“Is God a person?” The question came up in a very interesting conversation recently. (Needless to say neither one of us was able to resolve the question before the conversation, regretfully, had to end.)
Probably every sincere seeker will have their own description of ‘God,’ although most will also admit that their description is deficient in some way. What is more, the descriptions we form or adopt say as much about ourselves as they do about the Divine. Members of a hunter-gatherer culture relate more easily to a god modelled on something from their environment–a powerful creature such as a lion, perhaps, or a tree or a mountain, whereas a member of a farming culture might see God more easily in the sun or the rain or a cow.
But beyond these social and cultural aspects, there is a more fundamental, philosophical side to the question: if God is a person (or perhaps we should say, ‘a Person’) to whom I can speak, then does it mean that God is separate from me? And if God is separate from me, then God must be limited – and therefore not perfect and divine! Or if, somehow, God is still perfect even without including me, then does it mean that I am permanently exiled from Perfection?
On the other hand, if God is not a person, but beyond all form, which is to say, abstract, then to whom are we sending our prayers and our praises? Who could be listening? What would be the point?
But, thinking of the recently examined poem of Kabir, The Bhakta’s Caste, we have to be careful that we don’t get stuck in asking the wrong question. Even if we could avail ourselves of a waterproof definition of ‘God’ (in 140 characters or less if possible) it would not ease our burden or free us from our attachment to the illusory. We should recall that all the images of divinity that have been given to humanity through the ages have been offered as a kind of medicine, meant to help us in our difficulties. Sometimes a form was given; sometimes an old form was broken so that a new understanding come penetrate. But in any case, if a good doctor gives us an elixir, it will not cure us while it sits on the bedside table; we have to swallow it, let it enter us, and do whatever work is needed. In this context, that would mean making a reality of whatever image of the Real we can encompass.
Both the infinite, abstract, all-pervading Truth and the loving, compassionate Person of God are valid, both have their purpose, and they should not be seen as mutually exclusive. The approach of Hazrat Inayat Khan to this question might be summed up very briefly in this way: in approaching God as a Person, our own personality is developed; when our personality ripens sufficiently, we begin to recognise that same Divinity within ourselves (as the drop begins to taste sea-salt within itself as it awakens to self-knowledge); when the drop knows itself to be sea and nothing else, all boundaries vanish, and the separation of ‘my person’ and the Divine ‘Person’ disappears.
Nevertheless, the one who has not climbed the mountain cannot claim to see into the next valley; one who has not made the journey has no claim to say, ‘I am all and all is in me!’ while the one who has indeed gone so far usually can say very little. That is the message of the story of the wall.