Friday, November 9, 2012

The Absolute

                A few posts ago I started concentrating on the subject of God and His being. We started with a simple definition of the word “God” and talked about traditional Christian characteristics of God. We then moved on to discuss the Trinity. Today I’d like to talk about God as The Absolute.
                When I speak of The Absolute, I’m talking about that which is at the very core of reality itself. I’m talking about that which is behind and defines the laws of physics, that which defines existence, that which gives meaning, purpose, and value structure to the world we perceive ourselves to exist in. I would like to argue that God is The Absolute, that He is identical with existence itself.
                The crux of the argument comes from the divine attributes of omnipotence and infinity. If God is limited in any way, by anything, then He is neither omni-potent nor infinite (infinite literally meaning “without limits”). So we must affirm that even such basic concepts as space, time, and existence are contingent on God without defining or limiting Him. If God should choose to defy the laws of physics, or of space-time, or of existence itself, then He may, for He is God.
                Paul Tillich affirms this, saying “The being of God cannot be understood as the existence of a being along-side others or above others. If God is a being, he is subject to the categories of finitude, especially to space and substance. Even if he is called the “highest being” in the sense of the “most perfect” and the “most powerful” being, this situation is not changed. When applied to God, superlatives become diminutives. They place him on a level of other beings while elevating him above all of them . . . Whenever infinite or unconditional power and meaning are attributed to the highest being, it has ceased to be a being and has become being-itself. Many confusions in the doctrine of God and many apologetic weaknesses could be avoided if God were understood first of all as being-itself or as the ground of being.”[1]
                Now, at this point, some might argue that space-time might be considered to be a reality along side of God, but which He has complete control over. They might argue that reality is distinct and co-eternal with God, but that it does not impose itself on God. This doesn’t work, though, because, as Langdon Gillkey attests, if anything is co-eternal with God, then its very existence “everlastingly stands over against God, limiting His sovereignty and rule over existence.”[2] Any co-eternal personality, material, idea or principle imposes itself as a qualification on God simply by the fact of its existence apart from God’s will. In other words, if God didn’t will reality into existence, but came upon it as it is, then God would not be able to define reality, which undermines His omnipotence. For God to be unlimited, omnipotent, and infinite, then all existence must depend on Him. God is the foundation of reality; He is existence itself.
                I find it helpful to think about this in a couple different ways. Neither of these are altogether correct, but I think they make the concept more comprehensible to me. First, I think of God like an author, and history as His novel. Reality is the setting for the story and we are all characters in it. So, by analogy, God is to reality as Tolkien is to Middle-earth. The one major difference between God and Tolkien, of course, being that God is able to grant to His characters some measure of autonomous existence as centers of free will. We are able to move and act and be according to our own wills here within the story, within God’s being, which is existence.
                Second, I think of matter and energy and how they can be neither created nor destroyed and I wonder what cosmology might come about from the assumption that matter is, in its most basic indivisible form, simply pieces of God’s imagination, and energy simply a manifestation of God’s Spirit. The universe and all reality become a part of God’s body, so to speak (This is not pantheism, this is panentheism)
                Either way, the point remains, for God to be unlimited, eternal, omnipotent, and infinite, He must be identical with existence as The Absolute. If there is no Absolute, then there is no God; if there is no God, then there is no Absolute. As a result, any ultimate meaning or absolute value must come directly out of the nature and will of this Absolute God; for without Him, there is no ultimate or absolute. God cannot be judged against a measure of what is just, because He is the standard of justice.
                John D. Zizioulas points out another interesting implication of this idea. God is existence itself. God has freely chosen to exist as three persons in communion. As God’s nature determines and defines existence, this freely chosen relationality is woven into the fabric of what it means to exist. Communion becomes a necessary part of what it means to exist, and relationality is written into the definition of being.[3] That’s important, and it will come up later. Next week I’d like to think about how God’s nature as The Absolute affects how we think about evil.

[1] Paul Tilich , Systematic Theology Volume I: Reason and Revelation Being and God (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1951) 235. Please don’t hate me for quoting Tillich, I am not a Tillichean and I have serious disagreements with other aspects of his theology. I just happen to think he’s right on target here.
[2] Langdon Gilkey, Maker of Heaven and Earth: The Christian Doctrine of Creation in the Light of Modern Knowledge. (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1985) 48.
[3] John D. Zizioulas Being as Communion (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Press, 1985) 41.

No comments:

Post a Comment