Personal god

A personal god is a deity who can be related to as a person[1] instead of as an impersonal force, such as the Absolute, "the All", or the "Ground of Being".

In the scriptures of the Abrahamic religions, God is described as being a personal creator, speaking in the first person and showing emotion such as anger and pride, and sometimes appearing in anthropomorphic shape.[2] In the Pentateuch, for example, God talks with and instructs his prophets and is conceived as possessing volition, emotions (such as anger, grief and happiness), intention, and other attributes characteristic of a human person. Personal relationships with God may be described in the same ways as human relationships, such as a Father, as in Christianity, or a Friend as in Sufism.[3]

A 2008 survey by the Pew Research Center reported that, of U.S. adults, 60% view that "God is a person with whom people can have a relationship," while 25% believe that "God is an impersonal force."[4] A 2008 survey by the National Opinion Research Center reports that 67.5% of U.S. adults believe in a personal god.[5]


In the Baha'i Faith God is described as "a personal God, unknowable, inaccessible, the source of all Revelation, eternal, omniscient, omnipresent and almighty".[6][7] Although transcendent and inaccessible directly, his image is reflected in his creation. The purpose of creation is for the created to have the capacity to know and love its creator.[8] God communicates his will and purpose to humanity through intermediaries, known as Manifestations of God, who are the prophets and messengers that have founded religions from prehistoric times up to the present day.[9]


Christian theologian Alister McGrath writes that there are good reasons to suggest that a "personal god" is integral to the Christian outlook, but that one has to understand it is an analogy. "To say that God is like a person is to affirm the divine ability and willingness to relate to others. This does not imply that God is human, or located at a specific point in the universe."[10]

In the theology of the Catholic Church, while the personal attribute of God is not denied in his relation to creation and humanity, especially the Incarnation, the Godhead in itself is conceived of as impersonal, without human emotion, and unknowable in its essence, except by a supernatural gift (see divinization).

In the case of the Christian belief in the Trinity, whether the Holy Spirit is impersonal – or personal,[11] is the subject of dispute,[12] with experts in pneumatology debating the matter. Jesus (or God the Son) and God the Father are believed to be two persons or aspects of the same god. Jesus is of the same ousia or substance as God the Father, manifested in three hypostases or persons (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). Nontrinitarian Christians dispute that Jesus is a "hypostasis" or person of God.


Vaishnavism and Shaivism[13] traditions of Hinduism subscribe to an ultimate personal nature of God. The Vishnu Sahasranama[14] declares the person of Vishnu as both the Paramatma (supreme soul) and Parameshwara (supreme God) while the Rudram describes the same about Shiva. In Krishna-centered theology (Krishna is seen as a form of Vishnu by most, except Gaudiya Vaishnavism) the title Svayam Bhagavan is used exclusively to designate Krishna in his personal feature,[15][16] it refers to Gaudiya Vaishnava, the Nimbarka Sampradaya and followers of Vallabha, while the person of Vishnu and Narayana is sometimes referred to as the ultimate personal god of other Vaishnava traditions.[17][18]


Jewish theology states that God is not a person. However, there exist frequent references to anthropomorphic characteristics of God in the Hebrew Bible such as the "Hand of God." Judaism holds that these are to be taken only as figures of speech. Their purpose is to make God more comprehensible to the human reader. As God is beyond human understanding, there are different ways of describing him. He is said to be both personal and impersonal, he has a relationship with his creation but is beyond all relationships.[19]


Most Islamic sources teach that God is a personal God. God is seen as the provider of compassion and justice. The Qur'an exhorts Muslims to turn to God for help, guidance and support. Islam also teaches that God is beyond comprehension and the best way for Muslims to have a relationship of God is to obey his commands.[20]

Quranic view

The Qur'an asserts the existence of a single and absolute truth that transcends the world; a unique and indivisible being who is independent of the entire creation.[21] The Qur'an clearly opposes conceiving God as resembling "the creation" and it maintains that whatever image a believer has of God is not God, and that he is truly transcendental. According to the Qur'an:[21]

"Say: He is God, the One and Only; God, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him." (Sura 112:1-4, Yusuf Ali)
Thy Lord is self-sufficient, full of Mercy: if it were God's will, God could destroy you, and in your place appoint whom God will as your successors, even as God raised you up from the posterity of other people." (Sura 6:133, Yusuf Ali)

Muslim view

There is a distinct difference between the two major Islamic sects, Shia and Sunni, regarding belief in a personal god. Most Sunni Muslims believe in a personal god.[2][22]

Some Sunni scholars hold beliefs which would imply that Allah has a body, but not like the bodies that we know. A vast amount of Sunnis do not interpret the face, hand, and leg of Allah as physical organs.[22] There are quite a number of traditions in Sahih Bukhari describing that God has a sign in his leg, and he put his leg over the hell and so on. For instance see Sahih Bukhari, Arabic-English version, 9.532s in which Allah is said to have a sign in his shin (leg) and when he uncovers his shin (leg) people will recognize him. Or in the same volume see Tradition 9.604 and 9.510 where it is said that Allah has fingers.Such reference are used metaphorically and do not refer to actual finger,hand or leg .[23]

This belief is strongly rejected by Shia Muslims.[22] An example can be seen in Nahj al-Balagha, one of the greatest Shia books:[24]

Praise be to God who is proof of His existence through His creation, of His being external through the newness of His creation, and through their mutual similarities of the fact that nothing is similar to Him. Senses cannot touch Him and curtains cannot veil Him, because of the difference between the Maker and the made, the Limiter and the limited and the Sustainer and the sustained. He is One but not by the first in counting, is Creator but not through activity or labour, is Hearer but not by means of any physical organ, is Looker but not by a stretching of eyelids, is Witness but not by nearness, is Distinct but not by measurement of distance, is Manifest but not by seeing and is Hidden but not by subtlety (of body). He is Distinct from things because He overpowers them and exercises might over them, while things are distinct from Him because of their subjugation to Him and their turning towards Him. He who describes Him limits Him. He who limits Him numbers Him. He who numbers Him rejects His eternity. He who said "how" sought a description for Him. He who said "where" bounded him. He is the Knower even though there be nothing to be known. He is the Sustainer even though there be nothing to be sustained. He is the Powerful even though there be nothing to be overpowered.


In general, most Deists view God as a personal God. This is illustrated by the 17th-century assertions of Lord Edward Herbert, universally regarded as the Father of English Deism, which stated that there is one Supreme God, and he ought to be worshiped.[25] However, Deism is a general belief encompassing people with varying specific beliefs, and the notion of God as a personal God cannot be ascribed to all Deists.

Classical Deism

Classical Deists who adhere to Herbert's common notion certainly believe in a personal God, because those notions include the belief that God dispenses rewards and punishments both in this life and after it.[25] This is not something which would be done by an impersonal force. However, a personal relationship with God is not contemplated, since living a virtuous and pious life is seen as the primary means of worshiping God.[25]

Christian Deism

Christian Deism is a term applied both to Christians who incorporate Deistic principles into their beliefs and to Deists who follow the moral teachings of Jesus without believing in his divinity.[26] With regard to those who are essentially Deists who follow the moral teachings of Jesus, these are a subset of Classical Deists. Consequently, they believe in a personal God, but they do not necessarily believe in a personal relationship with God.

Humanistic Deism

Humanistic Deists accept the core principles of Deism but incorporate humanistic beliefs into their faith.[27] Thus, Humanistic Deists believe in a personal God who created the universe. The key element that separates Humanistic Deists from other Deists is the emphasis on the importance of human development over religious development and on the relationships among human beings over the relationships between humans and God.[27][28] Those who self-identify as Humanistic Deists may take an approach based upon what is found in Classical Deism and allow their worship of God to manifest itself primarily (or exclusively) in the manner in which they treat others. Other Humanistic Deists may prioritize their relationships with other human beings over their relationship with God, yet still maintain a personal relationship with the Supreme Being.


Pandeists believe that in the process of creating the universe, God underwent a metamorphosis from a conscious and sentient being or force to an unconscious and unresponsive entity by becoming the universe.[29] Consequently, Pandeists do not believe that a personal God currently exists.


Panendeists believe that God is both immanent and transcendent with respect to the universe. That is, God exists within all nature, creation or humans while also being above and independent of the material universe.[30][31] Panendeists see their relationship with God as transpersonal.[31] Therefore, it can be concluded that Panendeists believe in a personal God and that there exists a relationship between God and humanity. Process Deism is a form of Panendeism. Process Deists believe that the creation process is ongoing and that God is continuously involved in worldly affairs by acting as a divine persuasive force and continually co-creating new possibilities .[32] Thus, Process Deists view God as a personal God with whom a relationship is not only possible but important.


Polydeists reject the notion that one Supreme Being would have created the universe and then left it to its own devices which is a common belief shared by many Deists. Rather, they conclude that several gods who are superhuman but not omnipotent each created parts of the universe.[33] Polydeists hold an affirmative belief that the Gods who created the universe are completely uninvolved in the world and pose no threat and offer no hope to humanity.[34] Polydeists see living virtuous and pious lives as the primary components of worshiping God, firmly adhering to one of the common notions set forth by Herbert.[25] Thus, Polydeists believe that there are several personal Gods. Yet, they do not believe they can have a relationship with any of them.

Scientific Deism

Scientific Deists believe, based on an analysis utilizing the scientific method, that a personal God created the universe. This analysis finds no evidence of a purpose God may have had for creation of the universe or evidence that God attempted to communicate such purpose to humanity. It therefore concludes that there is no purpose to creation other than that which human beings choose to make for themselves.[35] Thus, Scientific Deists believe in a personal God, but generally do not believe in relationships between God and human beings, since there is no proof of a purpose for creation.

Spiritual Deism

Spiritual Deism is a belief in the core principles of Deism with an emphasis on spirituality including the connections between humans and each other, nature and God. Within Spiritual Deism, there is an absolute belief in a personal God as the creator of the universe along with the ability to build a spiritual relationship with God.[36] While Spiritual Deism is nondogmatic, its followers generally believe that there can be no progress for mankind without a belief in a personal God.[37]

See also


  1. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's concepts of God
  2. 1 2 Williams, W. Wesley, "A study of anthropomorphic theophany and Visio Dei in the Hebrew Bible, the Qur'an and early Sunni Islam", University of Michigan, March 2009
  3. "The man who realizes God as a friend is never lonely in the world, neither in this world nor in the hereafter. There is always a friend, a friend in the crowd, a friend in the solitude; or while he is asleep, unconscious of this outer world, and when he is awake and conscious of it. In both cases the friend is there in his thought, in his imagination, in his heart, in his soul." Hazrat Inayat Khan, quoted from The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan
  4. "Chapter 1: Religious Beliefs and Practices". U.S. Religious Landscape Survey: Religious Beliefs and Practices. Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project. 1 June 2008. II. Religious Beliefs: God.
  5. Smith, Tom W. (18 April 2012). "Beliefs about God across Time and Countries" (PDF). NORC at the University of Chicago. Table 3: Believing in a Personal God (2008).
  6. Smith, Peter (2008). An Introduction to the Baha'i Faith. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 106. ISBN 0-521-86251-5.
  7. Effendi, Shoghi (1944). God Passes By. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. p. 139. ISBN 0-87743-020-9.
  8. Smith, Peter (2008). An Introduction to the Baha'i Faith. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 111. ISBN 0-521-86251-5.
  9. Effendi, Shoghi (1991). The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. pp. 113–114. ISBN 0-87743-231-7.
  10. McGrath, Alister (2006). Christian Theology: An Introduction. Blackwell Publishing. p. 205. ISBN 1-4051-5360-1.
  13. Satguru Sivaya, Subramuniyaswami. "Dancing with Shiva". Himalayan Academy. Retrieved 17 June 2011.
  14. Sri Vishnu Sahasaranama - Transliteration and Translation of Chanting
  15. Gupta, Ravi M. (2007). Caitanya Vaisnava Vedanta of Jiva Gosvami. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-40548-3.
  16. Gupta, Ravi M. (2004). Caitanya Vaisnava Vedanta: Acintyabhedabheda in Jiva Gosvami's Catursutri tika. University Of Oxford.
  17. Delmonico, N. (2004). "The History Of Indic Monotheism And Modern Chaitanya Vaishnavism". The Hare Krishna Movement: the Postcharismatic Fate of a Religious Transplant. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-12256-6. Retrieved 2008-04-12.
  18. Elkman, S.M.; Gosvami, J. (1986). Jiva Gosvamin's Tattvasandarbha: A Study on the Philosophical and Sectarian Development of the Gaudiya Vaishnava Movement. Motilal Banarsidass Pub.
  20. Norcliffe (1999), p.32-33
  21. 1 2 Vincent J. Cornell, Encyclopedia of Religion, Vol 5, pp.3561-3562
  22. 1 2 3 Outline of Differences Between Shi'ite and Sunnit, provided by Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project
  23. Al-Islam Encyclopedia Chapter 9
  24. Nahj al-Balagha,Sermon 152
  25. 1 2 3 4 González, Justo L. (1985). The Reformation to the Present Day. The Story of Christianity. 2. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers. p. 190. ISBN 978-0-06-063316-5. LCCN 83049187.
  26. "Christian Deism". Enlightenment Deism. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  27. 1 2 Jone, Brian (9 October 2006). "Just Ask! Brian "Humanistic" Jones about Deism". Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  28. Coon, Carl (16 July 2000). "Humanism vs. Atheism". Progressive Humanism. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  29. Große, Gottfried; Plinius Secundus, Gaius (1787). Naturgeschichte: Mit Erläuternden Anmerkungen (in German). p. 165. ISBN 978-1175254436. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  30. Coplin, Larry (2001). "A New Direction for Spirituality: Introducing PanenDeism". Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  31. 1 2 "Panendeism Home". Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  32. "Process Deism". Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  33. Broad, C. D. (1953). Religion, Philosophy and Psychical Research: Selected Essays. New York, New York: Harcourt, Brace. pp. 159–174. ASIN B0000CIFVR. LCCN 53005653.
  34. Bowman, Jr., Robert M. (1997). "Apologetics from Genesis to Revelation" (Essay).
  35. deVerum, Alumno (12 March 2012). "Scientific Deism Explained". Institute of Noetic Sciences. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  36. Clendenen, Chuck. "Deism in Practice". Spiritual But Not Religious. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  37. "Spiritual-Deism". Yahoo! Groups. Retrieved 29 August 2014.


External links

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