Thursday, May 10, 2012

Systematic Theology--Chapter 11

The Character of God: "Incommunicable" Attributes
How is God different from us?

A. Introduction to the Study of God's Character
   1. Classifying God's Attributes
  • Examples of incommunicable attributes--those which God does not share with others
    • eternity
    • unchangeableness
    • omnipresence
  • Examples of communicable attributes--those which God does share with others (however imperfectly)
    • love
    • knowledge
    • mercy
    • justice
   2. The Names of God in Scripture 
  • Each of the names/expressions of God in Scripture are designed to tell us something about his character
    • Examples of descriptions of God taken from creation. He is compared to the following:
      • a lion (Isa. 31:4)
      • an eagle (Deut. 32.11)
      • a lamb (Isa. 53:7)
      • a hen (Matt. 23:37)
      • the sun (Ps. 84:11)
      • the morning star (Rev. 22:16)
      • a light (Ps. 27:1)
      • a torch (Rev. 21:23)
      • a fire (Heb. 12:29)
      • a fountain (Ps. 36:9)
      • a rock (Deut. 32:4)
      • a hiding place (Ps. 119:114)
      • a tower (Prov. 18:10)
      • a moth (Ps. 39:11)
      • a shadow (Ps. 91:1)
      • a shield (Ps. 84:11)
      • a temple (Rev. 21:22)
      • and so forth.
    • Examples of descriptions of God taken from human experience:
      • Examples of human position:
        • bridegroom (Isa. 61:10)
        • husband (Isa. 54:5)
        • father (Deut. 32:6)
        • judge and king (Isa. 33:22)
        • man of war (Ex. 15:3)
        • builder and maker (Heb. 11:10)
        • shepherd (Ps. 23:1)
        • physician (Ex. 15:26)
      • Examples of human action:
        • knowing (Gen. 18:21)
        • remembering (Gen. 8:1; Ex. 2:24)
        • seeing (Gen. 1:10)
        • hearing (Ex. 2:24)
        • smelling (Gen. 8:21)
        • tasting (Ps. 11:5)
        • sitting (Ps. 9:7)
        • rising (Ps. 68:1)
        • walking (Lev. 26:12)
        • wiping away tears (Isa. 25:8)
      • Examples of human emotion:
        • joy (Isa. 62:5)
        • grief (Ps. 78:40)
        • anger (Jer. 7:18-19)
        • love (John 3:16)
        • hatred (Deut. 16:22)
        • wrath (Ps. 2:5)
      • and so forth
    • Examples using various parts of the human body to describe God's activities in a metaphorical way:
      • face or countenance (Ex. 33:20, 23; Isa. 63:9; Ps. 16:11; Rev. 22:4)
      • eyes (Ps. 11:4; Heb. 4:13)
      • eyelids (Ps. 11:4)
      • ears (Ps. 55:1; Isa. 59:1)
      • nose (Deut. 33:10)
      • mouth (Deut. 8:3)
      • lips (Job 11:5)
      • tongue (Isa. 30:27)
      • neck (Jer. 18:17)
      • arms (Ex. 15:16)
      • hand (Num. 11:23)
      • finger (Ex. 8:19)
      • heart (Gen. 6:6)
      • foot (Isa. 66:1)
      • and so forth
  • The point of collecting this long list of Scriptures is to show that in one sense of another all of creation reveals something about God to us.
  • These verses also help us see that all that Scripture says about God uses anthropomorphic language--that is language that speaks of God in human terms.
    • If God is going to teach us about things we do not know by direct experience (such as his attributes), he has to teach us in terms of what we do know.
    • This does not mean that Scripture gives us wrong or misleading ideas about God, for this is the way that God has chosen to reveal himself to us, and to reveal himself truly and accurately.
    • We must not isolate any of these attributes; rather, each one should be understood in the light of everything else that Scripture tells us about God.
  • The language of these Scriptures should also remind us that God made the universe so that it would show forth the excellence of his character.
    • Psalm 148:3, 7-11, 13: Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word!  Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!Let them praise the name of the Lordfor his name alone is exalted;
      his majesty is above earth and heaven.
    • Isaiah 6:3: And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!"
  • It must be remembered that though all that Scripture tells us about God is true, it is not exhaustive. Scripture does not tell us everything about God's character. Thus, we will never know God's full or complete "name" in the sense that we will never understand God's character exhaustively. We will never know all there is to know about God. For this reason theologians have sometimes said, "God has many names, yet God has no name." God has many names in that we know many true descriptions of his character from Scripture, but God has no name in that we will never be able to describe or understand al of his character.
   3. Balanced Definitions of God's Incommunicable Attributes
  • The incommunicable attributes of God are perhaps the most easily misunderstood, probably because they represent aspects of God's character that are least familiar to our experience.
  • This chapter will define each attribute with a two-part sentence in order to guard against misunderstanding.
    • The first part defines the attribute.
    • The second part states a balancing or opposite aspect that relates to that attribute.
    • Ex.: "God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act, and he acts differently in response to different situations."
    • The second half of the sentence guards against the idea that unchangeableness means inability to act at all.
B. The Incommunicable Attributes of God
   1. Independence: 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.
  • Acts 17:24-25: The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
  • It is not just that God does not need the creation for anything; God could not need the creation for anything.
  • It is not just that God has always existed and we have not; it is also that God necessarily exists in an infinitely better, stronger, more excellent way.
  • The difference between God's being and ours is more than the difference between the sun and a candle, more than the difference between the ocean and a raindrop, more than the difference between the arctic ice cap and a snowflake, more than the difference between the universe and the room we are sitting in: God's being is qualitatively different. No limitation or imperfection in creation should be projected onto our thought of God. He is the Creator; all else is creaturely. All else can pass away in an instant; he necessarily exists forever.
  • The balancing consideration with respect to this doctrine is the fact that we and the rest of creation can glorify God and bring him joy. This must be stated in order to guard against any idea that God's independence makes us meaningless.
    • Isaiah 43:7: everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.
    • Isaiah 62:3-5: You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lordand a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
    • Zephaniah 3:17-18: The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach.
   2. Unchangeableness: God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations. This attribute of God is also called God's immutability.
      a. Evidence in Scripture
    • Psalm 102:25-27: Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end.
    • Malachi 3:6: For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.
    • James 1:17: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
    • Psalm 33:11: The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.
      b. Does God Sometimes Change His Mind?
    • How do we handle places in Scripture where God said he would judge his people and then because of prayer or the people's repentance (or both) God relented and did not bring judgment as he had said he would?
    • We must understand that God responds differently to different situations with respect to the situation as it exists at that moment.
      • The example of Jonah preaching to Nineveh is helpful here. God sends Jonah to warn the Ninevites for the purpose of bringing about repentance (and with full knowledge that they would repent.) Once the people repented, the situation was different, and God responded differently to that changed situation. God's original statement that he would bring judgment if they did not repent is still true. He did not change his mind. 
        • Jonah 3:10: When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
      • The situations with Hezekiah (adding years to his life) and Moses (withdrawing his warning to destroy the people of Israel) are similar: God had said that he would send judgment, and that was a true declaration, provided that the situation remained the same. But the situation changed (as God knew it would), and he responded to the changed situation by answering prayer and withholding judgment.
      c. The Question of God's Impassability
    • Some claim that God does not have passions or emotions, but is "impassible," not subject to passions.
    • Scripture indicates otherwise.
      • God rejoices (Isa. 62:5)
      • He is grieved (Ps. 78:40; Eph. 4:30)
      • His wrath burns hot against his enemies (Ex. 32:10)
      • He pities his children (Ps. 103:13)
      • He loves with everlasting love (Isa. 54:8; Ps. 103:17)
      d. The Challenge From Process Theology
    • Process theology is a theological position that says that process and change are essential aspects of genuine existence, and that therefore God must be changing over time also, just like everything else that exists.
    • Process theologians dislike the doctrine of God's immutability because they think it implies that nothing we do really matters to God, that we have no meaning or significance.
    • Scripture is clear that our ultimate significance comes not from being able to change the being of God, but from the fact that God has created us for his glory and that he counts us as significant.
    • The other fundamental error in process theology is in assuming that God must be changeable like the universe he created. Scripture explicitly denies this.
      • Hebrews 1:10-12 (which is quoting Psalm 102:25-27): And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end."
      e. God is Both Infinite and Personal
    • This is perhaps one of the greatest differences between biblical Christianity and all other systems of theology.
    • God is infinite in that he is not subject to any of the limitations of humanity, or of creation in general.
    • He is also personal in that he interacts with us as a person and we can relate to him as persons.
      • We can pray to him, worship him, obey him and love him.
      • He can speak to us, rejoice in us, and love us.
      f. The Importance of God's Unchangeableness
    • If God is not unchanging, then the whole basis of our faith begins to fall apart, and our understanding of the universe begins to unravel.
    • Our faith and hope and knowledge all ultimately depend on a person who is infinitely worthy of trust--because he is absolutely and eternally unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises.
   3. Eternity: God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time. Time does not limit God. It has no effect on his being, perfections, purposes, or promises.
      a. God is Timeless in His Own Being
    • Psalm 90:2: Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
    • Revelation 1:8: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
    • John 8:58: Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
      b. God See All Time Equally Vividly
    • Psalm 90:4: For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.
    • This verse teaches us that all of past history is viewed by God with great clarity and vividness (just as if it happened yesterday), and it will always remain so.
    • 2 Peter 3:8: But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
    • Psalm 90 already covered the second half of this verse, but the first half teaches us that from God's perspective one day seems to last "a thousand years" because it is as if it never ends and is always being experienced. Any one day (and every one day) seems to God to be present in his consciousness forever.

    • This diagram is meant to show that God created time and is Lord over time. Therefore he can see all events in time equally vividly, yet he also can see in time and act in time.
      c. God Sees Events in Time and Acts in Time
    • Galatians 4:4-5: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
    • God observed clearly and knew exactly what was happening within his creation. Then at the right time, "when the time had fully come," God sent forth his Son into the world.
    • Acts 17:30-31: The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.
    • This statement includes a description of a previous way in which God acted, God's present way of acting, and a future activity that he will carry out, all in time.
    • It is often God's good pleasure to fulfill his promises and carry out his works of redemption over a period of time so that we might more readily see and appreciate his great wisdom, his patience, his faithfulness, his lordship over all events, and even his unchangeableness and eternity.
      d. We Will Always Exist in Time
    • We will be eternal, but we will never share an exact duplication of God's attribute of eternity. For us, there will still be a succession of moments and things happening one after another in heaven.
    • Revelation 4:10: the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying. . . (This is an event that will happen at a specific moment in time.)
    • Revelation 22:2: through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of lifewith its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (This verse implies a regular passage of time and the occurrence of events in time.)
    • So we will not experience eternity in the sense that we will be outside of time, but rather we will experience a duration of time that will never end.
    • Revelation 22:5: And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
   4. Omnipresence: God does not have size or spatial dimensions and is present at every point of space with his whole being, yet God acts differently in different places.
      a. God is Present Everywhere
    • Jeremiah 23:23-24: “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LordDo I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.
    • Psalm 139:7-10: Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.
      b. God Does Not Have Spatial Dimensions
    • God cannot be contained by any space, no matter how large.
    • 1 Kings 8:27: But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!
    • While the thought that God is everywhere present with his whole being ought to encourage us greatly in prayer no matter where we are, the fact that no one place can be said to contain God should also discourage us from thinking that there is some special place of worship that gives people special access to God: he cannot be contained in any one place.
    • This does not mean that God is everything as pantheists believe, only that he is present everywhere in creation.
      c. God Can Be Present to Punish, to Sustain, or to Bless
    • It is troubling to consider God's omnipresence as it relates to hell, but we must realize that God is present in different ways in different places, or that God acts differently in different places in his creation.
    • Amos 9:1-4: I saw the Lord standing beside the altar, and he said: “Strike the capitals until the thresholds shake, and shatter them on the heads of all the people; and those who are left of them I will kill with the sword; not one of them shall flee away; not one of them shall escape. “If they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them; if they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down. If they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, from there I will search them out and take them; and if they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them. And if they go into captivity before their enemies, there I will command the sword, and it shall kill them; and I will fix my eyes upon them for evil and not for good." (In this case, God is present to punish.)
    • Colossians 1:17: And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (God is present to sustain.)
    • Hebrews 1:3: . . . and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. . . (present to sustain)
    • Psalm 16:11: You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (God is present to bless.)
    • Most of the Bible's referrals to God's presence are talking about his presence to bless. 
      • 2 Corinthians 3:17
      • Romans 8:9-10
      • John 10:10
      • and so forth
    • God has chosen heaven to be the primary focus of the manifestation of his character and the presence of his blessing and glory, but this does not mean he is "more present" there, only that he is present there in a special way, present especially there to bless and show forth his glory.
   5. Unity: God is not divided into parts, yet we see different attributes of God emphasized at different times.
  • When Scripture speaks about God's attributes, it never singles out one attribute of God as more important than all the rest.
  • We must remember that God's whole being includes all of his attributes: he is entirely loving, entirely merciful, entirely just, and so forth. Every attribute of God that we find in Scripture is true of all of God's being, and we therefore can say that every attribute of God also qualifies every other attribute.
  • In terms of practical application, this means that we should never think, for example, that God is a loving God at one point in history and a just or wrathful God at another point in history. He is the same God always, and everything he says or does is fully consistent with all of his attributes.
  • God is a unity and everything he does is an act of the whole person of God.
WHEW!!! That was a long, meaty chapter! Lots to chew on there. Still processing. . .

No comments: