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Thinking about God

Thinking about God March 4, 2008

Questions Unlimited (a campus organization I am involved in) hosted a lunchtime discussion entitled “More Than One Way to Look at God?: Why the God Who’s Not There Might Not Be God”. I was one of the panelists; another was Rev. Charles Allen, who has a website with interesting pieces he has written on various topics. It would be hard to summarize, but there is much I agree with in the piece by John Hick that I quoted in my last post, and our discussion touched on those points and many others. It was particularly nice to have students and faculty from Christian Theological Seminary join with those of us from Butler for this event.

One point that I made I will share here. In the Bible, studied critically, we can see some steps in the process of the shift from a polytheistic view, which personified the forces of nature, to a monotheistic (or proto-monotheistic) one that explained these various forces of nature in terms of a single personified agent behind them. We see the results of this as the Biblical authors rewrote the traditional flood story in light of their revised thinking about God, and the result is perplexing yet represents progress in perceiving an underlying unity to all things and helping to get us to the scientific approach that built upon this foundation. They had no other way of making sense of such stories than to assume the flood happened and assume God had a moral reason for inflicting it on humans.

Today we have more information and to stop our thinking about God at the stage of the Biblical authors would represent a really bizarre decision on our part. Thanks to our better (although far from perfect) understanding of the universe we inhabit, we do not need either to personify forces of nature, or blame “acts of God” on God. Unless we seriously rethink our concept of God in light of such new data, we end up with a very troubling view, as one blogger I read insightfully points out. It makes little sense to argue that God wants us to not seek our own glory, to not repay those who dishonor and harm us in kind, and yet to depict God as the ultimate glory-seeker who beats up (or one day in the future will torture) those who refuse to respect him. If we realize that the Biblical literature indicates points on a trajectory rather than a static God-concept, then we are free to avoid such troubling inconsistencies and think of God in ways that are in accordance with our highest moral standards.

Charles Allen pointed out that we can pay metaphysical compliments to God without thinking about what they really mean. For instance, if we say that God is omniscient, are we willing to maximize that at the expense of God’s freedom? If God foreknows everything, we end up with what I call the ‘bored view of God’, where God spends eternity doing what God knew that God would do, powerless to change anything since that would cause God’s foreknowledge to be in error.

If we unthinkingly attribute to God the maximal attributes in all areas, we just end up with a God who is omnipotent, omniscience, omnipresent and omnivorous

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