Posted on Jun 14, 2014 by Tom Gilson
If these questions don’t challenge you to the depth of your intellect, you’re not thinking of God as God really is:
Read through the list, and then I’ll explain more of what I meant by that.
- When God created space, where did he put it?
- Where did God get the idea of energy and matter?
- When God caused the beginning of the created order, what gave him the idea of “beginning”?
- Where did beauty come from?
- What processes and methods did God use to create the universe?
These questions all treat the Creator as if he were like us: drawing on resources outside ourselves, working with given materials, in a given place, at a given time.
This is not who God is.
Beyond Our Comprehension
Can you imagine making something and not putting it anywhere? Can you imagine it not being somewhere in relation to where you are? The space God created has no spacial relationship to himself. He is, in a sense, both inside it and outside it at the same time. He is completely and totally present in the room where you sit, and yet the entire created order cannot contain him. He is where you are and where I am, but if you traveled here from where you are, you would not pass through any part of God, for he has no parts.
Again: Where do we humans get ideas from? We derive them from what we’ve experienced and observed. We combine, re-combine, and set ideas and things in new relationships in our minds. God did not create energy that way: he is not (as the New Agers often say) “energy” in any sense remotely like physical energy. Of course he is not physical matter, either. There is nothing like that in him. So the creation of matter and energy was, for him, a truly creative act, an original idea such as we cannot begin to fathom.
There was in God also no “beginning,” yet he caused something to begin: yet another original idea, to a degree completely unapproachable by humans. The same could be said of physical or musical beauty, or any other beauty whatever.
All this he imagined, invented, devised, and produced by no process or method whatever, except by “the word of his power,” which was not a word spoken but an expression of his infinite intellect.
So if you think of God as having created our universe “somewhere,” if you think of him imagining new things the way we imagine new things, if you think of him processing ideas and producing results as we process ideas and produce results, you are not thinking of God as he is.
Beyond Our Human Limitations
Now, because you and I are human, it is certain that we think of God in those ways, to some extent. It is the only way we are equipped to think. We do not think about God as he truly is. Even if we made none of those mistakes, we would still not think of God as he truly is.
His essence, his magnitude, his power and glory are all beyond searching out. We cannot even form our questions about such things into proper language, since our language is fitted for the created order, not the Creator.
You do not think about God as he truly is.
Yet Not Bound By Imagined Limitations of His Own Infinity
Do you and I then know nothing true of God? Is he so infinitely far beyond our comprehension that we can grasp nothing of his reality?
Indeed, to think God too great, too infinite for us to know him at all, is to belittle him: it is to suppose that he has all power except to communicate anything true about himself. He is greater than that; he is not subject to the imagined limitations of infinity.
So We Can Think About God Truly, Even If Not As He Truly Is
His ways in the world—his actions among his people—we can see and recognize, and from them, know something of God. His work in our realm begins with the inexpressible power and creativity of Genesis 1. It continues in his message to the first humans he made, in his response to their choices, and in his response to our choices ever since then. His work is expressed in his promises made and fulfilled, from Noah, to Abraham and his sons, to David, to his people through all the prophets.
Above all he made himself known in Jesus Christ. The writer to the Hebrews says,
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.
And Jesus himself speaks in John 14:8-9 answering a question from one of his close followers:
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
The apostle Paul speaks of knowing God, in language unconfined and overflowing (Eph. 3:14-19):
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Do you truly think of God as God is? Paul’s prayer is that you would grow in that knowledge. It will take all of eternity. There is no such thing as all of eternity, however—or if there is, it could only be in the mind of God, not in our experience—so there is no such thing as knowing all of God truly. But there is such a thing as knowing him by his work in the world—especially, and above all, in Jesus Christ.
Postscript for Atheists/Skeptics/Questioners
For those who are inquiring into the possibility of God, you could read this post this way: Is this the God you are wondering about?
For those who dispute the reality of God, you could read this post this way: Who is the God you think you are disputing? Do you think about him as he really would be, if theism were true? If not, then you are not disputing theism as you think you are, but some other imagined system of thought.
For example, a few days ago the Arizona Atheist wrote,
Obviously, a theist will argue that god is not bound by the laws of physics, and for the sake of argument I will concede that god is not bound by those laws. However, my question is how does such an immaterial being interact with a material substance and how could it act in a material world? By what processes might god use to achieve this? In addition, these attributes are logically inconsistent. Theists argue that god exists, but then he has no existence. Huh? I believe all of this mumbo-jumbo is merely a snake-oil salesmen pitch to allow god to avoid any logical or factual arguments against him/it/her, whatever. If someone is going to propose an argument, it must at the very least be logically consistent, if not something tangible, based upon the known laws of physics and other processes humans have discovered. Anything less is pointless gobbledygook.
He is not thinking of God as theism understands God, but God as if God were part of God’s own created order. He thinks he is disputing God, but he is instead disputing a god of his own devising.
To dispute the Christian God as a concept, you owe it to yourself intellectually not to dispute some god other than the God in whom Christians believe.
To inquire into the reality of the Christian God, you owe it also to yourself to inquire into the God as Christianity really believes in.
But you might ask us, “How can we know which God you believe in, since by your own admission, there is so much of him beyond human comprehension?” My answer would be two-fold:
1. If you are thinking of God as if God were part of God’s created order, you are thinking of some other God.
2. If you want to know something about God as Christians understand God, there is no better way—in fact, no other adequate way—than by studying the life and message of Jesus Christ.