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THE PROBLEM OF THE PERSON- 
ALITY OF GOD 



GEORGE GALLOWAY 
St. Mary's College, University of St. Andrews, Scotland 



Behind the specific problems of the Christian evidences lies a 
deeper and more fundamental problem, and the answer to it will 
determine our whole attitude to religion. It is notoriously a diffi- 
cult problem: I refer to the question whether God is a person. 
The issue here raised is of paramount importance if religion is to 
justify itself as a way of life. That God is personal is the working 
postulate of spiritual religion, the foundation on which the religious 
temple is built. For the religious relation, as we envisage it, is a 
relation between persons, between God on the one hand and man 
on the other. I do not, of course, mean that this holds true at 
every stage of man's history. The lower nature-religions, for 
instance, move in the region of a vague spiritism, and their gods are 
relatively characterless beings. But, except in the case of pan- 
theistic and nihilistic systems, such as Brahmanism and Buddhism, 
the growing religious consciousness has more and more clearly 
defined the religious relation as a personal one, the / of the worshiper 
and the Thou of the Deity. Prayer and worship, revelation and 
inspiration, become unintelligible on any other interpretation. If 
the values which are bound up with these movements of the reli- 
gious spirit are to be conserved, then the movements in question 
must refer to and be justified by the reality of a personal God. 
If you hold that the predicate "personal" when applied to the 
Deity is only a convenient fiction, or handy symbol to cover human 
ignorance, the conclusion follows that the main development of the 
religious consciousness rests on an illusion. And the inference is 
inevitable that religion, if it is to survive, must be transformed into 
something radically different from what it has been in the past. 
The continuity of religious development must be sacrificed. 

It has been suggested that this is not necessary. Some modern 
thinkers suppose that personality may be denied to God and yet a 

296 



THE PROBLEM OF THE PERSONALITY OF GOD 297 

kind of continuity in religious evolution be preserved. Religion, 
they tell us truly enough, has passed through certain stages of 
growth. At a low level deities are sub-personal; at a higher level 
they are endowed with personality; but even a religion which 
conceives its deity as one and personal is not final: it belongs to the 
stage when the religious mind is still a slave to figurative representa- 
tions and is quite uncritical in its use of images. An old habit is 
hard to discard, and Mr. Bradley has told us that "we are every- 
where dependent on what may be called useful mythology.'" But 
these images, though they serve a purpose for a time and have thus 
a kind of justification, are neither adequate nor really true, and the 
way of progress lies in gradually setting them aside. One of the 
images in question is a personal Deity. In future, men of enlighten- 
ment will think of God as an impersonal Spirit or an unconscious 
Mind. So, for example. Von Hartmann has told us. 

One might raise the question whether the notion of an imper- 
sonal spirit is less difficult and more consistent than that of a 
personal Deity. Without, however, entering on this matter at 
present, let us note a current of modern thought, more practical 
perhaps in its origin but yet tending to the same negative conclusion. 
The movement in question is critical rather than constructive; its 
natural issue is agnosticism. Its apostles dwell much on the 
vagaries and contradictions of popular thinking, and they point 
out how deeply the ordinary mind is committed to the free and 
uncritical use of analogies. Man never knows how anthropo- 
morphic he is; he began by reading his own life into things, and he 
has gone on to fashion his gods in his own image. In a well-known 
passage Matthew Arnold has informed us that "we construct a 
magnified, non-natural man by dropping out all that in man seems 
a source of weakness, and by heightening to the very utmost all 
that in man seems a source of strength." Following the bent of 
their fancy men have drawn a confused and inconsistent picture of 
God, and have invested him with the virtues as well as the defects 
of a himian being. You merely conceal your ignorance from your- 
self when you project an image of your own personality into the 
transcendent world. The argument is that we should not pretend 

^Essays on Truth and Reality, p. 431. 



298 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

to know when we really do not know, and the conclusion is a plea 
for agnosticism as the only sane philosophy of life. For what 
applies to God applies to theology in general. "There is," says 
Leslie Stephen, "no proposition of natural theology the negative 
of which has not been maintained as vigorously as the positive." 
This is a train of thought which appeals to many in these days, and 
even to some who, ostensibly at least, have not broken with the 
Christian religion. In men and women haunted by these "obsti- 
nate questionings," the religious outlook is darkened by glowing 
clouds or becomes dim in a feeble and uncertain twilight. It will 
not be denied, therefore, that anything that can be urged which 
makes faith in a Divine Personality easier and more reasonable is a 
real gain to spiritual religion. 

At the outset let us bear in mind that nothing will be won by 
ignoring the difficulties involved or by smnmarily treating doubt 
on this subject as a wilful and perverse skepticism. The objectors 
are often quite honest in the perplexities they feel, and the fair- 
minded apologist will admit they are not to be disposed of in a high- 
handed fashion. The argument from authority will not meet their 
case, and one must try to understand their position. Let it be 
granted, then, that the use of human analogies in reference to God 
has obvious limitations and easily leads to contradictions. On 
the other hand one cannot blink the fact that the idea of an imper- 
sonal God or Absolute raises other difficulties of the most serious 
kind. If the world-ground is impersonal, the emergence of persons 
within the world-process is a baffling phenomenon for which it is 
hard to assign a sufficient reason. Moreover, if agnosticism or 
pantheism is right, the claims of the spiritual values caimot be 
effectively maintained, and it is not easy to see why they should 
ever have come to be made. If the Supreme Good is a human 
abstraction and not a Personal Spirit, the whole system of religious 
values is undermined, and the whole structure of human faith 
must ultimately collapse. 

In this situation the religious thinker is called on to justify, if 
possible, his right to speak of God as a personal Being. He must 
try to give a reason for his faith, if he can. Before we go farther, 
then, let us be clear as to what we mean by personality, let us under- 



TEE PROBLEM OF THE PERSONALITY OF GOD 299 

stand just how much we suppose is involved in the idea. The term 
is sometimes used loosely; it may mean self -consciousness simply, 
or it may denote something more. Yet a deity who is self-conscious 
and nothing else — as, for instance, the god of Aristotle, who is simply 
thought reflecting on itself (vorjais voiiaeus) — is not all that the 
Christian means when he says that God is personal. For he 
implies by the word that God is not only self-conscious but is an 
ethical Will and exercises a purposive activity. So much at least 
is involved in the conceptions of divine revelation and divine 
providence. Now here we have to meet the objection that we are 
carrying over into the divine or transcendent sphere ideas and 
activities which have no intelligible meaning save in the mundane 
sphere. Thinking and willing imply data and limitations, which 
are present in the case of man but cannot be supposed to exist in 
the case of God. The objection is definite, and if we are to meet 
it we must scrutinize the conditions tmder which human personality 
develops, that we may decide how far these conditions are essential 
to any and every form of personality. It may be possible that the 
htmian type of person is not a perfect t)rpe nor the only conceivable 
type. 

Beyond dispute personality in man is a development within the 
wider whole of experience. Animals and infants are centers of 
experience, but they do not exist for themselves, and we cannot 
speak of them as persons. They are individuals, however, for they 
possess an inner life, and as inner unities they are definitely dis- 
tinguished from what we call things and from other beings of the 
same class. Individuality is not personaUty but it is the pre- 
supposition of personality; it is on a pre-existing individual basis 
that a personal life develops. PersonaUty is an enlargement of 
individuality, or, if you like, it is individuaUty raised to a higher 
power. The person has a being for himself. He has a definite 
character and sphere of action, with rights and privileges and 
corresponding responsibilities, and he distinguishes himself from 
and relates himself to other persons. In common parlance a 
personality denotes a man of pronoimced character. A personal 
life is a life realized in a society of persons, and it is through this 
social reference that the Hfe of the individual man receives a 



300 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

specific personal content. The famous ethical precept, "Be a per- 
son and respect others as persons " recognizes this social implication. 

What then appear to be the specific conditions which make the 
development of a finite personal existence possible? From what 
has been said I think we may conclude that a twofold dependence 
is involved, (a) There is first the contrast to an external world 
of facts or objects which are recognized to be other than the self. 
Persons stand over against things. It is the task of the psycholo- 
gist to trace the steps of this process of differentiation by which the 
self comes to oppose itself to the not-self. Obviously one of the 
first stages is the distinction of the body from its environment, 
the perception that it belongs to the active individual in a way 
that other objects do not. A further stage is the recognition of the 
self as an inner center of ideation and desire; and finally we rise 
to the thought of a pure ego or self which sustains and imifies 
all its activities. As Professor Ward puts it: "We begin with self 
simply as an object perceived or imagined, and end with the con- 
cept of that object as subject or myself." ' It is clear, then, that the 
development of this duality of subject and object is not accom- 
plished by us apart from the contrast of the non-ego, and it is 
through this contrast that we eventually reach the conception of 
the self as an inner center which is distinguished from the content 
of its experience. Were there no distinction in reality the emergence 
of the distinction in idea would lack a reason. It is by marking 
off a region of the experienced world as belonging to the not- 
self that we define the sphere of the self, (b) In a somewhat similar 
way the self comes to recognize itself as personal in connection 
with and in contrast to a society of other persons. If we inter- 
pret others through ourselves, the knowledge of others also reacts 
on our self-knowledge. Broadly speaking, we may say that per- 
sonal and social development advance pari passu, and, apart from 
intersubjective intercourse taking form in language, the individual 
would never advance to a generalized conception of himself at all. 
"Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of 
his friend." It is especially through the relations, positive and 
negative, to other persons in a social system that the concept of 

'Psychological Principles, p. 363. 



THE PROBLEM OF TEE PERSONALITY OF GOD 301 

personality as an ethical unity implying rights and obligations 
is developed. The character and content which are involved 
in the notion of a person could never be evolved by the self in isola- 
tion; its intrinsic resources do not suffice for that. 

So far, at least, one would expect general agreement about the 
interpretation of the facts; the next step, however, raises a question 
of critical importance. The ego, we admit, comes to a developed 
knowledge of itself through its relations; but does this mean that 
the self is a pure abstraction apart from these relations? Some 
contend that it is so; the relation to the non-ego, they argue, is 
essential, and apart from it any self becomes a mere fiction. The 
not-self and the self are as inseparable as, say, the outside of a thing 
and the inside. And they conclude that the Absolute or God, as the 
all-embracing Whole, transcends the contrast of ego and non-ego, 
and therefore caimot be self-conscious and personal. Personality, 
it is said, is the specific subsistence-form of the finite spirit, and has 
no application to God who is infinite and absolute.' The premises 
of the argument, nevertheless, may be called in question. We may 
maintain, with Lotze, that the self is more than the relations into 
which it enters, and that the ego as in some sense real is the condi- 
tion of its sustaining relations at all. In fact relations without a 
fundamentum relationis are a sheer abstraction. Moreover, if there 
were not an original feeling or experience of self, the process by 
which the self is discriminated from the not-self would lack a basis 
on which to develop. To put it in a slightly different form, the 
conceptual process by which the ego defines itself is made possible 
by the contrast with the non-ego; but the conceptual process only 
comes into operation because there is a primary and original 
feeling or experience of self which is the condition of the process. 

In his Microcosmus Lotze argues in a suggestive way that the 
function of the non-ego in developing the general consciousness 
of the self is a note of the limitation which attaches to finite per- 
sonality rather than the essence of personality. It will serve our 
purpose at this point to indicate briefly, and in our own fashion, 
the line of argtmient. 

•So Biedermann, Dogmatik (1869), pp. 559^.; cf. MacTaggait, Studies in Hege- 
lian Cosmology, p. 68. 



302 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

The mark of perfection in personality is internal consistency 
and completeness: the perfect self fully penetrates, organizes, 
and owns its content. The finite self never achieves this. It 
depends for its internal development on stimuli coming from 
without, stimuli which it often can neither avoid nor control. It is 
constantly hampered and thwarted by an external environment 
which it masters incompletely and can but partially transform into 
a means for its own ends. The body is an imperfect instrtmient of 
the soul, and serves only as the basis of an intermittent self- 
consciousness. It seems to be a condition of our conscious Ufa that 
there should be regular lapses into the region of the unconscious or 
the subconscious. Again, man conserves his mental resources for 
present use by dropping out of memory much that he once knew; 
in the history of a personal life multitudes of experiences are 
thus forgotten, and the self, even when it remembers earlier phases 
of its experience, may lose the power to enter into and sympathize 
with them. This lack of iimer completeness and consistency 
appears especially in the moral sphere where a struggle goes on 
between a higher and a lower self, or, in Pauline phrase, between 
the spiritual and the natural man. This conflict is never crowned 
by the full and final victory which is presupposed by a perfect 
ethical self-determination. Hence under mimdane conditions the 
human self never attains to inner harmony, and never perfectly 
unifies the content of its experience; personality remains an ideal 
only partially realized. This is what we should expect when we 
remember that the finite self does not contain within itself the con- 
ditions of its own existence. For this reason we cannot suppose 
that personality in man is more than an imperfect analogy or defect- 
ive copy of personality in God. The limitations to which we are 
subject cannot have a counterpart in the Divine Nature, and this 
is the reason why some prefer to speak of God as supra-personal. 
There need be no objection to the word, as long as the elements of 
ethical and spiritual value connoted by personality are conserved 
in the conception of the Deity. 

The crucial question is: With what modifications can we take 
the category of personality known in our experience and apply it to 
God ? The theistic conception is that of a Being who is groimd of 



TEE PROBLEM OF THE PERSONALITY OF GOD 303 

all that exists, but is only limited in so far as he limits himself. 
God, therefore, cannot be confronted, as man is, with an independ- 
ent not-self which is the condition of the development of his self- 
consciousness. But is self-consciousness conceivable on these 
terms? Here let us bear in mind that even in man an original 
self-experience was the presupposition of the evolution of self- 
consciousness. And though the process of development was medi- 
ated by the not-self, yet this dependence constituted a limitation. 
The more a man is conditioned by external facts and impressions, 
the weaker is his personaUty. The growth of personaUty in man 
takes the form of a development toward internal completeness, 
imity, and self-determination. The ideal that man strives after, 
then, in the temporal process of experience must be an eternally 
complete reaUty in God. A difficulty would no doubt still remain 
if we suppose that God is a pure unity from which every element of 
difference and change is excluded. But this is not a possible con- 
ception. The difference involved in self-consciousness falls within 
the divine nature; it is given in the distinction between the divine 
self and its changing states. The contrast between the divine and 
the human ego would he in the fact that the divine consciousness is 
continuous and complete in itself, while that of man is broken and 
dependent on conditions outside itself. The divine self-consciousness 
would be a perfect self-consciousness, since it is entirely self- 
contained and self-conditioned, and perfectly unifies its own experi- 
ence. For the element of dependence on what lies beyond the self, 
present in the case of man, falls away in the case of God. 

Yet there is more in {personality than pure self-consciousness. 
As we saw in the instance of man, it was the practical relations of 
social Hfe, the interaction of wills in a social system, which developed 
and gave content to the idea of a person. The concrete conception 
of personaUty implies action; and when we think of God as personal 
we think of him as an active and ethical Will who is groimd of 
both the world of existences and the reahn of values. The static 
idea of God, the idea of a Being resting in the eternal contempla- 
tion of himself, is more in harmony with deism than with a genuine 
theism. To the theist God is essentially active and creative, the 
living and ever-present ground of the universe which he sustains. 



304 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

We entangle ourselves in intolerable contradictions if we suppose 
that God rested in the contemplation of himself for an indefinite 
time, and then, suddenly quickened to activity, brought the world 
and finite spirits into being by an arbitrary act of will. It is 
impossible to conceive an explanation of this abrupt outbreak 
of creative activity at a particular point in time; for, if the creation 
of the world meant the realization of a good, then we must suppose 
that prior to the creative act God was content with a defect of 
good. The difficulty here is partly due to the fact that we imagine 
our concept of time, gradually elaborated on the basis of mundane 
experience, existed prior to the experience out of which it was 
developed. Augustine, following Plato, sought to obviate this 
perplexity by saying that God brought time into being along with 
the world: non in tempore sed cum tempore finxit Deus mundum. 
The truth seems to be that we cannot fit the divine creative activity 
into our time-scheme at all; the more adequate idea is to think of 
(iod as the eternally creative ground of the world and finite spirits. 
In other words, we must abandon the static conception of God 
and hold that it belongs to his character to be self-revealing, to 
actualize his Will in a world of interacting things and persons. 
In the Christian doctrine of the Logos, and in the recurring thought 
of Scripture that God is love, there is the suggestion that self- 
communication is a need of the divine nature. The spiritual and 
ethical idea of God is not that of a Being who is self-centered but who 
is self -manifesting. In the case of man ethical personality was devel- 
oped in relation to a society of persons; the individual personality 
is enlarged and enriched by the social relations into which it enters. 
And there is something in the himian analogy which is helpful to 
us here. God as an ethical and spiritual person is manifested in the 
world of spirits that he sustains and redeems. Apart from this 
expression of himself in the world of souls that he disciplines 
and inspires the Divine Personality would lack fulness of meaning 
and content. 

The line of thought that I have been trying to suggest receives 
support, I venture to believe, from Christian experience. The 
conception of the personal God in which the Christian rests and 
finds satisfaction is that of the God who reveals himself in and to 



THE PROBLEM OF THE PERSONALITY OF GOD 305 

man, whose goodness and love are reflected in the face of Jesus 
Christ. To justify as far as possible on general grounds the con- 
ception of personality as applied to God demands, as we have 
seen, metaphysical thinking; and against Ritschl and his followers 
we must insist that theology cannot be divorced from metaphysics. 
On the other hand Ritschlian theologians are right in claiming that 
the Divine Personality can only receive its full ethical meaning 
and content when brought into living relation with the revelation 
in Christ. But this supreme revelation has its presupposition in 
that wider activity of God in virtue of which he sustains all souls 
and works in and through them. 

The view here outlined has to be carefully distinguished from the 
speculative idealism which merges all spirits in the Absolute Spirit 
and treats them as phases or moments of its life. On this theory 
finite minds are differentiated from God and one another by stand- 
ing in organic relation to material bodies; but their being for self 
is only apparent, and in the end they all fall within the Absolute 
Mind. In other words religious communion between the human 
and the Divine Spirit is construed as a process of identification. 
Though the language of some mystics gives countenance to this idea, 
it does not truly express the normal religious consciousness, which 
involves a real element of difference as well as a relation of depend- 
ence. The view here suggested is definitely distinguished from this 
theory by the acceptance of the conception of God as the Creative 
Will who gives reahty to a dependent world and a kingdom of finite 
spirits. I am far from supposing that the idea of creation raises 
no difficulties — as a matter of fact we can only think of it through 
imperfect analogies — but the point is whether any other idea does 
not raise still greater difficulties. It has been justly said that if, 
in trying to apprehend the relation of God to the world, " the idea 
of creation will carry us farther, and if nothing else will, then the 
idea .... is rationally justified though it be not empirically 
verified.'" 

In harmony with this the divine immanence must always be 
taken in connection with the divine transcendence. The so-called 
indwelling of God in man's spiritual experience cannot mean that 

' Ward, Realm of Ends, p. 246. 



3o6 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

that experience is simply God's experience; it does mean that there 
is an activity of the Divine Spirit making itself felt in quickening 
and inspiring human spirits. The religious man does not seek to 
become God; he aspires to a concord of life and will with God. 
The personality of God as an ethical Spirit is expressed through 
his manifold dealings with the great company of souls who owe 
their being and life to him. And man's response to God is seen in 
his age-long endeavor to transcend his narrow individual existence 
and gain a full spiritual and personal life. It is the great Godward 
movement of souls. The direction of the movement is best defined 
through the historic revelation in which God's personal character 
is expressed, for if man seeks God if haply he may find him, God 
in turn seeks man. It is through the increasing spiritual appre- 
hension of the seeking and saving God revealed in the society of 
redeemed and upward-striving souls that man advances to the 
fruition of his personal life. Apart from God, the perfect Person- 
ality, our broken and fragmentary personaUties caimot reach 
completeness and fulfilment.