This week we had a lecture on the basics of Islam, on how to talk about Christianity with Muslims. As well as general details about the history of Muhammad and the Muslim view of the Qur’an vs the Christian view of the Bible, we spent a good deal of time talking about the different picture of God/Allah.
From this I wanted to make sure I had a somewhat coherent view of God, so I began to write. Here I am trying to describe God as far as I understand. This is to be very difficult because 1. I have very little understanding, 2. I have theology students/graduates/masters who I’ll get to read this, and 3. the picture in my head is very fluid anyway.
So this post will contain a lot of mistakes, heresy, and over-simplification. It will contain very little scripture and reference because I’m writing this without the internet, and I rely on Google to tell me where to find the passages and research I know. It will be a kind of overview of bits of knowledge I’ve got from here and there and simmered down to a tasty sauce.
God is inconceivably complex.
This post is a napkin-sketch-map compared to a real neighbourhood. Times a billion. We say this, this, and this is what God is like, and this he isn’t, but we just draw caricatures. We will always have a smudged view of God. 1 Cor 13:something.
And as my good friend John Green likes to say: the truth resists simplicity. We shouldn’t find it harder to believe merely because God is difficult to understand or comprehend, it should actually make it easier.
God is not immutable.
Some christians would say He is immutable, unchangeable. But how could an immutable God become a man? God enters the time He created. God can change. His essential qualities don’t change, but some things do. Petitioning prayer can change His mind. He forgives sins so thoroughly He forgets them. He died and rose.
God is superior to time.
God has always existed and will always existed.
Time started in the moment of creation. Prior to that there wasn’t time as we know it. There was not really a ‘before’ chronologically. God did not sit around for millennia before he created. There was no such thing. He caused creation. Made time, matter, energy, the physical rules and constants… Everything at all.
I personally think that the idea of being outside of time is harder to grasp than the trinitarian nature of God - but that’s probably because I’m wildly misunderstanding both. Carry on.
God doesn’t have to follow the laws of physics, but He likes to.
I believe God loves to create things using processes. Setting things in motion - a tweak or two here. All of creation is a song; He is a conductor. I find it easy to believe God does use natural processes to create stars, planets, creatures, people, healings… because everything in the universe is, at the beginning and throughout history, a miraculous creation anyway. He’s very patient. Don’t get me wrong, He does intervene sometimes, often as the result of petitioning prayer, but also just because he wills it.
God doesn’t have to use people, but He likes to.
The people of Israel, Jesus’ disciples, prophets, etc. God clearly likes to partner with us to bring the whole world back to relationship with Him. That seems crazy, inefficient, whatever - I don’t really understand the why of this, but that’s how it goes.
God doesn’t only use people, sometimes He’s more direct - Jonah, Paul, Samuel… but these are the exceptions - and you have to start somewhere, God went on to use these people to bring parts of the world back into relationship with Him.
God is patient - He used the entire history of Israel through to Jesus to get to the first phase of redeeming creation - after Adam and Eve first sinned.
God is trinity.
This is the point that prompted this post, and a very difficult thing to understand.
For all of Israel’s history God was regarded as a solid unit. Indivisible. Atomic.
Picture a solid triangle (here’s one I prepared earlier - for those with sensible browsers: ▲). When Jesus came He showed us more of the nature of God - much more, one of the things that was revealed was that God is made up of three parts: △ an open triangle. The parts are distinct. They are different persons who share knowledge (but not completely), They share power, They love each other completely, and they are eternally part of the same being - God. They can be referred to as a whole or by. They each are fully God (metaphors tend to fail here) - each have all of the attributes mentioned in this post. Even when Jesus shed His power and became a man he was still always in unity (I and the father are one, I only do what I see my father doing). They are not different roles taken by the same being, or different faces, they are 3 persons who are so intimately and lovingly, and eternally connected that they are one.
God is the source of all the good in us.
Many of the good attributes we have require more than one person. God as the source of all perfection must be multiple persons, otherwise he would depend on us. Perfect love, perfect obedience, perfect trust, perfect generosity, and many other things require more than one person.
God is also perfectly creative, funny, gentle, patient, hopeful…
Because the God who created us has these attributes we have imperfect shadows of them.
God is love.
I kind of pressed this in the trinity point, but I want to emphasise this more. God is the perfect representation of love. Not self-love, but the deepest inter-personal love - deeper than we can possibly imagine. Out of this complete devotion within the Trinity, He also loves us with perfect love.
God is worthy of worship.
This can make us uncomfortable. We don’t like to admit that we worship things. But we worship everything. our favourite T.V. shows, celebrities, coca-cola, our parents, partners, whatever. God is the only being truly worthy of that worship.
Not only is he the perfectly good, and greatest being, he’s also spent great personal cost (Jesus on the cross) so we are able to come to him and know him and worship him.
God wants us to know him personally as God.
God wants us to know him, but he has to be patient with it. Which is why he doesn’t just appear in the sky every Sunday and say ‘look at me I’m here’. We wouldn’t believe he was approachable, and when he came as a man we didn’t really believe he was God.
So he has to be patient with us, give us a little bit of himself here and there, and eventually we can know Him.
God is omnipresent/everywhere
Hey I got to omni-attributes.
This is not the pan-theism God is everything, but something subtly different. God is in everything. in a couple of ways - the most obvious is: he is unrestricted by space and time, why wouldn’t he be everywhere and everywhen.
God is omnipotent/all-powerful.
God doesn’t do illogical things (square circle, make a rock he can’t lift). That’s not all-powerful, that just betrays a very flawed understanding of what all powerful is. God can create the entire universe from absolutely nothing.
There’s this old joke: Some scientists came to God and said “We’ve done it, we’ve found a way to make a man from dust as you did”. So God says: “Show me”. They start to scoop up some earth into a man-shaped bucket and God says: “Wait a minute: use your own dirt”. We sometimes forget that absolutely everything we know came initially from God.
God is omniscient/all-knowing.
God knows all the things that happened in the past. God knows everything that’s in your mind, and the unconscious things: the motivations that even you don’t see.
He also knows the future, though how that works will depends what the reality of the future is, the nature of time, and that’s a fascinating topic, but very tangential to this post: look up A and B theories of time. whether it’s that he knows all the things that could possibly happen and what we will, in the not-yet-existent future choose, or that space-time is a solid thing and he sees the whole of it stretched out on a line, it’s complex and interesting.
God understands human suffering.
God in the person of Jesus reduced himself and came to earth. He experienced many many human sufferings: he was a refugee, he was starving, he was tortured, he was rejected and disowned by those closest to him, he was executed in the most horrific way… Even outside the person of Jesus we vilify Him, we reject him. God doesn’t ignore human suffering. Jesus had compassion on the sick and rejected he met. He cried for the death of Lazarus.
God has an ideal creation.
Initially creation was perfect. I don’t have a picture of that for you, Genesis and Revelation kind of do, though it’s very hard to imagine. The sin entered the world through us and we broke the universe.
God has a plan.
We broke the universe, but God has a way to fix it without destroying everything and starting from scratch. He’s doing surgery on creation, which means sometimes that things appear to get worse. But God is using long processes to fix things, Jesus death and resurrection was a major step in that and he was very patient to get there - that was part of the plan from the beginning, He waited almost all of human history. We’re still working toward the day when the universe will be renewed and all creation will be perfectly restored. God doesn’t ignore our plight, he is patiently healing us from the root cause, and we will be able to live in this renewed creation.
God doesn’t fit in my head.
There are many things I don’t understand. and many things I think I understand that are incredible oversimplifications or just completely wrong.
Please leave comments telling me where I’m wrong, where I’m confusing, where I’m just not detailed enough. Ask me questions, Tell me what to read as well, things that helped you in your understanding of God, and helped you ask more interesting questions. Thanks for reading.