Nature of God


Story of ChristianityMuch of the Bible is written in narrative form.  It tells a story – a true story, but a story nonetheless.  There is a lot of information in the Bible to digest, and it’s easy to get lost in the details and miss the big picture.  So how does one put it all together?  What is the essence of the Biblical story?  What is the basic story line from Genesis to Revelation?  Various attempts have been to condense the major themes and events in the Bible into a coherent, terse story line.  Here is my attempt to arrange the puzzle pieces into a clear picture, such as it is.  I hope it will tie together some loose ends that may exist in your mind and offer you a bird’s-eye view of the greatest story ever told: (more…)

OmnipotentSome people claim the existence of God cannot be falsified.  As I have argued elsewhere, this is not true. One way to falsify God’s existence is to show that the concept of God is logically incoherent. This can be done by demonstrating that two or more supposed divine attributes are logically incompatible. For example, it has been argued that omnipotence and omnibenevolence are logically incompatible.

The objection

The argument is set forth along these lines: Omnipotence entails the power to actualize any state of affairs that is logically possible to actualize. There is nothing logically incoherent about an omnipotent being committing evil, so omnipotence must include the power to actualize a world in which the omnipotent being commits evil. As an omnibenevolent being, however, God is incapable of committing evil.  Therefore, God cannot be omnipotent.  While a being can be either omnibenevolent or omnipotent, no being can be both omnibenevolent and omnipotent.  Since the theistic concept of God entails both, the God of theism cannot exist.

Areas of agreement

How might the theist respond to this objection?  Let us start with some points of agreement.  First, we agree that God must be both omnipotent and omnibenevolent.  Theistic philosophers have long held that the concept of God is that of the greatest conceivable being (GCB).  God is a being of which a greater cannot be conceived.  If we can conceive of some being Y who is greater than the being we call God, then being Y is the true God. Since it is greater to be all-powerful than partially powerful, the GCB must possess the property of being all-powerful.  Likewise, since it is greater to be all-good than partially good, the GCB must possess the property of being all-good.

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God ForeknowA couple of years ago a friendly soul purchased Steven C. Roy’s book, How Much Does God Foreknow from my Ministry Resource List.  Other research, however, prevented me from getting to this book until now.

As the title implies, the purpose of the book is to explore the question of God’s foreknowledge. It is meant to be a critical evaluation of open theism, which is the view that God cannot know the future, free choices made by moral agents because the future does not exist. One of the strengths of Roy’s work is that he interacts directly with Open Theists, quoting them at length.  This avoids the potential for constructing a straw man argument, and allows the reader to consider Open Theists arguments for themselves.

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Omnipresence toiletOmnipresence is one of God’s attributes.  As I argued in an article at The Institute for Biblical Studies, however, this property is not essential to God’s nature and should not be understood in spatial terms.  God is not a spatial being, and thus He does not exist anywhere, similar to the way in which we should not understand God’s eternal existence to mean He existed before creation.  “Before” is a temporal concept, and since time began with creation it is meaningless to speak of anything before creation.  Instead, we should speak of God’s existence without creation.

Similarly, as a non-spatial being God cannot exist in any spatial location.  To think of God’s omnipresence in terms of occupying points in space is a category error, similar to saying the number seven tastes delicious.  To say God is omnipresent refers to God’s cognizance of and causal activity at all points in the spatial dimension.

One of the distinguishing marks of the new atheists is that they not only think religion is false, but that it is dangerous and immoral too.  Even God himself is not above their judgment.  They regularly chide the God of the Bible as being a moral monster!  They accuse Him of being pro-genocide, anti-women, pro-rape, pro-slavery, etc.  Rather than the paradigm of moral goodness, God is an evil despot that is to be shunned.  You know it’s a bad day when even God is evil!

Is what they say true?  Is God – particularly as He is portrayed in the OT – morally evil?  Many Christians are sympathetic to this charge because they themselves struggle to understand God’s actions and commands, particularly as revealed in the OT.  Thankfully there have been some well-written responses to the problem of “theistic evil” written in recent years to dispel this negative portrait of God.  

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David Baggett and jerry Walls have written an excellent book exploring God’s relationship to morality.  The book aims to provide a moral argument for the existence of God, and to answer criticisms to theistic ethics.  After showing how various non-theistic foundations for ethics fail, the authors take a close look at the most common objection to theistic ethics: the Euthyphro argument.  They critique both horns of the dilemma: pure voluntarism (X is good because God commands it) and non-voluntarism (X is good wholly independent of God and His will).  If goodness is determined by God’s commands, then morality seems arbitrary.  Indeed, if God willed that rape is good rape would be good (abhorrent commands objection).  There is also the epistemic problem.  How would we know what God has commanded, or if God has changed His mind?  The problem with non-voluntarism is that it makes God irrelevant to morality.  Goodness stands outside of God.  Indeed, God is subject to the good in the same way we are.  At best His role is to communicate to us what is good.  He is like the divine meteorologist who reports the weather rather can creating it.  If goodness is independent of God, then God’s aseity (self-existence) is called into question.  He cannot be the metaphysical ultimate.

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Sam Storms has written an insightful analysis of the idea that we can or should “forgive God.”  While a few snippets cannot do it justice, the heart of his argument is as follows: 

First of all, let me say that I understand where this sort of question comes from. I understand how people quite often are confused by what God does or doesn’t do. … But my struggle is with the language of “forgiving God.” For one thing, I don’t find it ever used in Scripture. That alone ought to give us pause before we incorporate such language into our Christian vocabulary or allow it to shape our theology or our understanding of spiritual formation.

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