Monday, August 13, 2012

Defining characteristics of God

In response some posts I’ve read lately I’ve been thinking about the definition of God. Not necessarily the personally identity of my God, but what do we mean when we say “The Father is God,” or “Jesus is God,” What are we debating when we ask  “Does God exist?”
One possibility is to include Gods like we see in Greek and Roman Myth. These were beings that were orders of magnitude more powerful than any human of the time. They also seemed mostly unkillable but other than that they were similar in type to humans. But humans today are much more powerful, in certain ways, than the humans of that time. Science fiction has given us the phrase “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” There is science fiction speculation, and even occasional scientific speculation, about how we could acquire some of the powers those Gods had. I don’t think the proof of an alien being with powers that were simply greater than we could figure out would convince an atheist to change positions and it is not what the Abrahamic faiths mean by God.
But power is at the heart of the definition of God: not a large but limited amount of power but all-powerful. A lot of implications go with the idea of an all-powerful being. All-knowing seems to go with it pretty naturally. It’s easy to see how an all-powerful being could use that power to obtain any information desired so most people automatically add all-knowing to all-powerful. An implication that has been historically important to the way monotheism developed is that there can only be one all-powerful being. An all-powerful being must have power greater than all other forces in the universe put together. which makes all other being automatically all powerful.
There is another implication that is often skipped as being irrelevant to a specific argument but that I think is vital in making the intuitive jump to conceptualizing what is being discussed when people argue about God. An All-powerful, all-knowing being can’t experience time as we do, in an inexorably moving present always poised between a past that is knowable but unchangeable and a future that in changeable but never truly knowable. God must be able to change and to know everything and therefore must be unconstrained by time as we experience it.
Salvador Dali's Profile of Time photographed by Julo
We usually don’t think time’s workings when we try to reason something out. It is one of those basic thing that you always presuppose out of reflex. But if you try to visualize the working of an all-powerful being on the presupposition of linear time, you are going to find logical contradictions. our only mode of being is as part of time but God’s fundamental mode of being is eternity. It’s hard to wrap your thoughts around the possibility of not being bound by time. So we downplay or leave out this aspect when trying to convey God or argue about God. But God’s eternal nature is actually vital to grasping who God is. It’s important to remind ourselves and others that the certainties that time imposes on us melt away before God’s power.

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