Tuesday 22 February 2022

The Big Problem about the whole business of Omni-God

In a sense the Big Problem about the whole business of God's supposed omniscience and omnipotence is Christians defining God in terms that contradict the basic stance of Christianity.

The Omni-God arises from defining God in terms of divine attributes; and then this is compounded by these attributes being abstractions. 

But this is a strangely unnatural thing to do in the first place! For Christians, God is a person - primarily. 

To know God is to know that person - not to know his philosophical attributes!

Christians glibly pay lip-service to the Christian God being 'a personal god' - and indeed this corresponds to the sequence my own adult conversion (and that of CS Lewis); where I began as an atheist, then believed in a deity (philosophically understood - a deity of attributes), then finally a god who loved me and with whom I could have a personal relationship. 

But having arrived-at belief in a personal god, and arrived-at being-a-Christian, surely we ought then to realize that the 'person' aspect should come first

With the example of Jesus Christ (a Man, and divine) before us - and the way that Jesus speaks-with and refers-to his Father, repeatedly (especially in the Fourth Gospel); it seems plain and irrefutable common sense to recognize that the personal understanding of God ought-to-be primary!  

God is primarily a person, a particular individual* - God is a person who has-done and is-doing particular things; of which the most significant is creation. 

For Christians: God is the-creator; and the-creator is a person. 

Belief in God entails belief in that person

Only then may we move-on to discuss this God-person's attributes, powers and limitations etc - but these attributions are secondary and optional - and ought not to be made primary and defining. 

That God's attributes have-been and are, made primary and defining, is a deep and significant error; an error that leads to insoluble philosophical problems such as those relating to free agency and the origins of evil

...Then these insoluble problems serve to drive people away from Christianity; because belief in the attributes of God that lead to these problems is asserted to be mandatory for all Christians.

The fact that the divine attributes are doubled-down and insisted-upon despite all, implies that for such people God is not really being regarded as personal - but that, at best, philosophical abstractions are being dressed-up in a superficial personality. 

For such self-identified Christians, when the chips are down, God's personality is up for debate... but God's Omni-qualities are not negotiable but instead a dogmatic requirement. 

This is revealed by the insistence that Omni-God does not really have 'passions' or desires, that Omni-God does not hope, or suffer; that God does not change and is eternally, always 'the same'. So that Omni-God's love for his children (Men) is said to be of some qualitatively-different kind than the desiring and transforming love of persons for persons, beings for beings... 

Before long on this path, we may observe Omni-God's love is being regarded as so alien and incomprehensible a concept to our understanding, that the Christian is being pushed towards an attitude of 'oriental fatalism', obedience, and submission; and Omni-God is being attributed with a nature and motivations that - in a Man - would be regarded as evil - cold, un-loving, indifferent, heart-less... 
Continuing down this Omni-God path can easily take Christians away from being rooted in a relationship with the person of our loving-Father; and propel the Christian towards an attitude of unquestioning and uncomprehending obedience to an absolute judge and ruler...

And, potentially, then beyond that into oneness spiritualties of abstract universal deity, where 'love' has become so diffuse and depersonalized as to resemble an infinite force field or energetic vibrational frequency.

In conclusion; for Christians - taking the example of Jesus Christ - God the creator is a person; knowing God is to know that person - and loving God is to love that person. 

And the business of listing and defining the abstract attributes of that loved creator-God is no more necessary than it would be to list and define the attributes of Jesus Christ; or the attributes of our own parents, siblings or children...

Certainly, the loving does not wait-upon the listing! 

Adapted from a comment at WmJas Tychonievich's blog

*Note. In fact I personally believe God the creator is two persons, a dyad; but the above argument works the same whether the ultimate creator-God is one Heavenly Father or two Heavenly Parents. 


Francis Berger said...

Christians who downplay anthropomorphic traits like loving father -- claiming that God is not technically our biological father but a completely different category of being, hence does not love us in the same way a biological father does or can -- are usually very adamant about enthusiastically applying certain sociomorphic traits, i.e. God as supreme sovereign, feudal lord, king, etc.

This goes beyond mere ontological considerations. In fact, I sense it reveals something akin to thinly-veiled misanthropy and/or self-loathing -- the sinful, limited nature of man simply cannot be allowed to tarnish the greatness and supremacy of God. Thus, the only relationship a Christian should aim for in this life is one of fealty. Anything else risks the sin of "not knowing your place in Creation."

Personal relationships between the divine and the human are indispensable! It is through them that the deeper meanings and purposes of Creation -- salvation, theosis, heaven, the raising up of divinized co-creators -- is revealed.

sykes.1 said...

Yahweh is if anything a personal God, and people have direct experience of him.

He also solves the theodicy problem. Yahweh is neither omnipotent nor omniscient nor omnipresent nor benevolent. He walks the Earth with his angels trying to find out what is going on. He has no clue as to the future. And his relationships with people are transactional: if you do this and that for me, I will do that and this for you.

You might spend more time reading the Old Testament and less reading John, who I admit is by far the most interesting Gospel.

Bruce Charlton said...

@sykes - But I am a Christian, not a Jew! There was this business of Jesus, which changed everything, forever.

Faculty X said...

The Big Problem is the strange insistence on ignoring the Bible.

The Bible clearly shows God is not an OmniGod: Jehovah asks Satan where has he been in the book of Job; Jehovah regrets flooding the Earth so gives a rainbow to humanity as a sign it won't happen again. So not omniscient and not omnipotent. Crystal clear.

So why say otherwise?

While abstractions and ancient philosophy have a role there has been a lot of time to align with the Bible so it looks very spiritually suspect.

Another Example on politics and the Bible. The Bible clearly does not list democracy. So why support it?

The Bible shows the best model for society is direction by prophets in tune with Jehovah's will.

Then if that can't be borne since His rules **seem** too strict, then a King (who will then tax you worse)!

Simple. Clear. Solved.

Jesus also was no democracy advocate.

So why are Christians universally not supportive of a theocracy first, a monarchy second?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank - Yes, that is the psychology that I sometimes seem to perceive.

Faculty X said...


I agree with your overall observations - they mostly match my empirical testing of the reports in the Bible of the Being known as Jah.

Though I think He sees the future to some degree, perhaps to a great degree.

Jack said...

You will probably enjoy this site Dr Charlton




Bruce Charlton said...

@Jack - I have read couple of books and some essays by Greg Boyd, he raises important problems but doesn't solve them. His ideas are not coherent IMO - he just kicks the can of problems, but does not address that the surface difficulties arise from the level of the fundamental metaphysical assumptions of traditional-orthodox theology - assumptions which he apparently still believes. Indeed, it was reading Greg Boyd's God at War that made me realize that classical theology could never produce a genuinely deep yet clear account of the origins of evil.

Bruce Charlton said...

@FX - If you want to know my understanding of the Bible - read the mini-book Lazarus Writes (linked in the sidebar). My point is that most people, including you, are making many and big assumptions about how the Bible should be read - but you either don't realize or deny that you are indeed making multiple assumptions. I tell you what My assumptions are, and why I make them. You may disagree of course - but they are what seem valid to me.

Faculty X said...

Everyone has assumptions, yes. Of your Three Assumptions in Lazarus Writes the core is monogamous marriage of Christ.

But your or the Mormon view of the primacy of marriage takes away a kind spiritual purity that was common throughout history: celibacy, not being trapped by women or materialism, and deep focus on God's Word.

Which is what the Bible shows for Jesus too. Why alter this is mystifying. For whatever or whomever gains something else is taken away.

My assumption was that real science could test what the Bible says and I am satisfied the most important aspect is true.

Based on my research the Bible is descriptive of how interacting with Jah works; and it's more literal than people want to think.

Bruce Charlton said...

@FX - No, that is a consequence of the assumptions, not one of the assumptions.

The description of Jesus's marriage is in the Fourth Gospel plainly enough, from a common sense reading - as I referenced. Once one has decided - on the basis of the assumptions I describe - that the Fourth Gospel is the most authoritative part of the Bible - then it follows that Jesus was married to Mary.

This fits with Mormon metaphysical theology that God the creator (Jesus's Mother and Father - and yours and mine) is a dyad of man and woman - which I also believe to be true; but my knowledge of Jesus's marriage did not derive from Mormonism but from the Fourth Gospel.