On the "Nature" of God

Editorial Note:
When I first wrote this article, I was not immediately conscious of the historical theological useage and implications of the term, "the nature of God," or, "the nature of Christ." As it turns out, the topic of "the nature(s) of Christ" has been, and continues to be a major hot-button for those who hold a traditional theological position, be it reformed or otherwise. As for myself, I do not adhere to any particular established system of theology, except coincidentally as God has led my thinking along in accordance with what might have already been established by others... And that most often turns out to be in agreement with what most would today consider "Reformed Theology," but not always. 
Thus, upon first reading what I have written below, many reformed theologians are sure to proclaim that I have a flawed Christology, and that the substance of what I am saying is heresy. This is because what I am expressing regarding the "nature" of God flies in the face of some very important theological tenets of theirs, which comprise extra-biblical writings of men. While I understand that these extra-biblical writings are very important to them, the reader must understand that, whereas I might be contradicting their church fathers, I am not contradicting the Holy Scriptures. I am merely offering yet another vantage point from which to view them. 
The crux of the issue falls here: on the use of the word "nature."

For all of my Christian walk I have done battle with my "natural man." And I don't think I'm alone here. The flesh and the spirit are at enmity with each other. Though my natural inclinations would often produce certain distinct behavior, my spiritual inclinations often tend to suppress my natural inclination—if I, by God's grace, allow it—resulting in different behavior; viz., more spiritual behavior. 
See, it appears that we Christians understand that our nature is fallen. In other words (and according to our common understanding) we are potentially captive to our nature, which was ruined at Adam's and Eve's fall due to sin. We were born into sin, and every bit of evidence bears this out. It is in our nature. Thankfully, however, God has provided a remedy. Thus we are able, with God's help, not only to transcend our nature, but ultimately to have our very nature transformed into a new nature—a divine nature. 
What this means to me is that whereas my nature imposes certain criteria and constraints upon my character and myself, which must be overcome in order for me to live a life of any spiritual value, I am, in my natural state, nonetheless completely incapable of transcending my nature, which has been externally imposed upon myself. It is my nature, and I am stuck with it, like it or not. 
But the gospel message—correct me if I'm wrong—is that God has provided a means for us to be freed from our nature. And in the end He shall give us a new nature, a divine nature. Once our nature is divine, there will never again be any inclination to sin. 

So now, understanding that nature is a thing which imposes certain and specific limitations upon the one who has it… how shall we discuss "the nature of God"? Since we know that God is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, etc., how shall we consider His nature, as though it were externally imposed upon Himself—and by whom?!

THIS is the problem with discussing the "nature" of God. THIS is the problem with attributing any kind of nature to the godhead. We know, for instance, that "God cannot lie," for we have scripture to back us up in this assertion. But why? Why can God not lie? Is it because it would be against His nature to do so? My answer is, "NO!" It is rather because of God's character, not His nature (as though He had one, impressed upon Himself by... [someone?]). The fact is that God chooses to be truthful, and thus, He is the God of truth. It is His choice. It is not His nature. It is His choice. It stems from His character, which is perfect. It does not stem from His nature, which, if it existed, would have to be externally imposed upon Himself. So when I assert that God has no nature, this is what I am saying.

Now, if we relax our definition of "nature" to something like "the general character of the behaviors, opinions, and activities of an individual, which characterize and are able to reliably predict his actions," then I suppose we might be able to discuss the "nature" of God in a rational way. However, since the scriptures clearly delineate the difference between "the natural man" and "the spiritual man," I find it necessary to adhere to a more strict definition of "natural" and "nature."

Nature is largely deterministic in nature, is it not? Trees grow upward, beavers build dams, bees produce honey. Someone predetermined these outcomes. So who predetermined God's goodness? Who told Him to be good? Who told God to sacrifice His own Son for the redemption of our souls? Is He acting according to His nature, or is He acting in full, unabated, un-monitored, unsupervised accord with His perfect character, the God of love, the God of perfection...?!? God has no nature, as we comprehend the meaning of nature. That is my assertion.

I understand that I will be called a heretic by those who have made themselves subject to the semantics of a given theological statement which (in my opinion) misuses the word "nature" in attributing it to God.

In summary, I prefer to submit myself to a God who acts according to His own liking, knowing in faith that He is good, than to a god who is subject to a nature that fortunately turns out to be good due to His nature, which was imposed upon himself by some external set of rules. In the end, of course, these rules are ostensibly imposed by ourselves, based on what we know about God. Thus the theologians may have firmly undefined God, for He is no longer self-determinant, being defined by our own parameters, rather than by His own choice.

Now, to the original article...

——————

In the midst of a discussion about the nature of God, someone recently said, "God didn't choose to exist the way he does, he just exists."

No, I vehemently object!  I say that God chooses to exist the way He does.

Right here, right out of the gate, I declare this: That God has no Nature (as we understand and use the word, nature)!

Far too often, I believe, we find references in theological writings to the nature of God, the nature of the Godhead, the nature of the Trinity, etc., etc. I am personally tired of reading these commentary references—not because the references are necessarily incorrect in their overall analysis—but because "nature" is the wrong word! God has no nature, and the sooner we can get this issue settled in our minds, the sooner we will be able to begin to comprehend the beautiful character of God, our creator.

God Can Do Whatever He Wants

So let's get something straight: God is omnipotent. He is all-powerful. He can do, and does, whatever He wants. With His power and position over us and all creation, He is able to wipe us out from existence on a whim if He so chooses. He's God Almighty, is He not? The heavens and the earth were created by His word, so could not a single word of His end all existence that we know of? Of course it could, for He is God. Let us not be so arrogant, so presumptuous, as to think otherwise!

Some of us might like to read about "the nature of God," and find solace in the fact that our God is a loving God, who does not take pleasure in our destruction. And since this is God's nature, we are happy to learn that He is constrained to love us, as though by some external "law of nature" by which He must necessarily abide—because it's His nature to do so.

To this, I say, "Hogwash, people!" Wake up! God is God! He is not constrained by nature, or some kind of nature, as though it were imposed upon Him by some external law or laws of nature, as though something or someone set it all up that way.

Quite to the contrary:

If God is constrained, it is by His Own Choice.

And yes, I believe that God has constrained Himself. It's called self control, and it is one of the hallmarks of godliness even among men.

If "God didn't choose to exist the way he does, he just exists," as one has said, then by what rule, or by whose decree does He "live and breathe and have His being"?  Of course we know that it is by His own decree, and by His own rule.

Our Moral Imperatives

There must be a moral imperative for God to exist and behave in the manner in which He exists and behaves, else there is nothing moral about His existence or behavior. Whence proceeds this moral imperative? Of course we know that God is the living definition of all moral imperatives. The moral imperative governing God's behavior proceeds from God Himself. The only way this can be true is if God chooses, voluntarily and of His own volition, to abide by His own moral imperatives.

If, on the other hand, this moral imperative derives from something external to God, and God's behavior is simply pre-wired, cast in stone, predetermined, requiring no decision-making on His part, then something or someone must have cast that stone into the shape it is in. This description of God requires a super-god, not necessarily to supervise God (since He really has no choice in the matter), but to have been there to set things up the way they are. If this is your god, then your god is a god of instinct, acting instictually in accordance with his nature. You might as well worship any given animal.

Faith Is the Issue

I believe that there is a driving force behind our reluctance to accept the fact that God (being omnipotent) has the potential ability to act outside of His own moral law. I believe this driving force boils down to a lack of faith. If we don't trust that God will always choose right, then the verses that tell us God cannot lie, for instance, automatically point our minds to His inability, rather than to His perfect character. If God is incapable of lying, then we can relax, cast aside any concerns about His trustworthiness, and thank our lucky stars that there are some things of which God is incapable.

Could Jesus have Sinned when Tempted?

It's a question often asked, and often answered wrongly, I believe. Many will say something to the effect that "… in His human nature, he could have sinned, but due to his god-nature, it was impossible for Him to have sinned when tempted."

But I don't believe you can reconcile a disabled Christ with an omnipotent God. For this reason, the question of whether Jesus, the man, could have sinned has only one answer: Of course He could have sinned, had He chosen to. Fortunately for us, He never did. Is this because that for Him to have sinned would have been contrary to His nature? No. It is because that for Him to have sinned would have been inconsistent with His character, which is perfect and impeccable. Only for that reason may we consider the event of Jesus sinning to be or to have been impossible! —not because He is incapacitated by some external constraint or "nature."

And the same concept applies to God the Father. We may use the words "cannot" or "impossible" to describe things that we know God shall never do, but these words are reflective of our human logic (our thinking and language) rather than of God's potential ability. God is not constrained by His nature. Rather, He acts in ways consistent with His character.

God is love. God is perfect, according to His own definition of perfection, not ours, not someone else's. God is Judge. He does not sit before some higher court. The sooner we come to grips with this truth, the sooner we come to understand our place before Him. For we shall in no wise appeal to some theological precept which would constrain Him on our behalf. Our appeal, our plea, is unto Him. Him! Thus, when He says, "I have provided a means for your salvation," let us cling to the cross of Calvary!

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. No creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens — Jesus the Son of God — let us hold fast to the confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.

—Hebrews 4:13‭-‬16 HCSB

And David, who has been commended by God's Word as being "a man after my own heart," had this to say after being confronted with his own sin of adultry and murder:

Wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin. For I am conscious of my rebellion, and my sin is always before me.

Against You — You alone — I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight. So You are right when You pass sentence; You are blameless when You judge.

Indeed, I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me.

Surely You desire integrity in the inner self, and You teach me wisdom deep within.

Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones You have crushed rejoice.

Turn Your face away from my sins and blot out all my guilt. God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not banish me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore the joy of Your salvation to me, and give me a willing spirit.  Then I will teach the rebellious Your ways, and sinners will return to You.

Save me from the guilt of bloodshed, God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing of Your righteousness.

—Psalms 51:2‭-‬14 HCSB

This is not an appeal to God's nature. It is a plea before God's character, a personal plea, humbly calling upon the righteousness and the loving-kindness of the omnipotent God of all creation.

So let us not so much as think about the "nature of God." Rather, let us ponder the beauty and impeccability of God's character. For He is righteous in all His ways, and His judgments are true, just, and irrefutable.

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