Attributes of God

Attributes of God November 4, 2019

A while back Facebook reminded me (and several other people) of a meme with a quote from me from a couple of years ago:

A friend responded by pointing out passages in Joshua in which the ESV renders the command as one to cling to the LORD. And so here’s what I wrote in response to that:

There is definitely a place for clinging – but I think that both you and the author of Joshua would probably agree that a real deity will not be lost or misplaced if we stop clinging…whereas we might!
My point when I said this so many years ago was to address the panicked defense of doctrine that one often experiences when one sets up one’s belief system as an idol. Any question, uncertainty, or affront is a threat that could bring the whole thing crumbling down. I think that if one’s god or idea of the divine requires that sort of constant maintenance, it is an idol. Our relationship with God requires attention, but that experience is very different if the focus is not on an idol that we are responsible to keep from toppling…


Richard Beck shared his rule for thinking about God.

Charles Allen shared a couple of thoughts

Did complex societies give birth to big gods?

Gods: What Are They Good For?

Gods of Rock

Sobre las cualidades divinas en el misticismo apocalíptico

A review of Mind Beyond Brain

Jim Spinti blogged about attributes of God in the Ancient Near East and Hebrew Bible:

The Inner Life of Gods

Action vs. Essence

Are Gods Good

Faithfulness of Gods

The Why Of It All

The Uniqueness of YHWH

A Personal God

Gods? What Gods?

Does It Exist

What Can We Do Now That There Is No God?

The image of God and imagining God

God wanted me to write this column

Who is God? by Gina Messina

A couple of posts from Pete Enns: A question that keeps coming up, and do we know God is good from the Bible?

A Journey Towards Oneness

Abraham, Isaac, and Anselm

A Post-Theistic View of Divine Necessity

What Is Your Image of God?

Believers Without Belief

Choosing our religion

Greg Boyd and the Character of God – Part 1: Introduction

Greg Boyd and the Character of God – Part 2: A Merciful and Gracious God

Greg Boyd and the Character of God – Part 9 – The Deuteronomic Revision – Part 1

Greg Boyd and the Character of God – Part 10 – The Deuteronomic Revision – Part 2

The Gender of YHWH

The Gender of the God of the Bible

The Masculinity of the God of the Old Testament

The Motherhood of God

On Satan as (a) God

God and the Old Guy with a Beard

Ariana Grande and a Female God


Of Old Trees, Stardust And Moments of Wonder: A Short Introduction To Religious Naturalism…

A couple of bits of satire from The Onion: Ra Wins Westminster God Show and God Knocked Unconscious by DirectTV SatelliteAtheistRev thought this God FAQ was amusing. I didn’t. It was to humor what the most smug offerings of the Babylon Bee are. Enjoyed by a particular ideological group, but in a manner that shows little genuine understanding of those who are the butt of the joke.

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  • John MacDonald

    Ἄγνωστος Θεός – A rose by any other name …

    • John MacDonald

      OOPS! Sorry, I keep forgetting Greek is foreign to some.

      Ἄγνωστος Θεός: The Unknown God or Agnostos Theos, which in this case means “unknown” as to guesses made about the presence of God (theism), or guesses made about the absence of God (atheism). Rather, reportedly, in his lost work, On the Gods, Protagoras wrote: “Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing whether they exist or not, nor of what sort they may be, because of the obscurity of the subject, and the brevity of human life.”

      So, for instance, a young Richard Carrier had a mystical experience of becoming one with the Tao, but such an experience is not evidence of the divine or its attributes. Such a conclusion is guesswork. On the other hand, it is equally guesswork to conclude Carrier didn’t connect with the Tao in this instance – since he clearly might have.

      So, I don’t think there is a meaningful way to draw conclusions about the attributes or existence/non-existence of God.

      What do others think?

      • Iain Lovejoy

        I think you are making the very common mistake of confusing “evidence” and “proof”. Carrier’s experience is not proof of any particular understanding of the divine, since there are alternative explanations for what he experienced, but he did experience something and that something requires explanation. In so far as what he experienced fits in better with one particular understanding of the divine than it does another it constitutes at least some small evidence that that particular understanding has a better chance of being true than the other. (If I catch a glimpse of what looks a bit like a cow in a field, that is evidence that there may at least be a cow there, even if I turn out subsequently to be wrong.)

        • John MacDonald

          Ian said:

          In so far as what he experienced fits in better with one particular understanding of the divine than it does another it constitutes at least some small evidence that that particular understanding has a better chance of being true than the other.

          Well, no, not at all. The arch atheist Carrier is perfectly aware that there is no reason to think what he experienced in any way points to the existence of the divine or helps us characterize attributes of the divine. For him, it was all in his head. My point is that it is just as reasonable to suppose his mystical experience does point to the divine, but the evidence is of such a kind that we simply don’t know. Many people think an LSD acid trip connects us with the divine.

          The point is, atheism and theism are just meaningless guesswork reading inferences off the evidence that simply aren’t warranted. That’s why atheists and theists are so baffled at how ignorant the other side seems to them. Theists “feel” the “presence” of God, just as atheists “feel” the “absence” of God. The two systems are grounded in feelings, partially what Derrida meant by Metaphysics of Presence = It must be true because it “feels obvious and self-evident.” We have all been wrong about things that felt obvious and self-evident. Such feelings are not evidence of truth.

          Perhaps the phenomenology of religious life is like music. Dr. McGrath loves classical music and it show itself (phenomenalizes itself) in a lovely, and I imagine even holy way to him sometimes. My experience (intentio) of Classical music (intentum) is that it “appears annoyingly” to me and I can’t stand it. I was on hold on the phone with my insurance company today and they were playing classical music, and I wanted to rip my ears off, lol. For an atheist like Carrier, or another spiritual atheist like Sam Harris, experiences like the numinous don’t point to the existence or attributes of God, but just the way the mind quite naturally enters another state of consciousness that has nothing to do with the divine. My point was that theistic or atheistic inferences drawn from experiences of the numinous are both leaps of faith. The critical period in one’s epistemology starts when you stop listing off endless traits of the divine and start asking if it is a paralogism to make the leap of faith from “I experienced the numinous” to “Can I conclude this has anything to do with the existence or attributes of God.”

          It’s comforting to think we can point to (theist) or away (atheist) from God, but “comfort” doesn’t equate to rational.

          Those are my thoughts. What do you think?

          • Iain Lovejoy

            I couldn’t remember who Carrier was. If an atheist, I am now completely puzzled how or why he would describe a thing that he experienced as “becoming one with the Tao” if he doesn’t believe there is such a thing.
            It is not possible to experience an absence of something (save if one notices one is no longer experiencing something that one previously did). An atheist either doesn’t experience what a theist experiences at all, or experiences the same thing but does not conclude it is God.
            The rest of your post I simply don’t follow at all. Are you saying that attempting analysis of experience to produce a coherent concept of the structure of external reality is somehow simply an irrational leap of faith, or a matter of personal choice, on which what is actually experienced can have n bearing whatsoever? Or that because it is possible for two people to analyse an experience differently it is therefore incapable of rational analysis?

          • Richard Aahs

            I know this is an old post and comment, but in my experience and understanding, ‘becoming one with the Tao’ is not the same as what getting “saved” is as is called for by Christianity.
            The Tao is not described.

          • Iain Lovejoy

            In my experience getting “saved” for a lot of what passes for Christianity tends to end up meaning signing up for whatever variant afterlife insurance policy is being flogged by whichever church is purporting to save you.
            I am not treating “theist” as synonymous with “Christian”, or with any particular concept of the divine, but rather as meaning “not an atheist”.
            However, the Tao is, as I understand it, the single point of origin from which the multitude of observed things unwind, and the underlying reality behind and foundation of all that is, and, quite rightly, “the Tao that can be described is not the eternal Tao” (if I have the quote right). While I am not about to say they are the same, this basic concept is sufficiently within spitting distance of the classical Christian understanding of God (including his ultimate unknowability) that I am perfectly happy to use the vague generic phrase “the divine” to refer to both as broadly being in reference to same category of thing, and indeed as applying also to most other religions’ concepts in the same area.
            My point is that an atheist doesn’t, by definition, believe that anything resembling the divine / Tao (however understood) exists at all still less that it is possible to directly personally experience it in any way (which is what “becoming one with the Tao” must in some sense mean). If he did believe this he could not by any recognised definition be described as an atheist. If Carrier is an atheist, to be rationally consistent if he had this experience at all he would have to believe it a purely internal mental experience, which only mistakenly appeared to relate to some external reality outside his own head.

          • Richard Aahs

            Quote: If”Tao (however understood) exists at all still less that it is possible to directly personally experience it in any way (which is what “becoming one with the Tao” must in some sense mean).”
            It is only to recognize that one is not separate from, indeed cannot be separate from, This is the pearl of great value, The truth that sets one free.

        • John MacDonald

          *I’m re-posting this because I posted it and I think it got stuck in the filter because I included an image before*

          ONE OTHER THING.

          As Kant showed in his “Critical” period, our minds naturally draw inferences and conclusions based on insufficient evidence (eg., the Kantian Antinomies).

          For instance, it would be perfectly natural to infer from all the senseless human/animal/insect/etc suffering now and in the past that one of God’s basic attributes is that He or She is Evil, with a similar mindset to the Greek Goddess Oizys. In Greek mythology, Oizys (Ὀϊζύς) is the goddess of misery, anxiety, grief, and depression. Her Latin name is Miseria, from which the English word ‘misery’ is derived. She is a primordial goddess of misery and depression. Am I warranted in concluding God is Evil from this evidence?

          I would certainly hope religious people here can share what they think the basic attributes of God are (eg., Trinity and Love), and how they came to those conclusions/realizations from the available evidence. It would be instructive for an agnostic like me who is open to the possibility of God!

  • John MacDonald

    My comment is stuck in the filter again. Boooooo

    • John MacDonald

      Comment was re-posted successfully!

  • Iain Lovejoy

    There is no such thing as “sufficient evidence” on which to draw a conclusion: all evidence is necessarily partial (since we cannot know everything) and, as a consequence, all conclusions interim conclusions based on the best fit of the partial evidence currently available. That is how all fields of human knowledge work. To “draw inferences and conclusions based on insufficient evidence” is also known as “thinking”.
    Re your question, I find it very diffcult to talk about the “existence” of God, because I don’t believe he does “exist” in the ordinary sense in the manner the question suggests. The whole conceptual framework by which I understand the external world assumes that the things I perceive in it are specific instances or parts of an overall continuous reality, and things “exist” – that is are real as opposed to hypothetical or imaginary – in so far as they participate in whatever or wherever this “realness” they have comes from. Both to say that “whatever or wherever this ‘realness’ comes from” exists in the same sense as the various objects and forms in the perceived universe, or that it does not exist are incomprehensible statements to me unless also postulating some other fundamental concept of reality / existence to put in place of the one I have.
    Any talk about the “attributes” of God can’t really be understood within this context. All the various things said about “whatever or wherever this realness comes from” can only be different ways of describing the same thing. From a Christian perspective (which is where I’m coming from) we say “God is love” because we see it as a single continuous, joyous outpouring of creative energy. This creates some difficulty in understanding the existence also of suffering and death. From my own point of view this is only comprehensible if transient, a necessary intermediate stage towards whatever the ultimate end to which “whatever or wherever this ‘realness’ comes from” is working.
    The alternative that it is malevolent is a non-starter, since we are its free creations and its entire activity is the constant unthwartable creation out of nothing of the things it is supposed to be malevolent towards. If it didn’t like them it wouldn’t have created them in the first place, nor is there anything else external to it that could make it turn on that which it created.