I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Our Absolute-Personal God!

One of the most fundamental and unique doctrines of confessional Christianity is the absolute personality of God. Only biblical religion presents humanity with a God who is both absolute and personal; and this we have in the Trinity.

Not unlike the doctrine of the Trinity, God as the personal-absolute cannot be reduced to neat and tidy little propositional proof-texts. Nevertheless, one doesn’t have to read too many pages into the Bible to come face to Face with the One who is completely independent, Self-existent and wholly Self-sufficient. Or to use the arcane Latin term, God has aseity. This is the God or Elohim of Genesis 1, who merely wills and speaks and creates the universe ex nihilo, out of nothing and over against nothing. However, unlike the gods of Unitarian religions, such as deism, Islam, Judaism and the Watchtower Society, our God is not only absolute, but also personal; he can enter into relationship with his creatures while retaining his absoluteness. This is the personal, covenanting God of Genesis 2, whose name is Yahweh.

Likewise, Psalm 19 presents us with a similar portrait of God, this time in only 14 verses. The first 6 verses magnify the revelation and glory of God in creation, extolling his power or absoluteness. In these verses, like in Genesis 1, the author uses Elohim. From v. 7 through 14, the psalmist refers to God as Yahweh, the God of the Covenant, who graciously reveals himself to his people through his Word, the interpretive lenses through which humanity is to view and understand the world God created. Here, then, he is presented as personal; he’s relational.

So, whether it’s the opening two chapters of Genesis or the shorter 14 verses of Psalm 19, we meet a God who is Creator and Controller; he’s absolutely sovereign over all his works. And as Absolute, he speaks with absolute authority. He needs nothing outside of himself for knowledge of either himself or of his creation, since in one eternal act of knowing he comprehensively knows himself, and thus knows all things and events, as they are the result of his plan and power.

While God’s absoluteness is what grants him the authority, it is his personality that makes him able to speak to us. For eternity, the Persons of the Trinity have been in a loving, communal Fellowship. So, the triune God by definition is personal. Unlike other gods, then, our God did not have to change substantially, thus losing his absoluteness, in order to speak.

Lastly, while there aren’t any “proof-texts” that give us some cursory statement of this doctrine, I believe the concept is intended by John in the opening verses of his gospel. In verses 1—3 of chapter 1, John structures the concepts by way of chiasm, having five members. Let me illustrate.

A. (Absolute) In the beginning was the Word, (v. 1a)

B. (Personal) and the Word was with God, (v. 1b)

C. (God) and the Word was God. (v. 1c)

B' (Personal) He was in the beginning with God. (v. 2)

A' (Absolute) All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (v. 3)

You can see the structure: Absolute-Personal-God-Personal-Absolute. This text is generally understood to be teaching us the deity of the Word, Jesus. Indeed, and even more! It speaks to us about the very kind of God he is--the Absolute Personality!

This doctrine cannot be stressed enough. For evangelism, apologetics and Christian life and practice, few other doctrines are as important or as practical (I’ll try to unpack this some in future posts ;).


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