How do we know who and what God is?

When considering the “what” or the substance of God, we must admit that we cannot know it. We get things wrong if we think God is something we can picture or get our minds around. St. Anselm says, “I would be surprised if we could find anything from among the nouns and verbs which we apply to created things from nothing that could worthily be said of the substance that created all.” We can certainly compare God to things that we know, but these words don’t typically mean the same things as they do when applied to created things. We must realize the words have an analogous relationship.

For instance, I can say that a cheeseburger is good and that Fred is good. The word good does truly and literally describe both Fred and the cheeseburger, but the word has a different meaning when applied Fred than it does when applied to the cheeseburger. In the same way, I can say that God is good and that Fred is good, and that “good” truly and literally describes both of them but does not mean the same thing.

And let’s not forget, we really do have some descriptive words that can be attributed to God, words like Creator, the Source of everything, pure actuality, pure existence, true, good, one, being, real, and beauty. But, unlike us, God does not have these things, God IS these things. And each descriptive word is referencing one thing, not many. It’s like when the words “Superman” and “Clark Kent” refer to the same person. They just refer to him in different aspects. And words like good and true are different aspects of God.

All these things describe the “what” of God. I have not yet gotten to the “who” of God. “What is God” and “Who is God” are two different questions, and not very many people realize that.

The “Who” of God would be hard to figure out on our own but it is possible. For instance, if we consider love to be what God is, as when we say “God is love”, then of necessity we must say that God is a Trinity of “Who’s”. Because, if God is only one “who” then, when considering God before he created anything, what sense does it make to say that God was loving? What was he loving before creation? If God is one “who”, then there was nothing to love. He could love himself, but he would not know the kind of adult, mature love we speak of when we talk about loving another person, when we talk about giving ourselves wholly to them. He would have to create something in order to love, which would mean that he was deficient before creation. Generally, people don’t think “deficient” appropriately describes God.

But, if God is three “Who’s”, then it’s easy to see that he did have this adult love all along. For each “Who” of the Trinity was loving and giving to each other equally before creation. And we are invited into the love that’s already going on, sort of like joining in on a quiet fireside chat.

As you can see, there are some things to be said about God. But we must be careful about the kind of things we say. Attributing created qualities to God as if they were a direct comparison is wrong.

God is not well behaved

When someone says that God is perfectly good, I feel they are somehow saying that God is humanly good; that he is well behaved in a human sort of way, following all the human rules: no killing, taking perfect care of his neighbor, treating animals perfectly well, no slavery, no destroying cities, does not cause pain to others, treating others equally, giving his perfect wealth to the less fortunate, and so on. He is perfectly well behaved.

One realizes the absurdity of such a saying when thinking of God as a well behaved lion. He roars perfectly loudly, he has the perfect number of female lions to procreate with, he perfectly eats his meals before the female lions, he runs fast across the African plain, he perfectly sharpens his teeth on the bones.

God has no more need to act like a well behaved human than he does a well behaved lion. Only things that are ordered can possibly be perfect. Ordered things have a certain way they should be. But God is not ordered. If he was, we could ask who ordered him. Such a question would reveal a being more ultimate than he, which would indicate that he was not God.

What about God as God; are there certain sets of actions that typify what it means to be God? Does God create because that’s what a God does? Does God have a nature, a certain set of actions that he does or else he is not God? I think the answer to these questions is no, God is not ordered nor does he have a nature.

All this means that God is not a moral being. He is obliged neither to make your life any better or any longer. When we say God is good, we are not saying he is well behaved as a God should be. We are saying that God is goodness itself, the source of all created good. God who has no nature and is not ordered created things with natures, things ordered. When a man sets his face in the direction of God and says that God is good, he is seeing his human reflection from the source of his human goodness. And while looking there he sees, as much as he is able to see, how he ought to be. God is reflecting back to that man the way he is made. But, it is an error to project that same reflection upon God and say that this is how God is good.

God is indeed good, but not in any created sense.

How can the church be better understood?

retrieved from www.cs.columbia.edu
retrieved from http://www.cs.columbia.edu

I think the church will always be misunderstood, but I also don’t necessarily think that misunderstanding is something that needs to be corrected. Don’t get me wrong, there are things that should be corrected, but there will always be some things about the church that is foreign to this world. It will always be misunderstood. That being said, our focus should not be a clarification of doctrine to this world or an explanation of how a Christian ought to live. Those things will continue to be strange. With this in mind, I think the question, “What can churches do to become a better reflection of Christianity?” is well intentioned but wrong-headed. A better question might be, “What can churches do to become a better reflection of Christ?” There is a difference. Whereas Christianity is a way of life, a transformation, a set of doctrines, the proper use of faith, a set of beliefs, and so on; Christ is a person who actually did a few things. His works are recorded in the Bible. So, what sort of things did he do? What did he say for us to do?

I think these questions, and the question of what the church ought to be doing, are answered when looking at the works of charity, and by charity I mean gift-love or giving-love. These are the works of the outpouring of ourselves into this world.

1. We can welcome all people into our houses and homes. We can give them a place to stay, a refuge away from the cruelties of this world. Show them hospitality, good food, and great company.

2. We can give them of our bounty, our fullness. Give them of the grace of God which is given to us. Feed the hungry and give the thirsty to drink. As we have been given, so we ought to give to others.

3. We can give clothing to others to protect them from the heat and cold. Let’s face it, some people don’t have good clothes and you don’t have to go far to find someone in need of a good shirt and pants.

4. We can go into the jails and prisons and those that we can redeem or pay their way out by means of bail, we should do so. Some cannot pay their way. We should keep in mind that we have been forgiven and we ought in a similar way to forgive others and set them on a right path.

5. We can comfort those on the point of death. We can help those especially who do not know Christ, who lay at Hell’s door. We can lead them to love and introduce them to Christ who will take them to heaven. But, also, it is good just to sit with them in their last minutes taking special care of those whose last moments will be filled with bitter pain.

6. We can take care of those who have just died: give them a coffin, pay for a restful place in this earth for their body to lay. Show kindness to their loved ones who may not have the money for a proper burial or ceremony.

7. Finally, let us take care of the orphans and widows that are left alone in this world. They should not be left to themselves to waste away for lack of care. We should come to their defense when needed, and supply their needs.

By these things, we will attract all of humanity to the church. Misunderstandings will always abound, but the works of love will always soften hearts and even reason-hardened minds. And as a bonus, believers in the church who do these things won’t have time to be the terrible witnesses they have been in the past. By this, we can show the love of Christ to a pain-filled and despairing world who will only see their own reflection in the Christians who only try to put on a better face. The world will not see the face of Christianity as it is, only as they are able to perceive it.

Are you thankful you exist?

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Socialism, Communism, and all political theories that involve attaining some degree of utopia here and now, at bottom express a dissatisfaction with the way that God has made things. They intensely dislike the world that God has made. And in their own faltering political ways, they attempt to get rid of these great blunders that God has created.

The main thing that proponents of Utopian societies want to get rid of are the limitations of our individual circumstances. That we should be constrained by our humble or poor birth, or the defectiveness of our culture or environment, is seen as a great evil. God has made us to struggle with this evil and this is something Utopians will not do. By means of money, i.e. distributing large piles into equal smaller ones, circumstances  and the struggles it would take to rise above them are left behind.

The majority of complaints stem from the existence of suffering and evil. And here I cannot but be baffled. To exist in this world is to be confronted by the challenge of every second. Each tick of the clock brings change and, thus, something to adapt to; something to struggle with. We imagine that evil and suffering is somehow inflicted upon us because God is himself evil and torturous. Yet, when we write our stories and books we add suffering and evil in the mix. We give our heroes a villain to fight with. We give them monstrous struggles to overcome. We send children into terrible abusive places and to terrible abusive people. We ordain the deaths of thousands of fictional people. We turn almost the entire world into soulless horrible inhuman zombies that destroy every piece of humanity it finds; yet we call the story good, and we pay good money to see them on film. Through imagination we create entire worlds and dash them to pieces. But, do the readers of these stories then turn around and call the authors evil? Do we blame them for the suffering they write? No.

The end of the road for people who continually complain about their personal struggles is the wish for death. It is the desire not to exist; to leave this real actual story. It is really an unthankfulness for existing. This is exactly where I am baffled. Because, despite the suffering I’ve endured, I still count it better to exist than not. And though I may understand someone’s desire to leave this world after having endured so much pain, I cannot think that about anyone who lives in the West. We have so much: technology, medicine, and many amenities in life. Yet, we are the most unthankful bunch I’ve seen. We constantly want each other’s things for ourselves, especially each other’s money; and we paint ourselves as victims of every challenge God sends our way. Every second we endure we find something more to complain about.

We are such hypocrites; who write end-of-the-world stories with great suffering in them, and then berate God for doing the same. I, for one, would rather meet the challenge and try to rise above the circumstances than be idle and unthankful. Every political Utopian desire is a wish to rewrite our actual story into a non-story: a state of existence where we endure through time but never leave the condition of happiness; a place where we become human pets in a little earthly terrarium that the government takes care of. And that, my friends, is not even a fairy tale. It’s doesn’t even count as a story. Neither can I imagine that that is what Heaven is. I certainly wouldn’t want to go there.

The language of God

All of our lives, all of creation can be seen as communication from God to us. All of it, including ourselves, are the on-going words of God, His continual speaking. We may go our whole lives and not recognize the world as such, as the words of God. But, once our eyes are open to it, everything becomes a conversation with Him and from Him. That is why, when asked for proof of God, the first impulse is to point to everything.

The Communion, the bread and wine, is a call to recognize, in unity, the word of God in the elements. The bread and wine become a shared meaning that only God knows the depths of and which we only participate in partly. The bread and wine are His language which we attempt to speak in Communion with Him. These are our first words in our new birth.

Not answering the question

It is an interesting phenomenon of this age that some people think the answer to the question “why is there something rather than nothing” to be more something. The atheist/naturalist has adopted the short-sighted nature of being satisfied with something. But, they have not answered the question. They just posit more something for the question to consume. The Christian is not satisfied with something, that would be illogical, neither is he satisfied with nothing, that would be meaningless. In short, he does not give an answer that isn’t an answer, like some people of this age. The Christian, and any other person who wants meaning and logic, seeks the source of all the somethings that make up everything. “Why”, He asks, “Why the whole thing? Why is there anything you can think of that is something instead of just nothing?”

What is supernatural?

What is supernatural? It is other than natural, not part of reality. Whatever reality turns out to be, it is natural. If we have souls, they are natural. If there are angels, they are natural. Anything that is part of reality, is part of creation, and therefore natural. So, what is supernatural? It is something that does not have a nature, something that is not created, does not exist in our world. If God is said to be supernatural, what does that tell us about God? Nothing. It gives us no knowledge of him. It only tells us what God is not. God is not-universe, not created. God is wholly other than the universe. The word supernatural, then, is exploratory. It is a step into the unknown to try to give it a description. Those who use it disparagingly step into nothing briefly only to mock it. Those who use it with reverence express only a desire to know, to know the source of everything.

A less important question – Intelligent Design

The question which intelligent design asks is a less important question than the Jewish/Christian question. The evidence of its less-importance is shown by the fact that any sufficiently intelligent being with enough resources could account for the intelligible arrangement of the stuff around us. So, the answer to the intelligent design question could be one or more of any number of beings. The Jewish/Christian question asks the origin of the stuff that is being arranged. In other words, why the whole thing instead of nothing? Whatever the answer turns out to be, whatever the source of everything is, we call God.

Love is Old, Love is New

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For the man of the east, love is young. It is young because it is fleeting. One might ask why the eastern man is not young himself. It is because he has aged thousands of years. There was a time when he was young, when he rejected all circles, simply because they were circular. The history of the world can be seen as a great succession of philosophers searching for knowledge,  trying to establish truth that seems to fit. But, no truth has been found to stand on its own. It is a circle floating in mid air. To live in a circle and deny its circularity is to strive in vain to be young. There came a time, however, when he no longer went from circle to circle but chose to  accept the inevitable. He became old. Love, then, to him is young.  You will find the eastern man today talking of love as if he were a child, making headlong leaps into its depths, leaving reason behind. The eastern man is a man who sits, who does not fight, and love is the one thing that will make him move. And upon moving he regains his youth if only for a moment.  For fleeting love makes him dream. Lost in the dream, he is found. But, he expects it to leave, as the rolling wheel must continue onwards. And when it does, he sits once again.

The western man has found that love is old. Ever after the time of Christ, love has told him it was old. And through love, the western man has stayed young. He has not been satisfied by the circle, but has found his reason to be straightened by a cross. The heavens have reached down to man, set him on a foundation, and caused him to stretch his arms in equal love unto his neighbor. The cross is a  fitting symbol of the west. But, as we have grown, many have found the brightness of heaven too revealing. It pierces their covering and discovers their nakedness. So, they have sought the solace of the circle. But, in this, they are not satisfied. They wander from unsatisfying circle to unsatisfying circle, not content with circularity. But old love has been tainted with the passion to be old: for man to grow more mature than his maker. And diluted love cannot make due on the promises it made when man was young. It has been reduced to only physical gifts. The western man will be heard speaking of love in old terms, but not with reference to its origin. He will speak of his tiredness of it; of the fleeting satisfaction it gives and his having been left bereft of something sure, something lasting, something that should have always been there. Old Love.

Debate: Answering Questions

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Commentary:

The questions below are Ydemoc’s questions. In fairness I must admit that I do not answer all of his questions here. The one’s I did not answer I either didn’t have time for or may not have had an answer. I’m OK with the fact that I don’t know some answers. This last reply to Ydemoc marks the end of my part of the debate. Ydemoc may have further comments, but they are at his convenience. Remember, most of us have jobs and a life, and don’t have much time to dedicate to debates. But, for now, enjoy this Q & A.

Dan O’Brian:

“According to Christianity, Satan acts. Would you say this character has faith?”

It’s possible.

“According to Christianity, Judas acted. Did he have faith?”

Yes. He had faith in the wrong thing though.

“Christians tell us all the time that their god acts. Does it have faith? Can it doubt?”

No. God is not dependent upon anything for his actions or his knowledge. Therefore, he has no faith.

“Christians allege that the Holy Spirit is a “person” who actually acts in their lives. Does it have faith?”

No.

“Even though they weren’t Christian, would you say that the 9/11 terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center had faith when they took this action?”

Yes.

“Does one act on faith when committing an evil act? When thinking about committing an evil act?”

Yes.

“What is the difference between acting on faith to do good vs. acting on faith to do evil?”

One difference is the goal to be attained. But, insofar as they think it can be attained and act on it, they have faith.

“When you imagine heaven and being face-to-face with the Christian god, do you imagine that it will take faith to perceive him? Why or why not?”

I don’t know that one. If I am still placed within the limitations of my senses and my cognitive functions, then I think the answer would be yes. But if I can “see” God without the use of senses, that is to say, directly, then maybe faith would not be involved.

“If I get into my car, having faith that when I drive down the highway, I will not get into a crash — but then I do get into a crash — would you say that it was an act of faith which was responsible for my getting into a collision?”

Yes. You either act or you sit back and do nothing like a coward, never living your life.

““Faith” and **what** are “two opposite methods of knowing the world”?”

It’s faith and evidence. But, you’re misunderstanding me here. This is not what I say. I say they are not opposed to each other but work together to let us act in the world and believe in certain things.

“If I act on doubt, does this mean that I am really acting on faith?”

If you are in doubt about whether or not you will safely cross the street but do it anyway, you overcame your doubt with faith. So, yes, you are acting on faith. And let me just say, it seems to me that faith is not a concept. It is not a factual thing. It is not an object that I perceive and therefore not possibly made into a concept. Rather, I assent to the accuracy and validity of all objects through faith. Faith is not of the physical world. We cannot grasp its substance. Yet, things in this world seem to be made true by something not of this world, faith. In this way, God is not a concept whose substance is derived from the universe either. But, this is not anything new. Christians have always said that we can never wrap our minds fully around God. The substance of God is so utterly unlike anything in this world, and since our conceptions are entirely worldly, God’s substance is not fully knowable. His substance can be known by means similar to my argument I used above, but that is another discussion.

“I would really be curious to know what you would say faith’s role would be in one’s acceptance or rejection of such a notion as square circles.”

I see you’re still working with an incorrect notion of faith. When one comes to understand squares and circles, it’s not hard to see how each exclusive shape cannot be made into one another. This understanding constitutes evidence, at which point we can form a belief, by faith, of the impossibility of forming a square circle. There are those who might violate logic and say it is possible for A to equal B, and such, but this is a statement not made of faith and evidence, but only faith. I do not follow such ways.