Tuesday, February 17, 2015

True Spirituality Pt. 1

Last time, we claimed that an undefined God is an undervalued God. When God is not sought after to know, He is not cherished.  Knowing who God is critical to enjoying Him.  So now we move onto the task of defining God.  We are going to start by unpacking each of those attributes of God that we saw from last time. Each attribute has three parts to it as far as it concerns us: doctrine, duty & delight.  There is a doctrine of each attribute—meaning a description of who God is.  There is a duty that each attribute demands from us—because God is like this therefore we are to be like this. Finally there is a delight that each attribute is to our soul—each attribute is an infinite treasure of pleasure and delight. "In Your presence there is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever." (Psalm 16:11) Doctrine, duty, and delight.  Puritan Stephen Charnock puts it this way. “We should never think of the excellencies of the Divine Nature without considering the duties they demand and gathering the honey they present” [Stephen Charnock The Existence and Attributes of God Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, Reprint 1979), pg. 500].  First we begin with the doctrine of God being a Spirit. 

Q. 17  What does it mean for God to be a Spirit?
 A.  Being a Spirit means God does not have a body;  He is a pure Being, invisible, everywhere present, filling both heaven and earth and yet unable to be contained by them. 

First our catechism says that God does not have a body.  As Jesus Christ testified to the woman at the well “God is Spirit.” John 4:24  God has no mixture of matter. God has no physicality. The Puritan Stephen Charnock has said “If we grant that God is, we must necessarily grant that he cannot be corporeal, because a body is an imperfect nature.” [ibid pg. 181] Physicality in all forms possesses an imperfect nature. Even at glorification, our bodies will be imperfect in the sense that we will be limited, or bound.  Our bodies will still command us “thus far shall you go, and no farther.”  But for such a limitation to be set on God would be to nullify His deity.  

Next, the catechism goes on to say that God is a pure Being, or we could say a necessary Being. 

A being is necessary if it's non-existence is a contradiction

In many of our contemporary systematic theologies, we have sadly lost the idea of God being a necessary being (e.g. Grudem's Systematic TheologyThis is tragic because God’s necessity is a great part of His glory.  It belongs to the perfection of His being. “I AM who I AM” as He told Moses (Exodus 3:14).  God is necessary.  To suppose Him not to be is the greatest of all contradictions, and the most ridiculous of all absurdities.  It is not as though this reality happens to include the existence of a God, but another reality could have existed in which there were no God. There is no possible world in which God could not exist. There are many possible worlds in which we don't exist, because we are not necessary beings.  We are contingent beings.

A being is contingent if it is dependent upon on another for it’s existence. 

All the universe is in a state of contingency, it is all dependent upon something else. We can very easily imagine the non-existence of all contingent beings. However we cannot suppose that all beings are contingent, including God, because that is a contradiction. There cannot be an infinite regress of contingent beings for the same reason there cannot be an infinite regress of time.  A dependent being argues the necessity of One whom it depends on, just as time argues the necessity of eternity.  There must be a necessary Being that depends upon no other, that brings all contingencies into existence. As Jonathan Edwards has said “God is a necessary being, because it’s a contradiction to suppose him not to be.” [Michael McClymond & Gerald McDermott The Theology of Jonathan Edwards (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2012) pg 111]  
God is necessary not simply because we see effects and reason back to the necessity of a cause. “God’s existence does not depend upon that of the universe.” [W.G.T. Shedd Dogmatic Theology 3rd Edition Ed. Alan W. Gomes (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing 2003) pg.217] 
“If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.”  Psalm 50:12  Even if there were no effects, God would be necessary because the existence of nothing is the greatest of all contradictions.  The moment we object and argue that "there may be nothing" we are contradicting ourselves because we are ascribing being to nothing. 
This fact of God's necessity necessitates that He is also infinite, eternal, omnipresent Spirit. Otherwise nothing exists in some other being or some other time or in some other place which is a contradiction.  If nothing is a contradiction here and now, it has always been a contradiction. If nothing is a contradiction in this place, it is a contradiction in all places.  If nothing is a contradiction in some being, it is a contradiction in all beings.   Which means that some Being must have eternally existed, infinitely existed, omnipresently existed, and spiritually existed.  That Being is God.  He is pure Being, as the catechism says, because He alone is necessary.  And let us not fail to see that this is part of His glory: His necessity.  He alone is necessary while all other beings are contingent and dependent and creaturely. He alone is essential while all others non-essential.  He alone is full of glory while all others merely reflect His greatness.  He alone is that Being that defines all of reality.   Isaiah 45:5 “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God;”

Next the catechism says that because God is Spirit He is invisible. John 1:18 “No one has ever seen God” 1 Timothy 6:15-16 “...he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” (cf. 1 Timothy 1:17)  Invisibility is an essential quality of being Spirit, and it is also a mark of God’s glory.  We have the absurd notion that physical things are the most real, but it is exactly the reverse. Physical things are the most needy, and the most impoverished things.  The things that we apprehend by our senses are transient, but the things that are invisible are eternal as Paul states in 2 Cor. 4:18.   Jonathan Edwards argues “from hence we may see the gross mistake of those who think material things the most substantial beings and spirits more like a shadow, whereas spirits only are properly substance.” [Jonathan Edwards The Philosophy of Jonathan Edwards From His Private Notebook Ed. by Harvey G. Townsend (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock 2009) pg. 8]

The catechism finishes by saying that God is everywhere present, filling both heaven and earth and yet unable to be contained by them.  As David asks rhetorically “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” Psalm 139:7  Because God is Spirit, there is nowhere He is not.  All the world lies naked before Him because all the world is inescapably in His presence.  Jeremiah 23:24 “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.”  Yet this filling of heaven and earth is not to be thought of in some physical sense. He transcends physicality.  1 Kings 8:27 “Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you...”  W. Shedd comments “God is said to be beyond the universe, not in the sense that there are spaces beyond the universe which he fills by extension of substance, but in the sense that the universe does not exhaust his immensity or is equal to it.” [W.G.T. Shedd Dogmatic Theology 3rd Edition Ed. Alan W. Gomes (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing 2003) pg.277]

This is true spirituality:  God.  As a Spirit, He dwells in unapproachable light, and as a Spirit, He dwells within our hearts. He is both transcendent and immanent.  Because God is spirit, He is King, friend, and full of infinite glory.

[NOTE: This post was the doctrine of God being a Spirit. Next we will see the duty that we have because God is a Spirit]

No comments:

Post a Comment