It is better not to call God 'a Person'
In the Christian tradition, people have often referred to God as `a person'.
"The element of body is not essential to personhood. God is, therefore, rightly called a person in the sense of God being a Pure Spirit, a a personality without material defects.
God is a person without a body, i.e. a spirit, who is free, able to do anything, knows everything, is perfectly good, is the proper object of human worship and obedience, the creator and sustainer of the universe"
See: R.SWINBURNE, The Coherence of Theism, Oxford 1982, p. 1; see also his The Existence of God, revised edition, Oxford 1991. Similar definitions are found with D.HIGH, Language, Persons and Belief, New York 1967, pp. 180-181; H.P.OWEN, Concepts of Deity, London 1971, p.18; J.J.SHEPHERD, Experience, Inference and God, London 1975, p.4.).
Before I can reply to this question, I will first have to define personhood more precisely. Some authors complain that it is `fuzzy', `an untidy term', `a word often used sloppily'. So here we go. The term person carries at least five connotations in ordinary usage:
1. A person is a thinking, intelligent being.
This is the classic definition favoured in the Middle Ages and much later (see: J.LOCKE, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689 AD), ed. Oxford 1924, p. 188).
2. A person is an individual who relates to other individuals.
We stress this feature when we say someone pays us "personal" attention, etc.
3. A person is a character or role.
Persona was a mask worn by actors in classical drama. An actor or actress presented a persona, a character. We still use this original sense when we state someone acted "in the person of . . ." , or someone "impersonated" someone else.
4. A person is an individual with rights and duties.
This is legal language. Even companies and institutions can be "a person" in law.
5. A person is the body of a human individual.
This is clear from such expressions as: "No gun was found on his person." "She had a stately person."
God is personal in the first two of these five senses. God has intelligence and God relates to us. The Ultimate Reality is not just blind energy, not a dark chasm of nameless power, not an unechoing chasm of boundless infinity. God is personal. But is God a person?
We should not call God 'a person'
There are three main reasons why I believe we should not refer to God as "a person": (1) however much we try to avoid it, our concept of "a person" includes bodiliness; (2) the expression "a person" obscures the impersonal features of God; and (3) the concept of God as "a person" implies the outdated dualistic two-world view.
Firstly, however much we try to dematerialise our concept of God as a Person, we cannot avoid introducing inner-worldly, materialistic elements.
Secondly, using the expression "a person" may obscure impersonal features of God.
Last but not least, the concept of God as "a person" necessarily evokes the traditional two-tier world view which no longer fits our modern, scientific understanding of the universe. As we have seen before, God as the supernatural Creator and Maintenance Man is dead. When we define God as "a person", we seem to imply philosophical concepts that contradict our modern world view.
The text in this lesson is from How to Make Sense of God by John Wijngaards, Sheed & Ward, Kansas City 1995. Tom Adcock designed the cartoons. The Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada awarded the book a prize on 25 May 1996.
The video clips are from Journey to the Centre of Love (scriptwriter & executive producer John Wijngaards) which was awarded the GRAND PRIX by the Tenth International Catholic Film Festival held in Warsaw (18-23 May 1995). It also received the prestigious Chris Award at the International Film Festival, Columbus Ohio, in 1997.