Saturday, May 19, 2012

13 God's Communicable Attributes II

D. Attributes of Purpose
14 Will
Grudem discusses God's will in five pages, with three headings.  His first heading is "God's will in general." He runs through a number of Scriptures that speak of God's will as the "final authority or most ultimate reason for everything that happens" (211). He sees God's will as a continual activity. All the events in our lives are subject to God's will. It can also be God's will for us to suffer.

The second section makes distinctions between different kinds of will in God. The first is a distinction between God's "necessary" will and God's "free" will. For Grudem, "God's necessary will includes everything he must will according to his own nature" (213).  "God cannot choose to be different than he is or to cease to exist."

By contrast, for Grudem "God's free will includes all things that God decided to will but had no necessity to will according to his nature" (213).  God did not have to create the universe.  God did not have to redeem the universe. For Grudem, these were totally free decisions on God's part.

The other set of distinctions Grudem makes in this section are between God's "secret" will and God's "revealed" will. God's revealed will "is sometimes also called God's will of precept or will of command" (213). This is God's will "concerning what we should do or what God commands us to do."

By contrast, God's secret will refers to "his hidden decrees by which he governs the universe and determines everything that will happen" (213). We find these things out after they happen. They are not revealed ahead of time.

For Grudem, God's secret will includes the fact that God has chosen to hide the gospel from some people, the fact that God has only has mercy on those he chooses (Rom. 9:18). These are things we had best not pry into (215). "There is danger" in ascribing evil events to the will of God, even though to Grudem this is a biblical understanding. Despite how this understanding of God's secret will sounds, "we must never understand it to imply that we are freed from responsibility for evil, or that God is ever to be blamed for sin" (216).

1. Directive versus Permissive will
As a Calvinist, the big distinction in Grudem's sense of God's will is between God's secret and revealed will.  He implies that God's "secret will" is difficult to reconcile with his revealed will.

For Arminians such as myself, a better distinction is between God's directive will and God's permissive will.  Because Grudem ultimately believes that God's secret will determines everything that happens, he does not allow for any action to be willed apart from God's specific direction. That is to say, all will for Grudem is God's directive will.

However, as an Arminian, I believe that God has afforded his creation the freedom to disobey his will. When a human being does evil, it must be that God allows it because God is the ultimate authority over everything that happens in the world. But this is not God's directive will, as it is for Grudem. Grudem must warn his readers not to blame God for sin or free themselves from responsibility for sin. The Arminian does not need to worry because we believe such actions are not a matter of God's secret direction.

We will see something similar when we get to Grudem's discussion of God's providence (chap. 16). I do not believe that God directly causes all the suffering in the world. Rather, God has afforded both to humans a freedom of will that often leads to suffering. Similarly, God allows natural laws to play out in ways that can result in catastrophes. Why he does so is somewhat of a mystery for Arminians, just as God's secret will is for Calvinists.

But the Calvinist implicitly gives God full responsibility for such things, while the Arminian distances such events from God. The Arminian considers these things a matter of God's "permissive" will, things he allows for some greater reason. They remain part of God's direct intention for the Calvinist.

2. God's free will
It is deeply ironic that the Calvinist tradition, so bent on the sovereignty of God, is tremendously concerned to make it clear that there are certain things God is not free to do. This perhaps betrays that theologians like Grudem are really more concerned to maintain a certain sense of the order of the world than they truly are to ascribe true sovereignty to God. Nevertheless, the position that says God does not act at variance with his character is fully orthodox.

I would prefer to say, however, that God does not choose to act at variance with his revealed character. That is to say, we only know God as he has revealed himself in this universe.  We have no point of reference to say what God literally is like outside of it.  It is true that God does not act at variance with his revealed character as a God of love. But it seems best to me to say that God freely acts in this way, not that God himself is somehow a slave to some (inherited?) nature.

God is whom he has chosen to be in this universe. In this way God is free both in relation to what Grudem calls God's free will and in relation to what Grudem calls God's necessary will.

3. God's "secret knowledge"
I have already mentioned above that the Calvinist sense of God's "secret will" is based on a "deterministic" view of everything that happens in the world.  How is it that in revelation God considers us morally responsible for our choices yet in other Scriptures seems to claim responsibility for hardening some people's hearts? How can God not tempt people with evil (Jas. 1:13) and yet send an evil spirit into Saul (1 Sam. 16:14)?  How can God want everyone to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9) and yet most not be saved (Matt. 7:14)?

The Calvinist answer is God's "secret will" and his "hidden decrees," notions that Grudem will play out more fully in his chapter 16.  God portrays himself one way on the surface but acts another way in hiding. Congress passes one law into legislation but the President makes secret notes of legal disagreement on the side and then secretly goes on to violate those laws of Congress. It is thus no surprise that Grudem wants to place verses like 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9, which say that God prefers everyone to be saved, into God's revealed will... so God can violate them in his secret will.

A more coherent approach is the Arminian distinction between God's directive and permissive will. God prefers all people to be saved but allows people to choose differently. There is still nuancing that needs to be done--the Bible has both language of predestination and free will. The interpreter's choice is which set should be taken more poetically and which set more literally.

The Arminian must also see God has having "secret knowledge" that leads him not to intervene.  He sees a bigger picture than we do.  But at least in this perspective, God's will remains constant in character.  He doesn't take away with his secret hand what he gives with his revealed hand. He simply acts on knowledge we cannot fully see or understand.

15. Freedom
In the previous section, Grudem has already indicated that God is not free to be something other than he is.  When Grudem speaks of God's freedom, he is saying that "God is not constrained by anything external to himself" (216).  "God's freedom is that attribute of God whereby he does whatever he pleases."

Grudem suggests that we should not ask for answers to why God created the world or decided to save us. We should content ourselves with the fact that God is totally free--that is, as long as he acts consistent with his character.

In the previous section, we have already critiqued Grudem's sense that God is a slave to his "nature."  Nevertheless, his sense that God is entirely free in relation to all external forces and influences is completely correct.  No one or no force outside of God can force God to do anything.

16. Omnipotence (Power, Sovereignty)
"God's omnipotence means that God is able to do all his holy will" (216).  God has the power to do whatever he decides to do. God's sovereignty is his exercise of power over the creation (217).

Of course, again, Grudem believes there are some things that God cannot decide to do. "God cannot will or do anything that would deny his own character" (217). So God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18). God cannot be tempted with evil (Jas. 1:13).  So, Grudem says, "it is not entirely accurate to say that God can do anything." Humans have "relative freedom" as a faint reflection of the freedom of God's will.

This seems like a fairly anemic sense of God's power. We have already given our preference to say that God chooses not to lie.  He does not want to lie, not that he could not lie if he actually wanted to do so. With regard to Scripture, we should be careful not to lift statements out of a localized context and make them into absolute propositions.

So in Hebrews, God does not lie when he makes a promise. In James, God is not tempted to do wrong. He always wants to do right and chooses to do right. God is not constrained not to lie or not to do evil. He simply does not choose to do so.

God created the universe out of nothing. That means that God has as much power as what he created because he did not start with any existing materials. It follows that he is capable of doing anything in this universe that is possible to do.

By that I do not mean to suggest that God cannot do things that are impossible to do in this universe. One sometimes reads this definition of omnipotence, that God can do anything that is logically possible. But since God exists outside this universe and its rules, who is to say that God cannot make 1 + 1 = 3 in some way that we cannot possibly imagine.

E. Summary Attributes
In this final section of chapter 13, Grudem finishes his list of God's attributes. He does not believe that these four attributes fit very well into any of the previous categories but that they, in some sense, capture the other attributes as a whole.

17. Perfection
"God's perfection means that God completely possesses all excellent qualities and lacks no part of any qualities that would be desirable for him" (218).  He "fully possesses all of his attributes and lacks nothing from any one of those attributes."

Surely almost all Christians would agree that God possesses every excellent characteristic to its fullest.  In terms of anything we could possibly know, God is the best possible being.

Grudem does not do a great job of interpreting the Bible in context, as usual. Matthew 5:48 is about God being "complete" in his love of the world, loving not only his friends but his enemies as well.  The Sermon on the Mount commands Jesus followers to do the same. So while God is obviously perfect, Grudem does not find a good verse to pin it on.

18. Blessedness
"God's blessedness means that God delights fully in himself and in all that reflects his character" (218). Grudem basically equates being blessed with being happy "in a rich sense."  Predictably, Grudem connects God's happiness with God's self. Even God's delight in the creation becomes God rejoicing in "his own excellent qualities" (219). Similarly, "we imitate God's blessedness when we find delight and happiness in all that is pleasing to God."

Grudem probably hits a bit far of the mark when he more or less equates blessedness with happiness. This is what we might think with the mindset of an individualist culture.  But in an honor-shame culture, blessedness has to do with the honor that comes from embodying the values of the group--and thus reflecting God's values.  It is not about individual emotion, even if it is God's.

So God's blessedness turns out to be quite similar to his glory.  It reflects the honor and glory of being God, the greatest of all things.

As for God more or less narcissistically delighting in himself, this is quite typical of the Calvinist tradition, especially the thoroughgoing one.  However, from a Wesleyan-Arminian perspective, God created the world with somewhat of a will of its own, distinct from his own. In that sense, while the goodness of the creation is God's doing and indeed a reflection of his own greatness, he has given the creation a glory of its own as well.

19. Beauty
"God's beauty is that attribute of God whereby he is the sum of all desirable qualities" (219). Grudem sees God's beauty as closely related to his perfection. If God's perfection means that he does not lack anything desirable, his beauty means that he has everything desirable. "We reflect God's beauty in our own lives when we exhibit conduct that is pleasing to him" (220).

It is interesting that Grudem actually had defined perfection in terms of God possessing all excellent qualities, while here he says it is that he does not lack anything desirable. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that we should associate God with everything that is beautiful.

Beauty is more often than not a matter of affect. No doubt there is an objective basis for what we find beautiful, and no doubt God fits such characteristics to the highest degree. But like honor and glory, beauty is an adjective humans ascribe to God far more than adjectives he would ascribe to himself.

20. Glory
"God's glory is the created brightness that surrounds God's revelation of himself" (220).  Glory is the final attribute Grudem ascribes to God. Here he says something he might have said about God's blessedness and beauty: "The glory of God is not exactly an attribute of his being but rather describes the superlative honor that should be given to God by everything in the universe."

But he goes on to speak of God's glory as the "bright light that surrounds God's presence" (220).  It is a "created light or brilliance that surrounds God as he manifests himself in his creation" (221). Similarly, "there is a brightness, a splendor, or a beauty about the manner of life of a person who deeply loves God."

Grudem's description of God's glory as the superlative honor he deserves from the universe is completely appropriate. It is of course possible that Grudem takes the imagery of light from the Bible too literally at some points. The way he talks about the brightness of a life devoted to God probably comes closer to the metaphorical nature of language about God's brightness.

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