Having just come off a week of treading the immeasurably deep waters concerning the impassibility of God, we’ve traded in questions about the nature of our God for questions about the relationship within our God. The water has not gotten any more shallow, and as I read the material this week, I found myself encountering the same sort of human struggle to understand what is simply not human. We are yet again resigned to speak about God in analogy, as we always will be until Christ’s return.

The development of the doctrine of the Trinity was a crucial development for the Christianity we know today. It’s possible to surmise that, had the victors of the Arian Controversy been reversed, the path we have taken to arrive at the doctrine as we know it would have been far longer. Though the doctrinal victory came through political means, I do not think that any theology wherein Christ Jesus is less than God or the Holy Spirit suffers the same fate could withstand true biblical scrutiny.

That all being said, I do think that we can empathize with Arian’s position, because we are just as human as he was. A God who begets another would seem to naturally have dominion over it, or be of a higher substance, to use the terminology of antiquity. After all, our experience in this world tells us that our creations do not rise to be equal to us. The humanity and suffering of Christ were (and obviously still is) a problem, as the sovereignty of God is assailed by a simplistic interpretation of Christ on the cross. Lastly, we can imagine Arian’s fear that Christianity will fall into polytheism by declaring Christ as of the same substance of God as the rumblings of Trinitarian doctrine begin to circulate.

The Arian point of view, in my estimation, ultimately suffered from a need to define God by human terms. Primarily Arian seems to have thrust upon God humanity’s constraints of time and creation. Arian suggests that there existed a time before Christ existed, but this cannot be merely assumed without thrusting the constraints of time upon God. We struggle to conceive of God’s unbegotten nature, being left to merely repeat the fact as God has revealed it to us. We also cannot assume that God’s action of creation functions within the constraints of human creation, including the language of the “begotten Son.”

We are constrained by analogy at every turn with God because we simply cannot describe what we can’t understand. God is also self-constrained to analogy if He chooses for our nature to remain unchanged. This is the failings of human language, which we saw in much the same way last week with the subject of impassibility. God’s chosen means of revelation gives us what we need to have faith, which requires Him (again, if we are to remain constrained by these human bonds of reason) to leave some things visible through the mirror, dimly. (1 Cor 13:12)

The damage to Christianity caused by a Christ who is not God would be irreparable. Christ’s being God fully completes His work on the cross, as there can be no greater sacrifice given in our place. How can Christ the man be of high enough value that He can rectify the chasm between God and humanity created by our sin? There is only one who is righteous enough to bear that burden, and it Christ fully God.

As man pursues the ordering of the world and his very nature, there is a natural limit to what he can discover about his origins. Beyond him is his creator supreme, who has supplied to him vitality, intellect and ability, and the world in which he exists. But man is not capable of discovering or understanding the creator’s great mysteries alone, and so the Creator God saw it that it was good to reveal to man some of God’s nature through His inspired Word. We, therefore, undertake the task of discovering the divine nature by studying the Word that was revealed to us, and by the faculty of our reason and intellect, so that we may draw closer to Him.

In Jeremiah 32:17, the writer states that God has “made the heavens and the earth by[His] great power and by[His] outstretched arm!” The breadth and depth of the power of God are so far beyond our comprehension that the mere thought of His nature and being overwhelms our intellect. When we speak of God, then, we must speak about His nature and attributes using analogies, which are the same way in which he reveals Himself to us. He is called our “shield” (Ps 28:7) and our “rock” (Deut 32:4). Of course, he is not literally these things, but they are meant to evoke a sense of who He is. Similarly, we often speak about God with the language that we would describe humans. He is not human though, and so to speak of Him this way is to communicate about aspects of his nature or his attributes in such a way that we can gain some sense of his “person”, a term derived from the Latin persona, which has the sense of a “mask”1.

The Creator God identifies Himself in Scripture to Abram as “God Almighty.” (Gen 17:1) This declaration of omnipotence is essential to understanding and establishing His ability to complete the scope of work we attribute to God, but it must further be defined to escape the contradictions and errors man has tried to ascribe to it. Often these errors take the form of a logical contradiction, such as “Can God make a rock that he cannot pick up?” Thus, the concept of divine omnipotence requires further clarification to be useful. To this end, William Ockham describes the omnipotence of God using the framework of His two powers; The ordained power of God and the absolute power of God. God possesses an absolute power which gives Him the ability to do all things, yet as He makes choices, He becomes self-limited by them. Having made the heavens and the earth, He cannot then choose not to make them. Thus, God operates by His ordained power, which prevents Him from some things while His absolute power remains established.

If God is almighty and the sole author of all of creation, how can we explain the presence of sin in the world? If God created all things, do we count among his creations the very nature of evil? By bestowing free will upon man, God left to man the ability to decide his own path. While man might have a multitude of options at every turn in his life, the decision is ultimately between the choice of God or self. Sin is the result of man’s choice to turn away from God. So then if choosing sin is the opposite of choosing God, sin and the evil that it brings into the world are not of God, but of man’s choice. Augustine of Hippo characterizes sin as a defective choice or action, which comes from nothing, and so is certainly not a product of God2.

If we can ascribe omnipotence and goodness to God as evidenced in His Word, and further order them via the reason of man, how can we know that these attributes have not changed, nor change in the future? How do we know of God’s steadfastness? The inspired words written by the prophet Malachi, found in Malachi 3:6 state “For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.” By His own word, God proclaims Himself to be unchanging. Moreover, He declares his name to Moses as “I AM,” not as a riddle, but as a declaration of his steadfast and unchanging nature. Thus, God himself, through His Word, assures us of His immutable and impassible nature.

The implications of this attribute for humanity, especially in the contemporary context of a century of world wars and prolific human suffering, are incredibly relevant. If God is incapable of change, what does that imply about His ability to suffer along with or because of man? It holds to reason that a God who is almighty and steadfast cannot be susceptible to pain or suffering as we understand it. If God were vulnerable to the concept of suffering, then God could not be considered as immutable, as this vulnerability would suggest that he could become more perfect or less perfect3.

Theologians have wrestled with understanding how God can be love and yet not partake in the suffering of those he loves. It is a core misunderstanding of God’s love that is the culprit, which is born of a human sense of love being projected onto wholly-other God. God’s love instead manifests itself not as an emotion, but as life, being, and truth4 and is the force which “fill[s] all creatures, according to their capacities, with his bountiful superabundance and excessiveness” 5. Our imperfection denies us the complete understanding of God’s love and its intersection with his unmoving nature, yet He has seen to reveal to us in Scripture that these seemingly contradicting attributes are both parts of his nature.

It is not too much to say that the beliefs of Christianity rest on the truth of these attributes. If God is not all powerful, then we must question His ability to enact His promises to man. If God is not all good, then we must question His self-representation as such in and thus the validity of Scripture. If God is not steadfast and unchanging, and furthermore affected by suffering because or with us, we must question His motives for creation and redemption. Ultimately these attributes of God define the basis of Christian understanding, and while many have challenged, and continue to challenge, the exactitude of these attributes, they have ultimately stood the tests of time and rationality.

  1. Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, (West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2017), 178.
  2. Augustine of Hippo, ed. Alister E. McGrath, “Augustine of Hippo on the Relationship Between God and Evil,” in The Christian Theology Reader, (West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2017), 172.
  3. Spinoza, Benedict, ed. Alister E. McGrath, “Benedict Spinoza on the Impassibility of God,” in The Christian Theology Reader, (West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2017), 160.
  4. Hart, David Bentley. “NO SHADOW OF TURNING: On Divine Impassibility.” PRO ECCLESIA, n.d.: 195.
  5. Augustine, De Trinitate VI.x 11, CCL 50: 241-42.

For centuries those who are critical of the existence of God has heralded that science can stand on its own to describe and order the natural world that we live in. Theology, in contrast, must rely on the mystery of God to explain the processes of the world, which is seen by unbelievers as an abandonment of reason. In two very different ways, Thomas Aquinas and Pascal refute the skeptic’s stance but in a sort of harmony of head and heart.

Aquinas, in his Five Proofs, provides five “demonstrations” based on the nature of the known world that argues for the consistent proof of God’s existence. Aquinas seeks to use the rational methods and means science against those who cannot find proof for or commit to the idea of, the existence of God. The five ways are simple and easily digestible and provide a base layer that makes it possible to erect a structure of belief from them. The points, however, do not go so far as to prove the existence of the Christian God or even a monotheist perspective. This mostly does not seem to be the aim, other than ending each of the points with a final “This we call God.” Aquinas then is appealing to those who wield reason and rationality as weapons against the existence of God, by putting on display the right use of rational inquiry to prove God.

Pascal on his face could be seen as attacking a rational approach, but I see it as the cooperative argument to Aquinas. Aquinas succeeds in showing the ways reason supports God. Pascal picks up by stating that reason’s deficiency in constructing an entire worldview for or against the existence of God should humble it. He continues his perspective by stating that reason, which by he means intellectually honest reason, takes its last step when it concedes that there are “an infinite number of things which are beyond it” (Reader, 30). And, as Pascal finishes the thought, he pointedly asserts that if reason can’t get to the end of natural things, then how much less does it know about supernatural ones?

I resonated highly with the second Pascal excerpt on the hiddenness of God. This stance that God chose to be hidden influences my understanding of how God has acted and continues to operate. Pascal surmises that it not only right that God be partly concealed and partly revealed; it is also useful…” (Reader, 31). Our God, mysterious His ways, put the Law of Moses into effect so that by it men might know their sin. (Rom 6:7). The sacrificial blood of the covenant, to Israel, “righted” their relationship to Him. God, though, had hidden to them the typology they were taking part in, such that He knew He would save the world through a sacrifice of blood once and for all. This perspective should give us a lens to look through at the mysteries of the revelation, and consider that the mystery is purposeful, and for our benefit. God’s chosen revelation is equally as useful, not just in the primary sense of useful, but valuable in its form: It is everything we need to believe that He exists.