Doctrine of God (part 2)March 15, 2010 Time: 00:33:05
SummaryI. B. 2. Self-Existence a. Analysis (1) Scriptural Data . . . I. B. 2. a. (2) Systematic Summary (b) Solution to Two Problems.
1. Attributes of God
The first of God’s infinite attributes that we want to discuss is God’s self-existence. What we first want to do is to look at an analysis of this attribute before seeing what practical application this has to our lives. First, we want to look at scriptural data supporting the notion that God has the property of self-existence.
First, God is the source of all reality outside himself.
John 1:1-3: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
Here John talks about the uncreated Word which was God that existed simply “in the beginning.” By contrast, all things that have come into being, he says in verse 3, have done so through the creative power of the Word. So there is a distinction drawn here between God, the uncreated Creator, and all the rest of creation, which depends for its existence upon God and his Word. God is set apart as uniquely self-existent and uncreated.
Also, Revelation 4:11. Here it describes the heavenly worship of God in his throne room that John sees, and in this verse we read that they sing before God: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
Here again God is the uncreated Creator of all things, and therefore he is given glory and honor and power by those who worship him.
Finally, Isaiah 40:17-23 and then also 28a:
All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness. To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? The idol! a workman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold, and casts for it silver chains. He who is impoverished chooses for an offering wood that will not rot; he seeks out a skilful craftsman to set up an image that will not move. Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nought, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. . . . Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
Here Isaiah contrasts the God of Israel with the gods worshiped by Israel’s pagan neighbors. He says these are mere creatures, idols built by craftsman, whereas God is the creator of all things, creator of the ends of the Earth, the everlasting God without beginning and end. He is the truly self-existent one.
Scripture indicates that all of reality, other than God himself, finds its source in God. That is the first point that I want to make here. The Scripture shows the source of all reality outside of God is God himself.1
Secondly, God not only created the world, but he also preserves it in being.
Nehemiah 9:6: Ezra said: “Thou art the LORD, thou alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and thou preservest all of them; and the host of heaven worships thee.”
Here God is not only the one who creates everything in heaven and on Earth, but he also preserves them in existence. So he not only created the world but God is the preserver and conserver of the world as well.
Thirdly, the Scripture indicates that God is the source, the sustainer, and the goal of all reality outside himself.
Romans 11:36, Paul’s doxology of praise to God: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
Notice there that God is the source, he is the sustainer, and he is the goal of all things. From him, through him, and to him are all things that exist. We might also compare in the same connection the book of Hebrews 2:10 where it uses the phrase, “for whom and by whom all things exist.” So God is the source, sustainer, and goal of all reality other than himself.
Fourthly, God just exists. He doesn’t have a cause or an explanation – he just exists.
Psalm 90:2: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting thou art God.”
From infinity to infinity, from everlasting to everlasting, God just exists. The other things that exist have been brought into being, they have been created, but God just exists. We might compare in this connection Exodus 3:14 where God reveals his name to Moses as “I am that I am.” God just exists. “God said to Moses, ‘I AM who I AM’. And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”’” So God is a self-existent being.
Finally, the last point is that all of these same qualities are applied to Christ in the New Testament. All of these same properties are ascribed to Jesus Christ.
For example, 1 Corinthians 8:5-6. Paul says:
For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’ – yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
Notice the way in which Christ and God the Father are described in similar terms. The Father is God, from whom all things exist and for whom we exist, and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
Also, Hebrews 1:1-3a:
In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power.
Notice there that Christ is described as the one who is the creator of the world, he is the heir of all things, the one who inherits everything that has been made, he reflects God’s glory, bears the very imprint of God’s nature and he also preserves the universe in being, upholding it by his word of power. So all of these marvelous properties that are attributed to God are also ascribed to Christ.2
Finally, Colossians 1:15-17, speaking of Christ:
He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Notice, again, there Christ is said to be the visible image of the invisible God. You cannot see God – he is spirit –, but the incarnate Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He is the first born of all creation, that is to say, the heir. The first born is the heir of all creation. So creation is for him, it belongs to him. And it indeed says, in verse 16, all things were created by him, in heaven and on Earth. So outside of God himself, everything is created by Christ. Not only that, he says that all things were created through him but also for him, so that he is the goal, the end, of creation. He is before all things, and then he preserves all things. In him all things hold together. He is the one who conserves it in being. He not only created it, but he holds it together in him as he conserves it in being.
All of these remarkable properties that belong to God are also attributed to Christ.
Question: Christ is the first born implies heir. Does it not also imply first born from the dead?
Answer: Paul does mention that in verse 18, where it says, “He is the beginning, the first born from the dead,” and there I take it he is talking about the resurrection. He is the first fruits that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 15 of the general resurrection that will occur. But in verse 15, the first born of creation cannot mean that he is the first created thing because it says in verse 16, “in him all things were created” and then again “all things were created through him.” So there the sense of the “first born” is not a chronological sense, but more the sense he is the heir of creation, which we saw in Hebrews and other passages of Paul as well.
Question: You mentioned earlier that some attributes of God are “underdeterminative.” Are you going to mention when you feel this is the case? Do you think, in this case, this concept of aseity is conclusive?
Answer: We can certainly do that as we go along. When we get to the systematic summary, I will try to summarize this, and I do think that the view that we’ll have of God as a self-existent being will exceed the scriptural data because the scriptural data don’t speak to the fact of whether or not God exists as sort of a logically necessary being. These sorts of categories are not categories in which these people were thinking (metaphysical and logical possibility). But they clearly do intend us to think of God as the source of all reality outside of himself, as uncreated. I think, in view of God’s being the greatest conceivable being, that it is quite appropriate to extend the concept of self-existence so as to think of God as not only uncaused but also metaphysically necessary.3
Question: Are you going to speak to the early church controversy over Arius versus the rest of the church on the begetting of Christ versus his existing?
Answer: This question is one that is really applicable to the Doctrine of Christ, rather than to the Doctrine of God proper. So we will take up that question when we get to the Doctrine of Christ, and we will see how Arius and those who followed him brought a challenge to the early church about the deity of Christ and in particular whether or not thinking of Christ as begotten by the Father meant that he was a created thing. We will see that the church rejects that view, and it issued a great statement at Nicaea that is often recited especially in liturgical churches today called the Nicene creed. Hang on to that, and we will eventually get to it.
Let’s do a little systematic summary of this data and try to make sense of it. What we want to say on the basis of this material is that God is a self-existent being. That is to say, all of finite reality depends upon God for its creation, for its present existing, and for its future being. He brings it into existence, he sustains it in being, and it will remain in being so long as he sustains it and conserves it into the future. In other words, all of reality outside of God is shot through with a radical dependence. It is in existence only so long as God creates and sustains its existence. Were he to withdraw his creative power, the universe would be annihilated in a blink of an eye.
A good analogy for this, if you are having difficulty understanding it, would be to think of when you dream. In a dream, you have people, events going on, a whole world is created in your dream. There are actions and interactions, conversations happening, events going on in this dream world. But that dream world is radically contingent upon you to maintain it in existence, as you continue to think. The moment you wake up, it vanishes in a flash and no longer exists. The actual world around us that is so real and seems so solid and robust is shot through with that same kind of radical dependency upon God for its existence.
Now don’t misunderstand me! I am not saying that this is all a dream and it is unreal and this is some kind of virtual reality. I’m just using this as an analogy to say that in the same way the dream world is radically dependent upon its creator for its existence, this physical world, this universe, is radically dependent upon God for its existence. If there were no God, there would be no universe. By contrast, if there were no universe, God would be unaffected. He would still exist just as robustly as he ever had. Nothing can make God cease to exist. Quite the contrary, everything else that exists depends upon him for its existence. He could unthink them in an instant, and they would be annihilated.
But God’s self-existence should be construed in the greatest possible way. This means that it should be taken to mean not only that God is uncreated but also that he is metaphysically necessary. Thus, there is a great distinction within being between God’s being and the being of everything else. God’s existence is necessary, whereas his non-existence is impossible. As a self-existent being, God doesn’t just happen to exist, rather he exists necessarily.
Solution to Two Problems
This conception can help to solve two problems that are very often raised about the existence of God. One is the charge made, for example, by the atheist Canadian philosopher Kai Nielsen, that if God is a being, then he is just one being among others. What is so special about God? If God is a being, then he is just one being among others. It is like having a bunch of marbles in a can, and God is just one of the marbles in the can. If he is a being, as we believe, then he is just one of many. We can see that that is quite false because all other beings are dependent upon God for their existence, whereas God is completely independent of them. Philosophers draw the distinction between necessary existence and contingent existence. God is a necessary being. His non-existence is impossible; he exists necessarily. By contrast, all other beings are contingent – they are contingent upon God as the independent, self-existent one.4 So it is not true that if God is a being, he is just one among many. Quite the contrary, God is the source and sustainer of all contingent beings, and he is the only metaphysically necessary being that exists.
The second problem that this helps to solve is the old question, “Where did God come from?” If God exists, then why does God exist? What is the cause of God? Once we understand the concept of God as a necessary being, then you can see that this is a question which is, if not meaningless, then at least obtuse. It is sort of asking, “Why is it that all bachelors are unmarried?” Nobody racks his brain trying to figure out why it is that every bachelor you meet is unmarried. Why? Because the very concept of a bachelor is that of an unmarried male. Similarly, the concept of God as the greatest conceivable being is that of a necessary being. Therefore, it is impossible for God not to exist. His non-existence is impossible. God had no beginning, he depends upon nothing, he cannot not exist. Therefore, the question, “Where did God come from?” or “Why does God exist?” simply shows that the person asking the question doesn’t understand the concept of a necessary, self-existent being.
For those who press the question, when you are in conversation with them, “Where did God come from?” I think you can return with the following question: “If there is no God, then where did the universe come from?” On the atheistic view, you have got to believe that the universe is self-existent, unless you think it just popped into being uncaused out of nothing, which seems absurd. That is worse than magic. So on the atheistic view, you have got to believe the universe is a self-existent, necessary being, which is exactly the same thing that we believe about God. In other words, what the atheist is forced to do is simply to substitute the universe in the place of God. That is exactly what the natural man does. Look at Romans 1:20-23:
Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.
In other words, the error of the natural man apart from God is to substitute the creature in the place of the Creator. Rather than worship and serve the Creator, he worships and serves the creature in place of God. So creation is arrogated to the place of God – it becomes the self-existent, uncreated source of all things, which is exactly the essence of unbelief.
The atheist himself, unless he is prepared to say the universe just popped into being uncaused out of nothing, is himself committed to some sort of a self-existent being. Once we understand the concept of God, there is no difficulty in thinking of God as an uncreated, necessarily existent being who is the source of all remaining reality.
Question: Some atheists just say, “The Big Bang created the universe, and evolution just took over after that.” How do you answer that objection?
Answer: The question is, if they think the universe came from the Big Bang, ask them why did the Big Bang occur? That is the origin of all matter and energy. Do they think that just popped into being, uncaused out of nothing? If they believe that, that is worse than magic because in magic at least when the rabbit is pulled out of the hat by the magician, you got the magician. But in this case, the universe would just pop into being uncaused out of absolutely nothing, which is even worse. So that is a worse alternative than saying the universe is self-existent and uncreated. But if they say that, then they have no objection to God’s being self-existent and uncreated.5
Question: I don’t think the universe can logically be self-existent because the universe has a law of cause and effect. God exists outside of universe’s law of cause and effect and thus can be a First, Uncaused Cause.
Answer: We will talk more about this when we get to the arguments for the existence of God. There are two ways you can attack the idea that the universe is self-existent and necessary in its being. One would be to show that the universe is not eternal in the past, that the series of causes and effects has a beginning, so that you get back to a first cause in a temporal sense, and you have to ask, where did that first event come from? That would show the universe isn’t self-existent because it had a beginning. The other way would be to say that even if the universe is eternal, nevertheless the universe is contingent in some way. It isn’t necessary that this universe exists, and you would try to show that this universe, the conglomeration of the things that exist, isn’t necessary in its being. For example, if you think of all the things in the universe, chairs and planets and galaxies and so forth, none of these things seems to exist necessarily. We can conceive of a universe where none of these things exists, and in fact at a point in the past, none of them did! The atheist might say, “Yeah, but the stuff out of which they are made is necessary – the quarks, the fundamental particles of which things are made, electrons – those are necessary in their being.” But then it is very plausible to say, couldn’t a different set of quarks have existed than the set of quarks that do exist? Couldn’t there have been one less quark, or a different collection of quarks then these? I think it would take some real chutzpah on the atheist’s part to say that not only does the universe exist necessarily and is self-existent, but that every single quark in the universe is self-existent and exists necessarily. Those would be two ways in which we could argue along the lines that you are arguing to say that the universe isn’t a plausible candidate for being a self-existent, necessary being. If that is the case, then there must be an extra- or ultra-mundane, transcendent cause of the universe which is the explanation and source of its being.
Question: I heard an objection regarding the Big Bang theory. If there were a Big Bang, scientists should be able to see all planets and the like emanating from a central point, but they haven’t been able to do that.
Answer: The question is based on a misunderstanding of the Big Bang theory. The picture of the Big Bang is not the picture that we have of an explosion, where you have a central point that you described and then everything goes out from that central point in all directions. That is not the picture – the theory is much more radical than that. Your picture is one in which there is a kind of preexisting empty space, sort of like an empty box, and there is a point in space that blows up and things go out in all directions. That is not the theory. The theory is that space and time themselves originate in this event.6 So the way to picture it is like the surface of a balloon, and the galaxies would be like buttons glued on the surface of the balloon. As you inflate the balloon, the galaxies stay in the same place, they are stuck on the balloon, they are glued, but as the balloon stretches, the galaxies (buttons) recede from each other and get farther and farther apart as the balloon gets bigger. If you trace this back in time, they get closer and closer together until they finally all coalesce to a beginning of the expansion. But on the surface of the balloon there is no central point. No matter which button you are sitting on, as you look out, you see the other buttons moving away from you. The surface of the balloon has no center. The theory of the Big Bang is that space is the three dimensional analogue of the two-dimensional surface of the balloon. We should not think of it in terms of a central point which is blowing up. Rather it is the origin of all matter and energy, space and time themselves, which just cries out for some sort of transcendent Creator beyond the universe, which brought space and time, matter and energy, into existence.
We will talk about that in much more detail when we get to the Doctrine of Creation and arguments for God’s existence, but it is relevant here at least in showing that unless you are willing to say the universe just popped into being out of nothing, we are all committed to some kind of a self-existent reality that is the ultimate source of everything that exists. The Christian or the theist says it is God, the atheist says it is the universe. But in either case, one is committed to a self-existent being, and as a self existent being God cannot and does not have any further cause or explanation of his existence. Rather he simply exists necessarily, and everything else that exists is contingent upon him for its existence. Everything was created by him, sustained in being by him, and he is the end to which everything exists.7
7 Total Running Time: 33:05