Saturday, March 16, 2013

Grudem 12a: God's "Communicable" Attributes I

It's been over 3 months since I posted on Grudem, not least because I wanted to collect and edit my summary/evaluations of his first section on the Word of God.  Nevertheless, Grudem continues.

I have already summarized/evaluated three chapters of his section on the Doctrine of God.  Today I resume with the beginning of his chapter 12, God's "Communicable" Attributes, Part 1.
12 The "Communicable" Attributes of God, Part 1
Chapter 11 presented God's "incommunicable" attributes, those that largely relate to God apart from the creation, like his eternity.  By contrast, God's "communicable" attributes are ones that have to do with his relation to the creation, like spirituality.

A. Attributes Describing God's Being
1. Spirituality
Grudem presents two attributes as aspects of God's being that relate directly to the creation.  The first is spirituality. By spirituality, Grudem refers to the fact that God is spirit.  "God's being, his essential mode of existence, is different from everything that he has created" (187).  God is not a certain size.  He does not have dimensions. He is not bound by a spatial location.

Here is his official definition: "God's spirituality means that God exists as a being that is not made of any matter, has no parts or dimensions, is unable to be perceived by our bodily senses, and is more excellent than any other kind of existence" (188). Since "God has given us spirits," this attribute is placed in the category of communicable.

We in this universe are really in no position to know exactly what it literally means to say that God is Spirit.  Grudem's description is orthodox and fairly captures what it means when we say it. It connects to God's omnipresence--God is not limited by location.  God is not another being like we are a being.

At the same time, we can wonder whether we are really saying the same thing when we say God is Spirit as when we say people have spirits. We are in no position to say anything about what God's essence is like "outside" this universe. "Spirit" is a metaphor for what God is like inside this universe. "Outside," he is "other."

In that sense, we use "spirit" in relation to human beings to say that we have a part that belongs to the realm of God in addition to our obvious, visible, physical side.  In a sense, while we use "spirit" to refer to the fact that God, while other, is inside this universe, in relation to humans, we use "spirit" to say that we, while inside this universe, have a part that connects to the realm outside this universe.  In both cases, such language is only our attempt to get a handle on matters we cannot possibly understand, and it should not be taken literally.

When the Bible speaks in terms of God as a spirit or us having spirits, it is giving us a picture we can understand.  It is not likely a literal description of God or our make-up.

2. Invisibility
"God's invisibility means that God's total essence, all of his spiritual being, will never be able to be seen by us, yet God still shows himself to us through visible, created things" (188). God does sometimes make himself seen in various ways, mostly by analogy. The "beatific vision" (190), a seeing of God face to face, is an experience Moses is said to have had. The Old Testament mentions several "theophanies," appearances of God on earth.

We can wonder whether to say God is invisible to us is really to say much more than the implication of what we are saying when we say God is spirit. Certainly mainstream Christians have always believed that God can make himself visible on earth and spiritually present to his worshipers.  Neither of these claims suggest that God's "essence" becomes visible. Apart from Christ, a theophany is simply an embodied analogy.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

The "spirit" is debatable. What is "spirit" exactly?

Psychologists/Neuroscientists would be more likely to affirm that our senses impact our brains and bring about an experience that humans might call "spirit". Sociologists/social psychologists would understand human behavior in groups as confirmation bias about "spirit".
Anthropology and family therapists understand representation as "spirit" in familial contexts, as well as the "beliefs" that are particular to a certain denomination or religion.

When we expect certain things, we also might "see" or interpret experiences in a certain way. Scripture/Tradition is the way that "spirit" is understood and interpreted in religious contexts. Sociologists, Psychologists, Anthropologists, and Neuro-scientists might understand and interpret the same experience/context in a different way. "Spirit" is not a realistic/naturalistic understanding of "faith", as "God" still remains "outside" the realm of the "world"/cosmos, ad infinitum. The view of "God" as "outside" the universe is a proposition that makes claims about God's intervention within the world from the "outside", or the setting up of the world, under a natural order. This is a traditional understanding of theological understanding in Christian faith.

Ken Schenck said...

I have tried very carefully not to imply that spirit must be a literal "substance" of some kind, whether material or immaterial. :-) I believe by far that the most appropriate Christian position is that spirit refers to something real but not necessarily to some metaphysical component of humanity (with metaphysics understood in its classic sense).

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I can agree that there is something that combines the "whole of the person" that some might call "spirit", but I'd rather call "spirit", person-hood.
Person-hood takes all the components of Man and a particular man and concludes with a man's sense of himself, as well as his personal responses and reactions. Some men aren't religious, but they still have "person-hood" (spirit, if you like). I think this would align well with universal understandings of human beings, as well as particular understanding of a human being.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I think where we would "part ways" is making men into saints, as the "spiritual work" of the Church.

Pope Francis said,
and I think he respects people's choice and differences, although he aligns himself voluntarily within a certain faith tradition.

This is where his authority lies, within the Catholic Church, but not in other realms to speak or act authoritatively.

Just as there is a limitation upon the Pope, there was also to be a limitation upon the Government. Individual liberty was the power for the individual to make choices about their life. Authority resides within the individual, and what the individual chooses to submit.

Authority, as Kant believed, resided within the individual, in his reason. Modernity allowed for self determination. Self determination is about liberty.