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Occasional musings drawn from the depths of my Reformed faith.
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God's Analogical Revelation of Himself

Posted 22nd March 2010 at 12:02 PM by AMR
In what way is God's personality an archetype of our own?

We possess attributes, albeit imperfect, that are also possessed of God, for man was created in the image of God. Hence we can come to understand something of the personal life of God through the contemplation of personality as we know it in man.

Is God's personality not beyond our understanding?
We cannot define God in the proper sense of the word, but only give a partial description. Indeed, it is impossible for man to have an exhaustive and perfect knowledge of God. To have such knowledge of God would be equivalent to comprehending Him. Although God is incomprehensible, we can know things about God, and this partial knowledge is real and adequate knowledge. When we describe certain properties of God, based on God's self-revelation, we use these properties in one of three ways: univocally, analogically or equivocally. Here are examples of the terms when applied to discussions of the properties of God:

1. univocally - the property of God means exactly the same thing in God or in man
2. equivocally - the property of God whose meaning is unknown to man
3. analogically - the property of God whose meaning is both similar and dissimilar to man

For example, when we acknowledge that God is a person, do we really mean God is a person in the same exact sense as we are? No.

When we adopt Scripture by using male pronouns to refer to God, do we really believe that God is a man? No.

Allow me to further motivate my reasoning.

I believe that when God reveals Himself to us, He reveals Himself to us analogically. In order to reveal Himself to us, God leverages the aspects that His created order reflects of Him, as its creator, especially humanity, so that we may know Him. Our language cannot exceed its own finitude. God uses human analogies to reveal Himself to us, taking hold of our hands, as it were, leading us to Himself. Just as God came down to man via the incarnation to save those who could not ascend to Him, God meets us in His Scriptures by descending down to our weakness: the finitude of our language when attempting to reveal the infinite. God’s use of our language correctly describes God, but it does not univocally describe God. Unless we are willing to univocally assign to God all properties of human personhood, all our reasoning about God must be analogical. We know God is both similar and dissimilar to us. Naturally, we are analogous [u]to God because, being made in God's likeness; we are similar and dissimilar to God. But, the analogy originates with God—He is the original and we are merely created images patterned after God’s likeness. Therefore, what we know of God can only be reasoned analogically.

Furthermore, those that would try to adopt the univocal approach to describing God invariably will tend towards rationalism. Persons uncomfortable with the analogical approach (e.g., proponents of open theism or budding philosophers) similarly hold to an autonomous view of knowledge. Such persons will decry, “How do we know if the analogies are fitting?” The underlying assumption of these persons seems to be that unless they can stand outside of the analogy and that to which it refers, they cannot determine its efficacy. These persons will conclude that if the property of, say, “good”, applied to both God and Valerie does not mean exactly the same thing (univocal), then only skepticism (equivocal) remains. For such persons, their autonomous epistemology requires either rationalism or irrationalism.

As stated above, I believe that everything that God has revealed of Himself to us has been revealed to us analogically. The analogical approach insists that, because the Scriptures are God speaking in human language, all analogies selected by God are proper whether or not we know the exact fit. We do not need something which we cannot possibly possess, namely, archetypal knowledge. Given that human knowledge is inherently ectypal, human knowledge is essentially analogical. God reserves univocal knowledge for Himself and His archetypal theology.

In what way are Jesus, The Father, or God persons?
God has communicated knowledge of Himself to man. The Scriptures (God's special self-revelation) do not present an abstract concept of God, rather they always describe Him as the Living God, who enters into various relations with His creatures, relations which indicate several different attributes of God. From God’s communicable attributes we find God is a conscious, intelligent, free, and moral Being, a Being that is personal in the strongest sense of the word.

I would offer several natural proofs for the personality of God:

(1) Our personality requires a personal God for its explanation. We are not self-existent or eternal, but are finite, having beginnings and endings. To account for the whole of the effect, the assumed cause must be sufficient. Since we are personal products, the power originating us must also be personal. Else there is something in the effect superior to anything that is found in the cause; and this would be quite impossible.

(2) In general, the world bears witness to the personality of God. The world’s entire fabric reveals the clear traces of an infinite intelligence, of the deepest, highest and dearest emotions, and of an all-powerful Will. Therefore, we are constrained to mount from the world to its Maker as a Being of intelligence, sensibility, and will, that is, as a person.

(3) Man’s moral and religious nature points to the personality of God. Man’s moral nature imposes a sense of obligation, an oughtness, to do that which is right, and this necessarily implies the existence of a Supreme Lawgiver. Man’s religious nature provokes him to seek personal communion with some Higher Being; and all the components and activities of religion demand a personal God as their object and final end. The fact is that things such as penitence, faith and obedience, fellowship and love, loyalty in service and sacrifice, trust in life and death, are meaningless unless they find their appropriate object in a personal God.

Yet while the above considerations are true and have some value as testimonies, they are not the proofs upon which theology rests in its doctrine of the personality of God. For these matters theology turns for proof to God's self-revelation in the Scriptures.

The word person is not applied to God in the Scriptures, yet there are words, such as the Hebrew panim and the Greek prosopon, that come very close to expressing the idea. At the same time the Scriptures testify to the personality of God in several ways. The presence of God, described in the Old and New Testament, is clearly a personal presence. The anthropomorphic and anthropopathic representations of God, while being interpreted so as not to eliminate the pure spirituality and holiness of God, could hardly be justifiably used, except on the assumption that the Being to whom they apply is a real person, with personal attributes, even though being without human limitations. In the scriptures God is represented as a personal God, with whom we can and may converse, whom we can trust, who sustains us in our trials, and fills our hearts with the joy of deliverance and victory. And, lastly, the highest revelation of God to which the Scriptures testify is a personal revelation. Christ reveals the Father in such a perfect way that He could say to Philip, "He who hath seen me hath seen the Father," (John 14:9).


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