Definition of God
I have friends who are Buddhists, Mormons, and agnostics. We often have philosophical discussions, and everyone seems to differ slightly in their view of the Divine Being. As a Jew, I would like to offer our perspective as well. Can you tell me what is the Jewish definition of God?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
You are asking the most fundamental question. Any issue in philosophy – the purpose of existence, free will, suffering, the course of history, the afterlife – stems from how you understand and define this question.
The first thing to know is that God is infinite. Infinite does not mean “very large.” It means totally without limit and containment. Anything that exists within space is by definition finite, no matter how big it gets.
Take a moment and try to picture God before there ever was a universe. Most people imagine God being everywhere, expanding and filling up everything. But to be everywhere, you need space. And there is no space, because it hasn't been created yet. Infinite means being beyond space.
Another aspect of God's infinity is “beyond time.” Being outside of time means being at all places at all times all at the same time – simultaneously. It literally boggles the mind.
We have a fundamental problem in trying to grasp what it means to be beyond time and space. We are stuck in a finite world. Everything we perceive is filtered through our finite minds using finite vocabulary. When imagining eternity, all we can muster is an image of something reaching back through the tunnel of history and stretching forwards towards the future. That's not eternity. Eternity is beyond time, not within it.
When talking about what the infinite is – eternal, all-powerful, all-encompassing – the very words we use are finite. We struggle to describe the infinite in a positive sense since the only language we have is wholly inadequate. Any perception of God must be filtered through a finite lens, therefore we can never truly describe the essence of God.
The Way of God by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (18th century) gives a succinct summation: "Every Jew must believe and know that there exists a First Being, without beginning or end, who brought all things into existence and continues to sustain them. This Being is God."