40 Questions for Christians: Characteristics of God
For my return after a year’s absence from blogging, I have decided to answer the questions posed by this hub to Christians. Thomas Swan has a Ph.D in cognitive science of religion as well as a masters degree in physics. So far, this list has been nothing but the usual atheist groupthink. This group starts off the same way — I even answer one question with biting sarcasm. The last two questions, however, are thoughtful and will offer some insight.
An all-knowing God can read your mind, so why does he require you to demonstrate your faith by worshiping him?
I believe he’s due worship, but I don’t know why he requires it. It’s not really a problem for me to give to my creator pride of place in my life by bending my knee to worship him.
If God is all-knowing, why do holy books describe him as surprised or angered by the actions of humans? He should have known what was going to happen.
So the next time a close relative dies from a long illness, I’m going to clap you on the shoulder and as you cry say, “You knew that was going to happen. Why are you crying about it?”
Is this a serious question? Knowing something is going to happen often doesn’t prevent the emotion from happening. So God could still conceivably act surprised or be angered by something he knew would happen anyway simply because the emotion is strong enough to override the prior knowledge.
An all-knowing God knows who will ultimately reject him. Why does God create people who he knows will end up in hell?
I have a Scriptural answer for this, but no one likes it (not even my fellow Christians). Everyone tells me that it makes God a monster. But here it is again: God makes us as he pleases — some as vessels of mercy, and some as vessels of wrath — all to demonstrate his full glory. God is love, but God is also wrath. God is lawgiver, but also judge of the world. To appreciate all aspects of his character, and to know him more fully, it is necessary to demonstrate both his divine love and his divine wrath. This requires people who will ultimately suffer his wrath, as well as enjoy his grace and mercy.
Read Romans 9 for a more detailed take.
The big picture is that this is about God, not about us. People who have a problem with my answer, even after seeing it laid out for them in Romans 9, have an ego problem and believe that everything should be about them — or at least believe that God serves the human race and not the other way around. The first question in this bunch is indicative of that very same ego.
If God is all knowing, then why did he make humans in the knowledge that he’d eventually have to send Jesus to his death?
First thoughtful question of the bunch. While I thought that the previous question was asinine, I gave it a serious answer to set the stage for this more thoughtful question. Recall that this crazy little thing called life is about God and for God, not for us. We serve him; he does not serve us.
The answer, then, lies in revelation. Human history has proven one thing conclusively: We cannot do “paradise” on our own. Wars, bloodshed, destruction, and (above all) disobeying the clear commands of God. Even when we had paradise handed to us (Garden of Eden), we threw it away to disobey God.
After having taught us that lesson, God sent Christ to make propitiation for our sins. The “sacrifice” of Isaac prefigures this inability to make our own propitiation. Abraham raises his hand with the knife, and is halted by the angel of the Lord. He was then given a suitable sacrifice by God in Isaac’s place; and this same motif is lived out again and again as the nation of Israel tries but is unable to complete the covenant given by God. So God provides his own sacrifice: Christ. The covenant fulfilled, we now live by faith and not by works of law.
And all this comes down to revealing the character of God as embodying both perfect justice and perfect mercy.
Could we have learned this lesson another way? Maybe. But I don’t think it would have been as dramatic or as effective. God could have simply told us he is both justice and mercy, but we all know that someone’s character is revealed more by what they do than what they say. So he demonstrated it by his actions, and we come to know him more fully as a result. Again: it isn’t about us, it’s about him.
Why did a supposedly omnipotent god take six days to create the universe, and why did he require rest on the seventh day? Is omnipotence necessary to create our universe when a larger, denser universe would have required more power?
Let’s break this down. I’m not a young earth creationist, so I tend to think that the six days are metaphors for geological epochs. Whether the order in Genesis 1 or 2 is roughly correct or also purely symbolic, the point is that God put things on earth as a process rather than all at once.
As an parallel for why, the prequel novels to the computer game Myst shows Atrus study how the water and nitrogen cycles work, how soil is composed, and how ecosystems process raw materials into finished products. When he writes his Ages, he incorporates those cycles and processes into the writing so that his Ages sustain themselves. By contrast, his father Ghenn (the villain of the prequel novel and the second game) simply wrote the Ages as he wanted them to appear, and they lacked stability. They typically fell apart quickly.
The point? Creation is a process. Like Atrus, God took the time to get all of the necessary details right. As a result, creation works together like a machine. Reading Christopher Hitchens’s book God is Not Great, I learn that Isaac Newton (a Christian) was surprised to find out that the heavens work in perfect mathematical harmony, like a machine. According to Hitchens, Newton desperately tried to work God into the equation somehow but was ultimately unable to do so convincingly.
Far from eliminating the necessity of God, this only reveals the care and attention to detail that God put into his creation. It doesn’t require his constant maintenance or care, but it still receives just that (see Heb 1:3).
As to resting on the seventh day, the text doesn’t say that was required. God did rest on the seventh day, but it doesn’t follow that that was necessary. I don’t, for example, need to chain drink Pepsi all day. But I do anyway because I like the taste and I’m addicted to the caffeine.
Finally, I don’t understand the third part to this question or what it’s supposed to prove. So I will leave it alone.
Well, thank you Dr. Swan for at least two thought-provoking questions. Glancing ahead, I see a couple of more thought-provoking ones, but mostly schlock. My favorite upcoming schlock is whether or not aliens from outer space are going to hell for not hearing about God. That I’m going to actually give that question a serious answer is probably the most surprising thing of all!