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The Christian Concept of God

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THE CHRISTIAN CONCEPT OF GOD

Christians claim that their concept of God is found in the Bible. Known as classical theism, this view of God has long been considered the orthodox theistic position of the Western world. Though there are numerous divine attributes that we could examine, for our present purposes it is sufficient to say that the God of classical theism is at least (1) personal and incorporeal (without physical parts), (2) the Creator and Sustainer of everything else that exists, (3) omnipotent (all-powerful), (4) omniscient (all-knowing), (5) omnipresent (everywhere present), (6) immutable (unchanging) and eternal, and (7) necessary and the only God.

Let us now briefly look at each of these attributes.

1. Personal and Incorporeal. According to Christian theism, God is a personal being who has all the attributes that we may expect from a perfect person: self-consciousness, the ability to reason, know, love, communicate, and so forth. This is clearly how God is described in the Scriptures (e.g., Gen. 17:11; Exod. 3:14; Jer. 29:11).

God is also incorporeal. Unlike humans, God is not uniquely associated with one physical entity (i.e., a body). This is why the Bible refers to God as Spirit (John 4:24).

2. The Creator and Sustainer of Everything Else that Exists. In classical theism, all reality is contingent on God Ð'-- that is, all reality has come into existence and continues to exist because of Him. Unlike a god who forms the universe out of preexistent matter, the God of classical theism created the universe ex nihilo (out of nothing). Consequently, it is on God alone that everything in the universe depends for its existence (see Acts 17:25; Col. 1:16, 17; Rom. 11:36; Heb. 11:3; 2 Cor. 4:6; Rev. 4:11).

3. Omnipotent. God is also said to be omnipotent or all-powerful. This should be understood to mean that God can do anything that is (1) logically possible (see below), and (2) consistent with being a personal, incorporeal, omniscient, omnipresent, immutable, wholly perfect, and necessary Creator.

Concerning the latter, these attributes are not limitations of God's power, but perfections. They are attributes at their infinitely highest level, which are essential to God's nature. For example, since God is perfect, He cannot sin; because He is personal, He is incapable of making Himself impersonal; because He is omniscient, He cannot forget. All this is supported by the Bible when its writers assert that God cannot sin (Mark 10:18; Heb. 6:18), cease to exist (Exod. 3:14; Mal. 3:6), or fail to know something (Job 28:24; Ps. 139:17-18; Isa. 46:10a). Since God is a perfect person, it is necessarily the case that He is incapable of acting in a less than perfect way Ð'-- which would include sinning, ceasing to exist, and being ignorant.

When the classical theist claims that God can only do what is logically possible, he or she is claiming that God cannot do or create what is logically impossible. Examples of logically impossible entities include "married bachelors," "square circles," and "a brother who is an only child." But these are not really entities; they are merely contrary terms that are strung together and appear to say something. Hence, the fact that God cannot do the logically impossible does not in any way discount His omnipotence.

Also counted among the things that are logically impossible for God to do or create are those imperfect acts mentioned above which a wholly perfect and immutable being cannot do Ð'-- such as sin, lack omniscience, and/or cease to exist. Since God is a personal, incorporeal, omniscient, omnipresent, immutable, wholly perfect, and necessary Creator, it follows that any act inconsistent with these attributes would be necessarily (or logically) impossible for God to perform. But this fact does not count against God's omnipotence, since, as St. Augustine points out, "Neither do we lessen [God's] power when we say He cannot die or be deceived. This is the kind of inability which, if removed, would make God less powerful than He is.... It is precisely because He is omnipotent that for Him some things are impossible."3

But what about Luke 1:37, where we are told that "nothing is impossible with God?" (NIV) Addressing this question, St. Thomas Aquinas points out that this verse is not talking about internally contradictory or contrary "entities," since such "things" are not really things at all. They are merely words strung together that appear to be saying something when in fact they are saying nothing.4 Hence, everything is possible for God, but the logically impossible is not truly a thing.

4. Omniscient. God .5 Concerning God's unfathomable knowledge, the psalmist writes: "How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you" (Ps. 139:17,18). Elsewhere he writes, "Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit" (147:5). The author of Job writes of God: "For he views the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens" (Job 28:24). Scripture also teaches that God has total knowledge of the past (Isa. 41:22). Concerning the future, God says: "I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: 'My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please,'" (Isa. 46:10). Elsewhere Isaiah quotes God as saying that knowledge (not opinion or highly probable guesses) of the future is essential for deity (Isa. 41:21-24), something that distinguished God from the many false gods of Isaiah's day.

5. Omnipresent. Logically following from God's omniscience, incorporeality, omnipotence, and role as creator and sustainer of the universe is His omnipresence. Since God is not limited by a spatio-temporal body, knows everything immediately without benefit of sensory organs, and sustains the existence of all that exists, it follows that He is in some sense present everywhere. Certainly it is the Bible's explicit teaching that God is omnipresent (Ps. 139:7-12; Jer. 23:23-24).

6. Immutable and Eternal. When a Christian says that God is immutable and eternal, he or she is saying that God is unchanging (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 6:17; Isa. 46:10b) and has always existed as God throughout all eternity (Ps. 90:2; Isa. 40:28; 43:12b, 13; 57:15a; Rom. 1:20a; 1 Tim. 1:17).6 There never was a time when God was not God.

Although God certainly seems to change in response to how His creatures behave Ð'-- such as in the case

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