Monday, November 28, 2011

Some thoughts on the attributes of God

You may have noticed that I've done a few brief posts on the attributes of God over the last week or so. Here are some thoughts on the theological study of  the divine attributes. 

First, I'm not sure that "attributes" is the best possible word to describe the characteristics of God's being. Louis Berkhof argued that "perfections" might be a better term. The language of divine "attributes" suggests that it is we who attribute certain qualities to God. That leaves us wide open to Feurbach's allegation that theology is merely the projection of human thoughts concerning the divine. In  reality however,  theology is an attempt  to reflect on who and what God is according to his self-revelation in Holy Scripture. 

Second, the distinction between God's communicable and incommunicable attributes (or perfections) cannot be easily maintained. What might be regarded as communicable properties, such as love and truth are properly incommunicable in their totality. God is infinite and eternal love and truth and we are but finite creatures. On the other hand, some of the supposedly incommunicable attributes such as omnipresence are capable of communication when shorn of their infinite and eternal aspects. The omnipresent God communicated presence to his creation - time and space

Third, the divine perfections should not first of all be considered in terms of God's relationship to the created order. God is not omniscient primarily because he knows all about the world he planned and made. Rather it is that in his infinite knowledge God plumbs the depths of his own being, and his omniscience is expressed in the full and complete knowledge that each person of the Trinity has of himself, and the other persons of the Godhead. 

Fourth, the doctrine of the Trinity should not be tagged onto the end of a study of the attributes of God, almost as an afterthought. God is not love first and foremost because he loves us, but because of the loving union and communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Similarly, the divine omnipresence is not primarily to be defined in relation to the creation, that in his being God fills all things. Rather, it is that the persons of the Trinity dwell in the same divine space, each indwelling the other in loving communicative action (see here).

Fifth, the divine perfections primarily concern who God is in himself in the splendour of his being and in the fullness of the intertrinitarian relations. But the study of what are traditionally called the attributes of God should not be abstracted from the drama of redemption. The one Lord God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit disclosed his perfections in all their dazzling glory when Christ offered himself to God through the eternal Spirit to save us from sin, Hebrews 9:14, John 8:28, 12:32, 17:1-2, 4-5, 1 John 4:8-10. By the communicative action of the Triune Lord we have been incorporated in the theo-drama of redeeming grace. Prayerful reflection on the perfections of God will enable us to play our roles in the drama of redemption with greater faithfulness and authenticity. Knowing God better should move us to worship him more adoringly, serve him more sacrificially, and bear witness to the gospel with greater boldness and compassion, Daniel 11:32, Colossians 1:9-10.  

1 comment:

Colin said...

Have you seen the recent Shai Linne album of the same title ? well worth a listen ...