"I believe in God..."
- The Apostles' Creed
"We believe in one God..."
- The Nicene Creed
Before you read any further, pause for a moment and ask yourself: when I consider the word "God", what do I see in my mind's eye? Go ahead, do it...maybe even write it down or draw a picture!
Now I don't know what you saw, but my guess is that many of those reading this blog will have seen something like a great and powerful man with a white beard...probably something like this guy:
When Christians speak of God, we don't really mean that guy (aka Santa Schwarzenegger). With all due respect to Michaelangelo, and as beautiful and worthy of contemplation as his Creation of Adam image is, one must be on guard against thinking that this is somehow what God looks like.
And when I say that God is not really like that, I mean that God is NOTHING like that. And again, to be fair to the great artist, no one of us is truly capable of depicting what God looks like, because God is pure Spirit, formless with respect to the material realm AND God is vast beyond vastness, not just a being, but BEING ITSELF.
When Paul the Apostle was speaking to some Greek philosopher-types this one time, he spoke of the God he worshiped as the one in which "we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). In other words, though we humans cannot see God, and indeed nothing we can sense on a physical level is truly God, we all subsist and exist within this Being. Think of it this way: God is the liquid the universe swims in.
This is important to clarify from the very beginning, for it is far too often that someone will approach the Christian God as if he were the afore-mentioned Santa Schwarzenegger. And to be fair, many Christians probably do have this image of God (the Father) in their minds! So again, if you take nothing else away from this article, take this away: to depict God, visually or otherwise (even in words!), is probably to get much about God wrong, for it's impossible to say everything that would have to be said. God is Being Itself, and apart from God nothing can exist.
Though we can indeed speak meaningfully of God, the fact is that we must constantly be on guard against thinking we have said it all. I recall from my advanced math courses that infinity (AKA this guy: ∞) was always something you approached, but never finally arrived at - it always hung at the far end of the number line, as if teasing you with its vastness, like the swim instructor who keeps stepping back as the swimmer-in-training approaches him. So our words are something like theological calculus. We may approach the truth about God, but we cannot by these things ever fully arrive at Him.
The Baltimore Catechism provides a very useful statement about God: "God is a spirit, infinitely perfect." By "infinitely perfect", it means that God has an infinite number of perfections. What are perfections? One would be that God is everywhere, or omnipresent. Another would be that God is all-powerful, or omnipotent. Yet a third would be that God is all knowing, or omniscient. We could even say that God is all beauty, or omniglorious. The list truly goes on and on, because these perfections are unlimited. Consider that there are perfections concerning God that our minds are not capable of even grasping as qualities. Within God, there are an infinite number of these things. The Universe is vast beyond our imagining; God is vaster than vastness.
So much more could be said on this subject, but I hope that through this brief introduction to the Christian idea of God, we have at least dispelled the notion that God is "just one of the guys". Nor is he the Flying Spaghetti Monster or great Sky-Fairy (and indeed, I salute those who invented these mockeries, because they are helpful in reminding us that God is not just another being). To deny God, AKA Being Itself, is indeed to deny existence itself (which is how you arrive logically at all kinds of cute postmodern philosophies).
Now having said all of this, I have to end this article by saying that everything I just wrote must be taken with a gigantic grain of salt for a very important reason: because Christians believe that Being Itself has spoken directly to human beings and has told us some things about not just WHAT God is, but WHO God is. I'll pick up with that in the next article.
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