There are biblical and historical reasons for the labels we’ve given God. What we think, believe, and say about God/god/gods/G-d is always played out in how we live and move and have our being… Tonight we’ll look at four traditional words used to talk about God (specifically the Judeo-Christian God). Immutable = The belief that God doesn’t change. Impassible = The belief that God doesn’t suffer or show emotion. Omnipotent – The belief that God is all-powerful. Omniscient = The belief that God is all-knowing.
GOD IS OR IS NOT BY RYAN MILLER
There are several Scriptures to keep in line with this “orthodox” label: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:18). “For I, the LORD, do not change;…” (Malachi 3:6). Clearly God does not change according to the literal reading of these verses. The Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “God is a spirit, whose being, wisdom power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth are infinite, eternal, and unchangeable.” However, there are others who suggest that God, in fact, does change. According to this view, God is seen in a dynamic, relational, and has an open role throughout the entire narrative of the Hebrew Scriptures? This proposes the question, “Is it possible for aspects of God not to change, while God’s functionality and decisions actually do change?”
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This alternative view reminds the biblical reader that there are 39 passages in the Bible stating God changed God’s mind in response to a new development, not to mention many “if” clauses, and “may” or “maybe not” instances between God and human agents. All of these instances imply mutability. Also, God repents and has regrets in Scripture.
IMPASSIBLE The conventional attribute of God’s impassibility describes God as unable to experience any sort of pain or pleasure from the actions of another being (i.e. creation). Impassibility = (Latin) “In” = “Not” + “Passibilis” = “able to suffer, experience emotion.” To traditionally affirm that God can suffer, means that God would be lessened and affected in a lesser way. As the logic goes, to suffer is less than perfect. Thus, God is transcendent in such a way in which God is unable to suffer. Since God is omnipotent and immutable, God is solely compelled and directed by God’s own perfect nature and essence. The biggest theologians in history – Augustine, Luther and Calvin – affirm this impassible belief. The doctrine of impassibility was developed under the medieval scholastic, St. Anselm.
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Others suggest that out of the entire divine attributes of God, this one is the most difficult to accept because God is the truest fellow suffer-er who understands human pain more than any being in the history in existence. This impassible attribute of God is essentially a major barrier for God to share God’s life with us in any way. This argument of impassibility goes against incarnation of Christ - Jesus’ incarnation is God taking on human flesh in both the goodness and the storms of life. And, if one has a high Christology – believing in the divine Christ – then there is a major problem with impassibility.
OMNIPOTENT Omnipotent comes from the Latin, “Omni” = All and “Potens” = to be able. The Old Testament prophet declares God’s sovereignty saying, "Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?" (Jeremiah 32:27). According to this divine attribute, God is able to do all things. The most influential theologian in church history, St. Augustine, wrote that God is able to do anything God chooses to do. According to Thomas Aquinas, omnipotence is all sufficient power, meaning that God’s power is limited according to God’s will. On the flipside of this theological label, some wonder if God’s power is perfect power, and this power is all-sufficient, then we may have issues with our inability to see the world as it truly is, or perhaps an inability to see God for who God truly is…. So, either God cannot do something (i.e. stop cancer and child molestation) or God wills it. According to this particular framework, if God is omnipotent, then God can't be all good! Rather than using the word, “omnipotent,” which implies coercion, control, narcissism, and anger management issues, some will propose using language that says, God’s power is ideal, influential and compelling, yet not coercive and controlling.
OMNISCIENT OMNISCIENT Moving on to our last question that deals with the future… “Does God know all things?” Traditionally, Christianity speaks of an all-knowing God! Omniscience = (Latin) “Onnis” = “All” and “Sciens” = “Knowing.” Classical theologians believe that God knows everything there is to know, which includes someone’s character, past history, feelings, thoughts and future events. Of course, there is the differentiation between total omniscience – knowing all that can be known – with the inherent position, which states that God has the ability to know anything that God chooses to know and can be known within a particular context. Thomas Aquinas, believed that God exists outside of time since God perceives all things at once; thus, everything God knows already exists. Essentially, God knows all things that exist within any point in history according to the Thomistic framework. This omniscience terminology is very Greco-Platonic in the sense that everything is conceived within God’s imagination before anything came into being. If God knows all things that will happen, by logic, God must know how all things will happen before any creature is able to make a decision regarding the present moment at hand. On the flipside, another interpretation of this text speaks less of specific and destined" plans” and more of conditional “ideals,” meaning that God knows the BEST life for you (and, in this case, it’s the nation of Israel) but it also depends on how you choose to live. Consequently, God adjusts divine plans and implements flexible strategies in order to try to achieve the divine purposes. Thus, in this frame, God is seen as dynamic, growing, evolving, even potentially learning and directing within life's moment-bymoment situations. God is in an organic relationship with all entities in the world. God knows the past and present fully, and knows the best options for the future, but chooses to give us free choices.
QUESTIONS IMMUTABLE (20-30 MINUTES) 1. Is God the same in every way, shape and form from the beginning to the end OR is there a progression of God throughout human history? Does God accommodate as culture changes (I.E. “An eye for an eye” vs. “Bless your enemies”)? 2. How do you reconcile practicing intercessory prayer if God does not change God’s mind according to this conventional label? Some conventional thinkers will make comments such as, “Prayer does not change God. It changes me.” Does prayer change God or just humanity?
IMPASSIBLE (20-30 MINUTES) 1. Does this godly attribute seem in sync with the teachings of the Bible? Why? Why not? 2. Which aspects of the impassible attribute is a compelling argument, and which parts of this doctrine do you dislike or find incoherent? Why?
OMNIPOTENCE (20-23 MINUTES) 1. Do you think God has sovereign, omnipotence over all of creation? Is omnipotence compatible or incompatible with a perfect deity? 2. Can God’s power be resisted? If so, what are the implications of this conventional label?
OMNISCIENCE (20-23 MINUTES) 1. Does God have an unyielding, omniscient “plan” for all events, humanity and creation? Explain. 2. What is your take on the idea that the future (or partially open) is open and God relies upon free agents?
RESOURCES Books: Epperly, Bruce. “Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God.” Harshorne, Charles. “Omnipotence and other Theological Mistakes.” Pink, Arthur. “The Sovereignty of God.” Mesle, Robert, “Process Theology: A Basic Introduction.” Tozer, A.W. “The Attributes of God.”
Web Articles: 1. Blue Letter Bible/Attributes of God - https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/attributes.cfm 2. The Westminster Shorter Catechism - http://www.westminsterconfession.org/confessionalstandards/the-westminster-shorter-catechism.php 3. Words About God That God Might Live Without – 4 part series http://millertimejedidiah.blogspot.com/2015/05/words-about-god-that-god-might-live_27.html 4. Your Granny is a Process Theologian – interview with Bo Sanders http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/2012/01/09/your-granny-is-a-process-theologian-guestpost-from-homebrewed-christianity-tripp-and-bo/ 5. A Brief Outline and Defense of the Open View by Greg Boyd - http://reknew.org/2007/12/response-to-critics/ 6. Conventional attributes with Scripture – Adrian Warnock http://www.patheos.com/blogs/adrianwarnock/2006/11/audio-the-attributes-of-god-what-is-god-like/