God, when being physically described in media and when forced onscreen simply so we can see what the heck He looks like, usually appears as this basic figure. Old, with white hair and robes, usually with facial hair. He also has an undeniable air of authority, possibly glows or has a Holy Backlight, and has a booming, authoritarian, yet somehow understanding voice.
Grandpa God is a manifestation of how many people, at least in the West, like to view their Almighty Deity — pretty much as being the personification of their grandfather. Because let's face it — like it or not, when most people think of religion, particularly Christianity, they end up thinking of something old — as in, several thousand/billion years old. If God's been around telling us to do stuff this whole time, He simply has to look like an old family authority figure, or else how would we know well enough to respect Him?
Of course, in order to keep from mistaking Him one of those old people we like to make fun of, He needs all that other fantastic aura stuff, so even if He's old, He can still scare the bejeezies out of us if He feels like it.
This character is particularly popular in Western Animation, or pretty much anything that's drawn instead of acted. This is because drawing someone to fit our assumption of what God is like is usually much easier than finding a person in Real Life who can both look and act the part.
Some believe that the Western portrayal of the Christian God is probably taken from the classic portrayal of Zeus, of the Greek Olympian religion, including his tendency of shooting lightning at people and stuff. Of course, it could also be that the portrayal of Zeus himself draws from this very human necessity of having their God look old and wise... except Zeus is more like the angry grandfather who always grounds you for not very clear reasons and sleeps with everyone except your grandma. Needless to say, this opinion is not held by the majority of those who call themselves Christians. In fact, it may be considered a violation of the Ten Commandments just attempting to portray God as a mortal creature. Oddly, the look is also comparable to Santa Claus.
These days, odds are even that God will either be this or Divine Race Lift (if not both). Interestingly, Grandpa God seems to be treated with equal respect (by other characters) regardless of whether He is being used in a comedic or dramatic way. This is a character type that exists mainly because everyone can recognize who it is almost immediately.
This character usually, but not always, lives in Fluffy Cloud Heaven.
Compare and contrast the King of All Cosmos. Compare Big Red Devil.
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Anime and Manga
God as a cranky old man appears in one chapter of Akira Toriyama 's Dr Slump. He looks almost exactly like Master Roshi in Dragon Ball, and acts almost like him too (He lives in a small house in the skies, eats, watches TV, reads porn and so on). Full confession
He is Master Roshi. Or Master Roshi is the God from Dr. Slump. Apparently Toriyama liked the character so much, that he redesign him in Dragon Ball as the perverted Turtle Hermit. They're even voiced by the same voice actor in Japan (the late Miyauchi Kohei).
Subverted: There's a bearded, white-haired, white-robed figure who calls himself Father...but he's The Big Bad and the closest thing their universe has to a Satan figure. He's trying to invoke this, though; he has a god complex. (He's also Ed and Al's brother, not their grandfather.)
Notably, of the two religions we see in the setting, Ishbala apparently has an anti-idol ordinance in place, and Leto is a sun god with the robe and beard look. Both are monotheistic faiths centered around a male entity known for wisdom; the latter was at least partially hokum made up by a skillful shyster, presumably also drawing from the same tropes as the Homunculus of Xerxes for his tone. Seems to be the standard deific model of the region.
In Persepolis, when Marjane speaks to God, He takes on this form. The prophets, however, all take on the specific caricatures of the people who they are based on.
In The Film of the Book, she has a dream sequence after attempting suicide in which she speaks to both God and Marx. Marx's bearded appearance at least is justified since that's what he actually looked like.
In the comics, when she learns about Marxism for the first time, she even mentions that Marx looked like God except with a curlier beard. God comments on this when he next "speaks" to her. Interestingly, her image of God came before she learned about Marx so it's not like she modeled Him after that.
In Lucifer, God appears in several forms, from a being of pure light to taking the forms of others. Elaine eventually asks him to take a form she doesn't know, leading him to take on the appearance of... an old, grandfather aged British gentleman.
God of the old God Comics. He's surprisingly badass for a guy of that age.
The Highfather from New Gods is an archetypal Grandpa God, with some Obi Wan thrown in for good measure.
He traded sons with the ruler of hell world for peace. So far as I am aware, he has never since acknowledged the existence of the escape artist known as 'Scott Free.'
Then you should keep reading, because he has.
Films — Live-Action
Done in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Bizarrely, the God here is also W.G. Grace, an English 19th-century cricket player. In a joke that only those on the British Isles could possibly understand, for cricket fanatics, this man pretty much is God.
It's also worth noting that Deus ExMachina, "God", or perhaps the ruling intelligence of the Machines, takes the form of a baby. Word Of God (pun unintended) claims that this is a deliberate subversion of the "god is old" trope.
In Dogma, God's human form on Earth is revealed to be that of an elderly bearded man. After His mortal body is killed and He returns to heaven, He comes back to Earth in His regular form to fix things up — as a young, pretty, rather goofy woman played by Alanis Morissette.
Morgan Freeman's portrayal of God in Bruce Almighty and its sequel Evan Almighty is probably inspired by this trope... although that doesn't make it any less awesome.
C. S. Lewis's apologetic book The Problem of Pain points out that Christians aren't claiming that God is some kind of generic nice guy who just wants people to enjoy themselves. (And, it's obvious that the world isn't ruled by this kind of generic nice guy.) Lewis's label for this conception of God is "the Grandfather in Heaven," and sure enough, an unserious trope like Grandpa God does often consist of portrayals of the kind of benevolent geezer that Lewis was contrasting against his own more serious ideas about God.
Odwin = Odin. Odin has one eye. Odin is bearded. Odin has to succumb to the Odinsleep once yearly to replenish his power. Final nail in the coffin: his son, Thor, also shows up as a pretty major character.
Terry Pratchett's works often sum up this trope as "the big beard in the sky".
All the gods, at least UL and Aldur, in Belgariad. Subverted, in that Belar looks and acts like a youth, and Torak, who does not have a beard. This actually becomes a joke in the second series.
Averted in Joan of Arcadia. God comes to Joan in many unconventional forms, including a black school lunch lady.
Mythology and Religion
In Norse Mythology Odin is always depicted as an old greybeard; how He may look in particular depends on the situation but He is always an old one-eyed man.
Zeus is also usually shown like this, as in modern adaptations such as Clash of the Titans and God Of War II. Even though he isn't exactly the same kind of deity, it's quite likely that his artistic portrayal ended up inspiring later images of the Abrahamic God, except for the Muslim one.
Averted by Christian iconography, in that it's forbidden to make an Ikon (an image with sacramental power) of any person of the Trinity except the Second (Jesus) (since He has a human nature as well as a divine one, and can therefore be depicted). The bearded God? A metaphor.
Flipside is that, in Genesis, God says man will be made in His image. Now we begin to discuss the belly-button issue... though most modern Christians interpret "in His image" as referring to the whole sentience/self-awareness thing.
The Biblical concept of God as the "Ancient of Days" from the book of Daniel, in which the titular prophet has a vision of God as a white-haired, ancient figure on a throne. Depending on exactly when the book was written.
Averted in Samuel 2. It claims that He has smoke coming from His nostrils and as having fire breath (with smoke coming off that). Highly likely to be some kind of metaphor, especially as it just mentioned he is angry.
Technically, no one can see the true form of the Judeo-Christian God (specifically His face) and live, due to mankind's inherent sinfulness, as God is 100% perfect and holy. Even though Moses and God were pretty much the best of buddies, God disallowed Moses from looking at His face, instead hiding Moses in the cleft of a rock and covering it with His hand, only allowing Moses to see God's back.
Subverted with Jesus, who is believed to be God's human incarnation in Christianity (though of only one member of the trinity). The poor thing was killed in his thirties and he presumably stopped aging after his resurrection. Ironically, his transfigured/divine form, he is a White-Haired Pretty Boy. Make of that what you will...
Chinese folk religion often depicts the Jade Emperor, the ruler of heaven, as an older, benevolent authority figure. One of his many titles is "heavenly grandfather."
The Far Side uses this basic model of God usually for jokes involving puns or certain eccentricities of Creation. Gary Larson specifically depicted God this way because "That's how most of us think He looks", and as such it was the form least likely to tick anyone off.
In Frank And Ernest, God appears in this form, discussing creation with angels, or dealing with the dead.
A famous promotional image drawn by Al Hirschfeld for the original Broadway run of My Fair Lady shows Eliza Doolittle being worked like a puppet by Henry Higgins being worked like a puppet by a Grandpa God on a cloud. God is a caricature of George Bernard Shaw, who wrote Pygmalion, the play on which the musical is based.
God in the world of Wigu / Overcompensating is the typical white-haired beardy, except that he lives in a trailer park and spends all his time in a monogrammed dressing gown.
God's portrayal on Family Guy fits the exact basic physical description called for by this trope. The humor around the jokes involving God are based around Him cruising the bars, hitting on chicks, and generally acting exceptionallyun-Godlike.
In The Simpsons, God's face is always obscured, and He is portrayed as being a giant. Otherwise, He very clearly represents the image of a grandfather.
He's also not a half bad guy, even giving Homer his Frisbee back when he arrives in heaven, and agreeing to delay the Apocalypse when Homer pleads his case about loving his family more then he would enjoy heaven without them (He even Lampshades this by yelling " Deus ex Machina " when he does it. He also told Homer that religion was more of a personal thing, which lead him to starting his own theological path in life (Although that last one might of been a dream, since its implied an act of God torched the Simpsons home when he was too big of a dick about it).
One episode subverts this by having God appear just off-screen, and the other characters describe him as having, well, more body parts than us normal folk do. Namely, five fingers. Look closely.
Another has Him claim that omnipotence is the result of three eyes, and that a stolen eclair will go straight to His five thighs.
Joan, give ME your dessert!
God appears in one couch gag segment, where we get to see His face for the first time...but only for a moment before He's sucked into oblivion with the rest of the cosmos.
Veggietales features God on several occasions. In Moe and the Big Exit he appears as a tumbleweed that burns but is not consumed. In both Snoodle poems and (allegorically) The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything he appears as a Grandpa God.
Tripping the Rift plays this trope straight, but God occasionally shows a wicked sense of humor (appropriate for the series).
This was how God was treated by Rennaissance artists such as Michelangelo and his famous rendition of the Sistine Chapel. It was likely drawn from earlier and similar depictions of Zeus.