Sunday, September 13, 2009

Theology

Lesson 4: Theology

Who is God and how can we know anything about Him? The study of theology [Greek: theos (God) + logia (study)] is our human attempt to answer those kinds of questions. Dr. Tackett shows how utterly overwhelming such a task can be by reflecting on the enormity and incomprehensibility of the concept of infinity. Because our God is infinite, our understanding of him will never be complete. But acknowledging that reality does not prevent us from seeking and finding answers about him. The primary way we do that is through the Scripture and our reasonable acceptance of the idea that it is the primary way by which God has chosen to reveal himself to us.

Dr. Tackett focuses mainly on the inerrancy and reliability of Scripture so I will not reiterate what he said about that except to be clear about what inerrancy actually means. A simple way to look at inerrancy is to see it as reflecting the proper ideas that God meant the original writers to reveal. Inerrancy means that the Bible is true in the meaning that God superintended through the original authors. If you are interested in delving into this topic more deeply, this link is to an excellent essay by apologist Greg Koukl that will help you think through the issues of the inspiration and reliability of Scripture: Does God Try?

So, if we accept the notion of Scriptural inerrancy, what have the great theologians agreed upon about the nature and attributes of God? Obviously, that is a discussion that goes well beyond the scope of this lesson. For simplicity I will list the most commonly-accepted attributes with a short description of each. If you want more than that I would suggest a "systematic theology" like this one by Dr. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.

The attributes of God are ...

Transcendence: existence beyond the physical universe. Though God exists beyond the universe, he also operates within it at his leisure.

Omnipresence
: present in all places. God does not have size of spatial dimensions and is present at every point of space with his whole being, yet God acts differently in different places.

Omnipotence
: all-powerful. Anything that power can do, He can do. He has access to all power that is available. But power cannot do illogical things (like making a square circle or a rock so big he can't move it) so the challenge of those kinds of objections are irrelevant and not as decimating to the idea of God as some critics try to make them.

Omniscience: all-knowing. He fully knows himself and all actual and possible things (i.e. everything there is to know) in one simple eternal act. There is nothing for Him to learn as far as future contingencies are concerned.

Eternity: God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time.

Unity: simplicity. God is not divided into parts, yet we see different attributes of God emphasized at different times.

Independence/Aseity: self existence. God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything, yet we and the rest of creation can glorify him and bring him joy.

Immutability: unchanging. God does not change in his being (essence), perfections, purposes and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions and acts and feels differently in different situations. Though the Bible does record instances of God "changing his mind" in response to the prayers of his people, doing so does not change his nature.

Spirituality: God exists as a being that is not made of any matter, has no parts or dimensions, is unable to be perceived by our bodily senses, and is more excellent than any other kind of existence.

Invisibility: God's total essence, all of his spiritual being, will never be able to be seen by us, yet God still shows himself through visible, created things.

Wisdom: God always chooses the best goals and the best means to those goals.

Truthfulness: He is the True God and all his knowledge and words are both true and the final standard of truth.

Goodness: God is the final standard of good and all that God is and does is worthy of approval. This attribute includes the attributes of mercy, grace and patience.

Love: God eternally gives of himself to others.

Holiness: God is separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own honor.

Peace/Order: In his being and in his actions, God is separate from all confusion and disorder, yet he is continually active in innumerably well-ordered, fully controlled, simultaneous actions.

Righteousness/Justice: God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right.

Jealousy: God continually seeks to protect his own honor.

Wrath: God intensely hates all sin.

It is probably true that most of us have never considered all these formal definitions of the attributes of God even though each probably sounds reasonable and familiar. Yet it is important to understand each of them because, in the "cosmic battle" we have been discussing, many of the wrong ideas and cultural deceptions about God rest on an improper understanding of what we understand God to be. Alternatively, some misperceptions result from an incomplete picture where one or more attributes are magnified to eclipse others. You have to know and be able to recognize the false ideas that are often used, not only by those who are in opposition to the truth of Christianity, but misunderstandings that have grown within the church itself.

The latter may be the most difficult and harmful ideas of them all.

3 comments:

  1. A QUESTION: I have a question about this past Sunday’s session. We were talking about the validity of the Bible and how so much has been proven to support the claims it makes. I have a friend who has no trouble believing the things that we actually have proof of – it’s the supernatural claims that are hard for her to grasp and believe. She struggles with life after death and the existence of heaven & hell for which there is no physical or historical evidence. I accept those on faith because I believe the entire Bible to be true. How would you explain this to someone like her?

    RESPONSE:This is a great question. I guess I would acknowledge her doubt but also point out that if your friend has no trouble believing "the things we have proof of" she should have a healthy respect for the veracity of the Bible. And the Bible clearly teaches about the existence of heaven, hell and the afterlife. It's a cumulative case ...

    If the Bible and the scientific support for the beginning of the universe are reasonable to believe, that means that the greatest miracle that ever occurred was that the entire known universe emerged out of nothing. This means that whoever caused such a thing must himself be outside space and time -- which means that there is such a thing as "outside space and time." This is where God dwells and that is the definition of "heaven." Hell is simply the opposite of that -- an existence apart from God.

    When you combine that with all the attributes of God, you come up with a few things that follow from it:

    1) Hell exists -- Scripture tells us so and Jesus said so emphatically

    2) God's love demands that He will not force anyone to accept Him

    3) God's justice demands that those who reject his perfection are fairly treated

    4) God's sovereignty demands that there be a way to destroy evil and that is the way He has chosen to do so

    This is very uncomfortable for many in our culture to accept but it is the reasonable conclusion to reach given all the evidence we have for the existence and nature of God. In fact, if there was no such thing as punishment for rejecting God, the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus would not make any sense -- and we have evidence for all three of those.

    I would also point out that there is a lot of concrete scientific evidence for some kind of "life after death" reality that has been documented in cases of near death experiences (NDE). This may be the kind of thing she's looking for. There is a great book about this by Dr. Mario Beaugregard and Denyse O'Leary titled, The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case For The Existence of the Soul, that she may be interested in reading.

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  2. I've heard the statement, "You either follow God's law or man's law". If that is true, then what does "fairly treated" mean in "3) God's justice demands that those who reject his perfection are fairly treated"?

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  3. This is the kind of question that our cultural paradigm makes very hard to accept. But the idea is that God's perfection, once rejected, demands that the violator be punished. God's justice requires it. By following our own desires instead of adhering to God's law, we invite his wrath. It is only "fair" that criminals be punished. Just as we demand fair treatment of criminals in our world, it would only be "fair" for those who violate God's law to face his wrath. But ...

    We are welcome to face that punishment on our own, OR, we can accept the substitutionary atonement of Christ who takes that punishment for us. That is the essence of Christianity.

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