Tag Archives: Yahweh

IS GOD EVERYWHERE?

We have tackled the weighty questions of ‘Does God Know Everything?’ and ‘Can God Do Anything?’ Now we turn our attention to ‘Is God Everywhere?’

I have procrastinated a long time in writing this post. The concept of omnipresence is very abstract and complicated. We must delve into the brain-teasing subject of the spatial relationships of spiritual beings, objects, and places. While this is a favorite area of inquiry for me, we can quickly spiral off into tangents with no practical value to our day-to-day lives as Christians. On the surface, it does not seem that omnipresence is even a doctrine worth spending time on. Omniscience and omnipotence have immediate implications for Christian belief and life whereas whether or not God is “present in all places at all times” (Merriam-Webster) or ‘spatially infinite’ appears to be rather academic. Why did early theologians even bother themselves with this infinite attribute?

Allow me to share a perspective that will hopefully illuminate why this discussion is both helpful and relevant. Some people may assume a religion like Hinduism is polytheistic. Polytheism, in contrast to monotheism, means belief in multiple gods. However, Hinduism is more accurately defined by pantheism or even perhaps panentheism. In a pantheistic system, the divine penetrates and permeates all things: a rock is divine; a tree is divine; a mosquito is divine, the West Nile virus that mosquito is carrying is divine… Now, I do not pretend to be an expert on the incredibly diverse religion of Hinduism, but this concept of pantheism is also found in Taoism, the New Age movement, as well as in the fictional Jedi religion of the Star Wars series. Pantheism is today, in its many forms, an influential worldview.

In contrast, Christianity presents a worldview with a clear distinction between Creator and Creation. God is eternally pre-existent and qualitatively different from everything that came after him. The ‘creature’ (e.g., you and me) is closer in essence to the nothingness from whence it was called into being than to the infinite God that transcends the physical cosmos. Christians can categorically say “this is God” and “this is not God.” So, how do we reconcile this theological proposition of God being “present in all places at all times” with the clear Creator / Creation distinction? How could anything not be divine if God is fully present throughout all creation? Or, perhaps the common perception of omnipresence is off base.

Our discussion will necessitate an examination of the Transcendence and Immanence attributes of God, a look at the Biblical data where language depicting proximity and presence of the divine is used, and a discussion of how the doctrine of omnipresence radically differs between the different persons of the so-called Trinity.

To save time, I will go ahead and share my hypothesis upfront and then examine each member of the Trinity in more depth in subsequent posts:

Current Hypothesis:

God the Father is, by his nature, transcendent and necessarily separate from the physical universe. It would be more accurate to say that the cosmos exists within God rather than to think of God the Father as being present within the cosmos. “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain you, how much less this house which I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27). “… in him we live and move and exist.” (Acts 17:28a)

God the Son, especially post-Incarnation as Jesus Christ, has a physical body and, although he can go anywhere he wants, cannot be in more than one location at a time. “Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, ‘Behold, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them.” (Matthew 24:25-16) Jesus has a physical form by choice (albeit now glorified) that precludes omnipresence. “… Christ Jesus, who although he existed in the form of God … emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (see: Philippians 2:5-6)

God the Spirit is who we would most consider to represent the classic depiction of omnipresence. The Holy Spirit can fill the entire universe and be everywhere at all times, although it does not necessarily follow that he IS everywhere at all times. Although the Spirit of Yahweh has operated throughout Biblical history, Jesus specifically mentions asking for the Father to send the Spirit. Elsewhere we read about the Spirit being poured out on all flesh at a future point in time. So spiritual-spatially, this Spirit did not seem to be everywhere at once at all times in the past. Today, Christians can experience the Holy Spirit simultaneously on opposite sides of the planet. A key is this: most descriptions of God being near or distant seem to speak to relational closeness and distance, rather than physical proximity. In the most well-known passage that is used as evidence of the doctrine of omnipresence, the psalmist poetically intones, Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, you are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there your hand will lead me, and your right hand will lay hold of me.” (Psalm 139:7-10, emphasis added)

To be continued…

THE SPEED OF LIGHT AND SPIRITUAL LAWS

642736_76463569Einstein famously said, “God doesn’t play with dice.” Observers of our created universe note predictable patterns that govern the motion of physical matter. Over time, scientists test hypotheses and develop theories. Theories, given enough testing and widespread acceptance, become laws.

There are a variety of fundamental scientific laws / principles that have been discovered, and they often bear the names of the human discoverers. Naturally, as a Christian I believe that the creator of these laws is Yahweh himself, who through his wisdom established every aspect of the physical reality we inhabit (Proverbs 3:19).

Here are a few examples of scientific laws:

Newton’s First Law of Motion: The velocity of a body remains constant unless the body is acted upon by an external force.

Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics: If two systems are in thermal equilibrium with a third system, they are also in thermal equilibrium with each other.

Einstein’s Principal of the Constancy of the Speed of Light: The speed of light in a vacuum is a universal physical constant.

These scientific laws appear to accurately and predictably describe how our physical universe operates and will continue to operate. Proponents of multiverse theories argue that such laws may be totally different in other universes. The speed of light may not be 299,792,458 meters per second in another universe. With an infinite number of universes, the argument goes, we just happen to be in one with an essentially randomized speed of light. Now, I am not convinced as to the existence of a parallel physical universe, but I do believe in a parallel spiritual reality.

For whatever reason, God actualized a universe (the physical reality we live in) in which we observe the speed of light as indeed being 299,792,456 meters per second. Like it or not, that is just the way it is. You can’t change the facts. This may even be an inconvenient truth, because no matter how much I would like to fly a spaceship to Polaris, it would take me 434 years if I could somehow travel at light speed. I could never arrive sooner. Warp drives don’t exist.

What many people do not realize is that there are spiritual laws in place that govern our spiritual reality just like scientific laws govern our physical reality. Regardless of our opinions, beliefs, understanding, or desires, they remain true and timeless. One such spiritual law is as follows:

“… without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22b)

Many people do not understand the atonement. ‘Wait… why did Jesus have to die to forgive our sins? He’s God, right? Can’t he just snap his fingers and make everything better? Why are Christians so obsessed with the blood of Christ?’ In fact, many lay Christians do not know that there are many competing and intersecting theories of atonement debated in theological circles about what the sacrifice of Christ accomplished. Regardless of all that, there seems to be a very real spiritual constant in much the same way that the speed of light in a vacuum is a physical constant. Sin can never be forgiven unless blood is shed. This is a spiritual law, presumably established as a wise design decision of God, which predates any of us and cannot be altered. No human can use a spiritual warp drive to shortcut this unavoidable fact about their sinfulness.

“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.” (Leviticus 17:11)

CREATION, MIRACLES, AND SUPERSTRING THEORY

strings
I was reading to my toddler today from the ‘Big Picture Story Bible‘ by David R. Helm (2010) and came across the following passage: “Do you know how God created everything? Simply by speaking words. Imagine, making the world with words! Strong words. Powerful words.” That’s when my inner theologian started to question. Is anything really so “simple” with God?

Psalm 33:6 says, “By the word of Yahweh the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.” Clear enough. But speaking in our universe involves vocal chords and sound waves moving through a medium. Likewise, breath in our universe involves lungs, cellular respiration, and various gasses such as carbon dioxide. Does God the Father have vocal chords? Or lungs? What medium did his words move through before anything other than God existed? Does the breath of God contain carbon dioxide?

Don’t think that I am mocking. A principle I come back to again and again is the ‘dimensional beyondness‘ of God – that Yahweh the Creator is ‘qualitatively different’ than anything found in the created cosmos. God is “spirit” (John 4:24). God pre-existed all things and is not dependent on anything within creation itself.  So, a scripture that informs us that God said, “Let there be light” and there was light is indeed simple, but the reality behind what actually took place might be completely out of our ability as created, mortal creatures to comprehend. I do not pretend to know how God could actualize a world through speech, but the following concept intrigues me.

The bleeding-edge of theoretical physics suggests possible unification in the form of Superstring theory (M-theory being the most advanced version). The absolute smallest building block of our created universe is proposed to be a ‘string,’ an incredibly tiny filament of energy (1033 centimeters). As a guitar string will produce a different note based on how it vibrates, these quantum strings will produce different particle species based on how they “vibrate” (a very simplistic explanation).

Imagine a blank canvas of motionless strings, stretching out in every direction, filling the void. Now imagine God speaking… and having every filament of energy come alive – dancing and oscillating in harmony with the majestic symphony of an instantly manifesting cosmos. This concept can apply to a lot of miracles that involve supernatural changes within our physical world.

Remember in Matthew 8 when Jesus reached out and touched a man with leprosy, and he was immediately cleansed of the disease? Those who are skeptical or discount the many accounts of miracles throughout Scripture may likewise scoff at this – “surely this is just a legendary embellishment attached to the ‘good moral teacher’ Jesus that we accept!” But how hard is it to conceive, even for so-called modern, so-called post-Enlightenment minded people, that the God of the Universe could cause the basic building blocks underlying those cells to change vibrational frequency? Leprous tissue could have been reconfigured as healthy tissue in a microsecond.

Likewise, seeming “thin air” could be reconfigured into the matter comprising bread loaves and fishes, and a torrent of water can gush from a rock. Most recorded miracles do originate from the supernatural but operate in the natural, created universe that we inhabit. There are physical changes that can be observed and documented. A cancerous tumor that is miraculously healed has to go somewhere, or cease to exist, or turn into something else. Some force, such as gravity, must be manipulated in order for dry ground to appear in the middle of a Sea so that Moses can walk through.

In other physics-meets-theology news, if God decides to change the value of the theoretical Higgs Ocean that permeates our entire universe, all matter will boil away. Sounds like 2 Peter 3:12 to me! How else could outer space burn?

SALVATION AND SOVEREIGNTY: A MOLINIST APPROACH

Salvation and Sovereignty

I just finished reading ‘Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach’ by Kenneth Keathley in my ongoing quest to find out exactly what I believe about God’s “sovereignty.” Molinism, often advertised as a middle-ground position between Calvinism and Arminianism, piqued my interest. Keathley is a Baptist who teaches at a Baptist seminary, who adopts the ROSES acronym (against TULIP)… originally presented by Baptist scholar Timothy George. As Baptist theology has always been a curious mixture of Calvinist and Arminian ideas, it seems fitting for Keathley to embrace this “middle position” of Molinism.

Unfortunately, the book is far more about the ROSES acronym and how it plays into the doctrines of salvation and sovereignty (as the title advertises) than it is about Molinism itself. I was left mystified by the more elusive, philosophical details of Molinism and will have to read ‘A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology’ by Kirk R. MacGregor next.

Keathley often states that God “uses his middle-knowledge” in such-and-such circumstances. But how? In what exact way? Also, God “actualizes” a particular world out of all possible worlds. But what does it mean for God to “actualize” a world – does he only actualize a world during the seven days of creation recorded in Genesis and then sit back and watch everything unfold in a deterministic cascade? Or is God in a process of constant actualization? Does the world he actualizes change based on Keathley’s concept of contingency? What specific criteria did / does God use to choose a particular world to actualize? Keathley says little about these matters.

Regardless, Keathley writes well and his attention to certain topics have left lasting impressions on me. He argues very clearly and logically in favor of:

1. Contingency: Scripture repeatedly presents scenarios that turned out one way but could have truly turned out a very different way. The outcome was not set it stone. “Contingency is the concept that things could have been otherwise” (25). “A contingent truth is something that happens to be true but obviously could have been false” (28).

2. Permission: The Bible “presents God’s relationship with iniquity as one of permission. The notion of God’s permissive relationship to evil permeates the Bible” (27). This is opposed to God being in any way the author or cause of sin, even indirectly.

3. Soft Libertarianism: Humans have a limited ability to choose to the contrary – their set or range of possible choices are determined by their character. An unregenerate person has the possibility of making genuine choices between alternatives, even to engage in externally moral behavior, but they do not have the ability to please God because this is not within the scope of their character. Humans do not have the freedom to make any possible choice out of an infinite set of choices, nor are their choices illusions determined by external factors.

4. Agent Causation: Closely related to soft libertarianism, the concept of agent causation states that “a person is the source and origin of his choices” and that ultimate responsibility for decisions lies with that agent (73). “Rather than functioning simply as a link in a chain of events, a causal agent operates as the impetus for new causal chains. This creative ability reflects the imago dei” (75). Our capacity to originate choices is like “a little citadel of creativity ex nihilo.

5. Resistible Grace: Keathley powerfully argues, from both Scripture and logic, that grace (though “monergistic”) is in fact resistible. “God’s drawing grace should and would be efficacious for all. The only thing that could stop it is if, inexplicably, a person decides to refuse” (106). Keathley uses many verses that point to the free and universal offer of salvation as well as the culpability of those that refuse. “[T]hose who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thessalonian 2:10b, ESV).

Has this book convinced me to become a Molinist? No. I still don’t fully understand the nuances of the position. But I got a lot out of reading it and I applaud Keathley’s thoughtful work. If this book can help nudge doubting hyper-Calvinists toward becoming 5-point Calvinists, and 5-point Calvinists toward becoming 4-point Calvinists, and 4-point Calvinists toward becoming Molinists… then I consider that a win!

CAN GOD DO ANYTHING?

Flexing Biceps

Is God all powerful? Does he have limitless capability to accomplish whatever he chooses? Is God omnipotent?

The short answer is yes.

Matthew 19:26 informs us that “with God all things are possible.” In Genesis 18:14, God rhetorically asks, “Is anything too difficult for Yahweh?” Likewise in Jeremiah 32:27 – “Behold, I am Yahweh, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for me?” Job was finally able to confess in Job 42:2, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”

But theologians are quick to point out some things that perhaps God cannot do:

  1. God cannot do what is intrinsically impossible / nonsensical / logically contradictory.

For example, God cannot make 2+2=5. Also, God cannot create a square circle or a four-pointed triangle. Such concepts simply have no reference in reality – they are nonsense. Saying that God cannot do those things in no way diminishes his greatness. Indeed, God graciously allowed us to have our (finite) capacity for perceiving and understanding things such as logic and mathematics in the first place.

What about the age-old ‘gotcha’ question, “Could God create a rock too heavy for him to lift?” Well, some theologians talk about God having certain limitations due to his very nature. For example, if God truly is an infinite being, the idea of anything exceeding him would be a logical impossibility. “Infinity plus one” is not greater than infinity. Thus, this question would fall into the same nonsense category as creating a four-pointed triangle.

  1. God cannot lie.

This is scriptural. Titus 1:2 references “… God, who cannot lie…” This is a fascinating truth and one that I will have to devote an entire post to in the future. Is it truly impossible for God to tell a lie, even if he wanted to? If that is the case, I am capable of doing something that God himself cannot! Is he incapable of lying or is it that, as the source of all truth, whatever he says or wills manifests itself as reality / truth? Or is it more a matter of incompatibility, that God has permanently willed not to lie and shall never reverse that ethical course?

In other words, it will take some further thought and digging for me to determine if this is a matter of innate ability, permissibility, or possible circumstance. At this point I do not know.

IN CONCLUSION

Similar to our post on omniscience, we can arrive at a statement that all Christians should be able to agree with in good conscience: “God is able to do anything that can possibly be done.” For all intents and purposes, God is truly infinite and unlimited in power. Anything that might fall outside of his ability, apart from lying, must be so detached from our experience of reality that it can never apply to us or effect us.

AWESOME GOD

According to the source of some knowledge, Wikipedia (and a NASA scientist), the total estimated mass-energy of the observable universe is 4×1069 Joules. Compare this to 9×103 Joules for the energy in a single AA alkaline battery or 2.1×1017 Joules for a 50-ton hydrogen bomb, the largest nuclear weapon ever tested.

Now I am clearly a soft-science guy. But if you understand math then you understand the magnitude of the energy in the universe. And God created that universe. Easily. Not only that, but he can suspend and resume all the known laws of the physical universe at will (Joshua 10:12-13).

We can only deduce that God himself contains exponentially, unimaginably more energy or potential energy than 4×1069 Joules, if he can make, unmake and otherwise bend all of creation to his will without breaking a metaphorical sweat. But most likely, the measure of God’s energy is qualitatively different and truly outside our mortal, human understanding of physics.

Either way, I am humbled. I am like a cheap, science fair potato-battery in comparison to his power!

WHAT IS SPECIAL REVELATION?

moses-on-sinai

The lingering external / physical evidence of a Creator and internal / psychological evidence of a moral law and spiritual yearning within mankind are examples of General Revelation – passive evidence of the divine, available to all. Yet, such clues alone will never lead one to a full knowledge of the Christian God and associated doctrines of soteriology (salvation), especially in light of our fallen nature.

Following the concept of ‘dimensional beyondness,’ that God is not just quantitatively different than mankind but also qualitatively, we do not have the ability to directly observe God with our unaided senses. The Bible describes God as spirit, invisible, dwelling in a spiritual realm, and unable to be directly looked upon without the experience ending our lives.

How then can we possibly draw close enough to God to perceive his true nature? We can’t. “Humans cannot reach up to investigate God and would not understand even if they could.” (Erickson 1998). He has to reveal himself to us. Thankfully, God values relationships with his creation and has condescended to both interact with us and provide us with information, without which we would arguably be an ignorant species on the brink of extinction.

As stated before, revelation is better thought of as an unveiling or uncovering. Whereas General Revelation is passive, Special or Particular Revelation describes a unique moment in time and space where God reveals a part of himself: perhaps his power, or character, or wisdom, or moral requirements. The God who is above, other than, and pre-existent to our cosmos in some way enters into our finite world.

A simple example is found in Exodus 31, when Yahweh speaks to Moses on Mount Sinai. “When he had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, he gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18). Not only did God verbally speak to Moses, he also left behind a personal writing sample! Later, through the process of inscripturation, this event became recorded for posterity in the Law / Books of Moses / Pentateuch.

Both the specific historical events (God personally writing the Decalogue / Ten Commandments on stone tablets on Mount Sinai) and the written records (what we now call the book of Exodus describing God’s actions as well as what he wrote down) are instances of an unveiling that allows us to experience the divine presence or some divine truth – Special Revelation. The compiled and accurately transmitted written records, or ‘sacred writings,’ are what we call Scripture.

Thus, Christians do not worship Pascal’s “God of the philosophers,” a “generic God or the mere concept of God in some vague, philosophical mist … [we] worship God as he has been revealed in his particulars.” (Tennent 2007).

HOW MANY GODS ARE THERE?

clouds
How many gods are there anyway? God himself gives us the answer to that question:

“Thus says Yahweh, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, Yahweh of hosts: ‘I am the first and the last, and there is no God besides me. Who is like me? Let him proclaim and declare it; yes, let him recount it to me in order, from the time that I established the ancient nation. And let them declare to them the things that are coming and the events that are going to take place. Do not tremble and do not be afraid; have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me, or is there any other Rock? I know of none.” (Isaiah 44:6-8)

We can also see the Shema, famously expressing the heart of Judaism:

“Hear, O Israel!Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

The New Testament agrees:

“You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” (James 2:19)

Christianity, along with the other two Abrahamic religions, affirms a unique transcendent monotheism.

In his book ‘The Bible Among the Myths,’ Oswalt (2009) observed that the “single most obvious difference between the thought of the Old Testament and that of Israel’s neighbors is monotheism. The Old Testament vehemently and continuously insists that Yahweh is one and that no other being is in the same category with him. But sometimes today it is said that since Israel still believes in a divine being, there is not really that much difference from the surrounding cultures. But this will not do. How many monotheistic religions are there in the world today? There are only three: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And where do these three get their monotheism? All from one source: the Old Testament.

This means that only once in the history of the world has a culture contrived to attain and maintain the idea of the absolute unity of deity. On every side of it peoples far more brilliant than Israel were maintaining with vehemence the multiplicity of deity. Israel alone insisted on the oneness of God, even in the end to the death if necessary.”

Oswalt has also observed that “in comparison to the other literatures of the ancient Near East, the Bible is characterized by a worldview that is sharply different from all the rest. I have called the Bible’s view transcendence and the other one continuity. In the first, the divine is other than the cosmos; in the second, the divine is inseparable from the cosmos. This difference is so significant that even today there are only three religions that believe in true transcendence: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – and all of them have derived that conviction from one source only: the Bible.”