In this discussion I want to share with you my layman’s attempt to understand the Christian God in the very simplest of terms. Taking the most infinitely complex thing and trying to simplify it is, admittedly, a little ridiculous. However, I am a reductionist by nature and sometimes ridiculous things cannot be helped.
Let’s begin with a simple Venn Diagram. Draw a circle and label it ‘God’ on the inside and ‘Not-God’ on the outside. This may seem like a simple start, but if you think carefully about it, we’ve already run into two considerable problems.
The first is that If we are discussing the God of Christianity, He is infinite and cannot be confined within the bounds of the shape we’ve drawn. Putting God inside the circle suggests that the extent of things that are ‘Not-God’ are greater than the extent of things that are ‘God’.
The fix is easy enough. Let’s simply move ‘God’ to the infinite space outside the circle, and ‘Not-God’ to the limited space inside the circle. As silly as it may seem, this is an important point, because it sets up a proper perspective for the rest of our consideration. To be most accurate the circle that we’ve drawn should also be infinitely small, or non-existent (more on whether there can be a circle at all later). Since God is supposed to be infinite He should be infinitely more than what he is not. Thus in reality our circle of Not-God is little more than a spec or ‘Dot’ in the vast expanse of an infinite ‘Not-Dot’. This perspective is significantly unique from many other philosophies of the world. Many of other philosophies either make ‘good’ and ‘evil’ on equal and balanced footing, or dissolve the distinction altogether.
The second problem is that to be ‘omnipotent’ and above all things God cannot be confined at all. By restricting God from our ‘Dot’ we have created a limit on God. This is troubling. If we remove the distinction between the ‘Dot’ and the ‘Not-Dot’ then we lose all distinction between ‘Good’ or ‘Evil’ and the whole basis for Christian theology and morality disintegrates. If God is unbounded and represented by ALL things, then he cannot be much of anything in particular. However, if God is defined as being certain things and of a certain nature and as separated from others, then he cannot be truly infinite. Neither can He be omnipotent as he is in fact subject to a higher law, that being the law of Non-Contradiction.
The law of Non-Contradiction is a fancy philosophical tool that describes what everyone already knows and accepts without realizing it; that one thing cannot be both the same AND different from another at the same time and in the same way. It can be more precisely stated as follows: ‘A’ cannot be equal to ‘B’ and not equal to ‘B’ at the same time and in the same way. I can’t be here and there at the same time, and I can’t be exactly like you if you are not exactly like me. In our consideration, the law of Non-Contradiction declares that God cannot be both outside the Dot and inside the Dot at the same time and in the same way. If our circle defining God exists, then He cannot be both inside of it and outside of it without violating the law of Non-Contradiction. We could simply declare that God is above such philosophical laws and disregard the matter. While I beleive the previous statement to be true, I do not find hand waving of this nature to be a satisfactory resolution. This is a very important dilemma to resolve if we are to believe that God both exists and that he is ‘Good’.
If we were to rely exclusively on our own powers of thought, we would be forced to stop here and say that the Christian God is a contradiction in terms and cannot possibly exist. He is either a defined God of Good (Not-Dot), but is not infinite and omnipotent, or he is infinite and encompasses everything with no distinction between Good and Evil, in which case we must erase our Dot altogether. How could such an issue be resolved? If God is above the law of Non-Contradiction how can we trust that there really is a distinction? He could simple say ‘I am both the Good, and transcend the distinction between Good and Evil,’ but again this wouldn’t be very satisfying. Fortunately, He has gone to great lengths to not only declare that he can be both defined and transcendent of definition, but He has proved it.
To consider this, let’s first start by looking at our diagram of God in more detail. Taking our Dot and Not-Dot we can begin to fill in each respective zone. According to the doctrines of Christianity, God is Loving, Justice, Intelligence, and Goodness. These things can be placed outside of the circle. Likewise Hate, Injustice, Ignorance, and Evil can be placed inside of the circle, as can ‘Sin’ which encompasses anything that is ‘outside of the will and nature of God’. Furthermore, the concept of Heaven is described as a place of communion and unity with God, and belongs fully outside of the Dot. Meanwhile, Hell is described as a place of total absence from God and resides in the very center of the Dot.
Where does Humankind fall in our diagram? Since everything is supposed to have been created by God, Man must have been created by God. Assuming, for a moment, that God can be defined as the Not-Dot, it is reasonable to assume that God cannot create something that is not in his own nature or reflective of it. This means that Man was created ‘Good’ and outside the circle. But Scripture reports that man is unique in that he was made in God’s own image and given a free will. Where does free will fit in our diagram? Well, a truly free will cannot be forced to conform to God’s nature, so it cannot be in the Not-Dot. Neither is free will distinctly within the Dot. It is undefined until it acts. Where do we place Mankind in our diagram then? Things that are neither Not-Dot, nor Dot, must reside on the very line of distinction, on the edge of our circle. At the point of his creation Man and his free will stood at the very event horizon of the nature of God, on the precipice of good and evil.
Man was made with a free will that was neither good nor bad, he was placed on the boundary of God’s nature facing out and away from the Dot and into the infinite glory of God and his creation. When he chose to act in alignment with the Not-Dot he moved into that space while retaining the freedom to return or even cross the boundary of the Dot again. But how would you know you were free if you had no option to exercise it? Without the choice to move out of the Not-Dot and into the Dot, we would live forever wondering if we were autonomous free willed creatures or mere puppets under God’s control. To prove that we do indeed have free will, Man was given one rule, one direction that would keep him in the Not-Dot and one path by which he could cross that boundary into the Dot. In the scripture that rule is described as follows: ‘Do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’.
You may already be able to see the significance of that direction. In terms of our diagram it could be written as ‘Do not look at the Dot’. More than just an arbitrary rule to not eat a certain apple, mankind was expressly warned not to learn the difference between good and evil. God gave mankind everything he could dream of and an the infinite expanse of himself to explore and know and was asked only that he would not consider the things that are within the Dot. I do not believe that it was God’s intention to hide this part of His nature from man, instead I think that God knew what a difficult paradox it was to understand how He could be at the same time infinite and unbound and yet defined. I think that in the fullness of time God intended to bring us into such an intimacy, trust, and understanding of him that we would someday be able to bear the weight of that paradox.
However, that is not what happened. Mankind took of that fruit, he violated God’s will and invaded a secret place in the heart of God that was reserved for a special point in the relationship between mankind and God. The eyes of Mankind were opened to the boundaries of God, they were turned from the infinite expanse of God into the center of the Dot; and Man became confused and afraid. We still are.
Mankind was now wholly within the Dot, in violation of God’s will and nature. Instead of looking out at the expanse of the infinite Not-Dot, man faced into the Dot, his view of his creator was obscured and for the first time he saw the terrible justice that a distinction between good and evil requires of a good God.
This is where the story gets interesting. Mankind was and is now within the Dot and separated from God. How could God be Loving toward something that was outside, against, and opposite of Himself and still be Just? This is another reflection of that same paradox we began with. In order to be consistent with His boundaries He cannot embrace something that is in the Dot, something that is against His own nature. If he did the boundaries would be superfluous and all would be chaos.
Just as in the previous paradox, God could have chosen to be merciful simply say ‘I forgive you’. Just as before, some might feel that this simple acceptance would have felt hollow, particularly those of us who know just how undeserving we are. But again, God did something far more grand than simply declare himself transcendent. He proved it. He demonstrated that he COULD forgive us by exposing his transcendence in both paradoxes at the same time and in the same person.
The entire Christian faith rests on the life of Jesus Christ. In the scriptures we are told that Christ was completely God and completely man, and that he suffered the consequences of our sin so that we didn’t have to. Many of us have heard this over and over again, but let’s look at what happened from the perspective of our diagram.
Christ begins outside the Dot. He is God and is one with God. He is born as a human and becomes wholly God and wholly man, yet another violation of the law of non-contradiction. Unlike humanity, however, Christ’s will is perfectly aligned with God’s for they are one in the same. Thus, we can place Christ wholly outside of the Dot as a part of the Not-Dot. But while on earth Christ died as a sacrifice for the ‘sins’ of humanity. Above we discussed that the consequence of our moving out of the Not-Dot is separation from God. In that act of dying a human death and accepting the consequence of our choice to go against God, Christ moved into the very center of the Dot and was separated from God. This is the greatest violation of the law of non-contradiction possible. God himself, entered into his own absence. This one act not only absolved us of the consequences of moving into the Dot, but proves both that God can Love things outside of his own self and his own will (humanity), and that he is both transcendent of definition and definable as a God of Goodness and Love.
He demonstrated that no matter how far away from God’s boundaries we are, we are never too far for him to reach us. That is the essence of God’s Mercy, it is the demonstration of his glory and power by transcending his own boundaries to bring us back into Himself.
According to the scripture, however, that absolution and mercy isn’t applied directly to the entire human race. It is only given to those who choose it by choosing to follow God. Here again we see that God is defined by Love and Justice, but that he transcends to make a way for Mercy. If we surrender our free will to God we turn our eyes from the Dot back to the expansive Not-Dot and we can be brought with Christ back out of the Dot and into Gods presence once again.
The end result will be another amazing paradox in that we are promised that when we are fully glorified we will be unique creatures of free will distinct from God, yet living in harmony with and within Him. We will not be minute droplets of water that are lost as they fall into an infinite ocean. We will be both a part of that ocean and yet distinct within it. In humanity, God has always intended to prove that He is beyond definition in that we will be both within the Not-Dot and yet distinct from it. The closest thing we can draw in our diagram is a circle drawn with a dashed line in the Not-Dot. When we submit our free will to God He returns it to us and makes us both wholly a part of himself and yet unique and distinct within ourselves. We will be a part of the beautiful paradox.