Often the answer is a third grade version, something like, “a guy sitting in the clouds with a big white beard,” or perhaps “the scary judge who’s going to punish me for every tiny infraction.”
I don’t believe in those versions of God either. I’m not sure exactly what God I believe in, but I do know It/He/She/Whatever isn’t something tangible, or even conceivable.
That’s the point, right? God is beyond definition or description. God is Beyond.
One of the Hebrew names for God is Ayn Sof — אין סוף — without end, infinite. This kind of mystical name for God is a lot easier for me to swallow than the third grade models.
In the bible, when Moshe asked God to identify Himself, God said: Ehyeh asher ehyeh. The Hebrew looks like this: אהיה אשר אהיה
It’s sometimes translated as “I am that I am” but in fact it’s in the future tense and more accurate translations are:
“I will be what I will be,” or
“I will be who I will be,” or perhaps even
“I will be because I will be.”
(The middle word, asher, can be translated as what, who, because, or that, depending on the context.)
Rabbi Marcia Prager put it this way at DLTI (Davvennin’ Leadership Training Institute):
“Making the words [of the prayer book] release deep truths is a struggle — words like God, which are in many ways so unfortunate and unfortunately over- and badly used. We need to engage our internal translators, and sometimes it’s not so easy.”
Reb Marcia teaches that the root of the word Adonai, one of the names most used in Judaism, isn’t from the word for “sir” but rather from the word for “joints, connectors.” Thinking of God as Connector rather than Sir makes more sense to me.
And yet…. I still struggle.