Gerald Owens, “Defining” God

, posted by geraldowens

How does one define God? For both Arminians and Calvinists, God is defined by how he saves. Calvinists emphasize God’s sovereignty by way of his power and right to save and damn, while Arminians emphasize God’s mercy and good will in extending the offer of salvation to everyone. Put another way, Calvinists define God in terms of His power while Arminians define Him in terms of His generosity.

There should be no doubt that the present world system prizes power. It is the way that the limited goods of the world are distributed, and is the way the system defines its elites and its downtrodden. On the other hand, the poor and the powerless look favorably upon those who are of a good (and generous!) character. It is significant to note that the Calvinist definition of God appears to emulate the world system’s worship of power, although charity would suggest that such an emphasis might reflect a Calvinist desire to speak to the powerful in terms that those powerful would appreciate.

Power or generosity? Which one is correct?

Perhaps the better question to ask is “How does GOD define Himself in scripture?” While the working of God in nature and human affairs is plain throughout scripture, any definitions derived from, say Genesis 1 and 2, would be observational, not declarative. While you could make some deductions about an artist by examining his works, a clearer (and much more pleasant!) method would be to converse with the artist himself in a good pub.

The first time God vebally describes Himself is recorded by Moses in Exodus 34:6-7: And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.

In this passage, we find more words that describe God’s character than his raw abilities, powers, rights, and privileges. These are not mere words, for God joins deeds to words by taking precautions before the theopany to preserve Moses’ health and safety. When He discusses power, it is in the context of executing just punishment upon the guilty. The last phrase of Exodus 34:7 does not support the Calvinist slant that God does not have to give his reason for punishment, nor even HAVE a reason for punishment. Rather, God plainly gives sin as the reason for punishing the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren while the guilty looks on. If the reason for punishment is known, then there is hope that the root of the problem can be addressed and punishment shortened. If God’s words are to mean anything, then the words of verse 6 cannot lay a firmer foundation under such a hope. (Well, until a Calvinist lays hands on them, I suppose.)

Of course, when it comes to defining God, there is no greater nor more definitive authority than Jesus Christ. What do we see this “perfect reflection of the Father” doing? He performs miracles of healing, feeding, and deliverance. He forgives sins. In response the poor, the outcasts, and the destitute, flock to him and believe on him, responding in gratitude to one reflecting the providental character of Israel’s God. In contrast, those in power distain the opinion of the “have-nots”, refuse to believe, and demand of Jesus signs from heaven. Our puzzlement at their non-recognition of Jesus’ healing and feeding miracles as signs dissolves when we realize that they are demanding miracles of power because their understanding is limited to expressions of power. They are deaf to God’s expressed desire for mercy rather than sacrifice, for to them, power consists, not in sacrificing and being a sacrifice, but in making the other guy sacrifice for them. Do I exaggerate? That Pharisee of Pharisees, Saul of Tarsus, does a 180 degree turn only after the risen Christ blinds him outside of Damascus: God can speak the language of power, but only to those for whom it is the only one they understand.

Certainly, words like “omnipotence”, “omniscience”, and “omnipresence” are true when applied to God. However, the man who saw the back of God and lived did not hear them, nor their like, come out of that God’s mouth. What he heard caused him to swiftly bow and worship, fearing to move himself or the people if the God who uttered them did not accompany them.

Not quite “Union with Christ”, but striving to travel in the same direction that a God like that is headed is a pretty good place to start.