What does it mean to be God?

September 19, 2006

Let me preface this post by making it clear that I’m not challenging a trinitarian understanding of God. I am a trinitarian. I am simply asking a question to further understand who God is.

Today in philosophy class we were going over God’s “communicable” and “incommunicable” attributes. Among the former were love, mercy, compassion and those kinds of things. In the latter were omnipotence, omniscience, ominpresence, and immutability. Eventually the conversation steered into the incarnation and hypostatic union. I suggesting that if we take God’s “incommunicable” attributes as the category by which we say “this is God”, we end up disproving the trinity.

If Jesus is 100% God even incarnate, and omnipresence defines deity, then how can Jesus be God? And if not being omnipresent defines man, how can Jesus be 100% man if he really was in some sense omnipresent. The same thinking can be applied to omniscience and omnipotence.

So my question becomes: why do we use these categories as the way to define God? It seems that the Bible doesn’t seem too concerned to make clear God’s omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. Following Bauckham’s reasoning, the Bible is mostly focused on asserting God’s sole role in creating, and his sole sovereign rule over the cosmos as demonstrating to the Israelites who God is.

So, why do we use these categories to define God, and how do we explain the Incarnation? Should I just be content with the “it’s a mystery” answer?

12 Responses to “What does it mean to be God?”

  1. Krystal Says:

    We should never be content with the “it’s a mystery” answer, but at the same time, we can not dig so deep for the answer that our spirituality is hindered.
    On a different not, God’s incommunicability can be taken out of context quite radically depending on the view in which you take.
    For example, the trinity is one, yes. When the incarnation took place, the trinity was still one…
    If it is thought that God being incommunicable means that He cannot become a man, this indeed disproves the trinity.
    However, I personally believe God’s incommunicability is referring to the laws he has set and the word he has imparted to us… Personal opinion.

    Yours Truly,

  2. Senora Happy Says:

    I was catching up with you here tonight.

    You know, I don’t think these attributes are really meant to define God, but rather to describe him. Like being a trinitarian describes rather than defines you. Like being a misplaced Hawaiian describes me.

    And the mystery answer, Paul seemed to be content with it.

  3. -mike- Says:

    I actually am comfortable with it’s a mystery.

    You all debate about the details…

  4. Kyle Says:

    I don’t use those words to talk about God. Ever.

    Christian theological language is shaped by the Scriptures and the liturgy of the ancient Church. The Fathers put it into the philosophical language they had to hand, as they saw fit.

    “Deity” isn’t a Christian theological concept, but a Western philosophical concept. Yahweh created, and his Messiah, which the Church proclaims as Lord and God, came to Zion for him. And died there. And was raised by God.

    “Deity” is irrelevant.

  5. Rob Says:


    Your contention that we should use the language of Scripture itself makes sense to me, which is why I mentioned Baukcham’s work in God Crucified which proposed a change in vocabulary and perception concerning “deity”, from a “what” to a “who.” This is how he reads the OT and Second Temple Judaism presenting YHWH.

    So could we say, God is not a list of special characteristics, but rather the person who created and who rules the universe?

  6. Kyle Says:

    Hahaha, yes, except that “God” is three persons – er, hypostases.

  7. -mike- Says:

    “Three Hypostases in one Ousia”

    Accept it or be burned.

  8. Will Says:

    Interesting post here, Rob. When an unbeliever, I used to get into arguments with believers (half from contentiousness and half from curiosity).
    One of my objections was: how can God be eternal if Christ was dead for 3 days. Either redemption or his eternality is out the window.
    I like the idea of treating and speaking of God as he reveals himself in the Bible, and not as a list of characteristics. However, some of the ways he speaks about himself is by saying, “I’m like this” or “I am this.” So there’s that.

    I think completely giving over to “it’s a mystery” (reminds me of Shakespeare in Love) is a similar copout to thinking we understand God because we can list some adjectives that modify him (them?). Maybe awe, but not mystery. As in, wow, I can’t understand how God says, “I’ve been around forever, and I always will be” and yet Christ was dead for a short while. Or “Look for me anywhere, and I’m there” and Christ took on human flesh and, at least purportedly was not anywhere else except where his taken-on body was.
    For some reason, Don Miller’s comment comes to mind. If you believe in the Trinity, you’ve got to admit that all Christians are mystics. And, as I’m sure you’re aware, mystics were some of the most fervent believers, not those who emphasized the dismissive “it’s a mystery.” The proper response to true mystery is the awe-filled embrace of humility. I’m not sure what I’m embracing perhaps (not completely), but since this is God, how could I do anything else?

  9. -mike- Says:

    Isn’t belief in a mystery (accepted by the church, living and dead) much stronger than faith in abstract rationalism? I would think so. Mysticism isn’t entirely rational. It can’t be. That’s not to say it’s necessarily unreasonable but it’s surely unsuspected by a “logical” mind. That’s how Yahweh God works. We know now in part… but we don’t know what the hell is coming. That’s what we have. Who God is has been revealed. However, if we want to break that down and categorize it we will always be left short-handed.

  10. Q Says:

    I’m a latecomer to the conversation. I wonder, does Kyle actually deny that God is omnipresent? And how do we talk about the Trinity as three “hypostases”, if we repudiate the language of philosophy? I’m sure Kyle knew he was contradicting his own position there — but the problem is real, isn’t it?

    The language of philosophy is used to attempt to express, rationally, what we believe about God.

    Omnipresence is a necessary attribute, isn’t it? Otherwise, the next time I’m in difficulty, I might suppose that God is elsewhere, unaware and unconcerned about my problem.

    The doctrine of the Trinity can’t be defended rationally. Problems like the one you have identified can only be evaded. (“It’s a mystery!”)

    Sign me up to be burned, I guess.

  11. Optimist Says:

    You all are wasting your time. Arguing about God is like arguing whether or not aliens exists.
    Like Marx said ” Religion is opium for the Masses” and Its true… People with nothing to look forward to believe in god the most because they refuse to believe that their lives are going to be this miserable forever.

    I suggest this, Follow the path of least resistance, for when you die you are no more.

    hehe sorry for being a month late just found this place!

  12. Rob Says:

    Optimist – it’s interesting that you seem to have something to which you can compare our miserable estate. What is it?

    Anyway, try to keep on topic with my blog, but thanks for the comment!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: