Sunday, December 09, 2012

Grudem 11d: Incommunicable Attributes 4

... now to finish Grudem's chapter on God's "incommunicable attributes."
4. Omnipresence
Grudem defines God's omnipresence as follows: "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" (173). God created space, so he cannot be limited by it.  He is present everywhere, although not necessarily present in the same way.

So he can be present to punish in one place, present to sustain in another, present to bless in another.  Grudem's sense seems to be that the times we tend to notice God is when he is active in judgment or blessing. But the rest of the time he is still there, sustaining everything. "There is no one place on earth that God has chosen as his particular dwelling place" (176). Even in heaven, God is not more present, only more manifested. When the Bible says God is present, it usually means "present to bless" (177).

Grudem believes that God does not have spatial dimensions. "We should guard against thinking that God extends infinitely far in all directions so that he himself exists in a sort of infinite, unending space" (174).  Rather God does not have size or dimensions in space.  "God relates to space in a far different way than we do or than any created thing does" (175).

God's omnipresence has to do with the fact that he is aware of and able to act at any point of space. Since we have a limited understanding of space, it is difficult to know exactly what the physics is.  Grudem is right that God can act to bless, sustain, or punish at any point in space (just as he can in time).  But we are not in a position to know the metaphysical details.  Grudem is surely right to say that God relates to space in a far different way than we do.

It is possible that heaven is more profound--and analogical (meaning we can only grasp its nature through analogy)--than Grudem thinks. He seems to think of heaven as a place in this universe. But could heaven in part relate to "where" God was before the creation?  If so, then it is not a place such as we can relate to but a reference to "wherever" God's "presence" most literally exists. Where created beings like angels or spirits exist "in heaven" remains a mystery, but it is not clear that it is within created space.

In the end, we are not in a position to say much about such questions. The same issue pertains to hell, which we probably should not think of as located within the spatial creation.  Biblical images of hell are thus surely very heavily analogical as well, a suggestion supported by the fact that most of the imagery of hell is drawn from ancient Jewish apocalyptic.

5. Unity
The final incommunicable attribute Grudem treats is his "unity," sometimes called his simplicity.  He defines it in the following way: "God is not divided into parts, yet we see different attributes of God emphasized at different times" (177).

What does this idea mean for Grudem?  It means that Scripture "never singles out one attribute of God as more important than the others" (178).  These attributes are characteristics of God as a unity, not characteristics of parts of God.  God is not a "collection of attributes" and his attributes do not add something to God.  Rather, "God's whole being includes all of his attributes: he is entirely loving, entirely merciful, entirely just..." (179).

The implication is that God is not loving at one point in history and then just at another.  "He is the same God always, and everything he says or does is fully consistent with all his attributes" (180).

The medieval doctrine that God does not have parts arose largely from the application of philosophy to theology.  It is not a clearly biblical teaching, which does not in itself negate it. Divine simplicity means that God does not have attributes but God is love, justice, etc.

Many of us will no doubt find this doctrine obscure.  Since it does not particularly come from Scripture, we may feel particularly free to question it.  Biblical statements like "God is love" were not saying anything of the sort but are metonymies, poetic sayings that equate God with something that is so closely associated with him that we can practically identify him with it.  It would be as if we were to call someone with an incredibly good sense of smell, "the nose."  "She's the nose," we might say.

The question of whether some of God's attributes take priority over others is a legitimate question.  We cannot wish it away.  Can God make an exception to his justice because of his love?  This is a legitimate question that cannot be wished away by some supposed doctrine of God's unity.

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