Sunday, June 21, 2009

Systematic Theology - Doctrine of God Part II

Between the move and getting a couple of things off the ground here in Port Arthur, I have not been keeping up with our systematic theology discussion. So to get back on track, here is the second part of our discussion on the doctrine of God:

God’s Attributes:
Perfect being theology suggests that God is “a thoroughly benevolent conscious agent with unlimited knowledge and power who is the necessarily existent, ontologically independent creative source of all else” (Morris, 40). There is no being that can be considered greater than the one that is described. This definition does not grasp all that our canonical heritage has to offer regarding God, but it does point us towards other ways in which we can describe God. Systematic theology refers to these alternatives as God’s attributes.

First, God is uncreated. There is no prior cause for God. Instead, God is the prior cause for all else in creation. God has always been in existence and there is no way for God to go out of existence. Second, God is not dependent upon anything within the created order. Instead, God is radically independent and free to act as God chooses for God’s own good purposes. This is what is meant by God’s “ontological independence” (Morris, 40). Third, God is both omnipotent and omniscient; God is capable of doing and knowing whatever is logically possible for God to do and know. These attributes are not to be mistaken for coercion and tyranny. God neither knows nor acts in such a way that limits the freedom that God has given to humanity. God neither predestines nor causes our actions (Abraham, 2007). Fourth, God is omnipresent. God both created time and space and indwells time and space. This means that God’s agency extended through all of the created order simultaneously (Abraham, 2007). This is only possible if God is both imminent and transcendent. Fifth, God is immutable. As such, God does not change God’s mind and God does not make mistakes (Miles, 2005). The core of God’s being cannot change, age, diminish, nor go away. Additionally, God’s fundamental faithfulness is unfailing. Sixth, God is Divine simplicity; nothing can be subtracted from God (Miles, 2005).

While this delineates some of the more crucial attributes for understanding God, it is by no means an exhaustive list. To be fair to the tradition, theologians have also described God as impassible, infinite, all loving, good, just, holy, worthy of worship, the source of all true human happiness and welfare, and so on. Space constraints do not allow for a description of God that more fully embraces all that can be known about God and God’s self-revelation.

God’s Activity in the World:
From creation to the present, and from now through our final redemption, God has been, is and will continue to be active in the world. God’s activity is seen in the Hebrews’ liberation from Egypt, provision for the Israelites in the wilderness, giving the law through Moses, speaking through the prophets, and in the sending of Jesus. Much can be learned about God by recognizing God’s activity in history. These activities are often associated with specific persons within the Trinity. For example, creation is attributed to God the Father, redemption to the Son, and the establishment of the Church to the Holy Spirit. Discussion of the remaining persons of the Trinity and their activities will occur in their respective loci.

Now it is your turn...what would you add to the list of attributes? How do we experience those additions? Is there an attribute that you would leave out? If so, why?

© Russell Hall/Radically Altered – 2009. All Rights Reserved.


Nate Custer said...

So I guess the meat of my question would be (drawing from Heidegger here ...) this:

Is God:

a) a being among beings?
b) being itself?
c) neither of these?

It seems here like you want to place God as a being among beings, but also want to speak about God in other ways.

I have to side with C here. God is a way we describe our relationship to the No-Thing-Ness that is at the core of the Every-Thing-Ness of reality. It is a way of speaking about the inbreaking event. But not a thing or a being. Which is why I describe myself as a non-theist or atheist ;).


Russell said...

Hey Nate,

I was wondering if you were going to jump in on the conversation!

In regards to your comment, I would avoid "a" because that would seem to reduce God to something that is among us other beings. This would have serious implications on our understanding of sin and salvation (of course, from what I understand of the perspective that you have shared with me, we are going to have some interesting conversations when we get to that point in the process :o).

"b" in and of itself appears to suggest that there are elements animism, hylozoism, and/or pantheism present in God (or that God is comprised as such). Again, this has ramifications for our understandings of sin, salvation, redemption, ecclesiology, and much more.

Therefore, at face value, I would have to agree that "c" is the better of the options presented, but for different reasons and with different conclusions. Perhaps being above all other beings might be another alternative (or maybe you will argue that it is a melding of the two, but I don't see it that way). I guess that is why I utilized perfect being theology to describe this because it recognizes that God is a being, but is above all other beings.

What I want to key into here with God's attributes and nature is the "other-ness" of God rather than the "no-thing-ness" (because for me it is something) and while that "other-ness" is both immanent and transcendent, it is not at its core the "Every-Thing-Ness" of reality (at least not as I think you are refering to it here).


Tammy said...

I think another attribute of God that I find mind-blowing is his capacity or ability or I don't know what to call it to limit himself for specific purposes. How can you be omnipotent and yet limit your power? Omniscient and yet limit your knowledge? Omnipresent and yet limit your presence? Now what do I mean by that? I suppose I am referring to how God acts in the world and interacts with humanity. It seems (and I am really just going off here) that at times, he chooses not to know what he could know, for example, for the sake of maintaining free will. He chooses not to act when he could, and I don't know the reason for that. He appears to be absent (notice use of word absent), and again his purpose in doing so is intentional, although the reason for it may seem hidden to us.

Certainly, in the incarnation, we see a great example of God choosing to limit himself. To be fully human, Jesus had to be limited and finite in some areas of what we call human existence.

Another example, which chronologically and logically I shold have written first, is creation. I came across this idea in a book I was reading yesterday. The author claims that because God is omnipresent, he had to "pull back" if you will to make "room" for creation; a creation that would have autonomy and free will. He likened it a host who practices true hospitality by shutting up long enough so that his guests can be the center of attention.

Anyway, for whatever reason, this aspect of God's character truly fascinates me.