Friday, August 13, 2010

Who Is God?

It is general practice to begin a study of systematic theology with the question of God.  To start, the most basic question to be answered can be put “Who is God?”  Usually, Christian theologians have stuck with the tried-and-true basic attributes.  For example, God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, impassible, and practically perfect in every way (did I just describe Mary Poppins?).   Now, I don’t necessarily disagree with these statements, I’m just not sure they are so important.  So if God is omnipotent, could he make a burrito so hot that even he couldn’t eat it?  Than one even tripped up Ned Flanders.  Please excuse my playful blasphemy.  But I think there is something more fundamental, more scriptural, and more important to understand about God.

The strongest definitive statement I can think of in all scripture is “God is love” (1 John 4:8).  To me this seems like a very simple, concise and powerful definition of God.  It could even be written as an equation: God = Love.  Blake Ostler is the only philosopher or theologian I know of who has begun a discussion of God from this premise [1].  And I think this is the best place to start for two reasons:

1.  It is accurate.
2.  It is essential.

First, it is accurate.  If you want to learn of God and understand God than learn to love.  Pray to be filled with this love “that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him” (Moroni 7 48).  There is a lot that can be interpreted from this scripture.  Is God literally love?  Is this any more than an abstraction?  I understand it to mean that God is loving, so loving that everything God is and does manifests pure love.  This is very comforting.  Proper understanding of grace and Atonement can be found in the context of a God of love.

Second, it is essential.  Worshipping God means to love God and to love our fellow man.  These are the first and greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-39).  This directly impacts one’s life.  Worshipping a God of love is essential.  I believe it is essential because to follow any god that is not love is to go after a false god.   To the extent that a religion teaches hate and division, that religion is false.  The more religion approaches the pure love of Christ, the truer that religion is to the one true God.

Christ himself revealed God in his own life (John 14:6-11).  There is a curious passage of scripture that is often quoted but not often noticed for its strangeness.  Jesus said: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34).  A new commandment?  Isn’t that a basic principle of the Gospel?  Was this something completely revolutionary?  Well, it sort of was and still is actually.  It’s not that this had never been mentioned before, but the message has always been a hard sell.  We have done pretty well with the God of Requirements throughout history, but we have had a harder time following the God of Love.  Slaughter a lamb, cut it up in pieces, burn some parts of it, eat other parts, no problem.  No beer, no smoking, no tattoos, no crazy hair-dos, no blue shirts in church, got it.  But love one another?  That is a new commandment, again and again, because we always forget it.  But Jesus revealed to us the true God, the God of Love.

Who is God?  God is love.  This is the most basic and fundamental attribute of God to comprehend.  It is this attribute that governs all other divine attributes.  Furthermore, it is this attribute that we, God’s children, are to take upon ourselves just as we take on the name of Christ.  “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).  This is really hard.  It’s a good thing we have a perfectly loving Heavenly Father to help us along the way.

[1] See Volume Two of Ostler’s Exploring Mormon Though: The Problems of Theism and the Love of God.  The reference is from the first chapter.

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