This post is part of a series investigating the most important items of Christian doctrine. View all posts by clicking here or the DOGMA tag above.
On Sunday, we addressed the third statement from the Lafayette Community Church Statement of Faith, but before we can look at it, we need to consider the relationship between human language and the reality of God.
The Limits of Our Language
What thoughts come to mind when you think of God? What images come to you? Is he some old man sitting on a throne? Do you imagine him in the ways of Greek mythology, like Zeus holding a lightning bolt and standing on a mountain? Do you imagine him as a highly exalted human being?
The problem is that none of those images are valid. None of those images work. None of those images are allowed. They are all idols. In the burning bush, God used no mental images to describe himself. The fire was a portal for his voice, but his self description was simply “I AM.” In the march from Egypt to Israel, God confirmed his presence before the people as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. In the days of wandering, God confirmed his presence by the golden box called the Ark filled with the ten commandments. And near the top of the list at number two was the command against having any idols, any objects of worship that were visible and tangible.
Our mental images are just as idolatrous because they put representations of God in our mind that are not actually God as he is. The most important thing to know about God is that he cannot be contained, he cannot be imagined, he cannot be imaged by humans. Our concepts are too small, our brains are too childish, our language is too limited, our knowledge is too elementary.
Even as we talk about God, we must keep in mind that God is bigger than the words we use. When we say God is love, we mean that he has revealed himself to us with the word “love,” but that his love is more loving than our love.
By way of disclaimer, then, I just want to say that God is the standard for the attributes we describe. It is not the other way around. We can’t use our words, define our words, put our own concepts into our words, and then apply those labels to God. We can’t say, “Well, to me, love means… and therefore, since God is love, he should act like…” You can’t come to know God by learning more about the attribute. You can’t study fathers to learn about your Heavenly Father. You can’t study lovers to learn of God’s love. You can’t study morals to learn about God’s goodness
Instead, we need to let God and his reality fill out the definition for the words we use. If God is love, we must let God’s character and actions define for us what love really is.
Now, we can turn to the statement.
LCC’s Statement of Faith reads thus:
God the Father is an infinite personal spirit, perfect in holiness, wisdom, power, and love. He concerns Himself mercifully in the affairs of each person, He hears and answers prayer, and He saves from sin and death all who come to Him through Jesus Christ (Deuteronomy 32:4-6, Psalm 139, Matthew 6:6-8, John 3:16-17, John 4:24, Romans 6:23, 1 Corinthians 8:6).
What I find to be most fascinating about all of this is that the statement starts with a God who is an infinite personal spirit, perfect in holiness, and it ends with a God who pays attention to the prayers of individual people.
In talking about this with our congregation, I walked through the statement point by point, showing supporting verses and providing brief explanation where helpful. Then, at the end I addressed some live questions from the congregation. Those questions were fascinating because they all seemed to revolve around the one big issue of God’s will versus human freedom.
Answering those questions adequately requires us to fully grasp the meaning of the first sentence of our statement above. Here are a couple bullet points to flesh out the statement:
- As the only infinite personal spirit, God is boundless with regard to time and space, without physical properties, but able to mentally relate to other intelligent beings.
- Perfect holiness means that God is completely distinct—other than—everything in Creation. He is above and beyond his creatures. His essence, attributes, and behaviors cannot be fully comprehended by any created being.
- Perfect wisdom means that God always fully understands all possible courses of action. He perfectly understands the past. He can perfectly predict the future. Therefore, he can perfectly select the best course of action in any circumstance.
- Perfect power means that God is always able to accomplish what he intends to do. It doesn’t mean that he is able to create logically impossible realities like a circle with four right angles. It does mean that he always gets what he wants. His power extends so great that he is even able to create a world where the independent actions of free beings bring about the end result he desires.
- Perfect love means that God is first of all in a perfect love relationship with the other members of the Trinity. His very nature allows for and demands a loving mutuality of deference, equality, respect, and affirmation. Love is intrinsic to the nature of God. Therefore, because the Trinity is at work cooperatively to bring about God’s desired plans, the Father deeply loves his plans and the execution of those plans by the Son. Finally, the Father loves the individuals of the world because they are his prime agents working out his plan on planet Earth.
In the posts to follow, we will be addressing questions regarding the will of God, but to conclude this post, I want to affirm the most personally compelling reality of the nature of God.
God, the one who is unbounded by time and space, who knows the best thing to do at all times, who is fully capable to bring about his will regardless of circumstances, made you to be who you are at this moment in history. God, who always knows what’s best and always gets his way, made you.
Take pride that God has chosen you to be part of his plan. Take warning that God expects you to play by his rules. Take comfort that God has done everything possible to empower you to do just that.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. — John 3:16-17
4 thoughts on “DOGMA: Understanding the Father”
My wife and I just recently moved to Salt Lake City. This move has challenged me to not only know what I beleive, but go to the Bible, research, reinforce, and document what I believe. I am in the process of creating a Creed that describes what I believe and what my family will be built on. The purpose for that is so that I can be more effective in the ministry to those decieved by the LDS church. I have to say that while I have been doing my own research and documentation, I have found it interesting to read your new “Dogma” series of posts.
Hope all is well.
I’m glad to hear that my posts have been helpful to you. I actually have my entire doctrinal statement available online (in a long form and in a shorter form), and if you want to read it, I’ll send it to you.
I would love to read that – If you wouldn’t mind sending the long form to me, I would appreciate it.
Sure! Check out them at this link: http://jeff.mikels.cc/wiki/doku.php/doctrinal_statements