I Don’t Believe God Exists

Did that headline getcha?

What I mean is that I do not believe God exists in the way that I exist, or in the way that my mother exists or that tree or flower or mosquito exists, or the way the planet Jupiter or the Milky Way or the sand on the seashore exists.

It is not that God exists, but that God is Existence itself. He is that power or source of Life by which and through which all things exist that do exist. As such he is who he is. He is Being Itself. As he said to Moses, “I AM who I AM”. This is Yahweh–the one Who is Existence.

Consequently, the question, “Does God exist?” answers itself. He does not exist as any dependent being exists. Instead he is Existence. Can his existence be proved? Can we offer scientific evidence for his existence? To ask for this is to suppose that he exists out in the sky as some sort of big extraterrestrial. Sadly, this seems to be the concept of divinity that is held by most scientific atheists. They ask for “proof of God’s existence” as if he were the big guy out there who can be measured in some way.

To ask such a question or make such a demand makes about as much sense as saying, “If there is such a thing as Beauty why can’t we take its temperature?” or to say, “If there is such a thing as Life why can’t we weigh it?”

The Judeo-Christian claim is that the one God is the essence of existence itself, and that we can know this Existence through our own lesser existence in an analogical way. We discern the triune nature of this Existence through contemplation on our own self knowledge. There are three aspects to my self: 1. The self 2. Self consciousness (whereby I can observe and have knowledge of myself)  3. Self love – in which I can appreciate, be unified and be at peace with my self.

Self contemplation of my own existence therefore reflects the triune self contemplation of God–who is the essence of Existence. His Existence is a dynamic of self-revelation and self knowledge–and this dynamic relationship we recognize and call The Trinity.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • http://benwallis.blogspot.com Ben

    Fr. Longenecker,

    I’m a bit surprised to hear a Catholic make this move. My understanding is that Catholicism involves positing the existence of a particular kind of God, namely a conscious being who acts as a moral agent together with humans, who possesses great power and knowledge, and who deliberately created the universe through this great power and knowledge. In contrast, saying that “God is Existence itself” seems to make out God to be a kind of impersonal object—either an abstract object (the concept of “existence”) or else the sum total of all that exists. In any case, it is not clear to me how “Existence itself” is a conscious being with the attributes Catholics have traditionally assigned to God. Have I misunderstood you somehow? Do you mean something different when you say that God is “Existence itself”?

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Existence itself is the basic foundational premise of God. From that we posit that he is also personal and the rest follows.

      • http://benwallis.blogspot.com Ben

        Fr. Longenecker,

        I’m sorry but I have no idea what that means. What is “existence itself”? Are you referring to the CONCEPT of existence, i.e. an abstract object? Or are you referring to the sum total of all that exists? Or something else altogether?

        But in any case, if you agree that God is a conscious being, then since conscious beings are the sorts of thing which either exist or do not exist, then God is the sort of thing which either exists or does not exist. It remains to show which of these options is the case.

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          God is not a conscious being that exists. As it is more accurate to say that He is existence so it is more accurate to say not that he is a conscious being, but that he is Consciousness and Being.

          • CRQ

            Fr. Longenecker,
            I do not understand what you mean by “he is Consciousness and Being”, just as I do not understand “He is Existence.” Would you please provide a less abstract explanation?

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            A less abstract explanation would be to say that God’s name at the burning bush was revealed as I AM who I AM

          • Frank

            I appreciate your attempt to characterize the nature of God. In a strictly biblical sense, we learn of his omnipotence, omnipresence, without beginning or end, and most of all, His love for us. But, we also learn of the triune God, of which Jesus had an actual physical, human, presence. That is much more than just “consciousness and being”. The best clue as to His existence is “us”, whom He made in his image and likeness. So, which of God’s nature(s) are you referring? God the Father as an analogy to our sense of self?…clever, but not biblical. Ditto for your analogies of God the Son and Holy Spirit. I think I know what you’re getting at; it’s impossible to adequately define an infinite Being. But, just saying God’s essence is the concept of “existence” is a bit existential for me. Yes, nothing would exist without God, since we know in the beginning there was only void. So, it would be more accurate to say that God’s presence provides for the concept of “existence”. When God said, “I am whom I am”, I take it as a statement that He is beyond human understanding and definition.

        • Jacob S

          I think part of the problem here is simply in definitions. For example, if by “God is abstract” or “God is a concept” you mean that there are aspects of what we know about Him that are not able to be communicated in terms of things we find in the observable universe, but can only be only be conceptualized in abstract terms – and even then not very well (by us at this time), then I suppose you could say that God is abstract.

          However, if you then take this fact about God, that we cannot understand Him completely etc., and take it to mean that He cannot be known at all, or take that He is not conscious in the way we are to mean that He can be no more than an impersonal force, then you come to something we don’t believe. In both these cases, the problem is that we say that God is not like us and we have no solid understanding of what there could be that transcends us, and so we may accidentally mentally relegate God to being lesser simply because we can’t imagine anything else.

          As for what it means to say that God is being – we certainly don’t mean that God is the sum total of those things that exist (pantheism, which is just another “biggest thing around” system), and I do not think it is accurate to say that God is the concept of existence because we tend to think of concepts as ethereal fakey things. Rather, we say that there is God, and that all things that exist do so because He freely allows them to share in what He is.

          In fact it would be better to say that we are concepts in Existence’s mind than the other way around – some sort of “reality is the lucid dream of God” sort of thing, except that tends to make it sound as though nothing that exists is really real (and so probably falls under that category of “a very graphic analogy which aids understanding wonderfully while being, strictly speaking, wrong in every possible way,” if I may borrow from Terry Pratchett). But the point is, if we try to say what God is in terms of the world then we are guaranteed to fail because all that the world is is from God, but not the other way around. It is not possible to describe what existence is in terms of the things that exist. Existence must necessarily only be itself.

    • michael

      The late Christopher Hitchens often stated that he has no way to refute a deistic God (as opposed to the God of theism) but that that theist has all his work ahead of him getting from the God of deism to the God of theism. It’s like Descartes’ Meditations on a First Philosophy. He successfully gets down to his Cogito Ergo Sum but then fails (according to most philosophers) to get out of the epistomelogical hole he dug. Just as Descartes had to posit God (now there’s a big leap) you can’t just posit that God is personal. There’s not basis for that conjecture except wishful thinking.

      • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

        The discipline of theology is more than philosophy about God. It includes philosophical arguments, but it also takes into account the history of humanity, human psychology, the varieties of religious experience, the history of religious experience and the cultural, linguistic, literary and liturgical experiences of humanity.

        This is why religion is so rich and interesting. It considers everything. We say the one who is existence itself is also “personal” for some lucid philosophical reasons, but also because of the way he has related to, and revealed himself to humanity in a multitude of ways and in a plethora of circumstances in every culture down through the ages.

        • michael

          But philosophy needs to keep theology “honest” the same way mathematics keeps physics “honest”. You can’t just posit a personal God without justification anymore that physics can posit a non mathematically consistent solution to an equation.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            Of course you can. A proposal that does not contradict reason may be proposed from human experience, observation and experimentation as well as it from philosophical reasoning alone. In fact, a proposal which includes more aspects of human experience is better than one which is philosophical alone.

          • michael

            I agree on the needing to bring in other aspects of the human experience but you just posit that God is personal (you make the jump from deism to theism) without any support.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            A comment box is not a theological and philosophical essay. The proposal that God is personal as well as the essence of existence is derived from both philosophical reasoning and human religious experience. The philosophical reasoning is thus: the essence of Existence may also be thought of as a life force or an energy force behind, in and through all that exists. If there is such an energy source, then it is the foundation of personal and rational beings, and something inferior to a personal and rational being ( a mere force) could not be the source of something greater i.e. a personal and rational being. We therefore conclude that this essence of being must also be not only personal and rational, but of a personal and rational nature that is greater than the inferior personal and rational beings of which it is the source.

          • http://benwallis.blogspot.com Ben

            Michael (and Fr. Longenecker),

            I don’t think the problem is getting from deism to theism. Indeed Fr. Longenecker does not appear to me to be arguing for deism at all, though he is welcome to say so if he is.

            Unfortunately it’s not clear what he IS arguing for. What on earth does it mean for God to be “Existence itself”? Fr. Longenecker’s answer above (that “Existence itself is the basic foundational premise of God”) makes even less sense than his original description. I’m skeptical that he has anything coherent in mind when he talks about God in this way.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            This is not my idea. It’s classical Christian theology. If you wish to understand you might wish to study Thomas Aquinas.

          • michael

            It’s a version of the ontological argument of Anslem. My car is red assumes I have a car. God exists assumes there is a God to which the predicate of existence applies. Kant dealt with this fairly satisfactorily but the best refutation is perhaps Russel’s philosophy of Descriptions.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            you mis-spelled Anselm, and this is not another version of his ontological argument. His ontological argument says, “Because I can think of God, God must exist.” This argument is simpler: because anything exists there is such a thing as Existence. That essence of existence is what we call God.

          • http://benwallis.blogspot.com Ben

            Fr. Longenecker,

            You wrote that this is not your idea, that it is “classical Christian theology” held to by Aquinas, presumably among others.

            Well I don’t know about Aquinas. I’m told he was a brilliant fellow, and I’m happy to assume that is true enough. But that doesn’t mean his ideas were always coherent. If you really are taking a page from his theology, then I would have to conclude, at least in this case, they were not.

            Furthermore, Aquinas seems not to have denied that God is a conscious being. Indeed he wrote in Summa Theologica 1.Q2.A3, “Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God. ”

            In any case, if you want to deny that God is a conscious being that’s fine with me. But I don’t think most Catholics are going to follow you down that road.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            My point is that God is not “merely” a conscious being.

          • Michael

            Perhaps I should have said it’s a variation of Anselm’s ontological argument (Thanks for the orthographic correction). His argument goes – God is the most perfect thing that can be conceived, and anything that doesn’t exist can’t be perfect so God exists. You reverse the existence and the necessity of God.

            But one could argue that because matter exists there is such a thing as Matter. That essence of Matter (I assume you meant the capitalization here) is what we call God. To move from the predicate of existence to a Predicate of Existence is semantic legerdemain. My long retired nun philosophy teacher would not have approved.

    • veggiedude

      In other words, mother nature is god. Sounds like what many people said way before the time of jesus. They were burnt at the stake accused of witchcraft. By christians.

      • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

        You’re talking about pantheism. What I have explained here is not pantheism, for all things in the natural world is dependent on the essence of Existence for their existence. Physical things are contingent. This is not the same thing as equating the natural world with God. I have no idea where witchcraft fits into this, except that some witches are also pantheists.

    • Ismael

      God is existence itself non in the sense that everything that exists is God but that God ‘essence’ and ‘existence’ are the very same thing.
      Everyting that exists has an essence (“what something is” in layman terms) conjoined to the act of existing.

      Take a unicorn. The unicorn has an ‘essence’ (one can in principle describe a unicorn even make upt its biology) but it has no existence, since no unicorns exist.

      Now God is different than created beings since he’s completely simple, i.e. God is not composed out of parts, not even metaphisical parts. So His essence and his existence cannot be tweo different things but are the very same thing.

      In that sense God is existence itself.

      For that very same reason God IS love, justice, mercy… all of God’s attributes are God, since God has no (meta)physical parts but is absolutely ‘simple’.

      For more information you ought to read St. Thomas Aquinas’ works on essence and existence.

      I recomend Edward Feser’s book “Aquinas – A beginner’s guide”.

    • Ted Seeber

      I can only respond the same way I’ve responded to other atheists that make this claim- you do not understand the definition of the Catholic God.

  • Chris Rideout

    I thought the Trinity is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. How does the Trinity relate to self, self knowledge, and self love?

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Self – God the Father, Self Knowledge – God the Son, Self Love – Holy Spirit

      • Chris Rideout

        But you wouldn’t consider baptizing with that formula, would you?

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          Of course not. These abstract analogies are made specific in the recognition of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

  • michael

    You do science a disservice when you say science views God as “a big guy in the sky”. Give science some credit. Science accepts the existence quarks even though the Standard Model says they are not measurable directly. Quantum Mechanics is based upon a complex number denoting probability amplitude that is never directly measurable, only the probability density of a particular state measurement. Astronomy has inferred the existence of extra-solar planets by the minute perturbations in the light waves from distant stars. These planets are not now and may never be seen directly. Science can take subtlety. Science does not need God to appear in a test tube, just give science a glimmer of evidence.

    As to you analogy between the Godhead and human it seems contrived to generate the numerical agreement of three. Surely the essence of our existence is best typified by how we interact with others (even if you want to include God in that mix). A self contemplation of oneself is sterile, only by opening up to others do we become fully human and more like God and God’s creation. You could maintain it’s why God created the universe.

    Analogies are slippery, malleable and endlessly applicable. You used a 3 fold analogy of self. I could equally say that self is fourfold – physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual corresponding to the four fundamental forces in nature (gravity, electromagnetic, weak and strong) and just as the self is one, science is close to showing that the four forces are just manifestations of one force (the last three are unified, just gravity has not been brought into fold. Perhaps the LHC will do that). One can have endless fun with this.

    • Kevin Hickson

      Grasping and owning the concept of God as the essence of existence is difficult because we are limited by our dimensional constraints of space and time. God as the essence always was, is and will be. God who is I Am is the essence of “to be”. God transcends our existence. Would it be true we are already with him in paradise because he is there?

      • mikehorn

        If that is true, how is it possible to even know a god exists? If you put anything knowable about a god beyond our understanding, it makes belief and worship rather pointless.

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          Worship IS pointless. That’s the point!

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  • Jeanie Ribble

    I wonder what Saint Paul would think of your apparent dismissal of the physical manifestation of Christ, the second person of the trinity. If it is a simple analogy you’re making, then I get it. But it seems you are making statements that reflect the viewpoint of religions other than the Christian one, unless I am misunderstanding you.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Please don’t read into the post more than I wrote. I have not dismissed the incarnation of the second person of the Holy Trinity. I simply did not mention it in this particular post.

      • Jeanie Ribble

        If I have misunderstood your post, my apologies. I have read your replies to some of the comments in order to try to more fully understand the intent of your post. Your statement that God is not a concious being seems a bit much. We all know that God cannot be defined by human terms and concepts but that statement of yours comes across as a negation of the personal Father to whom Jesus prayed and spoke with while here on earth.
        In reference to another one of your previous replies to another commenter, it seems to me Saint Paul takes precedence over Aquinas.
        “…if Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, your faith.” I Cor 12-18 (results of the denial of Christ’s physical death and resurrection)
        Even Peter who spent time with Jesus, the Son of God (not a conscious being??) and to whom Chirst gave the keys of the kingdom, learned a few things from Paul. Of course God is existence itself and all the rest. But your attempt to be “more accurate” in your description of God makes me question what you’re really trying to say to us. Would you consider writing another post to explain more fully what you mean?

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          I mean that God is not merely a conscious being–as if he were the biggest person of us all. It can be said that he is “conscious and personal”, but it is more accurate to say he is Consciousness itself and Personhood itself because he is not only conscious and personal, but the source of consciousness and personhood.

          • cken

            I appreciate your attempt to explain what God is and what He is made of. Explaining God is a problem for all religions, particularly Christianity as we try to divide God into three parts. For me it helps to think of God as an entity with a mind and a self awareness. In my opinion what science calls dark matter and dark energy could be what religion calls God and the Holy Spirit. The more science advances the closer it gets to saying in the beginning there was nothing but God and everything came from God. Logically then everything that exists was and still is a part of God regardless of any metamorphosis or life cycle it has undergone since its original inception.

    • michael

      All analogies limp (as a philosophy teacher and a nun once told me) and this one really has a hard time to get around.

      • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

        The analogy is Augustine’s.

        • Luke Togni

          Fr. Longenecker
          Augustine’s analogies of the Blessed Trinity are only structural analogies, he does not use them to make assertions about the persons in se.

          Might it be easier to say that God is the possibility and cause of all existence in virtue of His aseity? Hypostasizing existence, is, I think a risky move, unless it is understood as God and nothing else.

          You might turn to Pseudo-Dionysius on this point to discuss even the super-essentiality of God.

        • Michael

          Of Canterbury or Hippo. I assume the latter. The man who taught the abominable teaching of original sin being propagated by Concupiscence has much to answer for.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            Hippo. I don’t think you understand concupiscence. Concupiscence is the result of original sin, not the other way around.

          • michael

            From Vatican.va

            “406 The Church’s teaching on the transmission of original sin was articulated more precisely in the fifth century, especially under the impulse of St. Augustine’s reflections against Pelagianism, and in the sixteenth century, in opposition to the Protestant Reformation. Pelagius held that man could, by the natural power of free will and without the necessary help of God’s grace, lead a morally good life; he thus reduced the influence of Adam’s fault to bad example. The first Protestant reformers, on the contrary, taught that original sin has radically perverted man and destroyed his freedom; they identified the sin inherited by each man with the tendency to evil (concupiscentia), which would be insurmountable. The Church pronounced on the meaning of the data of Revelation on original sin especially at the second Council of Orange (529)296 and at the Council of Trent”

            The Protestant reformation took up the extreme teaching of St. Augustine where as the Catholic Church tempered his teachings.

        • Bruce

          Correct. This is classic Catholicism and it is great to see you bring it up. As someone who spent years as a militant atheist, I love the philosophical wisdom of the Church…of the Logos. Augustine and Thomas are two of my favorites.

    • cken

      First, there is no person named Christ. The Christ is a title, His name was Jesus of Nazareth.
      Second, St. Paul never witnessed the physical manifestation of Jesus.
      Finally, for the sake of argument, if we assume the virgin birth and the resurrection were allegorical or have logical explanations which don’t involve miracles, what proof is there Jesus was any more a son of God than you or I.

      • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

        We don’t assume that the resurrection or Virgin Birth were allegorical. There is no indication in the texts or the early traditions to suggest that they were.

      • Paul Rodden

        Hi cken.
        Most contentious posts are ‘for the sake of “argument”‘, in it’s more common usage :)
        Are you looking for an answer? You won’t find one, because you’re probably determined not to. No ‘argument’ or ‘proof’ will convince.
        Plenty of people continue smoking even though they know it’s bad for them, and give ‘good’ reasons why they can’t stop. Their mode of reasoning’s very familiar to religious people.

  • Daniel M.

    For those having trouble understanding what “Existence itself” means. We take it as a basic presupposition that “existence” means that something is real. Love, for example, exists. To measure it is impossible because it doesn’t exist in the same way a pencil exists. A pencil exists in the visible realm having certain properties that makes it visible to us. God doesn’t exist in the same way a pencil exists. Rather, God IS the very essence of existence itself in that the pencil’s existence is contingent upon God.

    • http://benwallis.blogspot.com Ben

      Daniel,

      Well I’m with you if you’re trying to say that to exist is to be real. And I agree that love is not the sort of thing that can be measured. But it IS the sort of thing that can be evidenced. For instance, when looking at the history of mothers bonding with children, the testimony of these mothers, and their behavior towards their children, it is reasonable to conclude from all this evidence that mothers love their children. And this of course is exactly the sort of thing we mean when we say that love exists—i.e., there exist people who love other people. However if we hadn’t any evidence that love exists, then we shouldn’t believe it does. It’s just that we DO have evidence, which makes it eminently reasonable to believe love exists.

      I can’t say the same for God’s existence—and by “God” I mean a conscious being who deliberately created the universe using supernatural powers. I can find no evidence whatsoever that such a conscious being actually exists, and so I don’t think it’s reasonable to believe that he does.

      Fr. Longenecker apparently wants to deny that God is a conscious being (cf. his comments above). That’s very strange coming from a Catholic, but to each his own I suppose. But to those Catholics (or non-Catholics) who believe that God IS a conscious being, they’re not going to get themselves off the hook by likening God to “existence itself,” whatever that is supposed to mean. They’re still going to be faced with two possibilities: either God exists or he doesn’t. And until we can find supporting evidence, it’s not going to be reasonable to believe that he does. (It may not be reasonable to believe that he doesn’t, either, but that’s a separate issue.)

      • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

        My point is that God is not merely a conscious being.

        • mikehorn

          If we are talking about Aquinas, he specifically rejected the Ontological Argument of Anselm, which the good Father here seems to be making. Aquinas said that only someone who knows the nature of God can use the Ontological Argument, meaning that only a god can use this argument to prove its own existence. Unless Father Longenecker is claiming to either be God or to have direct communication to include full empathy and sympathy with a god, then the Ontological Arguments about the nature of a god outside the natural world boil down to a load of nonsense.

          This “God is Existence” seems a self-defining definition in the best circular sense. What does it actually mean? Humans can only argue what they can find evidence for, meaning that the only aspects of any god we can argue about are the ones here in this

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            How do you know you exist?

          • mikehorn

            I only claim to exist in the real world, a finite being measurable in objective ways. You are claiming a much different sort of being exists. I might also turn your question back on you – how do you know your god exists, using anything approaching objective means and avoiding tautologies?

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            You say you exist in a real world, but what is ‘real’ about the world in which you claim to exist? How can you prove your existence or the reality of the world you claim is real? After all, you will not be here 100 years from now, so how can you claim to exist?

      • Andreas Kjernald

        @Ben- You make an interesting comparison between love and God and whether either one exists or not. You say that you know that love exists, and also to some extent what it is, by observing (in your example) mothers with their children. I agree with you, we can learn about love from observing mothers with their children…but here is the thing. By observing something you label that observed behavior with the label “love”. You take some letters and add them together to express something that you see and experience. An alien without a concept of love would do the same thing if they landed on earth to study us.

        You then argue that the same thing can not be done, or said about, God. My questions is, why not? Christians have from the very beginning argued that God exists by observing the world, the universe, people and most specifically in Christianity the times when God has revealed himself to us (mainly through Jesus). These observations lead us to the conclusion that something, or someone, exists and after all the options are weighed we find that the only “something” or “someone” has to be a someone who we call God.

        Why do you believe in love because you have observed people interacting but not in God, when similar observations of people who have interacted with God and each other can be made?

        • http://benwallis.blogspot.com Ben

          Andreas,

          Just to be clear, I’m not claiming that it’s impossible to find evidence for God’s existence (although I do argue that elsewhere, it is beyond the scope of this topic). Instead, I’m only pointing out that SO FAR we haven’t found any. And until a person finds evidence for God’s existence, it’s not reasonable for that person to believe in God.

          You wrote: “Why do you believe in love because you have observed people interacting but not in God, when similar observations of people who have interacted with God and each other can be made?”

          Well I don’t think the two cases are all that similar. In the case of love, we have a situation where we observe both mother and child interacting in a particular way, and where love just is the kind of interaction we observe. But in the case of God, we only observe one side of the alleged interaction, and must infer the existence of the other side. The problem is, we have no justification for such an inference.

          I hope that answers your question.

          • Douglas

            Ben, a question: Do you agree or disagree that a mother should love her children or a father should love his children? That we love can be explained by evolution. That we should love is evidence of something else,that must be infinitely above us in order to make a moral law we should obey. If there is an absolute moral law that we should care about ourselves: where did this moral law come from?If there is no absolute moral law: then you are saying there is nothing absolutely evil or not as it should be in a president of the united states deliberately starting a war in which billions would die (as an example). Is this what you want to say?

    • Michael

      Love exists as a verb not a pure noun. If I ask you to define love you will give a series of descriptions of actions. Those actions collectively describe love.

      Describing a pencil’s existence as contingent on God leads one to idealism typified by Bishop Berkeley. “O, that way madness lies; let me shun that; No more of that.”

  • http://Facebook Marie Lanoue Berns

    This is quite a different understanding of God than traditional Catholic teaching – the Trinity consisting of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Where does Jesus fit into your understanding of God, Father? Thank you.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      It is not different from Catholic teaching at all. It is from Aquinas and Augustine. Jesus is the second person of the Holy Trinity incarnate.

  • Bruce

    To Ben, Michael, and others: What Father is talking about is none other than what St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas talk about when referring to God. None of this is new, nor is any of it in conflict with Catholicism. In fact, it IS Catholicism.

    If something is, then that is because God is.

    • http://benwallis.blogspot.com Ben

      Bruce,

      That’s all fine, but the way Fr. Longenecker spoke in his blog post and subsequent comments implied two things:

      (1) God is not the sort of entity which either exists or does not exist.

      (2) God is not a conscious being.

      Hopefully you will agree that most Catholics, both today and historically, would reject these points. In any case, whether Fr. Longenecker’s views are compatible with Catholicism is just a peripheral concern. The important thing is whether they’re coherent, and if so what they mean.

      In later comments, Fr. Longenecker appeared to deny (2), instead claiming that God is not “merely” a conscious being. Presumably you would also deny (2). But notice that conscious beings are the sorts of things which either exist or do not exist. If God is a conscious being, then he too either exists or does not exist.

      In other words, if Fr. Longenecker denies (1), then he is committed to also denying (2). That means we’re right back where we started: Either God exists or he does not exist, and it remains to show which of these possibilities is the case. That is, we still have to produce evidence or reason to justify believing in God. (And “self contemplation” or “self knowledge” is not going to constitute such evidence/reason.)

      • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

        Thanks for your comment. I’m going to leave you chasing your tail on this one.

        • mikehorn

          That made me laugh, Father Longenecker.

        • Daniel

          That is exactly what I was thinking throughout this thread, that exact phrase. It must be a tedious aspect of your job to see them riding the tilt-a-whirl around and around and around. Eventually it gets tedious to them, too. It’s fun at first. Every now and then one of them jumps off though and that’s exciting. I am one.

      • http://www.hancaquam.blogspot.com PNP, OP

        I take it that by “God is not a conscious being,” Fr. L. means something like, “God is not an individuated thing that is conscious.” The emphasis should be on the “a,” that is, God is not “a” being of any sort.

        There are lots of non-conscious existing things in the world: rabbits, rocks, leaves. But there are no conscious non-existing things in the world, by definition. According to Aquinas (and the RCC), God is simple; that is, not composed of parts: a body and soul. God, in His nature, is subsisting being itself, “esse ipsum subsistens.” As scripture says, “We live and move and have our being in God.”

        Fr. L.’s post is perfectly orthodox.

        Fr. Philip Neri, OP

      • A fellow

        Ben, you are using as many big words and references as you can, being incredibly pedantic, and using circular logic. I read your posts and can’t help think you’re some r/atheism troll. It’s that, or you really, really are incapable of grasping the concept that is laid out. Either way, it’s time to quit.

  • Joe G.

    Fr. Langenecker, you may deny it, but this doctrine of yours sound like pantheism to me. If God is not someone that exists, but existence itself, then He is all that exists. If God is not a person (or several persons) but personhood itself, then he is also you and me, since you and me too participate of personhood. If God is not a separate conscious being, but consciousness itself, then he is my consciousness and yours and everybody’s.
    Are you sure this is Christian doctrine? It sounds to me like you are trying to cop out of having to prove God’s existence. Sure, if God is existence itself, and not a separate existing being, then you don’t have to prove that He exists. But you pay a high price for this. If you are right, God is not “He”, but rather “It”. Or better still “It All”. You are leaving me very perplexed.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      I understand your criticism, but what I have written is not the whole story. Because he is existence itself, he must also exist.

    • Bruce

      St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas is where this comes from. That is Catholic doctrine.

    • http://www.hancaquam.blogspot.com PNP, OP

      Joe, if I may, you’re conflating/confusing two different ways of describing God. The description Fr. L. offers is philosophical, in line with Aquinas’ Five Ways, and not meant to demonstrate the existence of the God of revelation. That God is best described by. . .revelation. Revelation (not reason) tells us that God is best understood as a “He” or a father or a king, etc. Both reason and revelation tell us a lot about the nature of God and His work; however, human understanding of what is revealed/reasoned is limited.

      Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  • mdepie

    I think that folks are simply misunderstanding what Fr. Longenecker and Aquinas are saying. Partially because to really approach understanding it would take up a philosophy PH.D dissertation and is ill suited to a blog format because the argument is subtle. But here goes..God does not possess existence as a trait like we do. ( In our case it is a trait we are contingent beings, not logically necessary . One could imagine a perfectly coherent world without us. Moreover Aquinas would think of all created things as moving from potency to actuality, so we potentially exist ( there is a combination of DNA in a sperm and an egg, that when united makes “us” we go from this potency to conception, to maturation..) All things in the Universe and even the Universe itself have gone from through this process. God however does not change and as such then is never potency.. he is pure act. So can be described loosely as being itself. This does not say anything about Gods awareness, or such, it rather says something about him being the single necessary non contingent being. The reason there is something rather than nothing. Now somewhere out there… I know there is someone loosely acquainted with science who will argue that… the Universe comes from the laws of physics, but again the laws of physics themselves are not nothing, they are something. And of course they are contingent since one could imagine different laws with a resultant different universe. The entity that exists because it is of his very nature to exist, he is the very fact of existence then we Call God. It is a separate exercise to reason to the traits of this God, like omniscience and what have you, and it is a bit unreasonable to argue with Fr. Longenecker for not doing this within the limits of this format. I think the point is that as theists we should not argue that God exists in the same contingent way we do, he exists in a unique way that our language struggles to express, but in a completely non contingent, logically necessary way. Without God as the very route of existence, the principal of existence itself, there would only be an absolute and complete nothingness which is hard to imagine.

    • http://benwallis.blogspot.com Ben

      mdepie,

      I almost missed your comment, but I’m glad I read it, because I want to give it the response I think it deserves.

      First, I want to clarify that I’m not demanding that Fr. Longenecker present his complete case here on the blog. I completely agree that that would be unreasonable to ask of him.

      Second, if you want to use the modal strategy you describe to justify believing that God exists, that’s totally fine. I’m not asking you limit yourself to certain kinds of justification, so if you want to try for the modal strategy, knock yourself out.

      Third, I also agree that I haven’t been able to understand Fr. Longenecker. I have been aware of this from the start, and hence I have repeatedly asked him for clarification. Unfortunately, clarification has not been easily forthcoming. However it does appear that he thinks, beyond what you have written above, that God is not the sort of being which can be said to exist, or to not exist. But that’s clearly false, for the reasons outlined in my other comments. So either Fr. Longenecker has inadvertently implied something he doesn’t actually think, or else he’s just plain wrong. In either case, it seems appropriate to remind the participants here that indeed God IS the sort of being who either exists or does not exist.

      Finally, let me say something about the view which you yourself describe. As already indicated, the fact that you want to use a particular modal strategy is fine as far as it goes. But I’d like to point out that neither step in your plan is trivial. It’s going to take a lot of work to justify the claim that there exists a necessary being; and more work besides to justify identification of this alleged necessary being with the God of classical theism, i.e. a conscious being who deliberately created the universe using supernatural powers. I’m not demanding that you do the work here on this blog, but I just want to make it clear that you don’t get either one of those steps for free.

      • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

        I will say it again: God is a being who does not merely exist. His existence is Existence itself. Here’s an analogy: America is made up of millions of American citizens, but what if there were also such a thing as America. We would say that America is not less than an individual American, but more than an individual American. Similarly, God is not less than a being who exists. He is more than a being who merely exists.

      • Erick

        Hi Ben, as some of the answers you have received haven’t been well-targeted, I think I will try to give a better-targeted one. You asked what Fr. L meant and I will analyze it in pieces. I will first ask: does anything exist? I and Fr. L say yes. Given this premise, what object (substance) do all existent things inherit their properties from? Fr. L calls this Existence, following Aristotle. Now Fr. L states that God is defined to be the object that all existent things inherit their properties from. If substance theory is false, then this definition doesn’t have any relevance to reality. But there is no argument that Fr. L is making. He is just making a definition. If substances exist, then the definition makes sense, otherwise it is nonsense.

        • http://benwallis.blogspot.com Ben

          Erick,

          I know very little of substance theory, but from what I do know it looks more like it should be false than true. Furthermore, I don’t think the truth of substance theory is enough. You would need that, AND the existence of a single substance from which all things inherit (???) their properties. Those two premises will require some significant defense.

          Please note: I’m not demanding you produce the defense here on this blog. It’s just that I get the impression some folks think the very definition of God, or not much more than that, secures his existence, and that the only thing left to do is identify the God so defined with a conscious being who created the universe using supernatural powers, inspired the Biblical authors, etc. But in fact we don’t get the existence of the substance God for free. It is neither trivially nor obviously true that the substance God exists, and so at some point that claim will need to be defended.

          • Justin M

            If Sts Aristotle and Aquinas have already argued out these points, than perhaps it would be best to read them? Why is it necessary to reinvent the wheel? Is this the “progress” liberals are always yapping about these days? I don’t see how “decontructionism” is progress. This argument was laid out centuries ago, why do we have to start over?

    • shieldsheafson

      mdepie,

      Although I think some are genuinely unable to understand Fr Dwight’s arguments, others are so hardened by the habit of contradiction that although they understand they cannot yield.

  • Paul Rodden

    I think you’re absolutely right, Father. But, dare I say, the Modernist mindset hasn’y got a clue what you’re going on about if most of the comments are anything to go by. But that’s to be expected, isn’t it? And I don’t think anyone could do better than you, as you’ve got a real gift for communicating complexities in ‘down to earth’ terms.

    I think Daniel M., above, does a good job with his explanation, but still it’s opaque to the modern post Ockham/Scotus mindset. I think, somewhere, you say that Mystery is ‘something that can be experienced but not explained’, and I think that’s the territory we are in, but atheists and skeptics will simply hate that.

    I believe ‘down to earth’ people think in Scotist and Ockhamist terms (Being not assessed by analogy, but a matter of degree, and Nominalism). For the Scotist, ‘God is that greater than which nothing greater can be thought’ (Anselm): the biggest guy around.

    I think both were the erroneous (subjective) Philosophical principles on which the Reformation was formed, and which, through that, became the principles of Modernity, Luther and Descartes, on.

    Therefore, we have secularism: which is simply ripe Protestantism. (See Brad S Gregory, The UNINTENDED Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society, among other writers on modern Nihilism.)

    Most people (those ‘down to earth’ folk who think a spade is a spade) want the flowers, the sex, the presents, but not the presence. Because those are the only side of the ‘equation’ that can be sensed or rouse sentiment. But, they are the analogies, and ‘down to earth’ people (mistakenly) only want the analogies without the reality, because that’s what Scotism and Ockhamism do. They strip supernatural reality of it’s substance and leave the shell. Essence no longer precedes existence, it’s now the other way round.

    I read somewhere that the real problem is that we can no longer do Metaphysics, and so all we’re left with is ‘Epistemology’ (the subjective turn). Is mortal sin as deadly to me as jumping off a tall building onto the concrete below? Our modern ‘mind’ baulks at equivalency (the analogy) because that’s how deep the infection’s got. It’s as if our whole linguistic and conceptual framework has been so poisoned by these lenses, we can’t escape them. Scott Hahn points out that Adam’s ‘mortal’ sin was a real death, like love is a reality, as Daniel points out, but we simply have lost the connection between the analogy ‘half’ (which is real) and the other half of the reality to which it points.

    In fact, this is exactly what Protestantism (following Ockham and Scotus) does with the Eucharist, but as Fr Driscoll points out when he defines mystery in his book What Happens at Mass, “Mystery preserves the tension between the concrete and the divine. Something is present, but what is present exceeds and overflows the limits of the concrete’. It doesn’t split it. A ‘symbolon’ is the complete thing, not the two pieces, but the two pieces brought together which match perfectly.

    In the secularist (late Protestant) mindset, what’s left are the husks of reality, the shell, like those washed up on the shore, which merely point out to where a living reality once was.

    Gandhi, the ‘man of peace’ himself, is often quoted as saying, ‘I like your Christ, it’s your Christians I can’t stand!’ Paradoxically, and in the true sense of the projection Freud, et al., pointed out, it’s the Gandhi, the secularist, and the ‘down to earth’ fellow, who has to have the scales balance, who has to have their pound of flesh, to demand a ‘tooth for a tooth’. I’d rather be in the hands of God than an anti-paedophile gang or those women wanting vengeance on the rapists in Delhi. It’s the root of the Manualism and Rigorism which have popped up constantly in history and even in the New Testament and Early Church (Donatism).

    If you follow Scotus and Ockham, all you’re left with is justice and no mercy. The shell and not the reality. And boy, will you get the wrong end of the stick if you don’t read the Old Testament as a complete reality, but mistake the ‘analogy side’ of the story for all of reality. Welcome Calvin and Hobbes. Sorry. Jansen…

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      excellent comment. Thanks!

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  • Fr D

    I think the problem you run into is that when people today hear “God is Existence itself,” they’re more likely to interpret that as some watered-down version of Buddhism or pantheism than as Thomas’ De Esse et Essentia. And, unfortunately, far too many of us have a view of God as “out in the sky as some sort of big extraterrestrial.” But you make a good point.

  • http://arlinghaus.typepad.com bearing

    This is an eminently reasonable statement for a Catholic to make.

    In a sense, it depends on what the meaning of “is” is. No, really! Or rather, it depends on exactly what you mean by the verb “to exist.” Some people define “all that exists” as “all that is part of the universe;” or, conversely, define “the universe” as “all that exists.”

    But God is not part of the universe; He made the universe; therefore, if “the universe” is “all that exists,” God doesn’t exist. He… well, he does something else, but it’s not “exist.”

    Whether God “exists” or not depends on what you mean by the word. I think when we use the word to talk about God, we are using it in a sort of analogy. The universe “exists” in its material-object-sense of existence God “exists” in the God-sense of existence. But the God-sense of existence and the material-object-sense of existence really aren’t the same — the one is a pale copy of the other.

    • Jon W

      Very nicely put. Standard Catholic doctrine almost universally misunderstood by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

      It seems to me that this is one reason why Catholics shouldn’t get that angry with a lot of atheists. Sometimes their just objecting to absurd understandings of who God is. If they think he’s like a super-powerful Thor, then we don’t believe in that, either.

  • sam

    It is helpful to this conversation to add that Aquinas teaches that God’s essense/existence (the two being one in God) is His self-knowledge. God knowing Himself is His essence.

  • TeaPot562

    As I understand it, All of us created beings are maintained in existence because God wills us to exist.
    Trying to understand God – whether Augustine’s problem with the Trinity (similar to trying to put the ocean into a teacup) or trying to comprehend completely the nature of God – is beyond human ability. Even Fr. Longnecker’s definition or description (whichever) is incomplete. As intellectually gifted as he may be, he’s also in the dark on this. If “existence” is a property that God wills his creatures to have, then that property is defined by God and does not define Him.
    I find this discussion confusing.
    TeaPot562

  • Justme

    In iconography you see an inscription in Christs halo, OWH, or He Who Is, or The Existing one. I have to agree that The Trinity does not exist like we exist 100% to be sure. The existance of the Godhead then is distinct from ours, using patristic language, in that it is UNCREATED and is not just one thing among other things. All other things then are created existance brought into being by The Fathers Logos (Word) and Pnevma (Spirit). When it comes to knowledge of Gods uncreated existance, essence or transcendence this is not something that can be philosophized it can only be “known” the way Adam yada(knew) his wife, that is direct experiance of the uncreated energies or immanence of God. Which, like has be said in other comments, is ultimately a mystery. If I have spoken anything incorrect may the priests on this blog correct me thanks, Christ is born glorify Him!!!!!!

  • If God exists, then He isn’t God

    Is it wrong to say that If God “exists”, then there must have been a time when God didn’t exist? I think that clarification helps me understand that God is Existence. God is. He isn’t a being that is dependent upon another to give him existence. One of the posts suggests that to prove love, you need at least 2 “things” to show. If you used that argument then, no we can’t prove that God exists, necessarily. Hence the reason He is existence.

    Am I off?

  • FrancesM

    A good introduction for those Catholics perhaps struggling with what Fr. Longenecker is presenting is Frank Sheed’s “Theology for Beginners”.

    • Paul Rodden

      Hi, FrancesM. I agree!
      Anything by Sheed is great. I consider him ‘the Fulton Sheen of the Printed Page’.

      To add to your suggestion, I would recommend, Knowing God: God and the Human Condition, just (re-)published in the last fortnight by Ignatius Press.
      http://tinyurl.com/b9nuftu

      I have the first edition, too (which was actually the first volume of a series, but Sheed died before publishing any of the others). This new edition has some minor editorial changes, but is identical otherwise.

      As the Blurb on Amazon states:
      “Atheists deny we can know God because they deny there is a God to know. But even believers who affirm God’s existence sometimes don’t know him. They don’t know much about God because they neglect to think much about God and what God has revealed about himself. They accept that there is a God but they don’t give much thought to what God is like. And even if they know a great deal about God in the sense of being able to state truths about him, they don’t necessarily know him personally and intimately.”

      In essence, he’s addressing the fallout of Vatican II and the ferment around that time in general. He also takes a swipe at Rudolph Bultmann and CH Dodd, too :)

  • Father Joseph Leppard, SJ

    Wow, some of the argumentation is unbelievable. Good analytical minds.

    I have always advanced in my own spiritual development by merely seeking God rather than analyzing whether God exists. Some of my wonderful professors at the Gregorian in Rome used to always say to us> my dear students, remember that God is mystery and wonderment with emphasis on the mystery . ..the arguments are well done, but, mystery sounds a little more accommodating to one that is 82. But congrats to all of you for your wonderful presentation, now if we could leave and really know what the “hell” you are talking about. I guess sharper minds are needed for such arguments. Be well.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      All that we have written is mere straw…to what we have seen.

    • Paul Rodden

      I have to admit, Fr Leppard, that those who’ve talked to me about ‘mystery’ in the fashion you describe are normally the ones that have no objection to the idea of vacuuming up ‘the hosts’ from the sanctuary carpet after Mass if they dropped them after the consecration…

      • Father Joseph Leppard, SJ

        A rather ridiculous reply, but be well.

  • http://www.azoic.com/ Irenaeus of New York

    If He gave us existence. Therefore he is the source of our existence. If nothing existed before He did, and yet He lends his existence to creation, I would think he is the sole principle of existence that exists. One cannot give what one does not already possess. Therefore he is the Font of Existence. Existence itself. I am not a philosopher, but it makes sense to my small brain.

  • Bob F. Young

    Obviously this site if populated by theological scholars. As an ignorant layman and agnostic, I find the argument to pose the question of belief itself. We have all struggled with the status of “being”, “existence”, and the mind twister of what is the soul, third dimension or exactly what are we. I do not fear death, nor do I believe I will reunite with my close associates (family, etc.). Is there something to be said about peace of mind while we are alive, without pondering the hereafter? Of course, who would not buy into a free ticket to live everlasting?

    • Paul Rodden

      Hi Bob.

      Have you ever lost your credit cards? Remember the desire to find them?
      Or think of explorers, inventors, or scientists like Columbus, Tesla, or Newton, all on a quest, driven by their desire to find something they have a hunch is out there, but aren’t certain? I would imagine ‘Boredom’ was not in their vocabulary.

      I don’t find Mill at all inspiring, but his quote, “it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied”, does have a ring of truth about it when I consider all the people who are actually inspiring.

      You don’t try to find something you haven’t lost, and you don’t go in search of something you don’t think exists. But it you do, like the Higgs-Boson particle, you put everything into finding that which you have a hunch exists (Jesus has some parables about that!). You don’t have proof at the quest stage, but thousands of little inklings and unconnected bits and bobs that prevent you letting go of the possibility which grows into a hypothesis. What Cardinal Newman called the Illative Sense.

      We spend so much of our time analysing and looking at data about things rather than enjoying the things themselves, that we miss so much about reality.

      How many people mediate their relationships through self-help books or Cosmo agony aunts (‘Does he like me, Diedre?’), rather than just relating. People rear children through the medium of books they bought off Amazon because their mother doesn’t know what to do either, and that’s probably why they’re screwed up even before they begin parenting themselves.

      To mediate our lives and relationships through TV chefs, TV house makeover programmes, self-help books, shrinks, etc., is the same as seeing things only through a microscope, telescope, or Hadron Collider, and never in reality.

      It’s often those who claim to have such a grip on reality, who are those most controlled by mediated ‘Truth’. How do we know, or why do we think, the experts is science are more credible than priests? I would argue it’s based on dominant, unquestioned, ideological presuppositions.
      I’m certainly not discrediting science, as it’s invaluable, and it’s not an either/or, but a both-and. But I would say a lot of non-Christians assume the ideology of Scientism is Science, as they think Biblicism is Christianity.

      To look down a telescope is easy, but to play Chopin or Bach well on the piano, takes years of practice. I have a hunch that anti-religious people don’t want to put in the effort and the arguments they use are to justify that because Christianity takes time. It is not a thing of instant gratification, and those forms of Christianity that do promise that, are shallow and vacuous, and you have to switch your mind off to participate in it like taking a tranquilliser.

      Real Christianity is like climbing Everest, learning to play Chopin, perfecting your golf swing…hard work, but exhilarating! If it’s not, then however religious it looks, it’s merely a form of entertainment, therapy, or escape.

  • David Naas

    What an awsome – fantastic discussion to find on the internet. Father L, I congratulate you for initiating such a wonderful, rich debate. Congratulations also to all those who commented for maintaining civility and charity in their posts.
    The very idea of God as Being is one which, being both subtle and profound, is not one which I have managed to grapple with easily.It may be that I am beginning to understand the concept. and if so, have been blessed by the remarks here.
    Alas, this has gone on for some length, but for another topic, perhaps Father L could address how one gets from God-as-Being to scapulr and rosary. (I see no way to do so other than by ‘revelation”, which bypasses and eleminates all attempt at “reason”.)
    Thanks to all for some good, nourishing fodder.

  • WM

    This is just warmed-over Spinozaism, only without the intellectual rigor.

  • billy boo

    just as an ant cannot rationalize the existence of ME, so I, could never rationalize the existence of GOD the ALMIGHTY. we all have our limits.
    FAITH cannot be rationalized. why do people even try….

  • http://patheos Mark

    As I read these posts, some of which are very thought provoking and intellectually stimulating, I can only think of a scripture and what Paul must have felt with what he witnessed. I guess I am pretty simple and believe in a God that Paul and the scriptures describe. A God whose offspring I am. A God who is near and very personal and in whose image I am created. He is my Father and I do believe in His very real existence as a loving, kind, compassionate personal Father. Christ said if ye had seen and known him, ye had also seen and known the Father. I dare say I do believe in a Father who is knowable just as Christ was and is.
    Acts 17:22 – 29
    22 ¶Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.
    23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To the Unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.
    24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;
    25 Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;
    26 And hath made of bone blood all enations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
    27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:
    28 For in him we alive, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
    29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.

  • Frank

    I find it amusing that Fr. Leppard (a Jesuit) has probably the most acutely sensible comments in this discussion. Augustine and Aquinas are excellent authorities on Christian theology…however, they do not supercede that of God, who gave us (through the Gospel of John)…”In the beginning was the Word (Logos)…” Now, all you brilliant scholars who think you can define God, go back to that one word, Logos, and understand it. It does not just imply God is”existence’, or “knowledge”, or “supreme being”…far more than that. Logos is the one term that blew the socks off the first gentile believers…they understood it to mean something more profound than we do. I do very much appreciate Fr. Longenecker’s perspectives, but when God said, “I am Who Is”, or “I am Who I am”, what was He saying about Himself? He is above definition and understanding. End of arguement. Logos is the single closest theological/philosophical term in the Bible that describes God, IMHO. Thanks for the mind bending. Blessings.

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