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Ethics and Religion Talk: What is God?

Vaughn asks, “What is God? He/She/It?”

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at More recent columns can be found on by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

“From a Unitarian Universalist perspective there would be many answers to this question. Each individual UU has their own understanding of God, if they even believe in the existence of God. For those UUs who do believe in God I would say God is embraced as male, female and gender non-conforming.”

Dr Sahibzada, the Director of Islamic Center and Imam of the Mosque of Grand Rapids, responds:

“I asked A Catholic Bishop during interfaith trip of clergies to Jerusalem, which word do you use for God to deliver sermon? Reply was ‘Allah’ because the sermon is delivered in Arabic. Various words are used for Allah in languages known to this world. Definition of God in Islam is, ‘He is ALLAH, The Only One. If there would have been other gods besides Allah than there must be chaos in Heavens and on Earth. He is Eternal and Absolute. Allah neither begets nor begotten and none is like Allah.’ Allah never dies and never inherits anything. Allah is the first and the Last, the External, the Internal and the Self-subsisting. No vision can grasp Him, but He grasps visions. He is the Most subtle and well acquainted with all things. Slumber and sleep cannot seize Him. He has absolute total authority over all things. No one has the grasp of God’s true measure and estimation. It is beyond human intellectuality to discuss gender of God.

“God has revealed Scriptures to Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them). Therefore, humans must follow that criteria for Him. Apart from other things Humankind is His creation and under His commandment. He did not mention and discuss His Gender in Scriptures. Therefore, we must not discuss His Gender. God has revealed Himself in Final Testament (Quran) using Masculine wording for texts. That is why Humans are bound to use the pronoun which He selected for Himself. Discussing and enquiring about God’s gender as He/She/It is pointless and heading toward shaking one’s own faith in the Creator.”

Chris Curia, the Director of Youth Ministries at Fairway Christian Reformed Church, responds:

“In Systematic Theology, Paul Tillich describes God as the ‘ground of being,’ infinitely transcendent and yet knowable in the act of love itself. God is not all things but is in all things, and all things are in God. From this Ground of Being, all being comes directly. God is alive in all, which we most experience when we are most alive.

“To your question on gender, you may be surprised to learn that even in the Bible, God is described with some degree of fluidity. In her book The Kindness of God, Janet Martin Soskice describes that the masculine, feminine, or neutral designations we give to God are forms of personification, authored by the biblical writers who used ‘anthromorphism to do justice to a God whose acts they wished to chronicle.’

“These titles, gender designations, and other names for God such as the Trinity, serve as further illustrative that at the very heart of God is a abundance of creative energy and diverse expression.”

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

“One way to answer this question would be simply say, ‘Yes!’ But we don’t mean to be flippant. Beyond everything else, what we call ‘God’ is Primordial Consciousness, from which all lower forms of consciousness have evolved. This ‘formless form’ of divinity is referred to as Brahman. It is also called Satchitananda, which translates as ‘Ever existing, ever conscious, ever new bliss.’ While I have seen philosophers and pundits refer to Brahman with a masculine pronoun, ‘It’ or any other non-gender specific word is more appropriate. 

“However, Brahman is said to have an unlimited number of personal expressions. It can be visualized as Lord Shiva or Mother Laxmi, or any of the various personifications that have become a part of the Hindu tradition. In Its transcendent aspect, Brahman is neither male nor female. In Its immanent aspect, It is the sum of everything masculine and feminine. This leads to a multiplicity of ways in which the Sacred may be worshipped or invoked.”

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Adjutant Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

“In the Roman Catholic tradition, the answer to this question is found in the second lesson of the Baltimore Catechism. The question is what is God? And the response is ‘God is a spirit infinitely perfect’ ( Although Christians often refer to God as Father, ‘God is neither man nor woman’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 63).

Human language is limited and limiting. To refer to God as ‘he, she or it’ is defining God in earthly or human terms. God is pure spirit, infinite, and therefore perfect, and is greater than the human mind may grasp. Humans, therefore, are challenged to properly name God, who is much greater than ‘he, she or it.’ ”


This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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