HOT TOPIC: God's Nature vs His Character

michael_legna's picture

In another thread we veered off ending up discussing the Nature of God esepcially His omniscience and omnipotence.

I hold that God is ALL powerful and ALL knowing and He just chooses not to do somethings and to not know certain things when it suits His plans.

The other side of the argument is that there are certain things God cannot do, like sin. That it is not just Him choosing to not sin but that He is completely incapable of sin, that it is an actual limit to His omnipotence and omniscience.

This thread is meant to give all an opportunity to present arguments for either side.

I will begin by posting a few responses to the last few posts of one other poster in the previous thread.

michael_legna's picture

Truth and sin and goodness and evil are parts of creation

JeffLogan said -
Dan, I'd like to comment on both positions.
Dan summarized Jeff's position as follows:
"1. One of you is saying God could not remain God if He sinned, or lied. That by definition God is all good and therefore He cannot sin or lie. Scripture says God cannot lie. If God were go lie would He stop being God? Does that reflect Jeff's position right?"
That is basically my position.
Another writer has stated it this way.

"Can God be limited? Many Bible passages proclaim that God is all-powerful, all-seeing, and all-knowing. While God is unlimited by time, space, or force, His very character has determined that He will never do some things, because to do them would be inconsistent with His principles—viz., God’s nature prevents Him from such things. For example, God cannot lie."

-God Cannot Lie, by Caleb Colley, M.L.A.
Source: as of 4/2/2011.

The writers confuses character and nature so his argument is seriously flawed. To have a perfect will does not mean one cannot be tempted, it only means He will never succumb to temptation.

JeffLogan said -
Then he cites the following passage of scripture.

Numbers 23:19: “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”

Perhaps you should have read my response since I show this (when reconciled to other verses) supports my position not yours. This does not mean God will lie or will repent, but that it is certainly within His capabilities.

1 Samuel 15:29: “And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent.”

Just as He should not repent we see He should not relent, but then we know He does consider repenting in several places in the Bible and this would not makes sense to do if He is incapable of repenting – and God does not do things which do not make sense. So this verse again supports my position not yours.

Psalm 92:15: “To declare that the Lord is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.”

No unrighteousness can be in Him by choice, not forced upon Him by His lack of free will. In fact for Him to have to be righteous due to His nature and not due to a choice by Him removes the value of such righteousness. It would be like saying God is love and so He must love. To do so makes love out to be a forced act and that is not true love. In fact there is as much scripture to describe God as being Love and all Loving as there is to support Him as incapable of lying, and yet we know God does not love all men or everything in creation.

Malachi 3:6: “For I am the Lord, I do not change.”

Yes but this applies to being all powerful as much as it does not lying so it supports both sides if any at all.

Romans 3:4: “Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar.”

Again this can come by His free choice, it does not require God to be forced to be true.

Titus 1:2: “[I]n hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began.”

This was the first verse you offered for me to consider and I provided other verses to consider so you did not interpret it in isolation but you have yet to reconcile those verses to your position.

Hebrews 6:18: “[I]t is impossible for God to lie.”

Lets look at a little more of this section of scripture and not interpret this partial verse in complete isolation even of its surrounding context.

Heb 6:17-18 17 Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: 18 That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:

Seeing it in context we have to ask something things. First is why should God give an oath when He is incapable of lying? An oath is something one gives to assign a penalty to those who do not perform the oath. Just a little redundant don’t you think. Are we now accusing God of doing meaningless redundant acts too?

JeffLogan said -

James 1:17-18: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”

Again we cannot interpret verses in isolation grabbing on to the first verse we find that matches our position. This verse could easily be teaching that God’s will is so strong He will never succumb, and that would still result in no shadow of turning.

JeffLogan said -
Dan summarized ML's position as follows:
"2. The other is saying that for God to be God He can, by definition, do what He pleases. He chooses not to sin but He could sin if He chose to do so. God would remain God no matter what His actions were. Is that Michael's contention?"

JeffLogan said -
It seems inconceivable to us that God could be incapable of doing anything. After all, scripture even states that "with God all things are possible." ML's case presents God as All-powerful and reasons thusly that being All-powerful places no limits on what God can do, not even when it comes to evil (sin of lying). But sin is not a strength, it is a weakness.

JeffLogan said -
Men do not sin by choice, they do it by nature through weakness of moral character.

This is not true. Man sins by choice. Now it is true that men’s will is damaged by original sin (prior to baptism) but even then it is not completely destroyed and therefore it is not true that every single act prior to baptism is a sin – which is the result of accepting your claim.

JeffLogan said -
They cannot choose to be free of sin; they are captives to it and cannot free themselves from its bondage. Thus, they have no choice but to sin. This is not a position of strength but of utter helplessness.

Yes, but that is a result of one man succumbing to temptation, that is not a state God finds Himself in because He has not succumbed to temptation. Prior to the fall Adam had free will and did not sin. If Adam had a had a perfect will he would not have succumbed to temptation and so the same is certainly possible for God.

JeffLogan said -
Only someone who is weak can be over-powered by sin.

Only someone who has a weak will. It does not require them to be weakened in other ways, a weak will would be sufficient and so too as perfectly strong will would be enough to keep them free of sin. Thus my position for God results in the same as yours and does not require us to deny His omnipotence.

JeffLogan said -
Saying that God cannot sin does not therefore limit His Omnipotence but reaffirms it.

How? You have offered no reason for such a conclusion. Saying God chooses not to sin confirms His almighty will, relegating this power to His inability to sin, removes His free will.

JeffLogan said -
Another point. Sin is the transgression of God's law. God's laws is based upon the principles of love and truth which are the very essence of His nature.

They are the essence of His character.

JeffLogan said -
The two greatest laws being, "Love the Lord with all your heart," and "love thy neighbor as thyself." Scripture tells us that "God IS love." God does not merely love, the very expression of His essence is love. And Jesus said of Himself, "I am the Truth." But of Satan He said, "he was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies." John 8:44 NLT.

God does not have to love and He does allow lies to be used on His behave as I have shown you in scripture which you have yet to reconcile to your position.

JeffLogan said -
God's consistency of character is directly attributable to His very essence. His goodness cannot be overcome by evil. And yet it is not by will-power that God restrains Himself from evil. God is pure and cannot be tempted by evil. There is nothing in His nature or character which is flawed such that sin would find a resounding chord in Him. Jesus said that the prince of this world could find nothing in Him.

I do not see that you have offered enough support for this conclusion and nor have you addressed the scriptures which seem to contradict such a conclusion.

Barnes' Notes on the Bible
John 14:30
Hath nothing in me - There is in me no principle or feeling that accords with his, and nothing, therefore, by which he can prevail. Temptation has only power because there are some principles in us which accord with the designs of the tempter, and which may be excited by presenting corresponding objects until our virtue be overcome. Where there is no such propensity, temptation has no power.

Yes that property is the strength of our will.

Barnes' Notes on the Bible (continued)
As the principles of Jesus were wholly on the side of virtue, the meaning here may be that, though he had the natural appetites of man, his virtue was so supreme that Satan "had nothing in him" which could constitute any danger that he would be led into sin, and that there was no fear of the result of the conflict before him.

That thing which was lacking in Him was a weak will. That is the weakness we should be focused on that God lacks. Not try to make the lack of omnipotence seem to be a strength as you are doing.

JeffLogan said -
[begin edit] I would like to add that Jesus, while fully man and fully God, had no propensity to sin and did not through exercise create an appetite for sin. He took upon Himself the likeness of our sinful flesh weakened as it was by sin but He did not take our sinful nature--something claimed for Mary.

I am sorry what are you saying is claimed for Mary?

JeffLogan said -
He was without sin. He subjected Himself to temptation but evil found nothing in Him that touched a cord. As the Last Adam, Jesus was born without sin. He posssed the same nature Adam had at creation. He was perfect in all His ways. Yet, He took upon Himself the likeness of our sinful flesh. He faced temptation but did not yield. He did not entertain the seeds of doubt nor embrace the lies which Satan offered Him.

Don’t be too quick in your absolute interpretations of verses in isolation. Are you forgetting the prayer in the garden – the verse I offered and you still have not shown how to reconcile with your position.

Luk 22:42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.

It not only shows Christ entertaining seeds of doubt but it shows God the Father as being capable of changing the entire plan of salvation if He wanted to. God has the power and authority to do anything He wants to.

JeffLogan said -
His constant watch-word was the Word of God. He came to redeem the human race as the second Adam by offering us a new heritage. He walked the same path the original Adam had walked on behalf of all mankind but unlike the first Adam He never sinned, nor even stumbled.

All this could have been done by a perfect will, it does not require a limiting of free will by an absolutely limiting nature.

JeffLogan said -
As God His Divinity precluded Him from evil. But as man He could face the same temptations we face. Scripture says that He was tempted in all points just as we are.

Hebrews 4 NIV
14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
[end edit]

And He could not sympathize with our weakness if the temptations were not real. Now temptations to do something which one is utterly incapable of doing are not real. I cannot be tempted to destroy the universe since it is completely outside my ability and thus I suffer no temptation. But I have within my power the ability to do others things which would be improper and because I have those capabilities I am truly tempted. Therefore for Jesus to be tempted He had to have the capability of sin, or it would not be true temptation and He thus could not sympathize.

JeffLogan said -
Many think that sin is what we do, some outward deed or word. But the truth is sin dwells in our hearts. We are the bad tree which cannot produce good fruit, the sour well which cannot bring forth sweet water. It is out of the heart than sin boils to the surface and overflows into the life.

Matthew 15
17“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ 19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’”

Yes it resides in our intent and not just the act, but that has nothing to do with nature but with free will.

JeffLogan said -
[begin edit] It is God's nature which defines righteousness and therefore it also defines sin. Whatever is contrary to God's nature is sin.

You cannot use your own definition as support for your position. You have to show that your definition is the correct one.

JeffLogan said -
Sin is the absence of righteousness, of godliness.

Sin is missing the mark, not doing what the standard has been established as. This means not doing what God has determined to be morally right for us. But this can be decided by God as what is right based on His free will.

JeffLogan said -
It is not something God refrains from but something absolutely opposed to His very nature. The natural man is not pure, nor good, nor can it live in harmony with God's will. [end edit]

As Socrates asked in his dialog Euthyphro - "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?" Your answer is that God loves truth because it is the absolute. It determines His nature. I argue that things are true because God loves them. In other words God is the absolute and determines truth not the other way around.

JeffLogan said -
This is why we need to be reborn. We were born of Adam our natural father and he passed on to us our sinful nature. He could not pass a righteous nature to us because he did not posses one.

But God is not like us – we are like God, but only in part. God was not born with the stain of original sin on Him, in fact He was not born at all. He preexists everything, including truth and sin and everything. That means He created them too, He decided what they would be, and He has the power and authority to destroy all of creation and even recreate it right now and do it in such a way we never even know it happened. Truth and sin are what He makes them, He is absolute - not them.

JeffLogan said -
But Jesus is pure. There is no sin in Him. When we are reborn of Jesus we partake of His nature.
Even then we are not sinless and that is because we do not have His perfect will. As Paul said -
Rom 7:15-25 15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. 16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. 17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. 19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. 20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
We see Paul bemoaning the weakness of his will which does not keep him from sinning.

JeffLogan said -
It is then that we can produce good fruit and sweet water, for Christ dwells in our hearts by faith. And with Him living in us it is no longer us who lives but Christ living in us. It is His goodness which comes out of our reborn heart.

But we see above even Paul did not always produce good fruit and sweet water so you are once again taking a verse in isolation and reading it as an absolute instead of reconciling your interpretation of this verse with the rest of scripture.

JeffLogan said -
Satan had tried to overcome the Last Adam as he had overcome the 1st, but he could find nothing in Jesus to lure him onto his grounds and thereby overcome him and cause him to sin against His Father in Heaven.

No He found an unbreakable will. There would have been no reason for Satan to even try to tempt Him if he knew God was incapable of sin.

JeffLogan said -
Jesus overcame where the 1st Adam had failed. In all points His character was tested but He has no sin.

Character – not nature.

JeffLogan said -
Satan tried every allurement known to overcome man but none of these found any response in Christ for He was pure--that is, free from sin.

Being free from sin was both His starting state and the result, but it was due to His will, not His nature else there is nothing virtuous about such a forced existence.

JeffLogan said -

It is inconsistent with God's very essences for Him to partake of evil. Evil is contrary to God, two opposites. Evil would necessarily be present in Him, along with the good, for Him to be capable of choosing between the two.

Evil is not a substance or even an entity to be something God can be made up of. God is not made up of anything. Goodness and evil are judgments by God on an intent or action.

JeffLogan said -
But if this were the case then not only would He be a house divided but He would also be unjust to condemn in us something that resides in Him. So to suggest that He merely restrains Himself from evil, neccesitates that both natures co-exist in Him.
Again I have to remind you that evil and goodness are not absolutes in the same way God is, they are part of creation. If they are such that God had to form creation in a specific way then they are above God and that is not correct.

JeffLogan said -
Therefore, I reject all notions, however slight they be, that God can do evil and He only restrains Himself from doing it. For that suggests that God is not pure but that both evil and good dwell in Him.

Why do you say that. Evil and Good are not real entities as if they could exist within us, they are judgments of our actions and intents which are real. If Good was an entity and existed within God so as to limits Him in His choices then it would be superior to God. It would become the absolute and not God. It would in effect become God’s God because it would become the final arbitrator of His actions in much the same sense He is of our.

JeffLogan said -
And that is not the picture of God presented in scripture.

Oh but that is not the case at all, it maybe the picture of God presented in the small sample of scripture you have considered but that is only because you have not tried to reconcile the verses I have offered which say that God can repent of an idea which appears to be prohibited at the same level as His lying is.

JeffLogan said -
And am I glad! "While God is unlimited by time, space, or force, His very character has determined that He will never do some things, because to do them would be inconsistent with His principles—viz., God’s nature prevents Him from such things."

Character is often expressed by the saying “It is what you decide to do when you know no one is watching.” This being limited by ones principles or character is a decision of free will. If it is not the result of a free will choice character becomes meaningless because it we cannot be held responsible for our forced choices. To limit God to being without free will even in decisions of morality is to limit God to being less than the absolute.