How is God different from us? EXPLANATION AND SCRIPTURAL BASIS A. Introduction to the Study of God's Character 1. Classifying God's Attributes. When we come to talk about the character of God, we realize that we cannot say everything the Bible teaches us about God's character at once. We need some way to decide which aspect of God's character to discuss first, which aspect to discuss second, and so forth. In other words, we need some way to categorize the attributes of God. This question is not as unimportant as it may seem. There is the possibility that we would adopt a misleading order of attributes or that we would emphasize some attributes so much that others would not be presented properly.
Several different methods of classifying God's attributes have been used. In this chapter we will adopt probably the most commonly used classification: the incommunicable attributes of God (that is, those attributes that God does not share or "communicate" to others) and the communicable attributes of God (those God shares or "communicates" with us).
Examples of the incommunicable attributes would be God's eternity (God has existed for all eternity, but we have not), unchangeableness (God does not change, but we do), or omnipresence (God is everywhere present, but we are present only in one place at one time). Examples of the communicable attributes would be love (God is love, and we are able to love as well), knowledge (God has knowledge, and we are able to have knowledge as well), mercy (God is merciful, and we are able to be merciful too), or justice (God is just and we, too, are able to be just). This classification of God's attributes into two major categories is helpful, and most people have an initial sense of which specific attributes should be called incommunicable and which should be called communicable. Thus it makes sense to say that God's love is communicable but his omnipresence is not.
However, upon further reflection we realize that this distinction, although helpful, is not perfect. That is because there is no attribute of God that is completely communicable, and there is no attribute of God that is completely incommunicable! This will be evident if we think for a moment about some things we already know about God.
For example, God's wisdom would usually be called a communicable attribute, because we also can be wise. But we will never be infinitely wise as God is. His wisdom is to some extent shared with us, but it is never fully shared with us. Similarly, we can share God's knowledge in part, yet we shall never share it fully, for God's thoughts are higher than ours "as the heavens are higher than the earth" (Isa. 55:9). We can imitate God's love and share in that attribute to some degree, but we will never be infinitely loving as God is. So it is with all the attributes that are normally called "communicable attributes": God does indeed share them with us to some degree but none of these attributes is completely communicable. It is better to say that those attributes we call "communicable" are those that are more shared with us.
Those attributes we call "incommunicable" are better defined by saying that they are attributes of God that are less shared by us. Not one of the incommunicable attributes of God is completely without some likeness in the character of human beings. For example, God is unchangeable, while we change. But we do not change completely, for there are some aspects of our characters that remain largely unchanged: our individual identities, many of our personality traits, and some of our long-term purposes remain substantially unchanged over many years (and will remain largely unchanged once we are set free from sin and begin to live in God's presence forever).
Similarly, God is eternal, and we are subject to the limitations of time. However, we see some reflection of God's eternity in the fact that we will live with him forever and enjoy eternal life, as well as in the fact that we have the ability to remember the past and to have a strong sense of awareness of the future (unlike much of God's creation; cf. Eccl. 3:11). God's attributes of independence and omnipresence are perhaps those that are least easy to see reflected in our own natures, but even these cf cf.—compare can be seen to be faintly reflected in us when we compare ourselves with much of the rest of God's creation: as we grow to adulthood we attain some degree of independence from others for our existence; and, though we cannot be at more than one place at one time, we have the ability to act in ways that have effects in many different places at once (this again sets us apart from most of the rest of creation).
We will use the two categories of "incommunicable" and "communicable" attributes then, while realizing that they are not entirely precise classifications, and that there is in reality much overlap between the categories.
2. The Names of God in Scripture. In the Bible a person's name is a description of his or her character. Likewise, the names of God in Scripture are various descriptions of his character. In a broad sense, then, God's "name" is equal to all that the Bible and creation tell us about God. When we pray, "Hallowed be your name" as part of the Lord's Prayer (Matt. 6:9), we are praying that people would speak about God in a way that is honoring to him and that accurately reflects his character. This honoring of God's name can be done with actions as well as words, for our actions reflect the character of the Creator whom we serve (Matt. 5:16). To honor God's name is therefore to honor him. The command, "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain" (Ex. 20:7) is a command that we not dishonor God's reputation either by words that speak of him in a foolish or misleading way, or by actions that do not reflect his true character.
Now the Bible does give many individual names to God, all of which reflect some true aspect of his character. Many of these names are taken from human experience or emotions in order to describe parts of God's character, while many other names are taken from the rest of the natural creation. In a sense, all of these expressions of God's character in terms of things found in the universe are "names" of God because they tell us something true about him.
Herman Bavinck, in The Doctrine of God1 gives a long list of such descriptions of God taken from creation: God is compared to a lion (Isa. 31:4), an eagle (Deut. 32:11), a lamb (Isa. 53:7), a hen (Matt. 23:37), the sun (Ps. 84:11), the morning star (Rev. 22:16), a light (Ps. 27:1), a torch (Rev. 21:23), a fire (Heb. 12:29), a fountain (Ps. 36:9), a rock (Deut. 32:4), a hiding place (Ps. 119:114), a tower (Prov. 18:10), a shadow (Ps. 91:1), a shield (Ps. 84:11), a temple (Rev. 21:22), and so forth.
Taken from human experience, Bavinck finds an even more extensive list, which is reproduced here only in part: God is called bridegroom (Isa. 61:10), husband (Isa. 54:5), father (Deut. 32:6), judge and king (Isa. 33:22), man of war (Ex. 15:3), builder and maker (Heb. 11:10), shepherd (Ps. 23:1), physician (Ex. 15:26), and so forth. Furthermore, God is spoken of in terms of human actions such as knowing (Gen. 18:21), remembering (Gen. 8:1; Ex. 2:24), seeing (Gen. 1:10), hearing (Ex. 2:24), smelling (Gen. 8:21), tasting (Ps. 11:5), sitting (Ps. 9:7), rising (Ps. 68:1), walking (Lev. 26:12), wiping away tears (Isa. 25:8), and so forth. Human emotions are attributed to God, such as joy (Isa. 62:5), grief (Ps. 78:40; Isa. 63:10), anger (Jer. 7:18-19), love (John 3:16), hatred (Deut. 16:22), wrath (Ps. 2:5), and so forth.
1 1. Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God trans. and ed. by William Hendriksen (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951), pp. 86-89.
Even though God does not have a physical body,2 Scripture uses various parts of the human body to describe God's activities in a metaphorical way. Scripture can speak of God's face or countenance (Ex. 33:20, 23; Isa. 63:9; Ps. 16:11; Rev. 22:4), eyes (Ps. 11:4; Heb. 4:13), eyelids (Ps. 11:4), ears (Ps. 55:1; Isa. 59:1), nose (Deut. 33:10), mouth (Deut. 8:3), lips (Job 11:5), tongue (Isa. 30:27), neck (Jer. 18:17), arms (Ex. 15:16), hand (Num. 11:23), finger (Ex. 8:19), heart (Gen. 6:6), foot (Isa. 66:1), and so forth. Even terms describing personal characteristics such as good, merciful, gracious, righteous, holy, just, and many more, are terms whose meaning is familiar to us through an experience of these qualities in other human beings. And even those terms that seem least related to creation, such as eternity or unchangeableness, are understood by us not intuitively but by negating concepts that we know from our experience (eternity is not being limited by time and unchangeableness is not changing).
The point of collecting all these passages is to show, first, that in one sense or another all of creation reveals something about God to us and that the higher creation, especially man who is made in God's image, reveals him more fully.
The second reason for mentioning this long list is to show that all that we know about God from Scripture comes to us in terms that we understand because they describe events or things common to human experience. Using a more technical term, we can say that all that Scripture says about God uses anthropomorphic language— that is, language that speaks of God in human terms. 3 Sometimes people have been troubled by the fact that there is anthropomorphic language in Scripture. But this should not be troubling to us, for, if God is going to teach us about things we do not know by direct experience (such as his attributes), he has to teach us in terms of what we do know. This is why all that Scripture says about God is "anthropomorphic" in a broad sense (speaking of God either in human terms or in terms of the creation we know). This fact does not mean that Scripture gives us wrong or misleading ideas about God, for this is the way that God has chosen to reveal himself to us, and to reveal himself truly and accurately. Nonetheless, it should caution us not to take any one of these descriptions by itself and isolate it from its immediate context or from the rest of what Scripture says about God.4 If we did that, we would run the risk of misunderstanding or of having an imbalanced or inadequate picture of who God is. Each description of one of God's attributes must be understood in the light of everything else that Scripture tells us about God. If we fail to remember this, we will inevitably understand God's character wrongly.
2 2. Although Jesus Christ now has a physical body as God-man, the Father and Holy Spirit do not, nor did the Son before he was conceived in Mary's womb. (In the Old Testament "theophanies," where God appeared in human form, these human bodies were only temporary appearances and did not belong to the person of God.)
3 3. "Anthropomorphic" comes from two Greek words, av9pwnoq (G476) "man," and ^op^^ (G3671) "form." An anthropomorphic description of God describes God in human forms or human terms.
4 4. This mistake would be made, for example, by people who argue that God has a human body, because Scripture talks about his eyes, ears, mouth, etc. By the same reasoning they should say that God also looks like a lion, a lamb, an eagle, a fire, a rock, a hen, a fountain, the sun, a shield, a shadow, and a temple—all at once! The mistake is to fail to recognize that these are all metaphors that tell us about God's character, but that God himself is "spirit" (John 4:24) and has no material body.
For example, we have an idea of love from human experience. That helps us to understand what Scripture means when it says that God is love, but our understanding of the meaning of "love" when applied to God is not identical with our experience of love in human relationships. So we must learn from observing how God acts in all of Scripture and from the other attributes of God that are given in Scripture, as well as from our own real-life experiences of God's love, if we are to refine our idea of God's love in an appropriate way and avoid misunderstanding. Thus, anthropomorphic language about God is true when it occurs in Scripture, but it can be understood rightly only by continual reading of Scripture throughout our lives in order that we may understand this language in the context of all of Scripture.
There is yet a third reason for pointing out the great diversity of descriptions about God taken from human experience and from the natural world. This language should remind us that God made the universe so that it would show forth the excellence of his character that is, that it would show forth his glory. God is worthy to receive glory because he created all things (Rev. 4:11); therefore, all things should honor him.
Psalm 148 is an example of all creation being summoned to give praise to God: Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!... Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!... Kings of the earth and all peoples... Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted;
his glory is above earth and heaven. (Ps. 148:3, 7-11, 13)
As we learn about God's character from Scripture, it should open our eyes and enable us to interpret creation rightly. As a result, we will be able to see reflections of the excellence of God's character everywhere in creation: "the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isa. 6:3).
It must be remembered that though all that Scripture tells us about God is true, it is not exhaustive. Scripture does not tell us everything about God's character. Thus, we will never know God's full or complete "name" in the sense that we will never understand God's character exhaustively. We will never know all there is to know about God. For this reason theologians have sometimes said, "God has many names, yet God has no name." God has many names in that we know many true descriptions of his character from Scripture, but God has no name in that we will never be able to describe or understand all of his character.
3. Balanced Definitions of God's Incommunicable Attributes. The incommunicable attributes of God are perhaps the most easily misunderstood, probably because they represent aspects of God's character that are least familiar to our experience. In this chapter, therefore, each of the incommunicable attributes of God is defined with a two-part sentence. The first part defines the attribute under discussion, and the second part guards against misunderstanding the attribute by stating a balancing or opposite aspect that relates to that attribute. For example, God's unchangeableness is defined as follows: "God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act, and he acts differently in response to different situations." The second half of the sentence guards against the idea that unchangeableness means inability to act at all. Some people do understand unchangeableness in this way, but such an understanding is inconsistent with the biblical presentation of God's unchangeableness.
B. The Incommunicable Attributes of God 1. Independence. God's independence is defined as follows: God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything, yet we and the rest of creation can glorify him and bring him joy. This attribute of God is sometimes called his self-existence or his aseity (from the Latin words a se which mean "from himself ").
Scripture in several places teaches that God does not need any part of creation in order to exist or for any other reason. God is absolutely independent and self-sufficient. Paul proclaims to the men of Athens, "The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything" (Acts 17:24-25). The implication is that God does not need anything from mankind.
God asks Job, "Who has given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine" (Job 41:11). No one has ever contributed to God anything that did not first come from God who created all things. Similarly, we read God's word in Psalm 50, "every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the air, and all that moves in the field is mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world and all that is in it is mine' (Ps. 50:10-12).
People have sometimes thought that God created human beings because he was lonely and needed fellowship with other persons. If this were true, it would certainly mean that God is not completely independent of creation. It would mean that God would need to create persons in order to be completely happy or completely fulfilled in his personal existence.
Yet there are some specific indications in Jesus' words that show this idea to be inaccurate. In John 17:5, Jesus prays, "Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory which I had with you before the world was made." Here is an indication that there was a sharing of glory between the Father and the Son before creation. Then in John 17:24, Jesus speaks to the Father of "my glory which you have given me in your love for me before the foundation of the world.." There was love and communication between the Father and the Son before creation.
These passages indicate explicitly what we can learn elsewhere from the doctrine of the Trinity, namely, that among the persons of the Trinity there has been perfect love and fellowship and communication for all eternity. The fact that God is three persons yet one God means that there was no loneliness or lack of personal fellowship on God's part before creation. In fact, the love and interpersonal fellowship, and the sharing of glory, have always been and will always be far more perfect than any communion we as finite human beings will ever have with God. And as the second verse quoted above speaks of the glory the Father gave to the Son, we should also realize that there is a giving of glory by the members of the Trinity to one another that far surpasses any bestowal of glory that could ever be given to God by all creation.
With regard to God's existence, this doctrine also reminds us that only God exists by virtue of his very nature, and that he was never created and never came into being. He always was. This is seen from the fact that all things that exist were made by him ("For you created all things and by your will they existed and were created" [Rev. 4:11]; this is also affirmed in John 1:3; Rom. 11:35-36; 1 Cor. 8:6). Moses tells us that God existed before there was any creation: "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God' (Ps. 90:2). God's independence is also seen in his self-designation in Exodus 3:14: "God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM."' It is also possible to translate this statement "I will be what I will be," but in both cases the implication is that God's existence and character are determined by himself alone and are not dependent on anyone or anything else. This means that God's being has always been and will always be exactly what it is. God is not dependent upon any part of creation for his existence or his nature. Without creation, God would still be infinitely loving, infinitely just, eternal, omniscient, trinitarian, and so forth.
God's being is also something totally unique. It is not just that God does not need the creation for anything; God could not need the creation for anything. The difference between the creature and the Creator is an immensely vast difference, for God exists in a fundamentally different order of being. It is not just that we exist and God has always existed; it is also that God necessarily exists in an infinitely better, stronger, more excellent way. The difference between God's being and ours is more than the difference between the sun and a candle, more than the difference between the ocean and a raindrop, more than the difference between the arctic ice cap and a snowflake, more than the difference between the universe and the room we are sitting in: God's being is qualitatively different. No limitation or imperfection in creation should be projected onto our thought of God. He is the Creator; all else is creaturely. All else can pass away in an instant; he necessarily exists forever.
The balancing consideration with respect to this doctrine is the fact that we and the rest of creation can glorify God and bring him joy. This must be stated in order to guard against any idea that God's independence makes us meaningless. Someone might wonder, if God does not need us for anything, then are we important at all? Is there any significance to our existence or to the existence of the rest of creation? In response it must be said that we are in fact very meaningful because God has created us and he has determined that we would be meaningful to him. That is the final definition of genuine significance.
God speaks of his sons and daughters from the ends of the earth as "every one who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory whom I formed and made" (Isa. 43:7). Although God did not have to create us, he chose to do so in a totally free choice. He decided that he would create us to glorify him (cf. Eph. 1:11-12; Rev. 4:11).
It is also true that we are able to bring real joy and delight to God. It is one of the most amazing facts in Scripture that God actually delights in his people and rejoices over them. Isaiah prophesies about the restoration of God's people: You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My delight is in her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you and your land shall be married as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride so shall your God rejoice over you. (Isa. 62:3-5)
Similarly, Zephaniah prophesies that the Lord "will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival" (Zeph. 3:17-18). God does not need us for anything, yet it is the amazing fact of our existence that he chooses to delight in us and to allow us to bring joy to his heart. This is the basis for personal significance in the lives of all God's people: to be significant to God is to be significant in the most ultimate sense. No greater personal significance can be imagined.
2. Unchangeableness. We can define the unchangeableness of God as follows: God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations. 5 This attribute of God is also called God's immutability.
a. Evidence in Scripture: In Psalm 102 we find a contrast between things that we may think to be permanent such as the earth or the heavens, on the one hand, and God, on the other hand. The psalmist says: Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you endure; they will all wear out like a garment. You change them like raiment, and they pass away; but you are the same, and your years have no end. (Ps. 102:25-27)6
God existed before the heavens and earth were made, and he will exist long after they have been destroyed. God causes the universe to change, but in contrast to this change he is "the same."
Referring to his own qualities of patience, long-suffering, and mercy, God says, "For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed" (Mal. 3:6). Here God uses a general statement of his unchangeableness to refer to some specific ways in which he does not change.
James reminds his readers that all good gifts come ultimately from God "with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:17). His argument is that since good gifts have always come from God, we can be confident that only good gifts will come from him in the future, because his character never changes in the slightest degree.
The definition given above specifies that God is unchanging—not in every way that we might imagine, but only in ways that Scripture itself affirms. The Scripture passages already cited refer either to God's own being or to some attribute of his character. From these we can conclude that God is unchanging, at least with respect to his "being," and with respect to his "perfections" (that is, his attributes or the various aspects of his character).
The great Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck notes that the fact that God is unchanging in his being is of the utmost importance for maintaining the Creator/creature distinction, and for our worship of God:
The doctrine of God's immutability is of the highest significance for religion. The contrast between being and becoming marks the difference between the Creator and the creature. Every creature is continually becoming. It is changeable, constantly striving, seeks rest and
5 5. The four key words (being, perfections, purposes, promises) used as a summary of the ways in which God is unchanging are taken from Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939, 1941), p. 58.
6 6. It is significant that this passage is quoted in Heb. 1:11-12 and applied to Jesus Christ. Heb. 13:8 also applies the attribute of unchangeableness to Christ: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever." Thus, God the Son shares fully in this divine attribute.
satisfaction, and finds this rest in God, in him alone, for only he is pure being and no becoming. Hence, in Scripture God is often called the Rock 7
The definition given above also affirms God's unchangeableness or immutability with respect to his purposes. "The counsel of the Lord stands for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations" (Ps. 33:11). This general statement about God's counsel is supported by several specific verses that talk about individual plans or purposes of God that he has had for all eternity (Matt. 13:35; 25:34; Eph. 1:4, 11; 3:9, 11; 2 Tim. 2:19; 1 Peter 1:20; Rev. 13:8). Once God has determined that he will assuredly bring something about, his purpose is unchanging, and it will be achieved. In fact, God claims through Isaiah that no one else is like him in this regard: I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, "My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose" . . . I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it. (Isa. 46:9-11)
Furthermore, God is unchanging in his promises. Once he has promised something, he will not be unfaithful to that promise: "God is not a man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should repent. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfil it?" (Num. 23:19; cf. 1 Sam. 15:29). b. Does God Sometimes Change His Mind? Yet when we talk about God being unchanging in his purposes, we may wonder about places in Scripture where God said he would judge his people and then because of prayer or the people's repentance (or both) God relented and did not bring judgment as he had said he would. Examples of such withdrawing from threatened judgment include the successful intervention of Moses in prayer to prevent the destruction of the people of Israel (Ex. 32:9-14), the adding of another fifteen years to the life of Hezekiah (Isa. 38:1-6), or the failure to bring promised judgment upon Nineveh when the people repented (Jonah 3:4, 10). Are these not cases where God's purposes in fact did change? Then there are other passages where God is said to be sorry that he had carried out some previous action. One thinks of God being sorry that he had made man upon the earth (Gen. 6:6), or sorry that he had made Saul king (1 Sam. 15:10). Did not God's purposes change in these cases?
These instances should all be understood as true expressions of God's present attitude or intention with respect to the situation as it exists at that moment. If the situation changes, then of course God's attitude or expression of intention will also change. This is just saying that God responds differently to different situations. The example of Jonah preaching to Nineveh is helpful here. God sees the wickedness of Nineveh and sends Jonah to proclaim, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" (Jonah 3:4). The possibility that God would withhold judgment if the people repented is not explicitly mentioned in Jonah's proclamation as recorded in Scripture, but it is of course implicit in that warning: the purpose for proclaiming a warning is to bring about repentance. Once the people repented, the situation was different, and God responded differently to that changed situation: "When God saw what they did how they turned from their evil way, God repented of the evil which he had said he would do to them; and he did not do it" (Jonah 3:10).
7 7. Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God trans. by William Hendriksen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1977, reprint of 1951 ed.), p. 149.
The situations with Hezekiah and with the intercession of Moses are similar: God had said that he would send judgment, and that was a true declaration, provided that the situation remained the same. But then the situation changed: someone started to pray earnestly (Moses in one case and Hezekiah in the other). Here prayer itself was part of the new situation and was in fact what changed the situation. God responded to that changed situation by answering the prayer and withholding judgment.
In the cases of God being sorry that he had made man, or that he had made Saul king, these too can be understood as expressions of God's present displeasure toward the sinfulness of man. In neither case is the language strong enough to require us to think that if God could start again and act differently, he would in fact not create man or not make Saul king. It can instead imply that God's previous action led to events that, in the short term, caused him sorrow, but that nonetheless in the long term would ultimately achieve his good purposes. This is somewhat analogous to a human father who allows his child to embark on a course he knows will bring much sorrow, both to the parent and to the child, but who allows it nonetheless, because he knows that greater long-term good will come from it.
c. The Question of God's Impassibility: Sometimes in a discussion of God's attributes theologians have spoken of another attribute, namely, the impassibility of God. This attribute, if true, would mean that God does not have passions or emotions, but is "impassible," not subject to passions. In fact, chapter 2 of the Westminster Confession of Faith says that God is "without...passions" This statement goes beyond what we have affirmed in our definition above about God's unchangeableness, and affirms more than that God does not change in his being, perfections, purposes, or promises—it also affirms that God does not even feel emotions or "passions."
The Scripture proof given by the Westminster Confession of Faith is Acts 14:15, which in the King James Version reports Barnabas and Paul as rejecting worship from the people at Lystra, protesting that they are not gods but "men of like passions with you." The implication of the KJV translation might be that someone who is truly God would not have "like passions" as men do, or it might simply show that the apostles were responding to the false view of passionless gods assumed by the men of Lystra (see vv. 10-11). But if the verse is rightly translated, it certainly does not prove that God has no passions or emotions at all, for the Greek term here (o^oiona9^, G3926) can simply mean having similar circumstances or experiences, or being of a similar nature to someone else.8 Of course, God does not have sinful passions or emotions. But the idea that God has no passions or emotions at all clearly conflicts with much of the rest of Scripture, and for that reason I have not affirmed God's impassibility in this book. Instead, quite the opposite is true, for God, who is the origin of our emotions and who created our emotions, certainly does feel emotions: God rejoices (Isa. 62:5). He is grieved (Ps. 78:40; Eph. 4:30). His wrath burns hot against his enemies (Ex. 32:10). He pities his children (Ps. 103:13). He loves with everlasting love (Isa. 54:8; Ps. 103:17). He is a God whose passions we are to imitate for all eternity as we like our Creator hate sin and delight in righteousness.
d. The Challenge From Process Theology: God's unchangeableness has been denied frequently in recent years by the advocates of process theology a theological position that says that process and change are essential aspects of genuine existence, and that therefore God must be changing over time also, just like everything else that exists. In fact, Charles Hartshorne, the father of process theology, would say that God
KJV kjv—King James Version (Authorized Version)
is continually adding to himself all the experiences that happen anywhere in the universe, and thus God is continually changing.9 The real appeal of process theology comes from the fact that all people have a deep longing to mean something, to feel significant in the universe. Process theologians dislike the doctrine of God's immutability because they think it implies that nothing we do can really matter to God. If God is really unchangeable, process theologians will say, then nothing we do—in fact, nothing that happens in the universe—has any real effect on God, because God can never change. So what difference do we make? How can we have any ultimate meaning? In response to this question process theologians reject the doctrine of God's immutability and tell us that our actions are so significant that they have an influence on the very being of God himself! As we act, and as the universe changes, God is truly affected by these actions and the being of God changes—God becomes something other than what he was.10
Advocates of process theology often mistakenly accuse evangelical Christians (or the biblical writers themselves) of believing in a God who does not act in the world, or who cannot respond differently to different situations (errors we have discussed above). With regard to the idea that we must be able to influence the very being of God in order to be significant, we must respond that this is an incorrect assumption imported into the discussion, and that it is not consistent with Scripture. Scripture is clear that our ultimate significance comes not from being able to change the being of God, but from the fact that God has created us for his glory and that he counts us as significant.11 God alone gives the ultimate definition of what is significant and what is not significant in the universe, and if he counts us significant, then we are!
The other fundamental error in process theology is in assuming that God must be changeable like the universe he created. This is what Scripture explicitly denies: "You, Lord, did found the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all grow old like a garment... they will be changed. But you are the same and your years will never end" (Heb. 1:10-12, quoting Ps. 102:25-27).
e. God Is Both Infinite and Personal: Our discussion of process theology illustrates a common difference between biblical Christianity and all other systems of theology.
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