What is God, is a very different question that God: Who is God?
What is God relates to the kind of “matter” (focus of concern) God is regardless of the idea of personality which complicates things terribly.
We do not have difficulty thinking that God must have an essence, a whatness. Because every matter has a “whatness” and nothing brings into question our own whatness like looking into the depths of that mirror of our souls.
Normally we contrast and thatness. With thatness we know something is there but we know not what.
But in Buddhism for instance there is talk further of the suchness which is an even more ephemeral way of indicating that such and such is there without knowing whether it is this or that, i.e. has differentiated indexicality or reference.
So from a Buddhist point of view then there exists suchness then this/that-ness prior to whatness and whatness is definitely prior to whoness.
Since the Buddha is non-committal on this question it is good to start with his approach. He is a somewhat neutral party with respect to this contentious issue.
With respect to suchness we have some evidence from the Greeks to consider, which is that they had a kind of knowledge reserved for the comprehension of the numinous called nous. Nous can be understood as what Hillman calles “Seeing Through”. It is seeing the Numinous through the sensory. It is responding to the god and at the same time seeing the sensory in itself as manifesting the god. This is a lot like Hegel’s idea of Absolute reason, i,e. the reason working itself in human history such that every event is significant and tells us something deep about the unfolding of spirit. This double site Zizek calls the Parallax View.
I have recently discovered that each part of the Divided Line of Plato is given a kind of knowledge by Aristotle. So if we start with the nondual nous and work our way down to the lower segments of the divided line then perhaps we might shed some light about what we can know about whatness. For if we do not know what “Whatness” is then what good would it be to know the whatness of God.
So the ladder of the Divided line is as follows:
who – the god as noumena
- Supra-rational limit = nous – numinous / sensory – “seeing through”.
why – the source
- Non-representable intelligibles = Sophos – Vritue
what – kindness, essence (emptiness)
- Representable Intelligibles, abstractions = Episteme – Science
how – means (manifest)
- Grounded Opinion or Appearance = Techne – Poesis
when/where – schematization (void)
- Ungrounded Opinion or Appearance = Phronesis – Praxis
this/that – distinction
- Contradiction limit including paradox and absurdity = Metis artifice
The nous is reaching though the supra-rational limit to see the god in the suchness. Which means to overcome the duality between the supra-rational and the paradoxical at the same time without them interfering or mixing. It is meta-supra-rational. This is what happens when the ridgepole collapses (wu ji).
Whatness in this scheme is the difference between the non-representable (concept) and the representation. Whatness points at the non-representable significance or relevance but does not reach its source which we can only ask about with the question why. Who goes deeper than the why, because it reaches directly into our humanity.
Whatness means kindness which the realization of emptiness.
This is because to realize What something is IS to exclude everything else. And this exclusiveness can only exist in the context of its inverse inclusiveness. Thus the emptiness of things is in fact their interpenetration which is the fundamental nature of existence.
Note that Husserl realized that there is a difference between the external coherence of something, its so called noematic nucleus, and its essence which is the internal coherence of its attributes. This is again different from the abstractions. Abstraction is the inherent nature of representations, that must leave something out in order to re-present. So Essence Perception reaches beyond abstractions. In a similar way the question of sources or causes reaches beyond kindness and so on.
If a god is by definition something noumenal beyond the limit of the supra-rational, then in some sense asking what a god is seems to be a diminution of his glory. Probably it is also a diminution to as why there is a God but perhaps not so great. However if a god is to be sullied by suchness then nothing is beneath its dignity.
Now the Divided Line is the structure of our worldview inherited from the Greeks. And the kinds of knowledge that humans have mirrors the segments of the divided line. Now the one thing we know about knowledge is that it is persistent beyond all expectations, and more perduring than anything else in our experience. And one of the matters we attribute to god is knowledge beyond our own, if not of all things in the case of monotheistic gods. We claim that god is omniscient along with other onni-x characteristics. So in a sense the difference between our finitude and the immortals is that we have various kinds of knowledge while God only has a united and total knowledge that knows before anything happens in space and time what will happen.
So who is God, the knower that knows knowledge completely and consistently outside of the constraints of spacetime.
Why is God? because human beings long for the transcendent so much that if He did not exist we would project Him.
What is God? The kindness who allows us to be who we are in spite of the overwhelming of that mirroring that the god offers of ourselves in infinite exportable determination.
How is God? He Wills what He commands and we command what He wills.
When and Where is God? Nowhere, Nowhen thus Outside of timespace. So it is an affront to our common sense when they say His avatar appears in a particular patch of space at a specific time.
This/That of God, gets lost in monotheism. The distinction becomes between the one and true god and all the others. Polytheism does not go away it merely transforms into Trinitarianism, i.e. becomes internalized in a diminished monotheism which is no longer radical, no longer knows the name of God but merely treats Him as an abstraction.
The suchness of God, i.e. is when the immortal shines though the mortal between heaven and earth.
What is God? Our greatest mystery! Hegel says Absolute Spirit.
An absolute mirror reflects absolutely. And human beings cannot bear that reflection and are annihilated by it. And, therefore to ask What is God? is a dangerous business. Only God can bear the answer.