The G-d of Nothing

Imagine you are an ancient pagan worshipping spirits, the forces of nature, or mathematical abstractions. You have no problem saying what your god is. He’s this dude with pale blue eyes and a massive hammer. He can turn into a magnificent swan. She is the perfect triangle transcending all worldly triangularity.

What does it mean that your gods are so easily defined? Definition is (by definition) the act of finding the limits of a thing, the ability to say where they begin and where they end. Thor may be huge but his eyes are shocking chips of ice and the triangle is a triangle but not a square. Even our very ability to truthfully describe these beings with language, our knowledge of the color blue which is the very same color as Thor’s eyes, implies that they are worldly beings existing within the boundaries of our reality.

These are gods of something. The god of thunder. The god of war.

Then Abraham comes along with the radical idea that none of these gods exist on their own but must all derive from one source, one cause, and one power. This One G-d is not like any of the other gods. The One G-d is not defined in worldly terms, for He is not caused by the world, but the world caused by Him. He is not a limited being within the creation, but the ground for creation, that which precedes it, the Uncreated.

The color blue is not something in which He Himself participates. The color blue is something He created, and therefore He precedes it and causes it to exist. What is true for the color blue is true of every other means of defining G-d by comparison. Nothing compares to Him, for He comes before and creates everything.

How, then, can we know G-d? As the famous line goes, if we were to know Him, we would be Him. In other words, the creation cannot know the Creator, unless it ceases to be the former and becomes the latter.

The Rambam and others famously frame this in terms of apophatic, that is, negative theology. We cannot know what G-d is, but we can know what He isn’t. He doesn’t have blue eyes, or green eyes, or red eyes. He doesn’t have eyes at all. We cannot say that He sees, but He also is not blind, nor unseeing. He knows with knowledge unlike ours; He knows by being Himself.

Whereas you, the Rambam may tell the idolators, think that a god has blue eyes, I know that G-d is beyond reckoning. He is not limited to being a particular color, nor any number of colors we know of. The most we can say about Him is that He is not of a particular color or definition; He is more than being something.

He is the G-d of beyond thunder, He is the G-d of beyond war. He is the G-d of everything, from the highest to the lowest. He precedes all of them; they are all His creation, and all of their qualities find their highest expression in Him.

Since He is the G-d of everything, the closer one gets to everything, the close one gets to Him. He is perfect, so we try to be perfect. He lacks nothing, so we try to lack nothing. We can never reach Him, but we do good deeds and build a magnificent temple to remind us what to strive for.

But this, too, is not quite right.

For we are basing what He is beyond, what He transcends, on what we know. We know He is not a particular color and rather the source of all color. But why should we assume He is the source only of what we know? Once we go through the realm of the knowable, one we realize He is beyond and the source of color and taste and cars and race, have we fully exhausted what He is?

Indeed, there are indications in His Torah that there are things about G-d that are not only unknown to us, but fundamentally unknowable to anyone. Think of the miracles of contradiction. Things like bushes and oil burn but are not consumed; the Holy Ark both took up and did not take up space. Not only are these miracles, they are pure contradictions. We cannot say the laws of nature are being broken, for we cannot even describe what is taking place at all. Describe a square circle. Describe what it means to both ride and not ride simultaneously. Describe what it means for something to take up no space because it takes up a certain number of cubits.

No, says the Torah of truth; He is not merely something and not merely everything. “Everything” is a sense of what exists beyond what we know. He exists beyond this sense, too. He is the G-d not just of infinite colors, but of infinite infinities, everything that is possible and everything that is impossible. He exists beyond the distinction of what is and what is not, what can be and what cannot be.

He is also the G-d of nothing.

But if He occupies the realm beyond this dichotomy, beyond something and nothing, then declaring anything non-G-dly would be in contradiction to His truth. If there is nothing He is, and nothing He isn’t, who are we to say that the holy is G-dly, and the mundane unG-dly?

He is not just beyond Creation; He is beyond the distinction between Creation and Non-Creation. Destruction, too, is His. In fact, He is no less destruction than He is creation.

Can we even call the Temple G-dly, but the destruction unG-dly?

The difference lies only in what we see.