Every now and then I ask believers what God is made of. Is he made of photons? Protons and electrons? The answers I get are always quite startling, for two reasons. First, they indicate that believers are generally content dedicating their lives to an entity they have never seen, touched, or heard, whose vicinity they cannot point to, and whose presence they even happily acknowledge to be nonphysical. The second reason is that believers happily use metaphors to describe the substance of God, and I’m not sure they realize they’re doing it.
The metaphor that most commonly springs from the lips of Christians is “God is love”. Many believers, however, appear to regard this as a literal truth, rather than a metaphor. God literally is love.
Let us consider for a moment what love is, and what implications that would have for the nature of God. It is not even necessary to resort to the reductionist scientific view of love to demonstrate the absurdity of “God is love”, but a quick look in this direction tells us that love is the result of chemical reactions and electrical impulses in the brain. Not a view of love that turns most people on, but it appears to provide a good natural explanation for why the noble sensation of love emerges. Of course, if this is the basis of love, and God is love, then God is also the result of chemical reactions and electrical impulses in the brain, something most believers would recoil from.
But even looking at love as an emotion, without digging to its biological foundation, we can see that if God is love, then God cannot be everything else believers purport him to be. Love cannot hear, it cannot answer prayers, and it cannot communicate. To be sure, people who experience love can do these things, and sometimes they are motivated by love to do them. But love itself is an emotion, not a personality.
It’s also not clear if all love is God. Is God the love we have for our family, and not the love we have for our pets, or for sports? Can love even exist without God? It seems utterly absurd to think that if God disappeared tomorrow we would all suddenly cease to love our spouses and our children.
It seems, then, that we have to realize that “God is love” is a metaphor, just as “chocolate is happiness” is a metaphor. Perhaps if more believers understand this, they can get around to properly answering my original question – what is God made of?