The following message was given by me during the “Life, love and praise” worship evening at the Strand Church, Dawlish on Friday 18th September 2015.
In our worship we’ve been focusing on who God is, the characteristics of God and His personality. Many of these we can relate to: He is the good, good Father; He loves and is loved; He is deeply relational; He is a Creator God, delighting in making things and giving life; He is emotional, feeling righteous anger and unbounded joy. We relate to these because we share these characteristics with God to some extent. Theologians refer to these as the communicable attributes of God.
On the other side of this coin, however, are the incommunicable attributes – characteristics that are very different when comparing God and man – and these often have long words to describe them. God is omnipotent, all-powerful, whereas our powers are very limited; God is omniscient, all-knowing, whereas there is much that we don’t understand; God is omnipresent, everywhere in space and time simultaneously, whereas our lives are bounded spatially and temporally; God is a trinity, three Persons in one Being, whereas we are only one person.
These incommunicable attributes are much harder to relate to and it can be useful to try to describe them by analogy. One model for the Trinity, for example, is that a triangle is made of 3 lines, each distinct but each equally and intimately forming a single triangle, and without any one of which the triangle ceases to exist. This explains in a sense how three things can be one object, but with all such analogies we get a better grasp on one attribute by minimising another: in this case our triangle is spatially bounded, for example. Ultimately, God is God and our limited experiences and language are insufficient to describe Him.
Arguably the attribute most difficult to grasp is God’s omnipresence. The difficulty is less the idea that God is present everywhere spatially – air is a little like that – but that God is everywhere temporally. More precisely, every moment is the present for God.
Understanding this solves many of the objections about how God acts in the world. For example, free will isn’t violated by God watching what you do in the future as you do it – it’s just that for God, that moment is as much the present as our “now” is. In this sense then, God stands outside the great vista of space and time whilst seeing it all and acting in it at every moment simultaneously.
And this again is where language fails us, because our very language of action is bound up in actions taking a certain amount of time and happening at specific moments in time. However, this cannot be true of God’s own actions as He stands outside of time. In a very real and literal sense, God is even now creating the world, and dying on the cross, and rising from the dead, and winning the final battle because He is acting presently in every moment in time and space.
We see therefore, for example, how the creation narrative in Genesis is imperfectly described by human language – because it doesn’t take God any length of time to do anything – but is also perfectly compatible with the scientific evidence for evolution. Both statements – either that God took 6 days or 14 billion years to create the universe – are equally wrong and fail to comprehend God’s omnipresence and the way in which He acts.
My favourite picture for the way that God acts in the universe is like a painter placing brushstrokes on the vast canvas of space-time, or perhaps a potter shaping the universe. Each interaction affects the past, present and future as space-time is moulded according to our Creator’s will. And as we live through it, God is dynamically creating his masterpiece, to which He is, even now, putting the finishing touches.
Unlike the characters in a painting, however, we can choose to cooperate with or oppose the will of the painter. If we let Him, God will patiently, painstakingly add the layers of detail that will result in us becoming that perfect image of Christ we are designed to be. But if we oppose Him, we will look grubby, smudged, crude and destined ultimately to be painted over as God completes His final heaven and earth. The choice is very much yours.