How ought we think about God? (part 2)
by Paul Gould
In my previous post, I mentioned four sure-fire ways to get it wrong; four ways to think about God that are ultimately incomplete as we try to align our concept of God as close as humanly possible to the reality of God. Still each of the approaches mentioned do hint at a more robust approach to modeling God, an approach that is best encapsulated in Anselm’s motto: faith seeking understanding.So, how should we think about God? I propose the following three-step approach that brings all of our resources (historical, revelation, rational, experiential) to bear on the question of God’s nature.
First, we begin with Scripture (I’m obviously assuming it true here–if you are not there, just consider this a conditional exercise: what would be the best way to model God assuming Christianity and the Bible true). In the Biblical text we learn important truths about God. To name a few, we learn that God is the creator of all things distinct from himself (Gen. 1:1), supreme (Psalm 145:3), all-knowing (Psalm 139:1-4), all-present (Psalm 139:7-9), all-powerful (Genesis 18:14), self-existent (Exodus 3:14), unchanging in character (Psalm 102:25-27), eternal (Psalm 90:2), spirit (John 4:24), wise, loving, good, holy, just, sovereign, free, perfect, and personal. The list could go on. We learn many important and true things about God from Scripture. But we can’t end here if we are attempting to get as far as we can in modeling God—a “purely biblical” approach to modeling God is too open-textured—since many of these attributes (listed above) require philosophical analysis to fully understand—as rational agents, we can push on. Still, I suggest that any adequate model of God must conform to the following control (or regulating principle):
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Regulating principle #1: Our model of God must be consistent with Scripture.
Secondly, add to our knowledge of God through Scripture the deliverances of religious experience. While we can’t lead with religious experience, we can’t do without it either. Scripture is clear that it is not enough to simply know about God; such knowledge is necessary but not sufficient for the religious life. Religious experience’s chief value is existential (having to do with the religious life of the believer), still there is an epistemic benefit as well. What can we learn about God through our experience of God? I think that Rudolf Otto was onto something in his book “The Idea of the Holy”—we experience God as wholly other, a being worthy of our worship. Thus, a religiously adequate conception of God, as we continue to fill out the biblical portrait of God would include the additional regulating principle…
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