Friday, August 12, 2005
"There's Nothing My God Cannot Do"
In a recent blog, Jay wrote, "this is gonna happen because God says so, and He is true to His word." I'm not entirely sure how Jay intends this assertion to be understood, but behind statements of this kind lie a long and heated theological/philosophical debate. The question is:
1) do things happen SIMPLY because God says so, so that tomorrow if God says "The ten commandments are out. From now on, adultery and coveting are what's good," then from that point on, "that's what's gonna happen?"
This is what Calvinists/Reformed folk say, because they have a voluntaristic understanding of who God is. That is, they emphasize God's will --in Latin, voluntas-- in order to assert His total sovereignty over all creation. Two centuries ago Jonathan Edwards rhapsodized about God's arbitrary will, and people like Van Til and Dooyeweerd do it today.
These are the people who like to sing "My God is so great, so strong and so mighty there's NOTHING my God cannot do." Presumably, then, God could lie, and cease being holy, if he wanted/willed to. It's just that he hasn't chosen to. But there's nothing to prevent him from doing so; otherwise He wouldn't be sovereign.
These folk would agree that God is "true to his word" insofar as his word is completely an expression of his will (voluntas.) If and when His will changes, then that word will be what is true, good, real. Who are we, mere creatures, to limit God, muchless to question His will?
2) or does God say things should happen out of more than just His will; that is, because they will be expressions of Who He is in his entirety? This would open up a place for "Logos," which (or better, Who!) is not merely God's will, but reflects a deeper Order, a reflection of His Mind. (cf. John 1)
Thus, things happen because of who God is, and what He says/wills is in perfect congruence with His entire being. God could never say "From this point on, I am suspending the Ten Commandments" because to do so would violate Who He is. Our Reformed brothers and sisters see this as a limitation of God's freedom and sovereignty; but folks like C.S. Lewis, Alvin Plantinga and Ronald Nash do not.
Like them, I cringe everytime I hear the children's chorus, because in scripture God Himself tells us that there are some things He CANNOT do: he can't lie ( Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29 and Titus 1:2); he can't not exist (Exodus 3:13-14) he can't not be holy (Lev. 11:4-45; Ps.99:3,5; Is. 45:11, etc; 1 Peter 1:15-16etc. ). If this diminishes his sovereignty, then so be it. Why would we want a God who could contradict himself? (cf. James 1:17; Malachi 3:6)
Yet for many people, in a postmodern world, where Will trumps Mind and where there are many Eastern influences, contradiction is taken to be a sign of great spiritual depth. These are the heirs of Tertullian and Kierkegaard, who cry "I believe because it is absurd." They aren't talking about paradoxes--where things seem contradictory, but way down actually aren't. They are talking about real contradictions: where A is not A; where, for the same thing, in the same place at the same time, it both has and doesn't have some property.
Here's a paradox: "Jesus is fully God and fully Human."
Here's a contradiction: "Jesus is the Son of God and He is not the Son of God."
The bottom line here is that just as the Enlightenment erred in overemphasizing God's Mind, the Reformed/Calvinists err in overemphasizing God's Will. In the Lord, both His Mind and Will are perfectly integrated--so perfectly aligned that when He speaks, things come into being. He is true to his Word because He Himself is Truth. He doesn't choose what will be true, or good, or real: He is the Truth. (John 14:6). He is Good. (Luke 18:19). He is the ultimate source, ground and goal of reality: (Acts 17:28; Rev. 1:8, 21:6, and 22:13). That, to me, is what real sovereignty looks like.