We are looking at what is God? Not who is God? or what has God done? We are looking at what his essential nature must be in order to qualify for the title.
One thing I am going to do throughout this series is something that many of you might be very uncomfortable with. You should not be, but you might. However, if you have studied the history of Christian doctrine and are, like me, standing on the shoulders of giants, you will have no problem with what I am
advocating necessitating for this study. I believe that we must look to nature and philosophy in order to understand the nature of God. This means that I believe that extra-biblical information is required, yea demanded, by God himself.
My reasoning is simple. There are certain things that the Bible assumes. In other words, there is an information base that God requires before we can handle the Scriptures and biblical doctrine with integrity. These things are areas that are presupposed. For example, the Bible does not teach anyone how to read. It simply assumes such an ability. The Bible does not define its words. It assumes a knowledge base that is equipped to handle the vocabulary. Epistemologically (the justification of knowing), the Bible does not argue for the the law of non contradiction (i.e. that A cannot equal non-A at the same time and in the same relationship) or that propositions have meaning. It simply assumes that you know that. Theologically, the Bible does not make a case for God’s existence, it simply assumes that there is a sufficient base from which to make such a conclusion. There are other things as well, but these examples should suffice for you to understand and follow. (I hope!)
When it comes to making a case, such as I am going to make, about the “what” or “stuff” of God, I am going to be drawing as much from natural theology as I am from biblical theology—and for this I make no apologies. Natural theology is the theology that comes through nature or general revelation. It is a theology that is rationally based and relies much on philosophical deduction.
If I did not create myself, I am a contingent being (dependent on something else for my existence)
It is most likely that I did not create myself
Therefore, I am under a necessary and rational compulsion to believe that I am contingent (dependent)
I will be make these type of arguments about the nature of God.
If any of you are skeptical about such an approach, I will gladly adduce Scripture for justification of this methodology.
Paul tells the Romans:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1: 18-20)
Notice a few things here:
1. “Revealed from heaven . . . being understood through what has been made.” This is what can be known about God without the Scriptures. It is God’s revelation through creation and philosophical deduction.
2. “Against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men . . .” This tells us that natural revelation is evident to all. This is often referred to as “general revelation” because it has a general audience that is not limited to a particular people, nation, or time.
3. “God has shown it to them.” This tells us it is from God. God is the author of this revelation.
4. “Invisible attributes . . . eternal power and divine nature.” Ahh . . . Here we go. This lets us know that we can understand many of the characteristics of God through natural revelation. His “eternal power” (aidios autou dunamis) has to do with not only ultimate power and ability, but the necessity of its eternality. His divine nature (theiotes) speaks of his divinity, or the nature that divinity necessarily must encompass, including attributes and characteristics.
5. “They have been clearly seen.” The word for “clearly” (kathoratai) is in the present indicative telling us that this is an ongoing occurrence. The word carries the idea of inward perception coming from our reasoning, not simply seeing with the eye. BDAG suggests this translation:”God’s invisible attributes are perceived with the eye of reason in the things that have been made.” In other words, natural revelation is evidently evident!
6. “They are without excuse.” This is very important to understand. The word here for “without excuse” (anapologetous) has a judicial feel to it. Josephus uses the word in the sense of being “without a defense.” Dio Chrysostom uses this to describe Alexander’s aide to Homer saying that he will not let Homer go “undefended.” This verse is telling us that these characteristics of God are so clear that people are left without a defense of any sort for unbelief.
Therefore, when I refer to nature and philosophical rationale concerning the nature of God, if my arguments are sound, those who deny such because they are not explicitly stated or argued in Scripture (if such be the case) are without excuse.
About natural revelation’s voice, the Psalmist writes:
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their measuring line goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4)
In other words, both these passages teach that we are held accountable for hearing through creation the authoritative voice of God.
Here are some implications:
The acknowledgment of the validity of natural theology. Natural theology (the theology derived from natural revelation) becomes a primary source of study in which Christians need to engage more often. While natural theology is not emphasized in many of the more fundamentalist Protestant circles, this has not always been the case for Christianity in general. Great philosophers and theologians of the past have seen the importance letting God’s voice come through creation. Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, Justin Martyr’s God of the Philosophers, Anselm’s “Necessary Being,” Aquinas’ “Five Proofs,” and John Calvin’s “sensus divinitatis all evidence an understanding of the authority of creation’s voice and philosophical deduction. We need to acknowledge this and engage in our study of God’s nature with all the sources of revelation that God has provided. This is why I look to philosophy and you should too.