Probably the best definition of God ever penned by man, is that given in the “Westminster Catechism”: “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” This is a true definition; for it states the class of beings to which God is to be referred. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology: Volume 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1940), p. 359
What if Scripture does not demonstrate an unchangeable God or a God in the Eternal Now as defined by classical theology? When a theologian starts with a faulty definition of God, he has a tendency to force this definition from an unwilling and uncooperative Scripture.
Immutability, omnipresence, simplicity, impassibility, ineffability, and eternality or their derivatives are not used of God in the Scriptures. All these terms are found in the Greek of the Platonist philosophers. While apologizing for this lack of insight in the authors of the Bible, the classical theologians will find these ghost concepts in their imagination and distort the Scriptures to explain what is not there.
How does one find these elusive attributes in the Bible? Perhaps the best method is to examine the definitions offered for these attributes, then examine the Biblical evidence offered by these classical theologians and determine if the Biblical evidence supports the concepts of the attributes of God. If the Biblical evidence does not support these definitions, then these concepts are not in Scripture.
If Scripture does not support the classical attributes of God, perhaps it is still possible that God could have these attributes. But what if Scripture offers evidence that God does not have these attributes? Shall the evidence be ignored and allegorized? Or should the evidence be used to develop a proper concept or definition of God.
God defines himself through revelation. He has chosen to reveal himself in words not in mystical visions or flashes of confused images. Nor are we commanded to make god in a system of rationalization through pagan misconceptions about god. The Platonist reified a god more compatible to their concept of god. Being thoroughly disgusted by the “human” and immoral gods of Homer and Hesiod, the Platonists would make a god in their image of perfection. All man-made inventions of God fail, as God explains:
Isaiah 55:8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
God is as he reveals himself in the Scriptures. Systematic theology should be a biblical discipline, and not the reification of the Platonist god. Scripture reveals God by his actions in history, showing his identity and relationships rather than discussing his essence. Does anyone even know the essence of our own bodies or the essence of physical objects seen in every day experiences? Science has continually looked into smaller and smaller particles but the reality of physical existence is not thoroughly comprehended. How then do we know the essence of God?
How do we know if God’s emotions, love and jealousies are beyond our own emotions? Typically, modern theologians argue that God cannot be known univocally, so he must be describing something other than the typical emotions we know. Univocal knowledge means that we can know something because we have shared experiences. If we both have had a loss in the family, we both know how it feels. The notion that we univocally relate to God is impossible for modern theologians. As Norman Geisler writes:
But we can’t attribute things to God univocally; there is an infinite difference between an infinite Being and a finite being… If we did, then either God would be finite or creatures would be infinite. Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology in One Volume, (Minneapolis, MN: BethanyHouse 2011) pg. 411
Rather than univocal relation, Geisler argues our knowledge of God is analogical because it is the only meaningful way to speak of God. Analogical knowledge means knowledge through comparisons, metaphors and similes. But the true question one must consider is whether the Bible bears out this meaning. When Jesus appeared in the flesh, lived with and among his disciples, did he do so only analogically? No one claims so. However, was this act merely his human disposition or was he displaying something greater? We have a clue to this answer in the Gospel of John:
John 14:9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
Classical theologians make the same mistake Phillip made. They imagine God as wholly unlike us. Show us God that we may know what God is like. Jesus did not say “You only see my human nature, but I have a god-like nature that is more like God the Father. Jesus said if you have seen me, the human me, you have seen God.
God made man in his image and likeness. God is not a projection of humans wanting to see God in their image. Humans are little representations of God. For those who say, we are not able to know God univocally, is it impossible for God to create human beings who understand God univocally? Are you limiting God?
We may never the ability to understand God exhaustively, but that does not mean that we cannot understand God univocally. After all, we can understand our wives univocally, but we never understand them or as Freud has demonstrated even ourselves exhaustively. Using Scripture as our guide, perhaps there are many instances when we, simple finite humans, can understand something about the mind of God.