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I am a Christian wrestling with some doubts lately, and this is one of the most difficult questions I have.

I have seen related questions like "Why does God desire glorification?" and "Does God need us?" but I'm not concerned with the why.

The commonly given answers to these types of questions are usually some sort of denial of need on God's behalf, and that he "wants" something. He created because he wanted to be glorified, to love us, for his pleasure, etc.

I cannot reconcile that a good, perfect, self-sufficient being would have want or desire. Desires imply something lacking, that when obtained, would add something. If I do not need something but want it, it still indicates there is lack, just not necessary lack. If there is something lacking, then there is not perfection.

Is there a Christian Doctrine that satisfies this quandary?

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Christianity Meta, or in Christianity Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Peter Turner
    Jan 30, 2023 at 21:09
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    I'd like to keep this question on topic, but applications to "logic" are classed in the general/philosophical category and not applicable to this site. Can you cite a particular Christian doctrine that this answer can use as a reference point? I'd imagine there's a way to ask this question and keep the fairly good answers on topic without potentially soliciting opinion or philosophical musings.
    – Peter Turner
    Jan 30, 2023 at 21:10
  • @PeterTurner I'm not sure the correct phraseology, but I guess the completeness, self sufficiency, perfect glorification of God in Himself, and general perfection of God as understood in Christianity? I'm sorry that I don't know how to put it better. I was attempting to do narrow it to the doctrine of God in my last paragraph
    – cma0014
    Jan 30, 2023 at 21:54
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    I think if the question changes from a "How" question to a "What" question it stays on topic, does that look OK to you?
    – Peter Turner
    Jan 30, 2023 at 22:22
  • Yes that looks great
    – cma0014
    Jan 30, 2023 at 22:35

2 Answers 2

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The 2 problems

You are correct that if there is something lacking, then there is no perfection in God, so God is perfect. It's also a well established teaching that creation is NOT to complete Him.

First problem: Does it mean God doesn't desire us? How can a God who doesn't desire us be said to love us? Can we understand such a love?

Second problem: Add to this, God's "desire" to be glorified, implied by the answer to Q.1. ("What is the chief end of man?") of the Westminster Shorter Catechism which says "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.", which can dangerously be misunderstood to imply that God is a vain deity who demands praise from His creatures.

The Biblical "data"

The standard mainstream answer, based on God's revelation of Himself in the Bible, that is processed into the classical doctrine of Divine Simplicity, is that God possesses the standard Christian divine attributes which include BOTH those implying perfection such as

  • Aseity ("God is so independent that he does not need us", Acts 17:25)
  • Immutable ("God cannot change", James 1:17)
  • Impassibility ("God cannot suffer" although God does suffer in his human nature, i.e. Jesus on the cross)

AND ALSO other attributes implying emotion:

  • Graciousness (Ex 34:5-6: God declaring himself to be "compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness")
  • Goodness ("God is the final standard of good, and all that God is and does is worthy of approval", which encompasses his kindness, love, grace, mercy and longsuffering (cf Louis Berkhof)
  • Love ("God is love", cf 1 John 4:16b, even the "fountain" of love since "We love because He first loved us", cf 1 John 4:19)

The 1st problem sharpened and answered

How can we understand logically that God is perfect YET having emotion (including love, compassion, etc.)? Trinitarian understanding of God conceives the Holy Spirit as the love that spirated between God the Father and God the Son, so in his immanent life God is Love himself. This love then FLOWS OVER into creation (part of God's mission, God's work, God's economy, etc.) which we can conceive as an "art" suffused with God's attributes of perfection, goodness, beauty, etc. which humans (possessing the image of God) can perceive in terms of those qualities, instead of perceiving creation as mere material atoms and energies.

Thus God's transcendence is preserved (creation is external to God) YET we can also say God is immanent in creation because God can be said to be 1) "present" as a particular thing's "ground of existence" (even in mountains, not just trees and animals and human beings) as well as 2) present in rational souls as the Being who has a one-on-one personal relationship with, in love.

True love desires the perfection and the happiness of the beloved as an outgrowth of our love for our own perfection and happiness (thus the greatest commandment: love your neighbor as yourself). True love is a GIFT to which the lover doesn't need recompense. Most human beings cannot love 100% disinterestedly (not is it required) but God can since God does not need us. His love is pure gift.

To His creation which we can like as God's "art", we can understand God's desire and love for us like an artist (say, Mozart) who creates a musical composition (such as The Magic Flute) that can be forgotten / appreciated without reducing/adding anything essential in Mozart's own person or perfection. But God / Mozart desires the recipient (us) to enjoy his musical creation and will be happier to see us becoming a better human being as a result. No analogies is perfect, but I think this best illustrates how God can create WITH desiring the creation's happiness but WITHOUT reducing His perfection.

The 2nd problem sharpened and answered

Recognizing creation as the OUTFLOWING of God's love, human beings naturally want to give thanks and to praise God out of the sheer recognition of the creation's beauty and its origin. God's "desire" to be glorified can then be correctly understood as a prescription for OUR benefit: that the proper functioning of our soul should include the worship of God as our natural response. To not worship and glorify our creator is a defect because it is unnatural not to give thanks to the agent of our existence (thus, it is natural to give thanks to our parents as a secondary agent of our existence). Since God desires our perfection (1st problem), God also desires our worship in this sense, i.e. for our salvation and for our ultimate pleasure as creatures.

P.S.

I still want to find a good resource that substantiate the above answer, which I will edit into this answer later. But I hope this answer is merely a clarification of a well established doctrine.

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  • Would you be willing to chat with me about this? It's fine if it's intermittent or interspersed. There are aspects of your answer that I think are getting me there, but I still have questions.
    – cma0014
    Jan 30, 2023 at 13:57
  • For example, in this paragraph, "To his creation which..." you are careful to linguistically differentiate between what is essential to God's character and what may make Him happier, but the problem is, perfection is not lacking essentials, it is lacking nothing, incapable of increase. To say that something makes God happier means that there is something outside Himself that is capable of causing increase to Him, and not only that, but it's an imperfect creation. This is why I explicitly said I was not concerned with questions about God's needs.
    – cma0014
    Jan 30, 2023 at 14:11
  • "God's "desire" to be glorified can then be correctly understood as a prescription for OUR benefit:" I don't think this can be the primary purpose. God desires us to glorify him because it is just, good, reasonable, etc. These ends are contained within God in keeping with His Trinitarian nature. Any utility simply flows from the goodness of the act.
    – Glorius
    Jan 30, 2023 at 16:47
  • @Glorius then doesn't that mean that things that are to our benefit increase something in God that He lacked otherwise? Why does our existence, let alone our benefit, matter to God at all of He is perfect in Himself?
    – cma0014
    Jan 30, 2023 at 16:50
  • @cma0014 Which part of what I said makes you think that?
    – Glorius
    Jan 30, 2023 at 16:52
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O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! (Luke 13:34)

The above is one of many biblical verses that express God's frustrated longing for mankind's response. Here it is a saying of Jesus (not God the Father) but the OT is replete with parental and marital analogies expressing God's broken Heart because of the failure of human fidelity. (e.g. Hosea 11:2-4, Isaiah 1:2-3, Gen. 6:6, Leviticus 20:26) How do we reconcile this evidence with the idea of an absolute, eternal, unchanging God?

For me the best answer is to understand that although God's love is absolute it remains incomplete, because it seeks an object in us, humanity. God is self-sufficient in terms of Being but s/He will not be absolutely "perfected" until humanity offers a sufficient response for God's happiness. This approach has something in common with Process Theism, in which God's goodness is not doubted by His perfection and self-sufficiency are understood as relational. The following is from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Process theism does not deny that God is in some respects eternal, immutable, and impassible, but it contradicts the classical view by insisting that God is in some respects temporal, mutable, and passible. The views of Whitehead and Hartshorne should also be distinguished from those that affirm that the divine being, by an act of self-limitation, opens itself to influence from the world. Some neo-Thomists hold this view and a group of Evangelical Christian philosophers, calling themselves “open theists,” promote similar ideas.

We may also see something of this idea in the work of the Jewish theologian Martin Buber, who taught: "God does not want to be believed in, to be debated and defended, but to be realized through us." In other words, God's existence is not completely realized until we ourselves come to fully resemble Him (which for Buber means to become holy, as God is also holy).

Admittedly, to accept this viewpoint requires a redefinition of traditional conception of divine absoluteness. But I see it as the best way to reconcile the biblical evidence of God's unfulfilled desires with the idea of His eternal and absolute Being.

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    God created in order to become complete? Jan 31, 2023 at 12:41

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