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In my opinion, if someone says, "God is" or "God is not" or "God looks like" or "God doesn't look like" they've limited him and he's no longer omnipresent, omnipotent, or omnificent.

So then, how can God be omnipotent and be limited to only love? Love cannot be hate. Good cannot be evil. The light cannot be on and off at the same time. Schrödinger's cat is dead or alive but not both.

"only God understands how this can be" is not a valid answer.

1 John 4:8

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

But does that mean, he is only love?

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I think you ought to read at the back of the North Wind or better yet, go there! –  Peter Turner Oct 10 '12 at 19:29
    
@PeterTurner I will, thanks –  user1054 Oct 10 '12 at 19:31
    
What does omnipotent, all powerful, have to do with love or hate? The answers below are good ones. –  thursdaysgeek Oct 10 '12 at 20:05
    
You're being too cataphatic here, but don't worry - there is a cure! –  Affable Geek Oct 10 '12 at 20:13
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There's an obvious problem in your question. Hate is not the opposite of love. Love, in fact, requires hate. If I love my spouse, I by definition, hate what harms her. The opposite of love is not hate, but apathy. –  Flimzy Oct 11 '12 at 4:59

7 Answers 7

up vote 11 down vote accepted

The assertion that God's omniscience, omnipresence, and omnificence somehow means that God must be everything is false. God's omniscience means God knows all things. God's omnipresence means that God is everywhere present. God's omnificence means that He has all creative power. None of these mandate that God must be both love and evil.

God is certainly not everything. He is holy--not unholy. He is just--not unjust. He is good--not evil. He is infinite--not finite.

God is truly indescribable, though, in that He cannot be completely defined by words. Indeed, I'm not sure any person could be completely described by words, even as finite as we are.

God created the physical universe of time, space, and matter, so He is completely outside of those things--beyond space, beyond time, and matter--and is not limited by those things. Yet, again, that does not mean He is everything--or everyone. He is only Himself and not His creation.

As an aside, hate is often misunderstood as the opposite of love. However, apathy seems to be a better candidate for this. The fact that one does not love a particular person does not necessarily mean he hates the person. He may not know the person at all, so he would be apathetic towards him.

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As an offshoot of your aside, then, what is the opposite of hate? It strikes me that apathy would be a candidate there, too, which leads me to think that (stipulating that apathy is the opposite of love) love and hate are simply orthogonal. –  kojiro Oct 11 '12 at 4:39

I think that that verse just means that love drives god to do everything he does. It is why he acts with righteousness and justice.

There is also this scripture to build on this. John 14:8-9. "He who has seen me has seen the father also".

Jesus was a perfect reflection of his father. When we look at the works of Jesus, we see the desire and work of god. So what where some of the qualities of Jesus? Compassion, mercy, patience, generousness, peaceful. All of these stemmed from his love for us.

When asked what the greatest commandment is Jesus responds "You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 The second, like it, is this: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments the whole Law hangs, and the Prophets.”* Matthew 22:37-40

Jesus, and therefore god, are saying that Love is the platform for everything they have done. Remember also the name of Jehovah. It means "I shall prove to be". Not only does that mean that god can be anything he want's, but it also means he can change the purpose of anything to become what he needs it to be. Just because gods motive is love doesn't take away from his power. There is no power anywhere that can match his.

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A distinction must be made between "God is love" and "God can only be love". 1 John 4:8 describes what God "is" not what he can be.

For a more concrete analogy, the statement "I am alive" does not mean "I cannot die". "I am alive" describes my current state. "I cannot die" describes my probable state.

So, "God is love" is a statement describing God's current state, and does not deny his capability for maintaining a different state. The same can be said for the statement "God does not sin".

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+1 A well reasoned answer. Welcome to Christianity.StackExchange! –  Affable Geek Oct 12 '12 at 21:54
    
Thank you. This is my first time contributing on StackExchange at all. –  livingparadox Oct 15 '12 at 17:35

At first sight, it does appear that there is a logical contradiction in saying that God is both infinite in power, creativity etc. and at the same time claiming that God is limited by being loving, good and pure. However, a more precise understanding of what we mean by the "Omni-s" leads to the conclusion that there is no such contradiction.

First, it is worth establishing that something can be both infinite and limited at the same time.

For example, consider normal counting numbers - 1,2,3...etc. These are known as integers. Mathematicians tell us that, logically, there are an infinite number of integers. However, we also understand that integers have limitations. That you can't represent 1.5 using them, for example. They are unlimited in that there is an unending sequence of these numbers.

Secondly, we'll use analogy to help us understand the kind of limitations we might be talking about. Hopefully, this will help us understand what kind of question we're considering.

Imagine a torch with a nice bright beam. Obviously, you can use that torch to illuminate things that are in darkness you can observe them. Someone might claim that you can use that everything illuminated with that torch can be seen better. And this is a perfectly legitimate claim. It appears that the torch can illuminate an infinite number of things that are in darkness to make them visible. However, someone else might claim that, if you shine your torch on darkness (on a shadow, say) then that darkness becomes less visible. Therefore the torch is limited. How can a torch be both infinite in its capacity to illuminate and at the same time be limited in that it can't illuminate things like shadows?

Next, we will establish that a more precise definition of the 'Omni-s', and look at what these definitions imply about God's limitations.

When we say that God is Omniscient (all-knowing), we understand that he knows everything that is true or could possibly be true. However, there are some things that God cannot know. For example, He cannot know something that isn't true. For example, God cannot know that 1+1=4 as that simply isn't the case. In that sense, God's Omniscience is limited.

When we say that God is Omnipresent (present everywhere), we understand that God is everywhere throughout all time. Does this mean that God is present in places that don't exist? Presumably not. Does it mean that God can remain Omnipresent and at the same time choose not to be present in, say, my kitchen? It does indeed (which is not to say that He has to make his presence known - he has to be present, but that doesn't mean we have to be aware of Him). In the sense that it would make no sense to speak of God as both present and not-present, God is limited.

When we say that God is Omnificent, we are saying that He is unlimited in creative power. He can create anything that can be created. Does this mean that He can create something impossible like a square circle or an eternal thing that ceases to be? Presumably not (although some philosophers have attempted to remove this limitation by suggesting that God could remove the laws of mathematics and logic. Even if this is possible, however, we see that God is limited in the sense that He can't achieve these things without this kind of drastic re-engineering of reality).

Finally, the most debated and controversial of the "Omni-s": God's Omnipotence. When we use this term, we mean that God can do anything that can possibly be done. We don't, however, mean that God can stop being God and remain Omnipotent. A classic question is whether God can create a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it. There are various possible approaches to answering this. You could say "yes", but that he chooses not to. Or you could say "no", otherwise He would cease to be God. Or you could say, "yes" but the laws of logic would need to change. Each of these solutions implies some kind of limitation on God. We might argue that these apparent limitations are either self-imposed by God, or that they are necessary in the sense that God cannot be simultaneously God and not-God. Nevertheless, there is some kind of limitation here. It is worth noting, however, that no other entity in the Universe can overcome these limitations either, so God still retains His place as supreme being despite these logical necessities.

In conclusion, we'll examine the claim that God's Omni-s are incompatible with the characteristics ascribed to Him by Christians.

Most importantly, Christianity don't necessarily claim that God is unlimited. On the contrary, many of us understand God to be intrinsically limited. For example, we believe that God cannot be:

  • Temporary
  • Evil
  • Confused
  • Created
  • Apathetic
  • etc.

However, the fact that God cannot do certain things doesn't invalidate the claim that God is characterised by the various "Omni-s", it just clarifies what we mean by them. Nor does it make God anything but God.

Considering some of the characteristics of God that you mentioned:

Love: When the Bible says that "God is love", this doesn't imply that God is only love. Indeed, most Christians would say that God is also justice, for example. The important point here is that "God is love" doesn't imply that God can't hate. He loves us, certainly, with a love beyond measure. However, this in itself implies that he hates injustice, cruelty and other evils because not to do so would be unloving towards human beings. (The reason Christians often emphasise love is because we're interested in how God feels about us, not because love and hate are mutually exclusive). Love provides no challenge to God's omnipotence.

Goodness: Certainly, we believe that God cannot be evil. It would appear, then, that we humans can be something that God can't. However, it is reasonable to think of evil as an absence of goodness. From this perspective, for God to become evil he would have to limit his ability to be good. Therefore, His omnipotence would be reduced by his being evil rather than being enhanced by it. Furthermore, you could argue that whilst God cannot be evil (because that is against his nature), he certainly has power over evil, and in that sense he remains omnipotent.

Purity: When we talk about purity, we mean that God cannot be not-God. He must be completely true to Himself in all ways and at all times. Again, this doesn't limit his omnipotence any more than in the ways we've already discussed.

It is perfectly valid, then, to accept that God has certain characteristics - love, purity, goodness - whilst maintaining that God is Omnipotent etc. Indeed, it is arguable that these are freedoms rather than limitations.

--

Finally, I do want to address some of the minor misconceptions in the question.

First, your assertion that Schrödinger's cat is dead or alive but not both is in direct contradiction to the most commonly held interpretation of quantum mechanics, the so-called Copenhagen interpretation, which states that the cat is indeed both dead and alive until you look in the box.

Secondly, Christians don't typically make claims about what God looks like. (True, he wrapped himself in a human body to pay his creation a visit, and we can say something about the appearance of his "flesh suit". However, that says no more about God's appearance than my telling you that I sometimes wear a blue jumper tells you about the appearance of my kidneys).

Finally, you said that "only God understands how this can be" is not a valid answer. However, whenever we talk about the infinite we must contend with the fact that our minds are finite. We cannot possibly develop a complete answer to the kinds of questions you're asking. I appreciate that this is intellectually unsatisfying. Moreover, I would agree that recognising that our task is impossible is no excuse for providing no answer whatsoever. Nevertheless, when it comes to discussing God's limitations, we must first recognise our limitations. We may never be able to satisfy our longing for a full and complete answer in this area.

(What God demands of us, however, is that we live by the light we have received, and respond to Him in on the basis of the things we do understand about Him, regardless of how limited that understanding might be.)

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holy wall of text! +1 it's a good answer. –  user1054 Oct 11 '12 at 14:53

What you have described is the essence of what is known as "apophatic theology" or the via negativa. It is especially popular in Eastern Orthodox circles.

Rather than saying "God is love," for example, the preferred thought would be "God is not hate." Thinking of it graphically, to say God is Love, is to pigeonhole him in a circle that is "Love." To say, "God is not Hate" or "God does not hate," on the other hand, draws a circle around that which does not describe him, and assume he is everything else.

To say that God is not hate is a true statement. It affords consideration of the entire spectrum of love and indifference, whilest at the same time communicating the attribute of malevaloance and hatred does not characterize his nature.

This idea has a long history behind it, and can help expand one one's mind about the fullness of God, whilest still communicating a useful image - at least by understanding what he isn't, it affords space for what he is - namely loving - while not limiting him either.

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"God is omnipotent" does not mean "God is everything". If we say "God is good" then it means "God is not evil". It means "God does not do evil things", but that is a limitation imposed by his nature, and not by lack of power.

There is a word for the view that God is everything, and the word is Pantheism. It is not a part of Christianity.

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In the OT, God used to do things which could be considered evil. That is, if Satan did them they would be clearly evil. But since God did them, we don't call it that. Like the flood etc. –  user1054 Oct 11 '12 at 14:47
    
Most Christians would dispute that those things are in fact evil, but that is a huge and separate question. In any case it doesn't change the answer. –  DJClayworth Oct 11 '12 at 14:52
    
And I would add, Be careful not to take simplistic definitions too literally. Like Christians often say, "God is omnipotent, and that means he can do anything." Then we get all tied up over questions like, "If God can do anything, then can he sin? Can he make a triangle with four sides? Can he make a rock so heavy that he can't lift it?" Etc. But these aren't problems with Biblical theology. These are problems that we created for ourselves by defining a word in a way that leads to such logical contradictions. –  Jay Oct 19 '12 at 4:22

Let's take the comparison to a human level.

You could say @warren is male. Does that limit my Americanness?

Of course not!

God is Love. God is Omnipotent. God is Pure. God is Holy. God is many things - His attributes are myriad and perfectly displayed throughout His person.

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Well... what year is it? –  Ignatius Theophorus Oct 11 '12 at 1:53

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