Mid-Week Reflection: What Makes “God” God?

Author: Adrian Williams
May 20, 2020

A philosopher recently asked me: “Mainline Christians seem to not believe in an unchanging God. I could get behind that if I could understand why one would need a God in that case.” That left us to discuss the question of what attributes make God, God? What things are non-negotiable as being part or all of who God is?

Even just in theory, I love these questions and discussions (enough that I'm writing this in first person, because I cannot separate myself from it). Yet for many, including my philosopher friend, this is an important question because if people are at their most human when in relationships/doing "the greater good" and not focused on self, then is there a need for a God? If God is unchanging then God can be used as a tool to control, but if God is not simply what we understand God to be based on a rigorous dogma then why have a God at all? These topics and many others took us down so many rabbit trails and wormholes, but let’s focus on that question that we started with: So what are, or what should be, those non-negotiable, unchanging things that make "God" God?

God is Love

 The first is one that appears early enough in the Christian faith that it makes the scriptures: God is Love. One can argue that this is not a consistent attribute of God throughout scripture (as my philosopher friend argued well), but I don't think those arguments hold water when we look deeper. It's not enough to use this term "God is Love" without looking at what Love is, and as is the case for many a philosopher, the best argument for “what is” is to define “what it is not.” So, let's state it this way "God is Love, not Fear." We may fear, but God has no "fearness" within. Fear drives us to self-preservation, fear is protecting what is ours. A God who is not fear does not show concern for self- preservation, nor is protective of self or possessive of anything. This is a God who would become human, complete to death, a God who does not manipulate, but gives freedom of thought, heart, and creative abilities (even if those creations also destroy). Love is many things, but it cannot be anything that Fear is. So God is Love, but Love alone might be able to exist without this "God" for many, so that alone would not be enough even for myself to prove "God."

God is Creating

 I'm not sure my second point alone could prove "God" to me either, but it is the second most essential element that defines the God I know. God is Creating. Notice I do not say Creator; that isn't to discount or deny that God has CREATED, but rather to focus on what we can know about God is that God is CREATING. God as prime mover does not give much value for having faith or religion, but a God who is constantly creating is one who may just have a purpose for the creating beyond just seeing what will happen. Unlike the previous argument, I'm not going to point to what not creating is in order to define the term. I think the constant change happening in the world shows constant creation, but there is an important nuance that needs to be discussed: God is creating, NOT controlling. The idea of freedom mentioned in the previous argument comes into play here.

God does not control the things created, God is not a computer program, nor is God a programmer. Our logic is built on experiences, sorted and connected along with our "wiring" to form how we think. Even if we use imago dei as a basis to reverse engineer this trait onto God, we still have a God with unending experiences to draw from in ways we cannot understand. Likewise, we have very little to go on to describe the creative nature of God beyond our own abilities to create. Using this argument shows many cases of how Love without Fear can Create but not control how things come together or are used. Think of the many inventions originally made for a singular purpose, but which were used in many new and different (and sometimes regrettable) ways. The printing press (or the internet) has been used to entertain, to teach, to expand worlds, but also to control, to manipulate, to trick, to attack . . . yet once they were created, the control of the idea was (eventually) given over to these things, not just for some planned purpose. Yet, other properties (Mickey Mouse for example) that are controlled, do not have freedom to become new, but due to the “integrity” maintained become less and less nimble and thus lose their place in the world or become a historical icon or logo representing some maladjusted ideal. A God who does not continue to create, or who is in full control of said creation could be used to represent whatever we chose in any moment, manipulated to our whims and thus stop being "God."

So God's creating is intrinsic to God, creating things that are free, not controlled, for what we see as for better or for worse. When combined with Love though we get a God whose mercy is never-ending. Only a Creating God of Love would create that which is free but still continue to care, to want to create, to want to show God's self and the ideal by giving up control of even God's own self to the world of uncontrolled freedom. This is the God I know. Creating, Loving, Not Controlling, and without Fear.

This God is the one who returns to Plato's Cave time and again to tell us what is real no matter how many times we violently, unwittingly reject it. This is a God who can be, who is, and who we are charged with becoming like, for we are created in that God's image, but left with the freedom to fear and to control. Let us let go of fear and control and maybe find ourselves closer to God.


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