The Apophatic God is the God of darkness and silence and namelessness.  God is therefore another expression of Nothingness who bursts the limits of human apprehension and human languaging. Thomas Aquinas says that

“And the spirit of God moved on the waters.” Photo by Conrad Ziebland on Unsplash.

God is said to be nonbeing (non existens) not because God is lacking in being but because God is beyond all beings.

Meister Eckhart develops this idea when he declares that “God is a being beyond being and a nothingness beyond being” who consists of a “changeless existence and a nameless nothingness.”

He elaborates on this difficult-to-grasp concept which in fact goes beyond concepts when he says: 

God is nothing. It is not, however, as if he were without being. He is rather neither this thing nor that thing that we might express, He is a being above all being. He is a beingless being….God is nothingness, and yet God is something.

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh explains the concept of ‘Emptiness’ (Shunyata). Hossain Salahuddin

Father Bede Griffiths comments on Hindu wisdom regarding God talk: 

We cannot name Brahman. It is ‘not this, not this.’ Whatever word we use, whatever image, whatever concept, we have always to go beyond…One cannot stop with any name of God….We are all seeing that inexpressible mystery beyond, and that is Brahman, which is neti, neti, ‘not this, not this.’

The Buddhist concept of Shunyata or emptiness reminds us that a pregnant emptiness exists within beings and within the context of interconnection. Each being exists only in relationship. Eckhart has a similar teaching when he says “Relation accordingly is present in the essence of a thing, receives its being in the essence….”

“The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao; the Name that can be named is not the eternal Name.” Tao te Ching, chapter 1. Stoic Daoist

In the Kabbalah God is also called Nothingness or Ayin, Mystical Nothingness: “Ayin, Nothingness, is more existent than all the being of the world….”

Jewish mysticism calls God “Ein Sof” or “that which thought cannot comprehend.” We are reminded that “All is one in the simplicity of absolute undifferentiation. Our limited mind cannot grasp or fathom this, for it joins infinity.” In this way we can say that “God is the annihilation of all thoughts, uncontainable by any concept. Indeed, since no one can contain God at all, it is called Nothingness, Ayin.”

If God is the erasure of all thoughts, we can see why meditation as emptying the mind is so fruitful for connecting us to the One. We can see the power of Silence.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God…Including the Unnameable God, pp. 132, 134.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Al-one-ness. Photo by Max on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

How is God a “nameless nothingness” for you? When you see nothingness all around us, including nothingburgers of many kinds, does it help to know that God too is called Nothingness by mystics of many stripes and traditions?

Recommended Reading

Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God …Including the Unnameable God

Too often, notions of God have been used as a means to control and to promote a narrow worldview. In Naming the Unnameable, renowned theologian and author Matthew Fox ignites our imaginations by offering a colorful range of Divine Names gathered from scientists and poets and mystics past and present, inviting us to always begin where true spirituality begins: from experience.
“This book is timely, important and admirably brief; it is also open ended—there are always more names to come, and none can exhaust God’s nature.” -Rupert Sheldrake, PhD, author of Science Set Free and The Presence of the Past

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26 thoughts on “God as Nothingness”

  1. Avatar

    It might help understanding of nothing if God were not referred to as ‘he’. After all, ‘he’ is something and easily identified.

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      Angela, I think you have something very profound. I feel saying that God is male is a large problem we have in society today. To me God is male and female.

    2. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Angela, In most cases Matthew does not refer to God as a He, although when he is quoting people like Aquinas and Eckhart who lived in the Middle Ages he quotes what they said and they used the word He…

  2. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    To help moderate the volume of responses, the Comment field is limited to 1000 characters (roughly 200 words). Please keep your comments focused on the topic of the day’s Meditation.  If your comment is not accepted you can shorten and resubmit it.   As always, we look forward to your comments!!
    The Daily Meditation Team

  3. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today you speak of the Apophatic God; the God of darkness, silence and namelessness. In Medieval Scholastic theology, the original Via Negativa was the way of speaking of God by negation–of what God is not, as Eckhart even says God is a not God. With Aquinas, God is said to be nonbeing (non existens) not because God is lacking in being but because God is beyond all beings–or as Tillich said, God is the “ground of Being.” In our Queries for Contemplation you first ask, “How is God a “nameless nothingness” for you?” God is a Nameless nothingness in the sense that, God is beyond all names and things. Then you ask us, “When you see nothingness all around us, including nothingburgers of many kinds, does it help to know that God too is called Nothingness by mystics of many stripes and traditions? When the mystics were talking about nothingness, I don’t think they were talking about nothingburgers or the social issues of our time. They were talking about God.

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      “Nothingness” and “the Void” are misleading terms describing an aspect of the mystical experience. They imply a “perception OF nothing-ness” or a “perception OF vast emptiness or lack of content”. It would be more accurate (but still inadequate) to say “Radical Open,” or “Infinitely Good Beyond”. The words we use are always inadequate fingers pointing to the mystical experience. And the experience itself, radical and shocking, ALWAYS points to the MORE which it cannot encompass. “God,” even in the beyond-conceptual-experience of mystical consciousness, is still only a perceptual finger, pointing, leading, inviting us to go beyond our limited conceptions. And it’s important to point out that none of the mystical religious traditions negates their Paths of worship, love and contemplation. Mysticism is ALWAYS BOTH apophatic and cataphatic. It is “In” and “Between” and “Beyond”, all at once, all NOW. It is a radical Affirmation of existence, even if the mystical experience stretches outside of any conceptual consciousness of existence (apophatic) in order to convey its Truth. It’s an apophatic Perfection of radical Oneness, a unitive soaring which encompasses and embraces. God celebrates and invites the whole universe to join the party.

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    “Nameless nothingness” at root means we are inter-beings whose deeper identity lies between the discrete categories that appear to separate things from one another. Thus, God’s being and all things in it exist like synapses between discrete appearing neurons, so many spatially located points of communication among and between them. As Spirit is the abiding inter-context (synapse/nexus) we thrive in, we’re more water than fish. Such is the dwelling place of Buddha or Christ consciousness that exists only in liminal space, (L. limen, or “threshold”), defined as that place in being that occupies a position on both sides of a boundary – darkness and light, eternity and time, body and soul, natural and spiritual, past and future, etc. Jesus referred to it as the “narrow way” or the “kingdom of heaven” within and all around us, awaiting realization (awakening) in spiritual consciousness. We are, said Merton, a “holy spark.” An electrical charge (spark) is the inter-being energy created by two attractants (polarities) that come into contact. God is electricity, and creation is his embodied interbeing energy.

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    Thank you for including the TNH video clip in today’s DM… which teaches that emptiness is letting go of the illusion of the SEPERATED self. This helps me to more deeply understand the process of kenosis. As for your query questions regarding the nothingness of God… it’s the Jewish mystical meaning… “that which thought cannot comprehend” which I resonate with… God as a Great Mystery. What arises pondering this statement are further questions… which are… is there another way of comprehending the mystery of God, beyond thought… and if so what is this way? Is it intuitively, is it imaginatively, is it creatively, is it silently. All mystical and spiritual traditions also convey that God, the Great Mystery desires to make this mystery known… then how do we experience and encounter this knowing, which thought cannot comprehend? Perhaps Mathew can expand on these queries that have arisen… providing some clarity… as I feel like I’m swimming in muddy waters when it comes to this topic of discussion.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Matthew has been speaking about “The Apophatic God is the God of darkness and silence and namelessness,” but there is also a cataphatic God of light and sound and many names. the word “cataphatic literally means “affirmation,” and so as the Apophatic God is what cannot be said of God, or what can only be said by negation, the cataphatic God is what can be said about God by way of affirmation, such as: God is light, God is Word, and as Johan Hick once wrote, “God Has Many Names”–a great book I might add…

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    It does help to know that underlying all of humanity’s convulsive racial and religious divisions the deep mystic truth of humanity’s fundamental unity is recognized by mystics in each of those traditions. Bringing this truth forward, as the mystics have always done, seems to be a way of ‘putting a finger in the dyke’ protecting us against the wild rising tides of division which threaten to overwhelm the remnant of national and global cohesion.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Gwen, Thank you for reminding us of humanity’s fundamental unity in the world’s mystical traditions. You say, and I agree that by “Bringing this truth forward, as the mystics have always done, seems to be a way of ‘putting a finger in the dyke’ protecting us against the wild rising tides of division which threaten to overwhelm the remnant of national and global cohesion.”

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    Thank you Matthew, for another beautiful meditation on the apophatic and the cataphatic mystical spiritual traditions of all our genuine ecumenical spiritual faiths. Thank your DM team for the two beautiful enclosed videos! I appreciated the way you ended your DM for us:
    “If God is the erasure of all thoughts, we can see why meditation (daily centering/contemplative prayer – D.M.) as emptying the mind is so fruitful for connecting us to the One. We can see the power of Silence.” See my Comment from yesterday.

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    In reading Richard Rohr’s summary of his DM on Embodied Wisdom… I sensed that some of my questions were being answered… which I thought I would share. “Deep knowing does not happen with our thinking minds. To truly know something, our whole being must be present, open and awake to essence. The incarnation tells us that body, soul and spirit must fully operate, and be respected as One. The chasim between the spiritual and the physical cannot be disconnected… for there is no such place, where one ends and the other begins. All religious traditions have universally insisted that human and spiritual becoming cannot unfold, evolve and emerge with the mind alone.” These statements seem to offer some clarity while swimming in these muddy waters of the mystery of the nothingness of God.

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    Am I (as well as God) then nothing and yet something? Perhaps oneness and nothingness are the same thing–this concept of inter-being and not existing (emptiness) without “the other.” I begin to understand Thich Nhat Hahn’s concept that we here on the planet are connected so fully (oneness) that without all else here, I do not exist (nothingness). I have had, for the past two weeks, extremely difficult, unavoidable interactions with a male colleague. The Buddhist teacher is helping me to see it (the interactions and the man) as a part of me. I do not exist in my own fullness without this other. We, and everything around me–plants, stars, soil, the javalina that dig up my young yuccas–we have no substance without the other. I find peace and wisdom (and vulnerability too) in this perspective. Thank you, Matthew.

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    Voltaire’s comment, “God is a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere.” seems to fit here. I find the concept that God is no-thing yet some-thing very freeing for myself–I cannot be defined either, I am not confined within any category, my possibilities are endless for my true self, which touches and shares in God and in everything via interbeing. I have always admired the Jewish refusal to name God, the whole idea is pointless. Awe and respect are called for, not naming.

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      Well… I’ll BE!
      Or, rather, INTER-Be…
      In the silence of deep meditation are glimmers for me of those interwebbings that link me to all there is. In the vastness of open space within every atom of my being is the same vacuum of emptiness we witness with awe on a clear, moonless night. Emptiness prevails in all things. Matter is no matter… but pure consciousness? My beingness seems to co-arise within the fathomless space as a wave arises on the ocean. Both are gone in a moment. Ah, but what a moment, this gift of life. Thanks be to the empty. Thanks be to YOU all, who courageously contemplate such unknowable topics. Thanks. Be. Well.

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    I recall learning many years ago that the word Yahweh is a verb, not a noun. There is much commentary on this. It seems to fit in with our discussion about the ‘nothingness of God’. This is Anthony D. Baker’s translation/exegesis , which concludes on a humorous note:
    “In Exodus, when God reveals God’s proper true name to Moses, God makes up a new verb tense. Yahweh: I Am/Was/Will Be Who (or-What-or-That) I Am/Was/Will Be. I suspect Moses is, at least, for a moment, not all that glad he asked.”

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      Could that be true of all of us? That we are am/was/will be? How would our ideas of ourselves change if we were to look at ourselves that way? Or is that heretical? To compare ourselves to God in that way?

  12. Avatar

    I can not add wisdom here because the concepts of nonbeing, emptiness, and nothingness as it pertains to God are staggering. Still, I loved revisiting the Tao Te Ching, and concepts in Hinduism and the Buddhism of Thich Nhat Hanh. I will have to revisit these ideas again and again to understand them intellectually, although I feel their truth when I walk outside in the rain or nurture a tender plant or look into the sky when I experience that which can not be named. At rare times, I have shifted into a state of personal nothingness, which is paradoxically “everythingness,” but those moments, although holy, are momentary and rare.

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     Great meditation

    “Nothingness is the fragrance of the beyond. It is the opening of the heart to the transcendental. It is the unfoldment of the one-thousand-petalled lotus. It is man’s / woman’s destiny. Man/ woman is complete only when he/she has come to this fragrance, when she/he has come to this absolute nothingness inside her/his being, when this nothingness has spread all over her/him, when she/he is just a pure sky, unclouded. This nothingness is what Buddha calls nirvana. First we have to understand what this {nothingness} actually is, because it is not just empty; it is full, it is overflowing. Never for a single moment think that nothingness is a negative state, an absence, no. Nothingness is simply no-thingness. Things disappear, only the ultimate substance remains. The identity of “yes” and “no” is the secret of nothingness. Nothingness is not identical with “no”, nothingness is the identity of “yes” and “no”, where polarities are no more polarities, where opposites are no more opposites. When you make love to a woman or to a man, the point of orgasm is the point of nothingness. At that moment the woman is no more a woman and the man is no more a man. Those forms have disappeared. That polarity between man and woman is no more there; it is utterly relaxed. They have both melted into each other. They have unformed themselves, they have gone into a state which cannot be defined. The identity of yes and no is the secret of emptiness, nothingness, nirvana. Emptiness is not just empty; it is a presence, it is the ultimate peak of consciousness.a very solid presence. If you want to know it you will have to go into life, into some situation where yes and no meet, then you will know it. Where the body and the soul meet, when the world and God meet, where opposites are no longer opposites only then will you have a taste of it. The taste of it is the taste of Tao, of Zen, of Hassidism, of Yoga.”
    Peace/love ❤️

  14. Avatar
    martina nicholson

    Dear Matthew,
    Thank you for this meditation on the Great I Am. I love Neti, neti! I love that Elizabeth Johnson says the wonderful metaphor– the finger pointing to the moon– it is not the finger, not the moon, but the image, and intention to point that is the closest we can come. Thank you for talking about the deep mystical connection of souls who are in that stance together, whatever our language, and whatever our beliefs. And thank you for speaking about silence as closeness to the One.

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