Sunday, March 16, 2014

How Big Is God?

At church this morning, during the children’s part of the service, the pastor’s puppet, Jake, asked how big God is.  Someone in the congregation stretched out his arms as wide as he could and said, “This big.”

That reminded me of what I was reading last night in a book that Moody Press sent me to review.  (This post is not my official review, but I am just referring to the book.)  The book is A Reasonable Response: Answers to Tough Questions on God, Christianity and the Bible.  In this book, renowned Christian apologist William Lane Craig responds to questions that people have sent him about God, Christianity, and the Bible.  At least two of the questions dealt with God’s infinity and omnipresence.  One person asked if God’s infinity implied pantheism.  If God is without limit, then there is nothing separating God from anything or anyone else, right?  If that is the case, is not God everything, and everything is God?  Another person inquired how Jesus could be omnipresent when he was on earth, since, as a human being, he could only be in one place at a time.

These questions have been somewhere in my mind for some time.  On the question about God’s infinity and lack of boundaries, I thought back to a tape I heard in which a rabbi was arguing against Christian doctrines.  The rabbi was saying that God could never become incarnate as a human being because one of God’s properties is infinity.  Once God becomes a human being, however, God is no longer infinite, for God is then finite and has limitations and boundaries.  The rabbi could not conceive of this being the case with God.  When I heard the rabbi say this, I had the same question that the one person asked Dr. Craig: If nothing separates God from anything or anyone else, does not that imply pantheism?  What, if anything, distinguishes or separates us from God?

On the question about whether Jesus was omnipresent in the flesh, this issue was in my mind back when I was on a Christian dating site.  Some, appealing to Philippians 2, asserted that Jesus laid aside or emptied himself of certain divine prerogatives when he became a human, and that presumably would include his omnipresence.  Others, by contrast, believed that this notion compromised the idea that Jesus was fully divine even as a human being, and so they tried to argue that Jesus somehow had all of his divine attributes when he was in the flesh, but some of them he hid, or put in hibernation, or whatever.  In terms of my Armstrongite background, I think that it went more with the first idea, that Jesus laid aside his divine prerogatives at the incarnation.  I do recall someone saying to me, however, that Jesus could have been in one place at a time, and yet his spirit would still be everywhere.

How did Dr. Craig answer these questions?  Regarding the first question, the one on God’s infinity and pantheism, Dr. Craig states on pages 161-162:

“Persons have ‘boundaries’ in a metaphorical sense: you are not I.  God is not Gordon Brown.  But the fact that two persons are distinct doesn’t imply that one of them can’t be infinite.  Of course, God’s infinity isn’t really a quantitative concept but has reference to His superlative attributes.  But then there’s no reason to think that one person could not be omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, morally perfect, eternal, etc., and the other limited in these same respects.  None of those attributes excludes the existence of a distinct person who has limited knowledge, goodness, power, etc.”

What I take this to mean is that God is infinite in terms of his attributes—-God is infinite in knowledge, power, goodness, etc.—-not in the sense that there are no boundaries distinguishing God from everything and everyone else.

Regarding the second question, the one about whether Jesus in the flesh was omnipresent, Dr. Craig states on page 164:

“…when it comes to omnipresence, I take this attribute to mean not that God is spread out like ether throughout space but that He is cognizant of and causally active at every point in space.  That can still hold for the Logos during His state of humiliation.  It just wasn’t part of Jesus’ conscious life.”

Dr. Craig appears to do two things here.  First, he defines omnipresence as awareness about “every point in space” and activity therein, not as literally and physically being present everywhere.  Second, Dr. Craig maintains that Jesus somehow had this attribute of omnipresence during the incarnation.  How could Jesus have functioned if he were continually aware of and causing things in “every point in space”?  According to Dr. Craig, this was not a “part of Jesus’ conscious life.”  Jesus was omnipresent, for Dr. Craig, but he was not entirely conscious of that.  I can’t say that makes total sense to me, but Dr. Craig is trying here!

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