Sexual Unity
The Concept of God, Part II

The Concept of God

There has been a lot of discussion on the concept of God over at Greg's site. I find myself wanting to write some things that I've written about on various websites in the past year as comments, but have never written about at my own site. So, I want to work out some of that here.

Parmenides (515-450 B. C. E.) the Greek philosopher developed the concept of Perfect Being. He believed that the physical world of change, motion, and limitation was illusory. Instead Being would be perfect -- indivisible, unchanging, immovable, and with no limitations. Greek and Roman philosophy became permeated with this idea that "being" as opposed to "becoming" would have these attributes of perfection. The idea gets worked out by the Stoics, Plato, the Neoplatonists, etc.

Maybe Augustine (354-430 C. E.) was the first Christian to really jump on this idea. He interepreted the name of God given to Moses in Exodus 3 (YHWH) as "I am that I am" and that it was suggesting that God revealed himself to be Perfect Being. And so this idea becomes wedded to the Christian God (Anselm's ontological argument being a good example).

In Modern Philosophy this conception of being and perfection remains, even in relation to God. So you get Spinoza's (1632-1677) pantheism as one way of dealing with it and Leibniz' (1646-1716) theodicy of the "best of all possible worlds" as another outcome of it. And it led Descartes (1596-1650) to surmise that God could create a square circle, because God was omnipotent. And it led the Occasionalists, like Malebranche (1638-1715), to argue that only God had causal power and that all appearance of cause and effect in the natural world was only illusion (meaning that at every instant God completely recreated the world).

In Christian thought a handful of perfections were used to describe God, among them:
omnipotent -- having all power, able to do all things
omniscient -- knowing all
omnibenevolent -- all good
immutable -- unchanging and unmoving
impassible -- incapable of suffering
eternal -- not restricted by time
omnipresent -- not restricted by space

The idea was probably given its fullest and most coherent description by Aristotle (384-322 B. C. E.) who held that God was the Unmoved Mover. He said that God, being perfect, didn't move, but attracted other things to Godself. For Aristotle the cosmos was itself eternal, because otherwise the Unmoved Mover would have had to create something and to create something would have been to acknowledge that something was lacking, but perfection would not lack anything. And Aristotle said, the Unmoved Mover could only think about itself. Why? Because for perfection to think about anything other than perfection would be an imperfection. God, for Aristotle, was Pure Thought Thinking About Pure Thought.

But this God doesn't seem to fit with the God of the Hebrew and Chrisitan scriptures. The God of the Bible changes her mind, loves, creates, incarnates, weeps, etc. All of which contradicts the traditional notions associated with God and those categories that I listed above. A growing chorus of theologians and philosophers in the 19th & 20th centuries called into question these orthodoxies, largely as a result of the rise in importance of understanding the Biblical literature itself and the understanding of its original writers and hearers. And so we've spent a lot of time try to expunge the Greek philosophy and its modernist understandings in order to get back to the God of the scriptures.

In the next post I'll explain how I understand God's power and knowlege in relation to the concept of time.


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Kevin Sinclair

Sorry to post so late on this Scott, but I just read it today. So the Greek understanding of God is rooted in pure reason and thus God is distanced from them as e Being of just cyclical reason? Reason thinking about itself? How, or why, does Augustine get himself intangled in this Platonic thought, because, as you said, it goes against the Hebrew concept of God. So by the Greek rationale YHWH's involvement in the matters of humanity and YHWH's constant consideration of their activity would thus pollute God rendering God not the perfect Being? So I suppose my question is how did our faith get intertwined with thought which is so contradictory to our understanding of God?

Scott Jones

I think it is Augustine's life story that explains his move. He went through his Manichaean phase before he was a Christian. I think that way of thinking both deeply affected his thought and also was what he spent time reacting against. The God of the Greeks seems to avoid the problems of YHWH as recorded in the OT and exploited by the Manichaeans. Remember that his major influence was Bishop Ambrose, who was a thorough Platonist. I'm not sure of Ambrose's story.

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