá'í

Bahá'ís believe in a single, imperishable God, the creator of all things, including all the creatures and forces in the universe.[1] God is described as "a personal God, unknowable, inaccessible, the source of all Revelation, eternal, omniscient, omnipresent and almighty."[2] Though inaccessible directly, God is nevertheless seen as conscious of his creation, with a mind, will and purpose. Bahá'ís believe that God expresses this will at all times and in many ways, including through a series of divine messengers referred to as Manifestations of God or sometimes divine educators.[3] In expressing God's intent, these manifestations are seen to establish religion in the world. Bahá'í teachings state that God is too great for humans to fully comprehend, nor to create a complete and accurate image.[4] Bahá'u'lláh often refers to God by titles (e.g. the All-Powerful, or the All-Loving). Bahá'ís believe that this anthropomorphic description of God amounts to Bahá'u'lláh, in his capacity as God's manifestation, abstracting him in language that human beings can comprehend, since direct knowledge of the essence of God is believed impossible.[4]

Negative theology

Some Jewish, Christian and Muslim Medieval philosophers, including Moses Maimonides and Pseudo-Dionysius, as well as many sages of other religions, developed what is termed as Apophatic Theology or the Via Negativa, the idea that one cannot posit attributes to God and can only be discussed by what God is not. For example, we cannot say that God "exists" in the usual sense of the term, because that term is human defined and God's qualities such as existence may not be accurately characterized by it. What we can safely say is that it cannot be proven empirically or otherwise that God is existent, therefore God is not non-existent. Likewise God's "wisdom" is of a fundamentally different kind from limited human perception. So we cannot use the word "wise" to describe God, because this implies he is wise in the way we usually describe humans being wise. However we can safely say that God is not ignorant. We should not say that God is One, because we may not truly understand his nature, but we can state that there is no multiplicity in God's being.

The reason that this theology was developed was because it was felt that ascribing positive characteristics to God would imply that God could be accurately described with terms that were used to describe human qualities and perceptions. As humans cannot truly comprehend what kind of wisdom an eternal transcendent being might have, or what infinity might be like, we cannot in fact know or characterize his true nature. It is beyond human ability and would only mislead people. The proponents of this theory often experienced meditation, which they viewed as the only effective way of having a personal relationship with God. It involved trying to reach beyond the words commonly used to describe him and his more ineffable characteristics, and to comprehend in a mystical manner the truths about him which could not be achieved through religious language. Thus many sages and saints of both monotheistic and other traditions described mystical trances, or raptures and stated they were unable to describe God or their visions fully.

God as unity or Trinity

Muslims, Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses and a small fraction of other nominal Christians are unitarian monotheists. Unitarian monotheists hold that there is only one "person" (so to speak), or one basic substance, in God. Some adherents of this position consider Trinitarianism to be a form of polytheism.

The vast majority of Christians have been and still are Trinitarian monotheists. Trinitarian monotheists believe in one god that exists as three interdependent persons who share the same substance/essence; the Christian version of this is called the Trinity. The Hindu version Trimurti, differs from Christianity in holding that God has three aspects, though shown as anthropomorphs. While the Hindu Trinity is not an unquestioned doctrine in Hinduism, it is taught as one postulated understanding of the universe's divine order.


A view within Christianity that there were originally two beings in the Godhead, the Father and the Word that became the Son (Jesus the Christ). Binitarians normally believe that God is a family, currently consisting of the Father and the Son. Some binitarians believe that others will ultimately be born into that divine family. Hence, binitarians are nontrinitarian, but they are also not unitarian. Binitarians, like most unitarians and trinitarians, claim their views were held by the original New Testament Church. Unlike most unitarians and trinitarians who tend to identify themselves by those terms, binitarians normally do not refer to their belief in the duality of the Godhead, with the Son subordinate to the Father; they simply teach the Godhead in a manner that has been termed as binitarianism.

"The word "binitarian" is typically used by scholars and theologians as a contrast to a trinitarian theology: a theology of "two" in God rather than a theology of "three", and although some critics prefer to use the term ditheist or dualist instead of binitarian, those terms suggests that God is not one, yet binitarians believe that God is one family. It is accurate to offer the judgment that most commonly when someone speaks of a Christian "binitarian" theology the "two" in God are the Father and the Son... A substantial amount of recent scholarship has been devoted to exploring the implications of the fact that Jesus was worshipped by those first Jewish Christians, since in Judaism "worship" was limited to the worship of God" (Barnes M. Early Christian Binitarianism: the Father and the Holy Spirit. Early Christian Binitarianism - as read at NAPS 2001). Much of this recent scholarship has been the result of the translations of the Nag Hammadi and other ancient manuscripts that were not available when older scholarly texts (such as Wilhelm Bousset's[5] Kyrios Christos, 1913) were written.

Conception of God in Sikhism

The Sikh term for God is Vahigurū and Nānak describes him as niraṅkār (from the Sanskrit nirākārā, meaning formless), akāl (meaning eternal) and alakh (from the Sanskrit alakśya, meaning invisible or unobserved). At the very beginning of the first composition of Sikh scripture is the figure "1" - signifying the unity of God. Nānak's interpretation of God is that of a single, personal and transcendental creator with whom the devotee must develop a most intimate faith and relationship to achieve salvation. Sikhism advocates the belief in one god who is omnipresent and has infinite qualities. This aspect has been repeated on numerous occasions in the Gurū Granth Sāhib and the term ik ōaṅkār signifies this. In the Sikh teachings, there is no gender for God. When translating, the proper meaning cannot be correctly conveyed without using a gender definition, but this distorts the meaning by giving the impression that God is masculine, which is not the message in the original script.

Nānak further emphasizes that a full understanding of God is beyond human beings. However, Nānak also describes God as being not wholly unknowable. God is considered sarav vi'āpak (omnipresent) in all creation and visible everywhere to the spiritually awakened. Nānak stresses that God must be seen from "the inward eye", or the "heart" of a human being - that meditation must take place inwardly to achieve enlightenment progressively. Nānak emphasizes this revelation in creation as crucial, as its rigorous application permits the existence of communication between God and human beings.

Sikhs believe in a single god that has existed from the beginning of time and will survive forever. He/she is genderless, fearless, formless, immutable, ineffable, self-sufficient, not subject to the cycle of birth and death, and omnipotent.

God in Sikhism is depicted in three distinct aspects, viz. God in himself, God in relation to creation, and God in relation to man. During a discourse with Siddhas, Hindu recluses, Guru Nanak in reply to a question as to where the Transcendent God was before the stage of creation replies, "To think of the Transcendent Lord in that state is to enter the realm of wonder. Even at that stage of sunn, he permeated all that void" (GG, 940).

Conceptions of God in Hinduism

Vedantic schools of Hindu philosophy have a notion of a Supreme Cosmic Spirit called Brahman, pronounced [ˈbrəhmən]. Brahman is (at best) described as an infinite, omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, transcendent and immanent reality that is the divine ground of all existence in the universe. The most commonly used Sanskrit word for God is Ishvara īśvara (Hindustani pronunciation: [ˈiːʃvərə]), originally a title comparable to "Lord" or "Excellency" (from root īśa, lit., powerful/lord/owner, + vara, lit., choicest/most excellent). In the two largest branches of Hinduism, Vaishnavism and Shaivism, it is believed that Ishvara and Brahman are identical, and God is in turn anthropomorphically identified with Vishnu or Shiva. God, whether in the form of Vishnu or Shiva, is said to have infinite attributes, or auspicious qualities.


Lord Shiva is more often considered as first Hindu God. Mahadeva literally means "Highest of all god". Shiva is also known as Maheshvar, the great Lord, Mahadeva, the great God, Shambhu, Hara, Pinakadhrik, bearer of the axe and Mrityunjaya, conqueror of death. He is the spouse of Shakti, the goddess. He also is represented by Mahakala and Bhairava, the terrible, as well as many other forms including Rudra. Shiva is often pictured holding the damaru (sound file .wav format: 190K), an hour-glass shape drum, shown below with his trishula. His usual mantra is om namah shivaya.[6]

This must not be confused with the numerous devas. Deva may be roughly translated into English as deity, demi-god, or angel, and can describe any celestial being or thing that is of high excellence and thus is venerable. The word is cognate to Latin deus for "god". The misconception of 330 million devas is commonly objected by Hindu scholars. The description of 33 koti (10 million, crore in Hindi) devas is a misunderstanding. The word koti in Sanskrit translates to 'type' and not '10 million'. So the actual translation is 33 types and not 330 million devas. Ishvara as a personal form of God is worshiped and not the 33 devas. The concept of 33 devas (gods) is perhaps related to the geometry of the universe.

Conception of God in Buddhism

Buddhism is non-theistic; Gautama Buddha taught that there was no creator god and believed the more important issue was to bring beings out of suffering to liberation. Enlightened people are called Arhats or Buddha (e.g., the Buddha Sakyamuni), and are venerated. A bodhisattva is an altruistic being who has vowed to attain Buddhahood in order to help others reach enlightenment. Buddhism also teaches of the existence of the devas, heavenly beings who temporarily dwell in celestial states of great happiness but are not yet free from samsara, the cycle of reincarnations. Some Mahayana and Tantra Buddhist scriptures do express ideas that are extremely close to pantheism, with a cosmic Buddha (Adibuddha) being viewed as the sustaining Ground of all being - although this is very much a minority vision within Buddhism. However, in the Tipitaka, the Buddha did teach that some celestial devas believe themselves through delusions to be eternal, omnipotent, omniscient and the creator of all that is, such as Baka Brahma, and that people who previously lived on the same plane of rebirth as devas such as Baka would remember a supposedly infinite creator god. According to the original Buddhist scriptures, however, to think that any spirit or phenomena is eternal would be a delusion leading to suffering.

Esotericism and Hermeticism

A Hermeticist conception of God

The All is the Hermetic version of God, to some and not to others. Alternatively, it has been called The One, The Great One, The Creator, The Supreme Mind, The Supreme Good, The Father, and The Universal Mother. The All is seen by some to be a panentheistic conception of God, subsuming everything that is or can be experienced. One Hermetic maxim states "While All is in THE ALL, it is equally true that THE ALL is in All." (Three Initiates p. 95) The All can also seen to be hermaphroditic, possessing both masculine and feminine qualities in equal part (The Way of Hermes p. 19 Book 1:9). These qualities are, however, of mental gender, as The All lacks physical gender.

According to Hermetic doctrine, The All is more complicated than simply being the sum total of the universe. Rather than The All being simply the physical universe, it is said that everything in the universe is within the mind of The All, since The All can be looked at as Mind itself (Three Initiates pp. 96–7). The All's mind is thought to be infinitely more powerful and vast than humans can possibly achieve (Three Initiates p. 99), and possibly capable of keeping track of every particle in the Universe. Despite The All being described as subsuming the universe, the possibility of there being things outside of The All is not excluded.

The All may also be a metaphor alluding to the godhead potentiality of every individual. "(God)... That invisible power which all know does exist, but understood by many different names, such as God, Spirit, Supreme Being, Intelligence, Mind, Energy, Nature and so forth." Mary Ann Slipper, The Symbolism of the Eastern Star, Pages 35,36. In the Hermetic Tradition, each and every person has the potential to become God, this idea or concept of God is perceived as internal rather than external. The The All is also an allusion to the observer created universe. We create our own reality; hence we are the architect, The All. Another way would to be to say that the mind is the builder. Freemasonry often includes concepts of God as an external entity, however, esoteric masonic teachings clearly identify God as the individual himself, the perceiver. We are all God and as such we create our own reality.

The Rosicrucian conception of God

The Western Wisdom Teachings present the conception of The Absolute (unmanifested and unlimited "Boundless Being" or "Root of Existence", beyond the whole universe and beyond comprehension) from whom proceeds the Supreme Being at the dawn of manifestation: The One, the "Great Architect of the Universe". From the threefold Supreme Being proceed the "seven Great Logoi" Who contain within themselves all the great hierarchies that differentiate more and more as they diffuse through the six lower Cosmic Planes. In the Highest World of the seventh (lowest) Cosmic Plane dwells the God of the solar systems in the universe. These great beings are also threefold in manifestation, like the Supreme Being; their three aspects are Will, Wisdom and Activity.

According these Rosicrucian teachings, in the beginning of a Day of Manifestation a certain collective Great Being, God, limits Himself to a certain portion of space, in which He elects to create a Solar System for the evolution of added self-consciousness. In God there are contained hosts of glorious Hierarchies and lesser beings of every grade of intelligence and stage of consciousness, from omniscience to an unconsciousness deeper than that of the deepest trance condition. During the current period of manifestation these various grades of beings are working to acquire more experience than they possessed at the beginning of this period of existence. Those who, in previous manifestations, have attained to the highest degree of development work on those who have not yet evolved any consciousness. In the Solar system, God's Habitation, there are seven Worlds differentiated by God, within Himself, one after another. The mankind's evolutionary scheme is slowly carried through five of these Worlds in seven great Periods of manifestation, during which the evolving virgin spirit becomes first human and, then, a God.

Metaphysics and Philosophy

Aristotelian definition of God

In his Metaphysics, Aristotle discusses meaning of "being as being". Aristotle holds that "being" primarily refers to the Unmoved Movers, and assigned one of these to each movement in the heavens. Each Unmoved Mover continuously contemplates its own contemplation, and everything that fits the second meaning of "being" by having its source of motion in itself, moves because the knowledge of its Mover causes it to emulate this Mover (or should).

Aristotle's definition of God attributes perfection to this being, and as a perfect being can only contemplate upon perfection and not on imperfection, otherwise perfection would not be one of his attributes. God, according to Aristotle, is in a state of "stasis" untouched by change and imperfection. The "unmoved mover" is very unlike the conception of God that one sees in most religions. It has been likened to a person who is playing dominos and pushes one of them over, so that every other domino in the set is pushed over as well, without the being having to do anything about it. Although, in the 18th century, the French educator Allan Kardec brought a very similar conception of God during his work of codifying Spiritism, this differs to the interpretation of God in most religions, where he is seen to be personally involved in his creation.

The Ultimate

Arguably, Eastern conceptions of The Ultimate (this, too, has many different names), except for Shaivism and Vaishnavism, which do focus on a personal God, are not conceptions of a personal divinity, though certain Western conceptions of what is at least called "God" (e.g., Spinoza's pantheistic conception and various kinds of mysticism) resemble Eastern conceptions of The Ultimate. Christian theologian Paul Tillich, in the first volume of his Systematic Theology defines God as being that factor about which we have, in his language, ultimate concern[7]. In this view, true self, zero, God, or the Absolute all have legitimate grounds to be called the Ultimate.

Modern views

Process philosophy and Open Theism

'Process theology' is a school of thought influenced by the metaphysical process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947), and 'Open theism' is a theological movement that began in the 1990s, is similar, but not identical, to Process theology.

In both views, God is not omnipotent in the classical sense of a coercive being. Reality is not made up of material substances that endure through time, but serially-ordered events, which are experiential in nature. The universe is characterized by process and change carried out by the agents of free will. Self-determination characterizes everything in the universe, not just human beings. God and creatures co-create. God cannot force anything to happen, but rather only influence the exercise of this universal free will by offering possibilities. Process theology is compatible with panentheism, the concept that God contains the universe (pantheism) but also transcends it. God as the ultimate logician - God may be defined as the only entity, by definition, possessing the ability to reduce an infinite number of logical equations having an infinite number of variables and an infinite number of states to minimum form instantaneously.

Posthuman God

A Posthuman God is a hypothetical future entity descended from or created by humans, but possessing capabilities so radically exceeding those of present humans as to appear godlike. One common variation of this idea is the belief or aspiration that humans will create a God entity emerging from an artificial intelligence. Another variant is the hypothesis that humanity will create or evolve into a posthuman God by itself; for some examples, see technological singularity, and omega point.

The concept of a posthuman god has become common in science fiction. Arthur C. Clarke, world-renowned science fiction author, said in an interview, "It may be that our role on this planet is not to worship God, but to create him." Clarke's friend and colleague, the late Isaac Asimov, postulated in his story "The Last Question" a merger between humanity and machine intelligence that ultimately produces a deity capable of reversing entropy and subsequently initiates a new Creation trillions of years from the present era when the Universe is in the last stage of heat death. In Frank Herbert's science-fiction series Dune, a messianic figure is created after thousands of years of controlled breeding. The Culture Series by Iain M. Banks represents a blend in which a transhuman society is guarded by godlike machine intelligences. A stronger example is posited in the novel Singularity Sky by Charles Stross, in which a future artificial intelligence is capable of changing events even in its own past, and takes strong measures to prevent any other entity from taking advantage of similar capabilities. Another example appears in the popular online novella The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect in which an advanced artificial intelligence uses its own advanced quantum brain to resolve discrepancies in physics theories and develop a unified field theory which gives it absolute control over reality, in a take on philosophical digitalism.


Some comparatively new belief systems and books portray God as extraterrestrial life. Many of these theories hold that intelligent beings from another world have been visiting Earth for many thousands of years, and have influenced the development of our religions. Some of these books posit that prophets or messiahs were sent to the human race in order to teach morality and encourage the development of civilization. (See e.g. Rael and Zecharia Sitchin).

Phenomenological definition

The philosopher Michel Henry defines God in a phenomenological point of view. He says: "God is Life, he is the essence of Life, or, if we prefer, the essence of Life is God. Saying this we already know what is God the father they almighty, creater of heaven and earth, we know it not by the effect of a learning or of some knowledge, we don’t know it by the thought, on the background of the truth of the world ; we know it and we can know it only in and by the Life itself. We can know it only in God." (I Am the Truth. Toward a Philosophy of Christianity).

This Life is not biological life defined by objective and exterior properties, nor an abstract and empty philosophical concept, but the absolute phenomenological life, a radically immanent life that possesses in it the power of showing itself in itself without distance, a life that reveals permanently itself.

See also

General overview

The Holy Spirit

General approaches

Various issues

Specific conceptions

Conceptions of God

General practices


  1. ^ "The Bahá'í Faith". Britannica Book of the Year. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica. 1988. ISBN 0852294867.  
  2. ^ Effendi, Shoghi (1944). God Passes By. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. p. 139. ISBN 0877430209.  
  3. ^ Hutter, Manfred (2005). "Bahā'īs". in Ed. Lindsay Jones. Encyclopedia of Religion. 2 (2nd ed. ed.). Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA. pp. p737–740. ISBN 0028657330.  
  4. ^ a b Cole, Juan (1982). "The Concept of Manifestation in the Bahá'í Writings". Bahá'í Studies monograph 9: 1–38.  
  5. ^ Wilhelm Bousset - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  6. ^
  7. ^ Religion as Faith and Ultimate Concern: What is Religion?


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