THE NATURE OF GOD
1. Theists believe that God exists.
What does this mean? “Does God exist?” This question implies another: “Who is God?” (H Kung) To answer the question, Who or what is God?, is quite impossible and begs too may other questions (eg How do you know that what you claim about God is true? Do your statements about him correspond with reality?)
2. There are at least four possible views of God:
- God as personal and everlasting
- God as a timeless substance
iii. The linguistic view of God
- Talk of God seen as affirming a possible way in which life can be lived (Don Cupitt)
3. God as personal
- One approach sees God as personal – he is in some sense an individual who can know, love, think and reason in a somewhat similar fashion to man. God can respond to man as a father responds to his children. He can act and react.
- This approach can be regarded as closest to the ideas of the biblical writers, who saw God as a personal being. He maintains personal relations with his people through speech, and those closest to him (like Abraham or Jesus) may have conversations with him. The actual content of God’s speech also reflects his personhood: he gives vent to the feelings of a person, not only love, joy and compassion, but also regret, jealousy and anger. He is compared to human beings like a king, a shepherd, a father, a mother, a husband or a potter. Being personal involves relationships on both sides: God both speaks and is addressed. He is real, and therefore totally different from man-made idols.
“Could a God without mind or understanding, freedom or love, be a God? As the Old Testament itself observes: Can he who created the ear be deaf, he who created the eye be blind, he who created the mouth be dumb? Could God, the cause of all human individuality and personality, be an impersonal ‘It’ and not a personal ‘Thou’, open to man’s trustful approach?” H Kung
- God is not a person as man is a person. But personal language is the most helpful and reliable medium available for communicating the nature, character and purposes of God (anthropomorphisms = descriptions of God based upon human analogies). It is best to think of simply to humanise God (ie reduce him to a human being), but to bring him close to man as the living God. Philosophically abstract definitions of the divine nature leave us cold … The biblical God is essentially “God with a human face”. (H Kung)
- What does it mean to speak of God as a person?
- It does not mean that God is a human being. Rather, we are saying that a human person is a good model for God.
- It does not mean fundamentally that God is able to enter into a personal relationship with human beings. So man’s relationships with other persons are analogous to his relationship with God. We experience God in a personal manner, and our own personal relationships give us insights into our relationship with God.
- Personal relationships have to be mutual: relating to God means not merely knowing about him, but knowing him and being known by him, eg stalker not in a relationship!
- Personal relationships help to form the framework in which words such as “love” and “trust” have their meaning. The basic idea of the biblical covenant is that of a personal commitment of God to his people, and of his people to their God (just like a marriage). It is in this context that the biblical notion of God’s jealousy makes sense: when his people flirt with idols, he longs (as the faithful lover) to have the covenant relationship fully restored.
- Personal relationships are transformational: we are changed through the influence of other people. Similarly, knowing God and having a personal relationship with God means being changed by God. For the theist, an encounter with the living God makes a life-changing difference.
- “The Bible shows that there is someone who faces us as benevolent and absolutely reliable ; not an object, not an empty, unechoing universe, not a merely silent infinite, not an indefinable, nameless Gnostic chasm, not an indeterminate, dark abyss that might be confused with nothingness, still less an anonymous, interpersonal something that could be mistaken for man and his very fragile love. God is one who faces me, whom I can address.” (H Kung)
- “If the essential being of God is personal, it can be best manifested in the life of a person. This is the core of the idea of the idea of incarnation; and it is an appropriate mode of revelation for a personal God who wills personal relationship with rational creatures … Religious traditions which do not believe in a personal God can have no concept of incarnation.” (Ward)
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