God is... Eternal/ A temporal
What is meant by "eternal" or "a temporal"?
God exists outside time, and can see the whole of history, what is happening in the present, and the future simultaneously.
Aquinas- Time and change are inseparable; since God is unchanging, he is also timeless.
Anselm- God is eternal because nothing can contain him.
Boethius- God is changeless and does not exist in time.
- Kenny- it doesn't make sense to talk of things being simultaneous in relation to a timeless God as this word refers to time.
- In Job, God talks about when He laid the Earth's foundations- this implies he has a past.
God is... Everlasting/ Sempiternal
What is meant by "everlasting" or "sempiternal"?
God is immortal, but exists within time and so cannot see the future. Instead, He can predict what our future actions might be based on his knowledge of how we usually act.
Kenny- The concept of time existing simultaneously for God is incoherent.
Swinburne- "Could not make much sense" of God as eternal, and instead argues for a more everlasting nature.
Wolterstorff- The only way to understand some of God's actions in the Bible is to understand them as free actions in response to human behaviour, suggesting God's actions involve the passing of time.
- This view results in a limited God who would be affected by flux and change.
- Augustine- God is beyond words like "before" and "after"
God is... omnibenevolent
What is meant by "omnibenevolent"?
God loves humanity unconditionally.
Moltmann- Christianity shows that God does not just sit outside of time being perfect and immutable. He gets involved with humanity and shares our pain. We may not understand the love of God but should be confident that it exists.
Psalm 62- "steadfast love belongs to you", Psalm 63- "your steadfast love", Psalm 118:1- "love endures forever".
- J.S. Mill and Hume- perhaps God is not benevolent because of evil.
- Hebblethwaite and Wiles- God cannot be benevolent and intervene in a dramatic way.
- Flew- religious believers over defend faith in light of evil and suffering.
God is... omniscient
What is meant by "omniscence"?
God can see everything. There are two types to this view, linked to the two types of eternal nature (everlasting and eternal)
Boethius- God "transcends all temporal change" and sees everything simultaneously.
Augustine- God knows we will sin but cannot intervene as this would remove free will.
Aquinas- "God sees all things together and not successively".
Molina- God cannot see the future but has "middle knowledge" and can see all possible outcomes of our choices.
Aristotle- God can see possible outcomes but does not know which will be the case.
God is... omnipotent
What is meant by "omnipotent"?
God is all powerful. There are 3 main interpretations of this:
God can do anything including the impossible- Descartes argued God can do anything including break laws of physics.
However, Mackie rejects this as there is no such thing as a logically impossible action so it tells us nothing.
God can do what is logically possible- God is infinitely powerful but not contradictory, according to Aquinas.
However, Geach rejects this as it relies on God having a perfect nature.
This is a statement of God's power- Kenny argues that "omnipotence" is best understood as a statement of God's power as he has every power it is logically possible to possess.
God is... simple
What is meant by "simplicity"?
God is immaterial, does not consist of separate components like humans, and is unchanging (immutable).
Aquinas- God signifies being/ exisiting. He does not have a body or characteristics. God is just God.
Augustine- God is immutable so cannot lose or gain characteristics.
Malachi 3:6- Suggests God is unchanging (“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.")
- How can a simple God react to humanity with prayers and miracles?
- Sometimes the Bible depicts an anthropomorphic (human-like) God, who walks in the garden of eden and reacts to human actions. This is inconsistent with a simple view.
Practice Exam Questions
1. Critically assess the traditional Christian concept of God being eternal. (35)
2. "If God knows all our moral choices in advance, then we cannot be justly blamed or rewarded for what we do." Discuss. (35)
3. Critically assess the problems raised by the belief that God is omniscient. (35)
4. "Boethius was successful in his argument that God rewards and punished justly". (35)
5. Critically assess the problems for believers who argue God is benevolent. (35)