Friday, April 17, 2009

The Impossibility of God, Part II: The Description of God

This post continues a series begun here.

According to Docterman, "before we can discuss the existence of a thing, we must define it." I wholeheartedly agree. Before considering arguments for and against the coherence of the idea of God, a theological description of God must first be provided. Being a Reformed Baptist, I take my theological description of God from the Bible. Confessionally, I believe that the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith faithfully and consistently represent the Scriptural truth on this particular matter. The section of the confession dealing with the doctrine of God can be found here, along with Scriptures cited in support of the confessional statements.

For our purposes, let's also consider Docterman's description of God. After all, if there are differences between our descriptions, then any arguments predicated upon those differences would not necessarily be acceptable to those of a Reformed Baptist persuasion. Indeed, in such a case, we would need to resolve the difficulty, or at least clarify terms and statements, before moving forward.

Docterman begins his "definition of YHWH" by stating that "Christians have endowed their God with all of the following attributes: He is eternal, all-powerful, and created everything. He created all the laws of nature and can change anything by an act of will. He is all-good, all-loving, and perfectly just." First, it should be stated that Christians haven't endowed God with anything, but rather claim that God has revealed Himself to man, and that His self-revelation includes these attributes. As for the attributes listed here, I have no disagreement.

Docterman continues: "He is a personal God who experiences all of the emotions a human does." Now here, we would disagree, for while the Bible states that God has emotions (anger, grief, love, etc.), there are no verses that state that humans experience all of the emotions that God experience, or that God experiences all of the emotions that man experiences. Certainly, there are no verses that state that God experiences emotions that man experiences, as man experiences them. Indeed, God is a personal God. Furthermore, as we are created in God's image, the fact that God has emotion gives a proper ontological basis for humans to have emotions. However, it would be presumptuous to say that God's emotions are as ours. Furthermore, our emotions are corrupted by sin, and many are brought about by circumstances caused by sin. To say that God has emotions corrupted by sin, as we do, would be blasphemous. It is in this sense, then, that I take the LBCF which states that God is "without passions." God is not without emotions, but inasmuch as God is pure and unstained by sin, He is without sinful emotions as we are.

Docterman continues: "He is all-knowing. He sees everything past and future." I agree. However, I would strengthen the statement and say that God has unchangeably decreed all that shall come to pass. I would contend that God does not merely receive passive knowledge about the future, but that He knows the future precisely because He has determined it beforehand. This distinction will be important later.

Continuing, Docterman states that "God's creation was originally perfect, but humans, by disobeying him, brought imperfection into the world." First, it should be noted that humans did not themselves being imperfection into the world. Rather, imperfection was God's judgment upon the world, as Rom. 8:20 states that God subjected creation to futility. Secondly, one should be careful about how one defines the terms "perfection" and "imperfection." This will be important later on, and will be dealt with in a later post.

Docterman continues: "Humans are evil and sinful, and must suffer in this world because of their sinfulness." I would agree for the most part, except for the statement that humans must suffer. It is true that we do suffer, but God would be within His rights to kill us the moment that we are born and send us to hell. He would even be within His rights to let us live lives of complete comfort, unaware of the condemnation that awaits because of our sin. However, God has chosen to curse this earth, partially, I believe, as an expression of His displeasure towards sin, partially as an expression to man of the sinfulness of sin, but also partially as a merciful act towards man, reminding man day in and day out of the consequences of sin, so that man might seek God and find mercy in Him. Certainly, if man was left to live in comfort, he would have little incentive to seek God's remedy for sin and forgiveness. Temporal sufferings drive the reality of sin home to the heart. However, I would not call temporal sufferings necessities. I believe that it is logically coherent that God could have decreed an earthly world with death and damnation but without temporal earthly suffering for sinners - however, because He has not done so, there is suffering in this world because of sin.

Docterman continues: "God gives humans the opportunity to accept forgiveness for their sin...". Through the cross of Christ and the proclamation of the Gospel, this is true. Continuing, he says "...and all who do will be rewarded with eternal bliss in heaven, but while they are on earth, they must suffer for his sake." I'm assuming that "suffer for his sake" refer's to the Christian's suffering for the sake of Christ. In this case, I would agree for the most part, but disagree with the statement of necessity (i.e. that they must) suffer - logically, God could have decreed a world in which there was no suffering for Christians, but He has not chosen to do so. Finally, I would argue with the choice of words, stating that Christians will be "rewarded" with eternal bliss. Technically, eternal life is a gift of grace, and if it is by grace, then it cannot be a reward, as if it was earned or merited (Rom. 4:4-8). However, if "rewarded" is being used in the sense of "bestowed", then I have no disagreement on that point.

Docterman concludes his "definition of YHWH" with this statement: "All humans who choose not to accept this forgiveness must go to hell and be tormented for eternity." I would agree with statement. It should be noted, of course, that this is not arbitrary, but follows from God's holiness, righteousness, and justice. I would also add that God does not condemn people simply because they don't believe in Him - all are born sinners (Rom. 3:23) and are thus condemned (Rom. 6:23, Ps. 51:5). If one fails to believe in Christ, he is condemned for all of his sin, not just his unbelief, though his unbelief is a serious sin in its own right. Once again, this appears to be a minor definitional issue at this point, but it will become significant later on.

Finishing his "definition," Docterman concludes by saying "I intend to show that the above concepts of God are completely incompatible and so reveal the impossibility of all of them being true." This is indeed a remarkable claim. In future posts, I will evaluate this claim to see how close he comes to making good on it.


nikolinni said...

Hold on here...isn't it true that humans aren't tormented in hell for an eternity? Because I heard, with evidence used from the scripture, that humans that do not believe are sent to hell, but are punished for x amount of time, where x is determined by how sinful the person was. After their x amount of time is up, they are burned up and destroyed. Is this true, or was I reading somethin that interpreted the bible incorrectly?

Matt said...


Yes, you were reading something that interpreted the Bible incorrectly. The Biblical doctrine of hell is that it is a place of eternal conscious torment. A concise Scriptural defense of this doctrine is available here.