In order to discuss with religious friends about god, I would like to know if there's some accepted objective definitions of God for main religions, even if belief is subjective.

For example, is he "a person who..."? In that case I would address features of a person, as capabilities and limitations. Is he "an entity..."? In that case I would use systems theory.

I feel lost on this, being agnostic from a religious family, where I was taught that God is a mess of things, including a beautiful bearded face, omnipotence and a mix of human defects and metaphysical powers.

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    The old reference for many Roman Catholics and other very traditional sects of Christianity is reflected in the Baltimore Catechism: ewtn.com/faith/teachings/GODA21a.htm. It declares Him the Supreme Being, which may not help, as, to my mind, that puts him squarely between a Person and an Entity. In dogma, Person is often restricted to the trinitarian aspects of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which we can conceive of as having multually-reinforcing capabiities and limitations that together cover the ground of omnipotence.
    – user9166
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 20:56
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    There seems to be an assumption that God is a physical entity of one kind or another having one or more traits such as omnipotence. It may very well be that ancient ones used such terms and analogies to express an otherwise abstract idea to commoners. For example, in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Father need not be a thinking entity at all. It may simply represent those phenomena of nature whose long-term effects cannot be perverted by human desire and deception. The Son may be a man "sent" (more like enlightened) to teach such an idea. The Holy Spirit may be awareness of this reality.
    – Michael
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 22:06
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    Can you make clearer how this question is about philosophy? Right now, it appears to be getting only biographical answer.
    – virmaior
    Commented Oct 22, 2016 at 12:01
  • Thanks virmaior: this is not related to personal experiences. I want to know the different philosophical points of view about the essence of the divine entity in common religions. I don't see the question 'getting only biographical answer', except for one, which has 0 points when I answer this.
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Oct 23, 2016 at 6:59
  • There is no generally accepted definition and very few people would be qualified to attempt one. Nicolas de Cusa's 'Vision of God' may be worth checking out as one famous description. I liked Michael's answer above which makes the point that 'God' may be a natural (not supernatural) phenomenon maximally simple and beyond our powers of definition and it is only with by way of the hypostases of Son and Holy Ghost that He becomes accessible to us. The terminology varies but something like this is a fairly common view. The Christian doctrine of 'Divine Simplicity' is worth a read. . . .
    – user20253
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 11:41

8 Answers 8


Obviously, there is no single accepted definition for God.

However there seems to be a common core to how God is viewed in the Hindu Advaita Vedanta, Islamic Sufism, and some Jewish traditions, as reflected by Maimonides, and later in Hasidic Judaism.

That core is roughly that God is immanent, that it is transcendental to human reason and language, that it is impersonal and unchanging, that it is "mirrored" in the human soul, and that most people fail to realize that reality, but have the potential for it.

In Hindu Advaita Vedanta this is asserted directly. Atman is the divine and transcendental nature of human consciousness; Brahman, the Godhead, is the impersonal ultimate nature of reality; and the two are identical.

I can already imagine readers protesting with rage that "this is a philosophy website, not theology!" — but what can you do? Advaita Vedanta is considered Eastern philosophy and the SEP article on Maimonides calls him "the greatest Jewish philosopher of the medieval period" - so swallow your Greek pride and open your mind (pun intended).

The rest of this answer are examples and quotes from each tradition to the traits I have listed above. It is just a small selection of quotes. A full list and discussion could easily grow to the size of a book:

1) That God is immanent:

In Hinduism:

"I am the goal of life, the Lord and support of all, the inner witness, the abode of all." - Bhagavad Gita §9.18

In Judaism:

"Hasidism teaches that while a superficial observance of the universe by the "eyes of the flesh" (Einei ha-Basar) purportedly reflects the reality of all things profane and worldly, a true devotee must transcend this illusory façade and realize that there is nothing but God." - Wikipedia

2) That God is transcendental:

In Hinduism:

"Subtler than the subtlest is this Self, and beyond all logic." - Katha Upanishad

"He truly knows Brahman who knows him as beyond knowledge; he who thinks that he knows, knows not. The ignorant think that Brahman is known, but the wise know him to be beyond knowledge." - Kena Upanishad

In Sufism:

"failure dogs the analytic mind, Which whimpers like a child born deaf and blind." - The Conference of the Birds

"since no words suffice, what use are mine to represent or to describe this sign?" - The Conference of the Birds

In Judaism:

"You must bear in mind, that by affirming anything of God, you are removed from Him in two respects; first, whatever you affirm, is only a perfection in relation to us; secondly, He does not possess anything superadded to this essence; His essence includes all His perfections, as we have shown. Since it is a well-known fact that even that knowledge of God which is accessible to man cannot be attained except by negations, and that negations do not convey a true idea of the being to which they refer, all people, both of past and present generations, declared that God cannot be the object of human comprehension" - Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed

3) That God is impersonal and unchanging:

In Hiduism:

"Few see through the veil of maya. The world, deluded, does not know that I am without birth and changeless." - Bhagavad Gita §7.25

"My true being is unborn and changeless." - Bhagavad Gita §4.6

"Soundless, formless, intangible, undying, tasteless, odorless, without beginning, without end, eternal, immutable, beyond nature, is the Self." - Katha Upanishad

Note that in Advaita Vedanta Atman (the true transcendental Self) is identical with Brahman.

In Judaism:

"all such [descriptions] and the like which are related in the Torah and the words of the Prophets - all these are metaphors and imagery. [For example,] 'He who sits in the heavens shall laugh' [Psalms 2:4], 'They angered Me with their emptiness' [Deuteronomy 32:21], and 'As God rejoiced' [ibid. 28:63]. With regard to all such statements, our Sages said: 'The Torah speaks in the language of man.' This is [borne out by the rhetorical question (Jeremiah 7:19):] 'Are they enraging Me?' Behold, [Malachi 3:6] states: 'I, God, have not changed.' Now were He to at times be enraged and at times be happy, He would change. Rather, all these matters are found only with regard to the dark and low bodies, those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is dust. In contrast, He, blessed be He, is elevated and exalted above all this." - Maimonides, Yesodei haTorah

4) That God is "mirrored" in the human soul:

In Hinduism:

"In one’s own soul Brahman is realized clearly, as if seen in a mirror." - Katha Upanishad

In Sufism:

"Your heart is not a mirror bright and clear If there the Simorgh’s form does not appear; No one can bear His beauty face to face, And for this reason, of His perfect grace, He makes a mirror in our hearts – look there To see Him, search your hearts with anxious care" - The Conference of the Birds

In Judaism:

"And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him" - Genesis 1

That "in His image" cannot refer to body or psychology follows from Maimonides.

6) That most people fail to realize that reality, but have the potential for it:

In Hinduism:

"The glory of the Self is beheld by a few, and a few describe it; a few listen, but many without understanding." - Bhagavad Gita §1.29

"Few see through the veil of maya. The world, deluded, does not know that I am without birth and changeless.” - Bhagavad Gita §7.25

"The Self is not known through study of the scriptures, nor through subtlety of the intellect, nor through much learning. But by him who longs for him is he known." - Katha Upanishad

In Sufism:

"Wanderer, you are distraught; Be calm. Our glorious King cannot admit All comers to His court; it is not fit That every rascal who sleeps out the night Should be allowed to glimpse its radiant light. Most are turned back, and few perceive the throne; Among a hundred thousand there is one" - The Conference of the Birds

In Judaism:

"And Moses answered and said: ‘But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice; for they will say: The lord hath not appeared unto thee.’" - Exodus 4

"Hasidism teaches that while a superficial observance of the universe by the "eyes of the flesh" (Einei ha-Basar) purportedly reflects the reality of all things profane and worldly, a true devotee must transcend this illusory façade and realize that there is nothing but God." - Wikipedia

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    The first answer that actually adresses the question with sources and does not merely assert opinion, therefore +1
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Oct 22, 2016 at 11:47
  • A fine answer indeed. It illustrates, for instance, how the relationship between transcendence and immanence cam be more complicated than my short answer might suggest.
    – duplode
    Commented Oct 22, 2016 at 13:47
  • And despite these scholarly links to wikipedia, this post is entirely without heuristic value. Where is the love of wisdom in that?
    – MmmHmm
    Commented Oct 22, 2016 at 22:44
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    @Mr.Kennedy: Please stop objecting people for not sharing your understanding of philosophy. That is what it means to be dogmatic. Being dogmatic and philosophy does not work together very well, as it excludes the possibility to broaden one's horizons. And that's what φιλοσοφια is all about. To quote William James (A Pluralistic Universe, Lecture I): "No [read: particular] philosophy can ever be anything but a summary sketch, a picture of the world in abridgment, a foreshortened bird's-eye view of the perspective of events."
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Oct 23, 2016 at 2:33
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    @Mr.Kennedy: I did not say what philosophy is to me, which is exactly why I quoted James. I could also bring up Hegel, Wittgenstein, Foucault and others regarding the plurality of knowledge insofar it can be communicated. Apart from that: "I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not fancy I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know." (Plato, Apology, 21d)
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Oct 23, 2016 at 2:56

How about:

Definition. A God is an all-powerful being.

I like this definition because it gives us uniqueness.

Proposition. There is at most one God.

Argument. If there were two distinct God's, then they would sometimes disagree on how things ought to be. Since they're both all-powerful, this would create a situation in which the universe would be in two mutually-incompatible states of affair at the same time. But this is absurd. Ergo, there is at most one God.

(I don't consider quantum theory a sensible counterexample to the premises this argument is implicitly predicated on. Rather, that would be a misunderstanding of quantum theory.)

Here's another reason why this is a good definition. Suppose there was an all-powerful being that didn't satisfy some of the other attributes sometimes ascribed to God - whether that be all-lovingness, all-goodness, infinite-mysteriousness, or whatever. Well, under these circumstances, would anyone hesitate to name this all-powerful being God? I think not, because the defining attribute of God is power, and lots of it.

Some further thoughts:

  • An all-powerful being is automatically all-knowing, so this needn't be postulated separately in the definition of God.
  • As I've already hinted, I see no reason to think that an all-powerful being would necessarily be all-loving; indeed, he/she/it might be cruel and sadistic, or at least indifferent. In principle, these are empirical questions.
  • This excludes the gods of every polytheistic religion... like Hindusim, Greek/Roman religion, Norse religion, and so on. I am pretty sure that Hindus considers all deities in that religion to be gods. So your definition does not work.
    – MichaelK
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 19:06
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    @MichaelK or their definition does not work. Or we're talking about completely different things. Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 23:46
  • No, your definition has simply fallen, by counter-example.
    – MichaelK
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 3:38

A god is a person whose will cannot be disputed by humans

A god satisfies all three of these criteria:

  • A god is a person. Do note that person does not mean "human". All humans are persons but not all persons are humans. The concept of "person" was actually developed during theological debates during the 4th and 5th centurires common era to distinguish between a god and forces of nature.

  • A god has a will, a plan, and acts to enforce this will/plan.

  • The god's will cannot be disputed by humans. The god answers to no human and no human has the authority nor the weight to dispute the will. Humans may try to defy the will, but it will still not be disputed.

  • +1 Could you provide a reference to those 5th century debates? The idea of having a will or plan or being a person suggest to me the idea of "agent" as distinct from the "forces of nature" that you mention. Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 13:42
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    @FrankHubeny The Wikipedia link above to the Person article has the reference. :-)
    – MichaelK
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 13:59
  • "The god's will cannot be disputed by humans" I don't think it's true for the religious because absence of free will renders religion meaningless.
    – tejasvi
    Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 8:24

I've seen the following quote attributed to Marcus P. Cato but am unable to find a reference, tho I think it presents one way to analyze the meaning of propositions regarding deity:

"The intellectual basis of my thinking is Stoic philosophy, the heritage of the classical world. I worship the old gods of the Roman pantheon, because they are symbols of the virtues we admire, not because they really exist."

That said, consider that agnosticism literally means a lack of knowledge regarding deity. Inasmuch, agnosticism is a position of unnecessary ignorance as it can be said of most claims regarding deity that they are false or fiction if not otherwise imponderable, incoherent, non-falisifiable, non-verifiable and literal non-sense. As for the ontological status of deity, where else but language are gods to be found?

If you have not already, consider the ignostic position as a starting point to query the meaning and intent of statements regarding deity. Hope that helps.

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    Agnosticism is a position related to ontology and related to epistemological problems regarding knowing wether there is a God (apart from the rather trivial linguistic and social realities of this notion and its impact). Ridiculing angosticism by plainly rejecting any epistemological problems without any justification or at least a reference to one is what I personally would call "unnecessary ignorance". Humbleness is one of the main virtues in philosophy.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Oct 22, 2016 at 0:22
  • You misread my comment as ridiculing. The agnostic position is one that lacks knowledge regarding deity, a lack of knowledge is ignorance.
    – MmmHmm
    Commented Oct 22, 2016 at 0:27
  • It is ridiculing to straightout claim that "it can be said" (probably a fallicious appeal to authority) that ontological claims regarding deity are non-sense (among others) and therefore the position of stating that one does not (read: definitely) know is unnecessary. And that is exactly what you did and what I objected. It does not even depend on the exact understanding of "ignorance", my comment works with both. Agnosticism is not a position that lacks knowledge, but presupposes lack of knowledge, stating that as long as it holds one should not decide the truth-value.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Oct 22, 2016 at 0:39
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    @Mr.Kennedy Does that mean you consider Augustine and Descartes off-topic?
    – duplode
    Commented Oct 22, 2016 at 13:51
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    Upvoted; For teaching me an important word : ignostic
    – Rushi
    Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 11:41

In his new-ish book "A Peculiar Glory", Christian author John Piper says that without reading any scripture, a person can identify many qualities of God/god. Theologians sometimes call this kind of insight "general revelation." Here are a few qualities that Piper thinks a person can find out about God without reading or hearing about the Bible:

God exists. This is the most basic meaning of the world, and it is known to all.

God is the single originator of all spiritual and material reality that is not God, for two absolute originators of all things is a contradiction.

God is totally self-sufficient with no dependence on anything outside himself to be all that he is, for that is implied in being the Creator of absolutely everything.

God is without beginning or ending or progress from worse to better, and therefore absolute and perfect, for God cannot be improved by what is absolutely dependent on him for its being and excellence.

God is the one on whom I am dependent moment by moment for all things, none of which I deserve, and who is therefore beneficent. This follows from God’s absoluteness as the Creator and sustainer of all things, together with the countless riches around me, and my own guilty conscience, which comes from my failing to live up to my own innate standards.

God is personal and confronts me as the person who gave me a personhood that is not merely physical. For the existence of my own personhood and my innate sense of its moral significance can only be explained by a personal God.

God accounts for the intelligent design manifest in the macro (galaxies) and micro (molecules and cells) universe—a fact as manifest as the automobile testifying to the existence of man.

God knows all. For he made and sustains all.

God deserves to be reverenced and admired and thanked and looked to for guidance and help. This follows from my innate sense of moral judgment in view of everything seen so far.

Reference: "A Peculiar Glory" by John Piper, pp.203-204, online freely-downloadable self-distributed pdf edition.

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    This has a very Christian perspective. And it does little to deal with for instance humans that are given a divine status, like emperor Hirohito. There are also qualities in this that clashes with for instance the Olympian gods.
    – MichaelK
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 14:06
  • That's why I said that it was written by a Christian writer. Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 14:09
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    All fine and well, but the question was for a broad and encompassing definition, not one that is exclusive for one particular religion, and one thay is heavily coloured by religioius language specific for that religion. Assume that whoever uses the definition that is being requested is not a member of a religion whose god is being gagued by the definition.
    – MichaelK
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 14:14
  • It also doesn't deal with polytheism, pantheism, or mysticism. This is the Christian notion of God which is pretty common for English-speakers theistic and atheistic (and agnostic), due to England's Christian past. Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 17:37
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    All assertions on this post are highly subjective and debatable. I don't agree with each and anyone of them. Saying "God doesn't exist" has the same value: the statement is valid many people. Anyway, this has no relation with the question.
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 13:59

If by "main religions" you mean the various forms of Abrahamic monotheism, a common and fundamental assumption is that God is transcendent, existing beyond the laws and limitations of the material universe we find ourselves in. Without transcendence, omniscience and omnipotence, for instance, are unconceivable (an interesting, tangentially related discussion can be found in "Was Jesus omniscient regarding earthly matters?" at Christianity.SE). A notable philosophical counterexample is Spinoza, who was vilified for generations for daring for using the word "God" to designate something immanent, and not at all transcendent ("Deus sive natura"). Do note that if you cast your net wider than just Abrahamic religions you will this requirement of transcendence is not at all universal -- one obvious illustration of that being the gods from Greek mythology.


The question is, "What is god for religious people?" The question looks for objective principles.

There are probably as many images of god as there are people. But here is what I have to offer.

God is the Completeness Theorem, in contrast to the Incompleteness Theorem. Gödel's first Incompleteness Theorem says, loosely, that any system like mathematics will always have some problem that cannot be resolved given the existing set of axioms; one additional axiom is always necessary.

God is the Final Axiom. God is that axiom which resolves all existing problems and will further resolve all future problems. The content of that axiom is in perennial dispute, but its simple existence is more generally agreed upon.


I can only speak for myself. To me God is unmeasurable energy, capable of thought and action. Able to create anything but restraining Himself. Acting only when necessary and using humans as much as possible to achieve His plan.

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    Am I the only one who thinks that the last sentence is inherently contradictory? Either he has performed well in creation and does not need to act much, or he needs to use humans all the time in order to achieve what he wants. The last option does not seem to fit into the common understandings I am aware of.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Oct 22, 2016 at 0:26
  • I think this answer is supposed to express "soft deism" which was popular in the 18th and 19th centuries in some genteel circles in American and Britain (I'm not aware of other locales).
    – virmaior
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 7:07

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