The Doctrine of God (part 4)

May 27, 2007     Time: 00:24:07

So many people that I’ve talked to have no problem with the idea of God as infinite, but they resist the idea that God is personal as well. They seem to think that personhood is incompatible with infinity. So for them God is a sort of force or The All or some ultimate reality but he is not a personal being. I think that this alleged incompatibilty is quite unjustified. God possesses all of the attributes of personhood that we do such as intellect, emotions, will, but he does so to an infinite degree. So in a sense these attributes are infinite as well in God, but nevertheless they are personal in this special sense that they are shared attributes with us because we also are made in God’s image. We are persons. You will remember that gap on the first outline where I showed how God is personal, human beings are personal because they are made in the image of God, and then there is a great chasm between us and the rest of creation which is not personal because other creatures are not made in God’s image. Man is a person because God is personal. That is what enables us to relate to God. We now want to look at God’s attributes which are his in virtue of his being an infinite person.

The first of these attributes is incorporeality, or another way of putting this would be his bodilessness. We want to look first at some scriptural data concerning God’s incorporeality.

God is not corporeal – he is incorporeal. John 4:24, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” God is not of the order of material reality. He is not a physical being. He is spirit. He is incorporeal.

God is omnipresent. Here I would just simply refer you back to all of the verses that we looked at when we studied God’s omnipresence. Remember Psalm 139 talked about “Wherever I go, you are there O Lord. If I make my bed in Sheol thou art there. If I ascend to the heavens thou art there.” God is omnipresent. So rather than relook at those verses here I just refer in this point to all of those verses we looked at before that describe God’s omnipresence. He is not located in a particular spot as a corporeal being would be. Any being that has a body must be in a specific spatial location. But God isn’t. He is omnipresent, and that again shows his incorporeality – he doesn’t have a body.

Thirdly, God is indiscernible to the five senses. 1 Timothy 6:16: “who alone has immortality, and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” Notice there that it says that no man has seen or can see God which again would indicate he is not a bodily being because anything that is physical will reflect photons off of it and you could see it. But God is invisible. He is not perceptible by the five senses.[1]

[Someone mentions that God can make himself visible, such as God making himself visible to Moses via the burning bush.]

We are going to say something about those verses in just a minute. It is good to be thinking ahead. For now we’ve seen that God isn’t able to be seen.

Also, turn to 1 Timothy 1:17: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” There it says he is invisible. No man can see God. He is invisible because he is incorporeal.

Fourthly, images of God are forbidden. Look, for example, at Exodus 20:4-5a which forbids making any images of God:

You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them. . . .

There images of God are proscribed – you are not to make any image. Not only make any idol. That would be almost self-understood. But don’t make any likeness of anything in heaven above that you should worship, including the real God. So not only should there be no images of false gods, there shouldn’t be any images of Yahweh either. There shouldn’t be any images of the true God.

Also turn over to Deuteronomy 4:15b-16:

Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female.

Notice there he is telling them don’t make any kind of image of God. Again, that just emphasizes the point that it is not just false Gods that are to be made images of, but don’t make any image of the true God as well. The reason for this probably is any sort of image of God will never approximate to the full glory and majesty and greatness of God. Any finite portrayal of God – a painting, a sculpture, any kind of physical portrayal of God – will involve a lowering, a diminishing of the true nature and glory of God. So it will represent something less than what God actually is. Therefore there are to be no images of God. He doesn’t have a physical form. This underlines the fact of his incorporeality. God doesn’t have a physical form that could be depicted correctly.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: Right. That is in Isaiah – I think Isaiah 47 around there – where he mocks these idol worshipers for charbroiling food with half of the tree and making a God that they fall down in front of with the other. That is an excellent satirical passage.

Question: [inaudible. The question is asking if there were any images used for the Jewish God before this proscription was pronounced?]

Answer: I can’t think of any.[2] I am surprised that you would say that. When I think of Abraham for example.

Question: [inaudible. Mentions that Abraham left his idols behind.]

Yeah, that’s true. When he left Er he left his household idols behind. I don’t think you’ll find any kind of physical image portrayed in God’s revelations to Abraham or Isaac or Jacob or anything like that.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: No. These Mosaic commands are far, far earlier than that. So I think these commands that are given to Moses not to make any images of God, even the true God, falls right in line with what you have up to Moses, as I say from Abraham on, that God – Yahweh – is too great to be pictured by any kind of physical form. They would only be misleading rather than helpful.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: Yes. I am saying that. As beautiful as Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling might be, I think the portrayal of God as an old man with a long, white beard has done tremendous harm in people’s conceptions of who God is and what he’s like. It has made God into some sort of a finite human figure when God is vastly, vastly greater than that. So, yeah, I do think that those physical portrayals of God are in violation of this commandment and they do seem to detract from the greatness of God. That is one reason that in the Protestant Reformation all of these sorts of portrayals of God were removed from the churches and were excised from Christian worship. They rejected the use of images in this way.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: What about portrayals of Christ? This is more controversial because what a painting of Jesus portrays is not his divine nature. It portrays his human nature. And in his human nature Christ was a man. He was fully man. He was just like you and me. So I think that one could argue that portrayals of Jesus would not violate this commandment because you are portraying the humanity of Christ rather than his divinity. But one might also say by that very fact you are forgetting about his divinity. If you only focus on his humanity then you miss out the divinity. So that would be something that would need to be kept in mind as well. But I think most Christians would not have a problem with images of Jesus precisely because of this – that he does have a bodily physical form. In the incarnation the word became flesh as John says so there is a corporeal form there that could be pictured.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: That is very well said. In Colossians, Paul says that Christ is the image of God. That’s right.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: I don’t think, again, portrayals of the crucifix would violate this commandment because it portrays Jesus in his human nature which doesn’t seem to violate this commandment. Now, the practice of genuflecting is because of the doctrine of transubstantiation – they believe that on the communion table the actual body and blood of Christ are present. The wine and the bread are literally turned into the body and blood of Christ. Therefore, this is an act of respect. So whether or not you think such an act of respect would be appropriate would depend, I think, on whether or not you think this is just bread and wine up there or whether you think this is really the body and blood of Christ. If you don’t think that that is really the blood and body of Christ, if you think that these are just symbols, then it would be completely inappropriate to bow before some bread.[3]

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: I am not familiar with that practice so I don’t know. I couldn’t comment.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: When a crucifix is carried by you will bow your head or something? OK. And this is just a measure of respect for who Christ is.

OK, well, we don’t want to get too far astray here. What we are concerned with here is incorporeality. So unless there is a question about incorporeality I want to push on.

We come then, fifth, to something on the other side: God is described in bodily terms in the Scriptures. Look at Psalm 18:6-10. This is just one of the many places in which God is described in bodily terms:

In my distress I called upon the Lord;
to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.

Then the earth reeled and rocked;
the foundations also of the mountains trembled
and quaked, because he was angry.
Smoke went up from his nostrils,
and devouring fire from his mouth;
glowing coals flamed forth from him.
He bowed the heavens, and came down;
thick darkness was under his feet.
He rode on a cherub, and flew;
he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind.

What bodily terms do you see in this passage that describe God? You can see all these bodily terms that are used to describe God here, even though we’ve seen these other passages that say that God is spirit, he is omnipresent, there aren’t supposed to be any images of God, he is indiscernible to the five senses. Yet here you have a description in very crude bodily terms – nostrils and feet and so forth.

Also, there are visions of God in which God is bodily displayed. For example Exodus 33:20-23.

“But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live.” And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand upon the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

Here Moses is going to have a vision of God and you see the bodily parts that are described – his hand, his face, his back.

So we have here scriptural data that pulls in different directions, don’t we? On the one hand we have scriptural data that indicates God is a spiritual, incorporeal, nonphysical being. But then we have these bodily descriptions and visions of God in corporeal manner. So that requires some sorting out; some systematic thinking.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: That is a good question. I can’t see that there is any significance to saying “God is spirit” rather than “God is a spirit” because if we imagine that it said “God is a spirit” then it wouldn’t make any difference. It would just mean God is a particular spirit, and that is true. God is not the angels, he is not demons. He is a different spiritual being than those. Moreover, in the Greek there really isn’t any indefinite article. So you could translate it either way because the Greek language doesn’t have an indefinite article. So there wouldn’t be a different way to express it. You could translate it either way. I don’t think either translation would make much difference. Maybe the one would emphasis constitution more (“God is spirit”) and the other would maybe emphasize his particularity (“he is a spirit”).

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: No, I think it would be more an “is of constitution” like saying “this rug is wool” rather than “this rug is a wool.” God is spirit would talk about constitution in that sense. But to say God is a spirit would also imply incorporeality. He is not a physical being. So that was the basic point.

Question: [inaudible][4]

Answer: So we got the visit of the three men to Abraham, God in a corporeal form. We got Jacob wrestling with God.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: This mysterious figure of the angel of the Lord which seems to be God himself and yet as you have said it appears in this corporeal way.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: Let’s put that word on the board. A theophany would be a vision or appearance or apparition of God. Theos is the Greek word for God and phaneroo is to appear. So this would be an appearance of God, a theophany.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: Usually that would be called a Christophany if it's an appearance of Christ. Instead of theophany it would be a Christophony which would be an appearance of Christ. For example, in the book of Revelation he sees this Christophany, a vision of the lamb on the throne. That would be a Christophany. What we described in the last point about visions of God, those are theophanies. I called them visions of God, but you could call them theophanies. These are where God appears to people and he does so in this corporeal way, this physical way. But the question is how do we make sense of that if he doesn’t have a body? What is it that these people are seeing if he doesn’t have a body when they had these theophanies?

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: I can see we are out of time but what we are going to say next time when we discuss this more is that I think you are on the right track. Yes, these are manifestations of God that are a sort of visionary mental seeing but not of some kind of real physical reality. It would be as if I were to cause you to mentally project a vision of your childhood home or something. You would see it in your mind, but you wouldn’t be actually seeing the real building. But it would be an accurate portrayal of the building. Maybe the building is even gone now, it's been torn down, but I stimulate your brain to project a vision of your childhood home. So you see it as it is accurately (or as it was). In fact, when the physical entity doesn’t even exist. I think something like that is going on in these theophanies. We will talk about that next week.[5]

[Ending prayer].[6]

[1] 5:05

[2] 10:04

[3] 14:55

[4] 20:27

[5] 24:25

[6] Total Running Time: 26:08 (Copyright © 2007 William Lane Craig)