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Defend the Faith: Doctrine of God

Burning Bush Mosaic
Burning Bush Mosaic

Before you can intelligently assert whether God exists, you have to determine what you mean when you refer to God. What does it mean to say, I believe in God, or to say the ever vague I have faith? Faith in what? Placing your ultimate faith in something makes that your God. If it’s not the true God then it’s an idol. Idols come in many forms.To say that you don’t believe in God or religion is to necessarily deify chance. For the non-christian deification is unavoidable. As for Christians, we do not make our God. He is who he is.

To Communicate or Not to Communicate

What sort of God is the one that Christians believe to be the true God? God’s attributes can be divided into two major categories. The first of these are his incommunicable attributes. These attributes are those that cannot be given or communicated to anything or anyone in creation. An example is God’s attribute of infinity. In creation nothing is infinite. God’s infinity cannot be given. It’s important to understand that God’s incommunicable attributes describe God as truly unlike anything else, yet he is also very personal. While God is totally set apart from creation as creator, he also isn’t some mindless force. The second major category is God’s communicable attributes. An example of this is that God is wise and can impart wisdom to people. This example surfaces a vital concept about God’s communicable attributes. Though God communicates the attributes, the creation does not take on the attributes in the way he does. The creation is incapable of living up to God’s standards.Though God gives wisdom to men they are still created. Men can have wisdom like God but they cannot have God’s infinite wisdom.

God’s Incommunicable Attributes

The incommunicable attributes are where it can get pretty deep. Indeed, in Exodus 3:14 God first speaks to Moses from the burning bush, and when asked to identify himself to the children of Israel God says something totally profound.

God said to Moses, I am who I am. And he said, Say this to the people of Israel, I am has sent me to you.

God is saying a lot about himself with these glorious words. Quite possibly the most important of God’s attributes to grasp is the concept of God’s aseity (a se, Latin: of himself). This refers to God’s complete independence. In his great work, The Defense of the Faith, Cornelius Van Til explains:

God is in no sense correlative to or dependent upon anything besides his own being. God is the source of his own being, or rather the term source cannot be applied to God. God is absolute. He is sufficient unto Himself.

Think about it. The implications of this are huge. For one, to be God is to not be in need of anything else. If God is as good as it gets then what more would he need? If God was dependent on someone or something else, then it would mean that it would have power over him. Here’s an interesting thought: Did God create man because he was lonely? Did God create man because he needed (was dependent) on man’s companionship? If God is truly of himself then it can’t be true that he created man to cure his loneliness. Oh, the pride of men! God didn’t need to create us. Let’s just say that he created us because he loves us.

The second of the incommunicable attributes is God’s infinity. When it comes to time, God is eternal. He is completely without beginning or end or succession of moments. There never was a time when God didn’t exist or didn’t know himself completely. In fact, God’s transcends time. With respect to space, God has omnipresence. This means that God isn’t included in space, yet he is neither absent from it. Like time, God also transcends space.

God incommunicable attributes also include unity. Christianity is staunchly monotheistic. There is and can only be one God. This is known as God’s unity of singularity (numerical oneness) Secondly, God is in no way composed of parts or aspects that existed prior to himself. This is God’s unity of simplicity (without parts). It may be asked, Is it not true that Christians believe in the Trinity? How can God be one and three? For this, Van Til brings outstanding insight into the matter.

The attributes of God are not to be thought of otherwise than as aspects of the one simple original being; the whole is identical with the parts. On the other hand the attributes of God are not characteristics that God has developed gradually. They are fundamental to His being; the parts together form the whole. The unity and the diversity in God are equally basic and mutually dependent upon one another. The importance of this doctrine for apologetics may be seen from the fact that the whole problem of philosophy may be summed up in the question of the relation of unity to diversity; the so-called problem of the one and the many receives a definite answer from the doctrine of the simplicity of God.

(emphasis added)

The problem of the one and the many is derived from the question, Is it through unity or diversity that we can know that something is? The Trinity is the answer. To understand the Trinity is to understand that there is an equal ultimacy of unity and diversity in God. The membership of the Trinity can be said to be distinctions. However, these are not things. The Godhead is not a composition of thing upon thing. Rather, the distinctions are ways in which the essence of God exists personally.

God’s Communicable Attributes

There are numerous communicable attributes that are ascribed to God. The three main attributes included are God’s spirituality, invisibility and his omniscience. The first two should be apparent. God is spiritual in that he is a spirit. He is also invisible. What may not be as apparent is God’s omniscience. In short, omniscience means that God knows and has always known his own being to its very depths in one eternal act of knowledge. God has always known himself. It’s also true that he didn’t get to know himself over time. Neither does God need to look beyond himself for additions to his knowledge. For that matter, when it comes down to it, neither do we. In fact, facts as such are created by God. This is one of the reasons why The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. (Proverbs 1:7)

There Can Only Be One

Christianity is inclusive in that anyone can receive God’s grace regardless of race, gender, or merit. However, it is also exclusive in that it asserts there is only and can only be one God. The true God is the sovereign triune God of Christianity. He is the Creator who is completely set apart from creation. Yet he condescends to bestow his countless graces to all. There is only one way to this God. The only way is through the Son Christ Jesus. (John 14:6) The Christian doctrine of God implies a definite conception of the relation of God to the created universe. Not only that, it also forms a definite conception of everything in the created universe. After the scales fall from the eyes you never see the world in the same way. You realize just how little you knew before.

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Joshua Ambrose

Joshua Ambrose is a restless disciple of Christ and sometimes whimsical mischief-maker. When not writing about theology, he writes about philosophy, history, economics, finance and basically anything that involves being a good neighbor in a way that honors his Lord.

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