Does God have a body? If so, then what form does it take, and would it be made of atoms?
These questions tend to arise shortly after a person begins thinking about the divine power and what its nature might entail. The proper answer to these questions is, therefore, important because the answer will then dictate how many other questions about God will be answered.
God is not made of atoms, nor does He have a body with form. He is not made of any matter. God is the origin from which matter arose. So, because God precedes matter, He cannot have a material body. Therefore, neither can God have a material form. Rather, God is a form and does not possess one.
The questions at the beginning and the answer accompanying them require some explanations of terms. Below, we’ll present these terms along with some arguments both in favor of and against God’s body having a material form.
A Brief Glossary
Atoms: The basic units of anything which is material. Material and matter are used interchangeably here.
Body: A thing made of atoms and, therefore, possessing form. A body will possess boundaries, and things outside of those boundaries are not part of the body.
Form: The manner in which an essence is arranged.
Essence: The essence of a thing is its most irreducible property. The various qualities, including a concrete form, of a thing arise from its essence.
God: Here, the word God refers to the God of Abraham.
Arguments in Favor of God Having a Material Form
Here, we address some of the arguments that have been advanced in favor of the idea that God possesses matter and form
Argument #1: Scripture Implies that God Has a Material Form
In the Book of Hebrews (10:38) it is written,
“But My just man liveth by faith; but if he withdraw himself, he shall not please My soul.”
And this verse states that God has a soul. Yet in order for God to have a soul, He would need to be made of material, and that material would have a form. This material form would serve as the container for the soul which is in God, and all beings with souls must possess a body within which that soul may reside.
Argument #2: God’s Emotions Prove His Body
Scripture frequently states that God experiences emotions such as anger and joy. These emotions must exist within a being. That being must then be bounded, or else the anger and joy would not be contained within it. Therefore, God must possess a body.
Argument #3: God’s Individuality Proves His Body
God is an individual and separate from others. Therefore, God must have a boundary which allows his individuality. Without this boundary, God becomes indistinguishable from His Creation.
Arguments Against God’s Possession of a Body
Here, we present the arguments Thomas Aquinas sued to confront those presented above.
Argument #1: God Cannot Possess Matter
Matter has the ability to change. Therefore, God cannot be made of matter. God is a perfect being and incorruptible Good. Therefore, God is incapable of changing, for if a thing is perfect, and if it changes, then it will no longer be perfect.
Moreover, the perfection of God indicates that change within Him would be unnecessary, so if God were made of material, then He would possess a superfluous trait, i.e., mutability.
Argument #2: God as the Highest Good
A highest Good exists; it is God. Anything which possesses goodness may only do so because of its relationship to God. Therefore, goodness arises from participation between the good thing and God.
Now, God is the highest Good, so its goodness does not arise from participation with Himself. Therefore, God is the essential good, ie., the good that exists before all other goodness and from which other goodness arises.
This proves that God is not material, for Genesis states that He looked upon Creation and saw that it was good, yet this goodness was merely a participated goodness and not the essential good, for God is not His creation.
And material is a part of this creation.
So God is not material.
Argument #3: The Prime Mover
Everything that acts does so according to its form; i.e., a thing that walks must have feet.
Yet the form of a thing a thing takes depends upon many events which preceded the creation of that form.
Now, God is the Prime Mover who has set the universe into motion. Therefore, He cannot be a form, for a form is the product of what preceded it.
So God must be form itself, and all other forms arise as a result of His essential form.
Here, we clarify the monk’s counterarguments to the views raised by the opposition.
Counterargument #1: Why God Is Said to Have a Soul
Scripture frequently attributes a soul to God. This does not mean that God has a soul.
God is said to have a soul because His behaviors cause Him to seem as though He does, and the writers of scripture often speak poetically. They often attribute human qualities to God so that He may be more easily understood by the reader.
Counterargument #2: God’s Emotions Are Stated for a Similar Reason
Again, the writers of holy scripture often use figurative language when they describe God and His behaviors because doing so allows the reader to more easily understand the Almighty. Those passages which attribute emotions to the Lord are examples of such writing.
Emotions as we know them are interpretations of electrical and chemical processes which occur within the human being. God does not possess these, for God is divine and predates humanity.
Counterargument #3: God’s Uniqueness Does Not Arise from His Form
Things which exist as a type of matter are individualized by the boundaries of that matter.
However, not all things exist as matter; time and motivation are both examples of immaterial and extant beings.
Now, in order for a thing to have form, it must be given that form from something else. A thing which does not exist cannot bring itself into existence, so that which requires form cannot produce its own form.
This then brings us back to the Prime Mover Argument: all things that possess form receive it from its utmost source, i.e., form itself.
God is form itself, and He does not possess a form.