However else we might try to describe God, Isaiah, Jesus, St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Paul Tillich, Alfred North Whitehead, all the Southern Baptist, Catholic, Reformed and Episcopalian theology professors I ever studied with, and countless other theists (God followers) would all agree on this: God is no less than the uniquely inescapable and all-inclusive presence wherein you, I, others and everything else participate. If we think of God in any lesser terms, we’re failing to think of God.
The reality of this presence is undeniable to those who notice, because the relevant evidence is ever-present in every moment.
The reality of this presence is of course deniable to those who do not notice. Those of us who do notice (or who think we notice) find it puzzling that anyone would fail to notice. We are doubtless just as puzzling to those who do not notice.
Not all those who notice call this inescapable and all-inclusive presence “God” (read the Tao Te Ching, or Buddhist writer Thich Nhat Hanh), so those of us who do so need to explain ourselves further. This is not a proof, just commending a way of articulating what’s happening.
Those of us who speak of this presence as God do so because we seem to find ourselves participating in a hyper-intimate interaction with this presence. The interaction defies easy classification, but calling it a sort of dialogue still seems appropriate. This is also why praying seems appropriate.
Because of this hyper-intimate, quasi-dialogical interaction, it seems appropriate to use personifying language to speak of it; in fact, to use only impersonal language to speak of the interaction would seem to miss something crucial.
But even though we find personifying language inescapable, we realize (or ought to realize) that it is impossible to classify this interaction as one more example of a dialogue between persons like you and me. This uniquely inescapable and all-inclusive presence is not less than personal, but not simply another person either.
Personifying language is thus both inescapable and inadequate. Some thinkers call this way of speaking analogical, others metaphorical, still others symbolic. All would insist that it’s still a crucially realistic way of speaking, not just an optional way to generate warm, fuzzy feelings.
Noteworthy Christians in almost every generation have known this. They have not always kept it consistently in view. That’s what distinguishes many currently practicing Christians from their ancestors.