Here is a description of some of the Supreme Lord's transcendental activities, executed by His inconceivable potencies. The contradictions given here prove the inconceivable potencies of the Lord. "He walks, and He does not walk." Ordinarily, if someone can walk, it is illogical to say he cannot walk. But in reference to God, such a contradiction simply serves to indicate His inconceivable power. With our limited fund of knowledge we cannot accommodate such contradictions, and therefore we conceive of the Lord in terms of our limited powers of understanding. For example, the impersonalist philosophers of the Māyāvāda school accept only the Lord's impersonal activities and reject His personal feature. But the members of the Bhāgavata school, adopting the perfect conception of the Lord, accept His inconceivable potencies and thus understand that He is both personal and impersonal. The bhāgavatas know that without inconceivable potencies there can be no meaning to the words "Supreme Lord."
We should not take it for granted that because we cannot see God with our eyes the Lord has no personal existence. Śrī Īśopaniṣad refutes this argument by declaring that the Lord is far away but very near also. The abode of the Lord is beyond the material sky, and we have no means to measure even this material sky. If the material sky extends so far, then what to speak of the spiritual sky, which is altogether beyond it? That the spiritual sky is situated far, far away from the material universe is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gītā (15.6). But despite the Lord's being so far away, He can at once, within less than a second, descend before us with a speed swifter than that of the mind or wind. He can also run so swiftly that no one can surpass Him. This has already been described in the previous verse.
Yet when the Personality of Godhead comes before us, we neglect Him. Such foolish negligence is condemned by the Lord in the Bhagavad-gītā (9.11), where He says that the foolish deride Him, considering Him a mortal being. He is not a mortal being, nor does He come before us with a body produced of material nature. There are many so-called scholars who contend that the Lord descends in a body made of matter, just like an ordinary living being. Not knowing His inconceivable power, such foolish men place the Lord on an equal level with ordinary men.
Because He is full of inconceivable potencies, God can accept our service through any sort of medium, and He can convert His different potencies according to His own will. Nonbelievers argue either that the Lord cannot incarnate Himself at all, or that if He does He descends in a form of material energy. These arguments are nullified if we accept the existence of the Lord's inconceivable potencies. Then we will understand that even if the Lord appears before us in the form of material energy, it is quite possible for Him to convert this energy into spiritual energy. Since the source of the energies is one and the same, the energies can be utilized according to the will of their source. For example, the Lord can appear in the form of the arcā-vigraha, a Deity supposedly made of earth, stone or wood. Deity forms, although engraved from wood, stone or other matter, are not idols, as the iconoclasts contend.
In our present state of imperfect material existence, we cannot see the Supreme Lord due to imperfect vision. Yet those devotees who want to see Him by means of material vision are favored by the Lord, who appears in a so-called material form to accept His devotees' service. One should not think that such devotees, who are in the lowest stage of devotional service, are worshiping an idol. They are factually worshiping the Lord, who has agreed to appear before them in an approachable way. Nor is the arcā form fashioned according to the whims of the worshiper. This form is eternally existent with all paraphernalia. This can be actually felt by a sincere devotee, but not by an atheist.
In the Bhagavad-gītā (4.11) the Lord says that how He treats His devotee depends on the devotee's degree of surrender. The Lord reserves the right not to reveal Himself to anyone and everyone but to show Himself only to those souls who surrender unto Him. Thus for the surrendered soul He is always within reach, whereas for the unsurrendered soul He is far, far away and cannot be approached.
In this connection, two words the revealed scriptures often apply to the Lord—saguṇa ("with qualities") and nirguṇa ("without qualities")—are very important. The word saguṇa does not imply that when the Lord appears with perceivable qualities He must take on a material form and be subject to the laws of material nature. For Him there is no difference between the material and spiritual energies, because He is the source of all energies. As the controller of all energies, He cannot at any time be under their influence, as we are. The material energy works according to His direction; therefore He can use that energy for His purposes without ever being influenced by any of the qualities of that energy. (In this sense He is nirguṇa, "without qualities.") Nor does the Lord become a formless entity at any time, for ultimately He is the eternal form, the primeval Lord. His impersonal aspect, or Brahman effulgence, is but the glow of His personal rays, just as the sun's rays are the glow of the sun-god.
When the child saint Prahlāda Mahārāja was in the presence of his atheist father, his father asked him, "Where is your God?" When Prahlāda replied that God resides everywhere, the father angrily asked whether his God was within one of the pillars of the palace, and the child said yes. At once the atheist king shattered the pillar in front of him to pieces, and the Lord instantly appeared as Nṛsiṁha, the half-man, half-lion incarnation, and killed the atheist king. Thus the Lord is within everything, and He creates everything by His different energies. Through His inconceivable powers He can appear at any place in order to favor His sincere devotee. Lord Nṛsiṁha appeared from within the pillar not by the order of the atheist king but by the wish of His devotee Prahlāda. An atheist cannot order the Lord to appear, but the Lord will appear anywhere and everywhere to show mercy to His devotee. The Bhagavad-gītā (4.8) similarly states that the Lord appears in order to vanquish nonbelievers and protect believers. Of course, the Lord has sufficient energies and agents who can vanquish atheists, but it pleases Him to personally favor a devotee. Therefore He descends as an incarnation. Actually, He descends only to favor His devotees and not for any other purpose.
In the Brahma-saṁhitā (5.35) it is said that Govinda, the primeval Lord, enters everything by His plenary portion. He enters the universe as well as all the atoms of the universe. He is outside in His virāṭ form, and He is within everything as antaryāmī. As antaryāmī He witnesses everything that is going on, and He awards us the results of our actions as karma-phala. We ourselves may forget what we have done in previous lives, but because the Lord witnesses our actions, the results of our actions are always there, and we have to undergo the reactions nonetheless.
The fact is that there is nothing but God within and without. Everything is a manifestation of His different energies, like the heat and light emanating from a fire, and in this way there is a oneness among His diverse energies. Although there is oneness, however, the Lord in His personal form still enjoys unlimitedly all the pleasures enjoyed minutely by the tiny part-and-parcel living entities.