ORTHODOXY ON THE NATURE OF GOD

 

 

 

 

To the orthodox Christian, the quality of God called transcendence is one of His standout features. In his book The Bible Among the Myths, in fact, modern theologian John Oswalt asserts that the unique feature of the Bible, that preeminent quality which differentiates it from all other religious documents, is its description of God as a transcendent Being, existing above and separate from His Creation. As Dr. Oswalt takes the Bible as the source of his assertion, and acknowledges as well that God has directed its interpretation to men, we shall accept this assessment of God’s transcendent nature as accurate and fundamental to our investigation of its implications.

 

This God of Judeo-Christian Scripture possesses other distinct features as well, our understanding of which has been gleaned from Scripture itself. According to theologian F. David Lambert, who has performed a detailed review of the catechisms or articles of faith of what have been considered to be the mainline Christian Churches prior to the general falling away over the past few decades, traditional Christianity has historically adhered to six basic principles in its definition of God. Those whose understanding of God falls within the boundaries established by those principles are embraced by Orthodox Christianity as members of their group, while those whose concept of God lies outside these boundaries are considered to adhere to a different theology than that which orthodoxy views as fully Christian.

 

The six tests of orthodoxy are these, which are generally acknowledged to have come from a literal interpretation of Scripture, the term ‘literal’ essentially meaning it is recognized as truth rather than fiction, and is understood naturally as opposed to allegorically:

 

First, God (or the Godhead) is a unique entity in the universe, possessing the attributes of omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. He is all-knowing, all-seeing, and holds absolute control over every event that occurs in the universe, which He created in its entirety. Given these attributes, God resides above our boundaries of space and time, and is not limited to them. (To be fair, there are Churches who grant to mankind the ability acknowledged as voluntarily granted by God, usually labeled as free will, to accept or deny the salvation offered by Jesus’ work on the cross. Those who claim this ability for man are called Arminians, after Dutch theologian James Arminius, while those who deny this ability in man are called Calvinists, after the famous sixteenth-century theologian John Calvin. Most Churches, although they may vehemently oppose one side or the other on this issue, consider both Arminians and Calvinists to be within the pale of legitimate Christianity. It’s healthy to argue – the Churches that have already fallen away typically don’t perceive that the issue exists.)

 

Second, the Godhead is a triune entity consisting of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost), all equally God, who existed and shall continue to exist in triune form throughout eternity.

 

Third, Jesus Christ was born in the flesh through Mary, who was a virgin at the birth of Jesus. The fundamental issue of the virgin birth is that Jesus in the flesh was fully God and fully man. (Scripture itself elevates to considerable importance the issue of whether or not Mary remained a virgin after Jesus’ birth, as any claim that Mary was a perpetual virgin directly contradicts Mark 6:3; indeed, most mainstream churches accept without reservation that Jesus had siblings, among whom was James, who wrote the New Testament epistle of that name. If any person, particularly a Catholic, is disappointed by this conflict with Scripture, comfort is available in my books Family of God and Buddy. For information regarding the availability of these books, contact me at perkinsart44@yahoo.com.)

 

Fourth, out of God’s pure and sacrificial love for mankind, Jesus died on the cross for the sins of believers and was subsequently resurrected. His act on the cross is understood to have been preplanned from the foundation of the world, as confirmed by numerous references to this sacrificial act in Old Testament Scripture, e.g. Genesis 4 and 45, Exodus 12, Leviticus 22, Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, Daniel 9 and Jonah, to name just a few of the more obvious references. Christians universally await His bodily return to earth to judge the nations, rule over mankind both directly and visibly and, most importantly, to exercise dominion over the earth with His bride, the Church, as noted in Genesis 24 and Ephesians 5.

 

Fifth, salvation, or the reconciliation between the believer and God, is effected by faith in Jesus Christ, and by that faith alone. While such faith will naturally result in works, it is impossible for man to reconcile himself to God (or storm the gates of heaven) through his own efforts, or by any pathway other than Jesus Christ.

 

Sixth, Scripture (the Bible, comprising both Old and New Testaments) is a necessary and sufficient presentation of God to mankind. It stands alone as a description of God and his intent toward man, and is to be understood in its entirety under an interpretation that is naturally literal, and is considered to be the inerrant and inspired Word of God. As Scripture itself states in 2 Peter 1:20 and 21, it is not open to private interpretation.

 

Implicit in these six defining features of orthodox Christianity, and demanded in particular by the attribute of actual and anticipated resurrection, may be added a seventh attribute, one which is shared among many religions but which is most appropriate to the Christian faith and which is particularly relevant to the theme under discussion:

 

Seventh, the human soul exists eternally, not being limited to the confines of the bodily mechanism.

 

The application of a ‘literal’ interpretation to Scripture as required by these tests of orthodoxy does not imply the necessity for such a stern rigidity as would require the rejecting of figures of speech. It simply means that one should accept Scripture as a work of truth rather than fiction, interpreting it according to a reasonable and natural common language understanding and avoiding the practice of allegorizing every difficult passage one might encounter. A common-sense application of a ‘literal’ approach to interpretation of Scripture would be flexible enough to appreciate that a ‘day’ of God’s creative activity might be very different than twenty-four hours. An earth day, for one thing, is dependent upon the rotational rate of the earth about its own axis. Who knows what that rate was at the time of Creation? If the earth had experienced no rotational velocity at that time, one ‘day’ would have been of infinite duration. It might make more sense to interpret a day, in this context, as an event-defined, repetitive period of unknown and possibly even variable length. On the other hand, the ‘millions of years’ taught by contemporary science as the duration of past ages is void of logical justification. A literal interpretation would also acknowledge the limitation of our languages, including the multiple meanings of certain words or even that the meaning of some words has changed over time.

 

From the notions of transcendence and the numerous attributes of God embedded in the above statement of orthodoxy, we can begin to develop a vision of God’s character. Specifically, we understand the following:

 

First, from the notion of omnipotence and as specifically amplified upon regarding the act of creation in Genesis 1 and John 1: that God created the universe and everything within it apart from Himself.

 

Second, from the notion of transcendence that: God stands apart from His creation, existing prior to and independently of it.

 

Third, from the notion of the Trinity that: the Godhead consists of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all fully God, all sharing some common essence, and all distinct (at least in any single point in time according to our limited perception) with respect to some quality or feature.

 

Fourth, from the notions of the cross and of God’s act in bounding Himself to become one with man and in offering Himself to pain, humiliation and rejection for the sake of fallen mankind, that: God is capable of loving his creation and of behaving nobly with respect to it. This is supported by the existence of Scripture itself, as well as its contents in particular; it is further supported through the work of the Holy Spirit on the believing soul.

 

Fifth, from the notion of the eternal existence of the soul, and as specifically amplified upon regarding Jesus’ marriage to His Church in John 2 and Ephesians 5, that: redeemed mankind in spiritual form has a future destiny with God at a much more intimate (and loving) level than his physical existence will permit.

 

The implications with respect to the nature of God that have been gleaned from the orthodox view of Him can be refined yet further. Such additional refinements produce a coherent view of the Trinity that support a greater love of God than available from a more shallow understanding, but they also necessarily lead to the consideration of elements that some might consider to be outside the normal boundaries of orthodoxy. For that reason I intend to terminate my discussion of this issue here. I encourage those who are interested in delving further into this subject to contact me at the email address given above.

 

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