This article is just one in a long series addressing questions posed by agnostic blogger Larry Simons in his article entitled, 31 Questions Christians Can’t Answer. For the rest of series click here. Enjoy!
14. Why did God feel the need to show mankind his love? And why does he need love returned from sinful, wretched mankind?
What does God need? Does He need to show love, does He need love in return? These are not only important questions to ask prior to asking Mr. Simons’ question above, but they’re also important questions for any Christian and, indeed, any theist. In all of the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity) we believe that God (Allah, Yaweh) preexisted everything that exists. Volumes are written from scientific and philosophical perspectives about how everything came to be and whether or not a conscious, transcendent being is necessary for that coming to be. These arguments are interesting and relevant, but the most important facet of all of the ones that credibly support theism is that this transcendent being must have pre-existed all that it caused to be (i.e. everything, the universe). So this absolutely rules out an absolute need to give or receive love.
What we have in this long ongoing discussion is not a debate of God verses Not God. It is a discussion about the most fundamental understanding of what the relationship is between God and man. As Mr. Simons ably shows it is not necessary to believe in the God of the Bible or, in fact, any god to have a stake in the discussion. In truth this is one of the most foundational pursuits of all time, to know if there is a god what does he want and how should I relate to him? Unfortunately it seems that Mr. Simons’ view mimics an often cited caricature of God as a sort of parasitic love monster, giving love conditionally, lashing out at those who do not return it, and taking sustenance from those who do, like a cosmic Dracula. This view is not only cartoonish but demonstrably false.
I propose that there are five attributes of this being that we call God that must exist for Him to be the pre-existent creator of all things and that these attributes are also consistent with a view that He loves all of humanity by choice and desires the love of humanity, while needing neither. This frames a proper understanding of our relationship to Him. It answers the questions what does He want and how should I relate to Him? The first of these attributes is “eternity”. If there is a transcendent creator of the universe, in order for it to be worthy to be called God it must not only pre-exist it’s creation it must have existed eternally. If something or someone pre-existed God, that being would be in contention for the title of God.
The second attribute I’ll propose is one we’ve already talked about a few times in the ongoing discussion here, omnipotence. It is the ability of God to do all possible things. This is a slightly circular statement but it is an importantly descriptive one. If God can do all possible things, He can not do any impossible things. Some often used examples of impossible things are one-ended sticks, square circles, etc. It’s often asked, “Could God create a rock so big He couldn’t lift it?” This is an example of a statement that might seem to be possible yet is not. If God is infinitely powerful then He could not create something that would overcome His infinite power because if His power could be overcome it would not be infinite.
The next attribute is omnipresence. This is the condition of God’s existence everywhere at once. By everywhere we mean that his presence transcends space and time. If God is not present everywhere, all the time then we have to consider whether or not His lack of presence is a impacts His infinite power or His infinite knowledge, either way it would be a major detraction from His worthiness for godhood. A being who is all-powerful but not ever-present is functionally useless for at least some percentage of the time if only because it is not there to do the things it’s universe needs, it’s not even there to know what is needed.
The fourth attribute is omniscience/ justice. Omniscience is infinite knowledge, and justice is the wise application of knowledge. These are lumped together as one because I believe they are dependent on one another. If God has all-knowledge but not all wisdom then He will make mistakes, the power to do all possible things and universal presence are not enough to tell Him what to do with the universal knowledge He would possess. The first four attributes I’ve posited combine to necessitate a fifth attribute, righteousness.
Perfect righteousness would be the result of an eternal transcendent being, having infinite power, and being omnipresent, also having universal knowledge and the infinite wisdom to go with it. Look at it one of two ways, some take the perspective that this being would always make the best, most right choices and take the best, most right actions in light of these previous four attributes. Others would say that possession of the first four attributes make any action or choice the being would make right by nature. Regardless, perfect righteousness is the result.
The result of what I’m laying out here, I’ll admit, is not a slam dunk belief-inducing argument for God. But then that was never the object, anymore than it’s Mr. Simons’ purpose to crush belief. The evident object of the questions in Mr. Simons’ original article is to discredit God himself as worthy of the title, and in response my object is to show an accurate picture of who God is and why it matters, answering those two questions I started out with, what does He want and how should I relate to Him? This God I’m advocating for, with these five attributes needs nothing. Furthermore, true love can only exist as a function of choice. “Love” that is a result of necessity is better termed addiction. So the two most characteristic features of a proper relationship with God are that He chooses, condescends even to us, to show a love that is not necessary and that He desires but does not require love from us. Because of His infinite power, presence, knowledge, wisdom, and righteousness it is altogether proper that we should demonstrate our love for Him with worship. Archbishop William Temple described worship this way, “Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose—all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.” So, you are free in this discussion to disbelieve in the God of the bible, but if you do believe in Him the only proper posture to adopt is the posture of worship and this is the proper relationship between God and man.