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God’s Essence And Qualities, Or Attributes

God’s Essence And Qualities, Or Attributes

God’s essence must be distinguished from His qualities or attributes. The former is denoted by the word deity (theotes, Col. 2. 9), the latter by divinity (theiotes, Rom. 1. 20) The former means absoluteness and simplicity, the latter the state that manifests His character in Creation. God’s qualities, which must be infinite in number, are all one in His essence. God is not dividable into qualities as if God were a conglomerate. He is pure simplicity.

I believe that, in our mind, God’s simplicity and qualities keep each other in balance. If you stress the former too much then His qualities are harmed, and the other way around. For instance in rationalistic deism God is mainly simple. He has only a finite number of qualities, it seems to me. For His simplicity is His pure act of reason, His state is characterized by the qualities that are the various outcomes of His rational mind. Now this is really a compromise position between only simplicity and the balanced truth of both simplicity and an infinity in infinitudes. But if the number of God’s qualities is limited, then everything is not possible with God. So He is not really almighty, it must be concluded.

Many deists have been caught in this vicious circle. God is not omnipotent, because His qualities are finite (in number). And His qualities are finite, because He is not infinite in power. But the careful observer notices that this position is fraught with tension. For if God is not almighty, then He is guilty of creating us in an imperfect world of trouble. To escape this conclusion one could make a double break away from the truth into the extreme position that God is only simplicity. This is atheistic materialism. God is altogether lost in a simple chemical projection of the human mind. Thus many atheists have been caught in a vicious circle as well. God is just an invention of the human mind, because a limited Creator is a farce. Because He is a farce, He is just an invention. However a new, ever worse, tension arises as a result. For if God does not exist then I am truly alone. And my life ends in nothingness when I die. One can hardly escape this tension. Most atheists just develop a pluck-the-day attitude. Others abuse substances, some start doubting everything.

I realize that I have left out many things on this slope into despair. Many people don’t slide down all the way, though they are aware of the possibility.

I have tried to show you that when you overaccentuate one side of the truth, your belief becomes lopsided. Inherent trouble results. If you try to escape the impasse, you are only pulled down further, and so on. In the end you lose even the very thing you cherished–God’s simplicity. On the other side of the scales exactly the same thing happens. For in pantheism God’s qualities, as they appear in His emanations, are stressed. His essence is only a mysterium tremendum, worshiped as a wonderful thing. But the real joy comes from the enjoyment of the variety of Creation. His qualities override His simplicity here. However if God’s very essence were dividable into equal or unequal principles, then He would be composite. In that case He cannot possibly be fully Himself, like the sun and the moon do not make up the solar system. God is not the sun of His qualities. All His qualities are fully divine. Moreover compositions are always caused to be united. But God is not caused by a higher principle. Pantheists have simply accepted the position that God depends on Creation like the sun is part of the sun’s rays. This is again a compromise, weaker than the slight emphasis on qualities. They get stuck in a vicious circle. God is part of creation because God is the sun of His qualities, which make up Creation. Together they form reality. God is not fully himself because He is part of reality. Because God is the sun of His emanations, he is part of Creation. Notice that this position is implied in the claim that God’s qualities override His simplicity. Because if God’s essence consists in His being made up of different qualities, then He is really caused by these. But then His qualities are really a higher principle. God is just a result of them.

I know this train of thought may sound simplistic to a scholar of pantheism, there being so many different kinds of pantheism. But these are really compositions of various principles. So I know that there are also pantheists that say that Creation depends on God, like the rays of the sun result from its nature. I argue however that that belief is a dualism of rationalistic deism and mysticistic pantheism. In mysticistic pantheism God’s qualities override His simplicity. But these qualities are only seen in His created emanations. So His essence depends en these. Of course pantheism is a contradiction in terms really. For how can something created make the Creator depend on it? Ultimately God lives in Himself, as the Bible says that He lives “in an unapproachable light.”

The same thing happens in deism. For there God’s qualities flow forth from His simplicity, not the other way around. Dependence is a one way street here also. But then His qualities are like acts or results. They are not divine in themselves. If God’s qualities are not divine then His simplicity is not either. That is a contradictio in terminis of deism. For each quality of God qualifies or characterizes His absolute deity. And His absolute deity or simplicity guarantees the divinity of all His qualities. The conclusion is that God is not really infinite or omnipotent, which is a mark of deity. In deism God is not really God. He is just a rational mind that created a rational mechanism. I would not dare state this, were it not that the Word itself talks about deity and divinity. But of course that does not imply that God is a duality. He is the ultimate mystery.

The tension in pantheism is seen in the argument that if God is part of creation, then He is part of its imperfections, even evil. So God is also evil. To escape this tension one could make a double break with the truth and conclude that “God” is only different qualities. But then of course there is no God left at all. So polytheists have concluded that all the forces in creation are different gods. They may still believe in a chief God like Zeus or Jupiter, who rules them all. But God’s absoluteness is all torn to shreds. They are stuck in a vicious circle. There is no one God for reality consists only of different spiritual powers. Because reality consists of different powers only, there cannot be an absolute God. The worst tension arises. If there is no supreme God, then there can be no supreme solution to the conflicts of reality. Everything will remain a hopeless mess.

The two roads that lead off from the truth, by tipping the scales on either side, in the end converge into the same point of madness. I hope to make this gradually clear.

The upwards spiraling virtuous circle moves between the two poles of simplicity and variety. The two increasingly strengthen each other. The vortices, however, pull one down off to one side. It seems that the two vortices can also unite to a certain extent. The result is a very disharmonious dualism.

We have seen the mutually opposed sides of deism and pantheism. However both have in common that God is not omnipotent. The two extreme positions of atheism and polytheism obviously share the same identity as well, in that both deny God’s existence.

There is a hidden motivation behind these four corrupted beliefs. It is the desire to create God in one’s own image. By nature we do not tend to worship God’s greatness. But we cannot totally get rid of Him. So we reverse the matter and imagine a God after our own understanding. It is our pride that makes us do this. We cannot stand the idea of a God towering infinitely above us. So we incorporate Him into our limited belief in order to have the (unconscious) feeling that we are in control. For to comprehend God means that He is not above us. He is just one of the boys.

What confuses the matter is that many religions combine various elements from different positions. So Hinduism is a combination of spiritistic polytheism and mysticistic pantheism. Brahman is the ultimate oneness; all the spiritual powers are just ways to reach him. Neoplatonism (early Christian era) is a dualism in which God’s rational oneness is stressed, but is combined with His pantheistic emanations in the material world. There have been deists who did believe in God’s omnipotence. However this is just a mix-up with monotheism. Many “ists” don’t fully realize what their “ism” really is.

One of the strongest reasons to hold to both God’s essential simplicity and His qualities is that if you don’t, you land on a slippery slope that leads into the corrupted positions we have briefly mentioned, and will still analyze over and over again. Another reason is that the diversity of creation (love, light, justice and so on) is necessary to show all God’s qualities. The unity of creation shows God’s Oneness. If you tip the balance one side is hurt and the other blown out of proportion. But they depend equally on each other. If God is only simplicity, or mainly so, then how can He manifest the fulness of His qualities? On the other hand if He has mainly a fulness of qualities but His simplicity is not pure, then how can He be fully Himself. No matter what side you overaccentuate, in the end you lose not only the other side completely, but also the side you embraced as the ultimate truth.

The reason people have a tendency to overaccentuate one side of the truth, is that they feel a tension between the two. This feeling is false, and caused by pride. Everything, even God, must be explained as simple as possible. Mysterious ‘dualities’ are incomprehensible, and that is a humbling thought. However faith can keep the balance.

Notice that I do not call God a dualism. He is not a composite of two ultimate principles. But He seems to have two sides in His manifestation, His simplicity and qualities. The back of His face is the former, the front the latter.

There is indeed a great mystery in all of this. For who can fully understand that God’s love, life, light, just ire, beauty and so forth, are all one in His absolute essence? Deuteronomy 6.4 says “… The Lord our God is one Lord.” And 1 Kings 8.27, “… Behold, heaven, yes, the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee!” These are the two sides of God!

Having discussed briefly the relation between God and Creation, we will now look superficially at God and man. God is at once like and unlike us. The Bible says “… Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness (Gen. 1.26),” and “for I am God, and there is nobody further like me (Is. 46.9).” Again these two sides must be kept in equilibrium. However also here we have a false feeling of tension. So we start tampering with this truth. The rationalistic deist dares not reduce God outright to our limits. But He does believe that God is mainly like us. A proud deist does not tend to say that God is an unfathomable mystery, like a mystic would. He believes that we are just as rational as God. Only God has or is pure reason, or intellect. This is the first real break with the truth. For if God is mainly like us, where is the infinite Greatness of His person, the divinity of His qualities? Deists have an attitude of presenting God with a cigar, and tapping Him on the shoulder for the good job He has done. But now they can do without Him. But if this is true then God is just a mad genius who has no real future for us. To solve this tension one could make a double break with the truth and conclude that God is wholly like us. However if God is really completely like us then He is just a human being. How then can He be our Creator? Every artist transcends his composition. God doesn’t? We may as well accept the extreme conclusion that God just does not exist. Man has invented Him in His own image. The vicious circles here are practically the same. To break out of them is nearly impossible. If God does not exist then I am my own God. But then I carry the weight of my own world, which is way too great for me. I can only exist by living in arbitrary decisions. They become meaningless, seeing that everything ends in death. Thus a person or society ends up in the worst tension. Everything turns sweetly sour.

We started out cherishing God’s likeness, but wound up losing it. At the other side the scales make the same tip of the balance towards God’s unlikeness. This also is a break away from the truth. For if God is mainly unlike us, how then can we fully relate to Him? Then there will be for ever a frustrating gap between Creator and Creation, unless we or God changes. Hindus indeed say that we must shed all our humanness. But then why did God create us in such a way that we forever are to be alienated from Him, unless our humanness is just a coat? But what are we then? Not really human! But this is all madness. In this way we run into a maze of problems. To escape this maze one might conclude that we as well may face the music and say that God simply is the wholly other. But if God is really completely different from us, then there is just no way we can relate to Him. How then can He be our Creator? Every artist leaves his stamp on his handiwork, God didn’t? Such a God is wholly unreal. We may as well break with the truth altogether and become polytheists. Perhaps the gods can help us to become gods in our own right. But what then does it mean to be God? God is infinite, absolutely good, and altogether lovely. To be God means to be unique, absolutely unique. The “gods” are just powerful spirits. But if I can become a god, what does my power serve for? Just to feel great? But if that is the goal of life, then I will never be completely satisfied. For it is clear that not everybody can be the greatest. I just cannot be like God, if He exists. How can I escape this mess?

And also on this side the vicious circles are clear. This side of the scales converges into the same Slough of Despond. Whether we embrace God’s likeness or unlikeness, if we neglect the other side we lose even the side we embraced.

It seems paradoxical that the genius God of deism and the mystery God of pantheism could have something in common. However both share the same underlying identity. They are both impersonal, the one in His cold rationalism the other in His alienating mysticism. The hidden motivation behind these beliefs again is the human pride that likes to imagine God after his own liking.

Greek polytheism, because of its anthropomorphism (belief that God or the gods have a human form and/or personality), may make the matter seem confused. But that is because it is a dualism of the mainly like emphasis and the mainly unlike, or wholly unlike extreme.

The reason that God is both like and unlike us, is that we only bear His image. This image is very reliable though. I think we not only represent His essence but also His qualities. Perhaps the word for ‘image’ represents God’s essence. For in Hebr.1.3 Christ is said to be the image of God’s Being (hypostasis, ‘substance’, ‘nature’, or ‘essence’). In the modern Hebrew translation the same word is used here as in Gen.1:26. Of course the question is whether the word for ‘image’ here denotes Christ’s divinity or humanity, or both. It is perhaps safest to hold to both possibilities. (But then you run into the problem why Christ, in whom dwells all the fulness of the deity (theotes), is “just” called an image. I am inclined to apply this only to this humanity. In the Hebrew passage His two natures are alluded two in one breath because they are one in His person. Others say that the word for ‘image’ here means exact representation; so that Christ as the eternal Son, as to His divinity, is the exact mirror image of His eternal Father. Perhaps this is the better exegesis). If the word for substance denotes God’s deity, then perhaps the word for ‘likeness’ (Gen.1:26), represents God’s divinity.But this is a conjection. It is hard, if possible at all, to get a better grip on the difference between God’s deity and divinity, and the meaning of the word ‘substance’. It is interesting to see that the Greek word for ‘image’ in Hebr.1.3 (character), comes from a verb meaning ‘to engrave’. If we take the liberty to apply this word to us, then we might say that man is a living statue of God. He put His artisanship into us personally. However He is also unlike us, because His essence is absolute, ours relative, and His qualities are infinite and ours finite.

There is great mystery in this. Of us, unlike other creatures, in the bible, namely animals or angels, these things are said. Therefore man has been said to be the crown of Creation, as if God has lent him the dignity to represent Him personally. Who can fathom the meaning of all this!!

Let us now zero in on God’s Being. The bible says that God is a spirit, or simply God is spirit (John.4.24). However God also has a soul (Lev. 26.11), a mind (1 Cor. 2.16; or Is.40.13) that has thoughts (Is.55.8,9), and a spiritual body; for He is seen sitting on a throne (Is.6.1), and He has a face (Mt.18.10). Other references to body parts are simply metaphors, such as in “a stretched out arm”(Ex.6.6). However the quoted verses are definitely not metaphors, or symbols. Anthropomorphism, to a point, is certainly scriptural.

As to the Isaiah (40.13) passage, the translators of the King James version might have done better to translate “ruach” (‘spirit’) with ‘mind’; as the Greek translation of the O.T. the so-called Septuagint, has. For the N.T. follows it in this verse. The Hebrew does not have such a pinpointing word as the philosophical Greek. The Hebrew however shows that God’s soul, mind and body are all different facets of His spirit. Therefore we must not say, it seems, that God is a soul, mind, or, body, but that He has these. But He is (a) spirit.

In this context we will briefly disarm different proofs that people have come up with for God’s existence. This is done here because they are intimately related to His being.

It is the monotheists that have tried hardest to prove God’s existence, because they have the greatest love for Him. Thus Thomas Aquinas has pointed out that there must be a first cause. For if you go back far enough in the array of causes in the universe, then you must end at the very beginning. God is this beginning. He is the causa causans, the causing cause of all things. The universe shows design. And just as a watch points to its intelligent maker, so the universe points to its Maker. Good as this proof is, it is lacking. For Thomas applied it to the rational aspect of Creation only. If this would really be sufficient proof, then God is just a super mind, a great rational computer, a thinking machine.

To escape this tension one might embrace something like Epicureanism ( which is a mixture of deism, atheism and polytheism.). Epicurus taught that the gods have human form, and that they enjoy themselves free from sorrow, toil and any occupation with humankind. Their bodies are material, and the proof of their existence is that everybody has an impression of their blissful state. This kind of materialism however reduces everything, God’s wisdom, power, and love, to the physical level. It turns God into a fortuitous accumulation of atoms. His wisdom, love and pleasure are just atoms hitting upon atoms. If God is human, not withstanding His happy life, then He is really nothing but mindless matter. The vicious circles on this side should be obvious.

Mysticists have claimed that God is mainly or ultimately a mystery. His mind is subject to, or taken up into His mysterious Being. Proof for His existence is the mysterium tremendum that we can experience in Creation. If we see a beautiful flower, or enjoy a magnificent view from a mountain, then our feelings become one with God. However if this is true then our feelings are mainly what we have, to become one with God. We will never be able to relate to Him fully rationally. Morever if God is such, what are we? Also mainly an emotional mystery? To get out of this impasse we may claim that God is only a mystery. We must simply forsake reason as a cold calculating agency that spoils the mystery of it all. But does that mean then that God does not have a mind at all? But then He cannot even do something rational. Then His mysterious Being is just an emotional puppet that dances an irrational dance. One might break away from this and pose God as a spirit with great magical powers. Occultists have tried to use God as such. But if God is just an agency of magic, and we also, then what is the meaning of life? Power only? But we have already seen that that also leads to madness.

The vicious circles here are also plain. At both sides we end up in the same nightmare. On the one hand you have the extrinsic experiences of God, starting with reason and on the other hand the intrinsic experiences of God, starting with idealism and even mysticism.

The upward spiraling virtuous circle is strengthened by the poles of extrinsic and intrinsic experience, matter and reason, soul and spirit.

The paradoxical identities here are the same again. Rationalism and mysticism make God impersonal, and materialism and occultism make His Person totally meaningless. The hidden motivation is clear as well. We like to imagine God after our own fancy.

However God’s spiritual Being, and His soul, mind and body must all be kept in equilibrium. The atheist says that God is just the Big Bang, but He is more than that. The Creation of the material universe does indeed show incredible physical energy being formed by God. Feuerbach said that God is just a chemical projection in our mind. But indeed He is a lot more than that. The Rationalist claims that God is one pure act(uality) of intelligence. And indeed God does not have ordered trains of thoughts. He does not think discursively (having different subjects in succession). His mind contains eternity past, the present and eternity future, in one pure mental act. But He is more.

The mysticist claims that God is the ultimate mystery. But He is more than that. The occultist vows by spiritual power. But God is more than that. Take them altogether and voila you hold a picture of God that makes a lot more sense. Practically God is the source of all the physical energy in the entire universe. Rationally all the intellectual laws are established in Him. Mystically God given us the purest feelings. Spiritually God is the source of all spiritual powers, which are all subject to Him.

To try to prove God by means of one aspect of Creation causes nothing but lopsidedness. In the end you lose the very thing you started to favor so much. The beauty of the human body points to a great Artist. The Rational laws in Creation point to a great mind. The mysterium tremendum experienced in bright moments of emotion point to a great Mystery. The spiritual power of angels and demons, yogi and magicians, points to a great spirit. What makes the God of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas somewhat deistic is that these great rational theologians have overaccentuated God’s mind. They did this after the example of Aristotle and Plato. However such a God becomes cold in His impersonal, unemotional greatness. All God’s aspects must be kept in balance.

There is indeed a great mystery in all this. Anselm said, “Deus est id quod nihil maius cogitare potest”. “God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived”. Such is God indeed. I would like to paraphrase on Anselm’s definition. I would like to describe God as follows. ‘He is not simply infinite. He is infinite in infinitudes! And each infinitude is infinite in details, and each detail infinite in hues, and each hue infinite in intensity, and each intensely infinite in richness, and so ad infinitum! However the Bible itself states that “God is Love!”