Monday, March 13, 2017

What is God like? (part 2)

This article is the second of two listing the primary attributes of God. We will list selected scripture references for each attribute with some additional clarification. Those attributes discussed in this part are:  His omnipresence, omniscience, perfection, righteousness, self-existence, self-sufficiency, and unchangeableness.

·          “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?" declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:24)
·         “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, you are there.” (Psalm 139:7-8)

But, how can God be everywhere? And, besides, isn’t He in heaven? God is everywhere in the sense that He maintains total sovereignty over the entire universe. This is not pantheism, wherein the universe is God:  He is separate from the creation. He is not constrained by physical limitations as are humans since “God is Spirit” (John 4:24). He created all that exists, so it seems reasonable He would have the ability to be omnipresent. We know He has the ability to exercise control over all the creation, because the Bible states that by Him all things were created and “in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

·         “His understanding is infinite” (Psalm 147:5)
·         “God is greater than our heart and knows all things” (1 John 3:20)

God demonstrated his omniscience through the prophesies found in His word that were fulfilled – with incredibly small odds – showing that He knows the future (a talent the Vegas odds makers would love to possess). Furthermore, if God created the universe, His knowledge is at least immeasurably beyond that of humans.

Peter Kreeft, Professor of Philosophy at Boston College, addressed the issue of God’s omniscience in relation to evil in the world. “God, if he is all-wise knows not only the present but the future. And he knows not only the present good and evil but future good and evil”, stated Kreeft. He went on to say God “has demonstrated how the very worst thing that has ever happened in the history of the world ended up resulting in the very best thing that has ever happened in the history of the world.” Referring to the death of God’s son on the cross, “the worst tragedy in history brought about the most glorious event in history.”[1] This event came about because God foresaw all potentialities in the future, then chose that with the greatest eternal benefit for mankind.

Perfect …
·         “In Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5), speaking of God the Father
·         And, speaking of Jesus, “who committed no sin” (1 Peter 2:22)
·         “He made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

… but, did Jesus become sin?
OK, so God is perfect and His Son, Jesus Christ, is perfect. But, if Jesus committed no sin, how did He become sin? Did Jesus become evil and descend into hell as an unregenerate sinner who needed to be saved and born again? Certainly not. Let’s look at it this way, did the millions of sheep and bulls sacrificed in the Old Testament turn into sinners? No, they remained dumb animals, but they paid the penalty for the sins of the people. Likewise, Jesus remained who He was while making the sacrifice for us. Jesus Christ never committed any sin, but the sins of the world were imputed to Him as the sacrifice. As Norm Geisler has noted:
“Jesus was always without sin actually, but He was made to be sin for us judicially. That is, by His death on the Cross, He paid the penalty for our sins and thereby cancelled the debt of sin against us. So, while Jesus never committed a sin personally, He was made to be sin for us substitutionally.”[2]   

·         “The Lord is righteous in all His ways” (Psalm 145:17)
·         “The Lord is righteous” (2 Chronicles 12:6, Lamentations 1:18, Psalm 129:4, and Zephaniah 3:5)
·         “The Lord is righteous; He loves righteousness” (Psalm 11:7)
·         “the Lord our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has done” (Daniel 9:14)

But, if God is righteous, where did the unrighteousness come from? If God created everything, He must have created unrighteousness and evil, right? In fact, He created Satan, previously called Lucifer. Yes, the Lord created Lucifer, who was given the free will to make his own choices. Lucifer chose evil – as some people do – but that does not mean God created the evil. Kreeft and Tacelli note that “Even the devil is good in his being. He is a good thing gone bad … If he had not had the greatest ontological goodness (goodness in his being) of a powerful mind and will, he could never have become as morally corrupt as he is.”[3] Evil is not an entity in itself; rather, it is a perversion or absence of righteousness. If someone makes a knife for the purpose of cutting food in the kitchen, but the knife is used to commit murder, the maker has done nothing wrong. The fact that unrighteousness exists does not diminish God’s righteousness.

Self-Existent and Self-Sufficient
·         “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14)
·          “In the beginning God ...” (Genesis 1:1)
·         “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? (Job 38:4)
·         “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 21:6)
·         “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:24-25)

Descartes addressed the attributes of God:
“By the word ‘God’ I mean a substance that is infinite, independent, supremely intelligent, supremely powerful, and the Creator of myself and anything else that may exist.”[4]
After some additional rationalist musings, he went on to address God’s self-existence and self-sufficiency:
“Now if I had existence from myself, I should have no doubts or wants, and in general nothing would be lacking in me; I should have endowed myself with all the perfections of which I have any idea – in fact I should myself be a God.”[5]
God required nothing to exist (unlike humans) and He needs nothing to continue existence.

·         “I, the Lord, do not change” (Malachi 3:6)
·         “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
·         “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind” (Psalm 110:4)
·         “the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind" (1 Samuel 15:29)

But, don’t some verses in the Bible say that God changes His mind? For example, when the Israelites worshipped the golden calf, God said to Moses, “Now then let me alone, that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation” (Exodus 32:10). Then, after Moses pleaded with Him, the “Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people” (v. 14). So, God does change – at least His mind, right?

Norm Geisler makes several points in answering this apparent dilemma:
·         First, change must occur in some chronological order, with the initial condition preceding the later condition. But, since God exists outside of time, this is meaningless. He sees the end from the beginning, so one does not necessarily precede the other from His point of view.
·         Second, something that changes shows some difference between former and latter states, generally for the better or worse. But, God is not different before or after; therefore, He cannot change.
·         Third, if anyone was to change his mind, it would take place after new information is revealed. But, since God knows all, new information would have no effect in His mind. However, circumstances may change – e. g. Moses’ prayer - and God’s relationship to the new situation may be different. God did not change, Moses did.[6]

[Biblical quotations are from the NASB version.]

[1] Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2000), 39.
[2] Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask (Wheaton, IL:  Victor Books, 1992), 471.
[3] Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL:  Intervarsity Press, 1994), 132.
[4] Descartes Philosophical Writings, translated by Elizabeth Anscombe and Peter Thomas Geach (Indianapolis, IN:  Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1971), 85.
[5] Ibid., 87.
[6] Geisler and Howe, 85-86.

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