THE NOTION OF GOD (PART 2)
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THINKING ABOUT GOD
So what can we know about God, and where do we go to find this? As one might expect, we can learn something about God’s character from the Bible. This is not the only place however, as we can also learn about God’s character through Church tradition, reason, and experience.¹
Of course, the scriptures are our primary source. Consider the following quotation: “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’ says the Lord God, who is and was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8)² Because alpha and omega are the beginning and the end letters of the Greek alphabet, we can interpret this as God saying that He is the beginning and the end of all things. To me this means that God existed before anything else did and will continue to exist should the universe ever end. We then can conclude that God created the universe and everything in it; and thus one aspect of God is his role as the Creator of all things. It is important to note that Christians believe God created the universe out of nothing as nothing else existed except God in the beginning.
Then there are two major ways of thinking about how God acts in the world today. The first is known as the deist perspective while the second is known as the theist perspective. According to deism, God created all things including the physical laws of nature, which in turn, control how everything works. For example when God created planets and other celestial objects, he created the relationship between these objects so that celestial bodies create a physical pull on other bodies around them. This force is called gravity. Deism seeks to explain all events with respect to the laws of nature. For instance, God doesn’t need to make the Earth revolve around the Sun. The Earth simply does so on its own accord due to the gravitational attraction of the larger body, the Sun, on the Earth. According to deism, God is not active in the world today. He simply created it and set it into motion.
Another way of thinking about how God acts in the world today is theism. This perspective proposes a greater role for God in world affairs than deism. According to theism, God created all things including the physical laws of nature. However God still acts on the physical universe and everything in it. This implies that supernatural miracles can happen. This is more in line with the traditional way of thinking about God and His intervention in the world. Thomas Aquinas, whose First Cause argument was referred to in Part One of this essay, provided a way to think about God’s intervention in the world today. Having already indicated that God was the first or primary cause, Aquinas postulated that God works indirectly in the world through what he called secondary causes.³ For example God acts by influencing a person’s motivation to work for the eradication of homelessness in her community. In this instance God would not provide a home to a homeless person directly, but He would influence other people to do so. Indeed we can think of ourselves as vessels of the Holy Spirit, and God acting through us.
Other characteristics of God all begin with the term “omni.” According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, omni is a combining form that means “all.” This helps us to describe God because God is thought of as the ultimate being or power. Thus we say God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Omnipotent, of course, means that God is all-powerful and can do all things. Omniscient means that God is all knowing. Omnipresent means that God is present everywhere.
But where in the scriptures do we find support for these three ideas about God? First, Psalm 68:34 states, “Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel; and whose power is in the skies.” Then Ephesians 1:17-19 state, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ … may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation … so that … you may know what is the hope to which He is called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance …, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe….” Further, Romans 11:33 states “Oh the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Finally, Psalm 139:1-2, state “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.” Verse 7 states, “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?”
In this essay, I began to discuss how to think about God especially his character. We said that before the universe existed, God existed. Thus, God is independent of the physical universe which He created. Thus God’s first characteristic is that of Creator. I then reviewed two ways of conceiving whether God is active in the world today – deism and theism. Then I discussed other characteristics of God. These were omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. However, I did not mean to imply that I believe that God created the universe in its present state all at once. I don’t believe that. I believe that the process by which God creates is evolution; and I will discuss this in my next essay.
¹McGrath, Alister E. (2011). Christian Theology: An introduction. – 5th ed. Chichester, West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
²Scriptural quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches in the U.S.A, and are used with permission. All rights reserved.
³McGrath, Alister E. (2011). Christian Theology: An introduction. – 5th ed. Chichester, West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.