Friday, July 22, 2016

Why God's Omniscience and Omnipotence Are Communicable Attributes

God's attributes are traditionally divided into two groups, at least in the theological circles I'm familiar with. He has communicable attributes, those he shares with us, and incommunicable attributes, those that belong to God alone. This system of categorizing God attributes isn’t perfect. None of God’s attributes are shared completely with us, even the ones we call communicable. And since we are made in God’s image, even his incommunicable attributes have slight human parallels. But this system, imperfect as it is, is the most common way of classifying the divine attributes, and it’s still a useful way of looking at them.

God’s incommunicable attributes are those like his aseity (or self-existence), his eternality, his immutability (or unchangeability), and his omnipresence. For the most part, the reasons these are incommunicable is self-explanatory. God’s self-existence, for instance, is nothing like our dependent existence, and in his eternality, he transcends time, while we are bound by it.
God’s omnipresence is incommunicable, too. But if all omnipresence meant was that God is "all-present"—or located in every place, omnipresence would actually be a communicable attribute. God would have unlimited location; he would be located in every place. And we would be located, too, but just in one space at a time.

But omnipresence doesn't just mean God exists everywhere. It means he is not contained in space. “But will God indeed dwell on the earth?” King Solomon prayed. “Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built” (1 Kings 8:27). The universe can’t hold God, not so much because it’s not big enough to hold him, but because “big enough” doesn’t apply to him. He is not spatial. In eternity past, without creation and without space (which was created by God when he created the world), God was everything he is now, omnipresence included. The universe can’t contain God because he is pure spirit. He has no physical dimensions.

Charles Spurgeon explained these two truths about the omnipresence of God—one, that he cannot be contained in space, and two, that his whole being exists everywhere—like this: “[God’s] circumference is nowhere, but his center is everywhere.”1 God relates to space like he relates to time. He acts in every moment, yet is beyond time, and he is present in every space, yet is beyond space. God transcends space just as he transcends time, so omnipresence, like his eternality, it incommunicable.

God’s communicable attributes are characteristics he shares with us as creatures made in his image. Since the fall of humankind, God’s image in us is distorted, and our ability to mirror his attributes is diminished, but it’s not completely gone. What’s more, when we believe, the Holy Spirit begins progressively restoring God’s image in us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:10), and as we grow more like him, we also become more capable of reflecting his communicable attributes.

For the most part, which of God’s attributes are communicable is self-explanatory, too. He is loving and we love. Yes, he loves with infinite, independent love and we love with finite, dependent love, but God loves, and in some small way, we image his love. God is holy, too, and he commands us to be holy. He is infinitely and independently holy and we can only be holy as we depend on him to make us holy, but still, when he makes us holy, we truly reflect his holiness. God's love and his holiness, then, and all the related attributes like righteousness, grace, mercy, etc., are communicable attributes.

It’s with God’s omniscience and omnipotence that classifying the attributes can get a little tricky. It may seem that omniscience should be an incommunicable attribute—after all, it starts with the omni prefix, and we certainly can’t be omni anything. But don’t be fooled by the omni in omniscience. Omni just means unlimited, and all God’s attributes, even the communicable ones, are unlimited. God’s omniscience is simply his unlimited knowledge. And it is a communicable attribute because God has also given us the ability to know. God has knowledge and so do we.

Omnipotence is another of God’s omni attributes that is communicable. Human beings have power—not, infinite power, of course, but finite power that reflects God’s infinite power in some ways. God uses his power to accomplish his purposes, and we use our physical and mental powers to achieve our purposes. Our power is finite, so we can’t do everything we want, but we do carry out plans with our power. God’s power fuels his dominion over the universe and our power fuels our God-mandated dominion over the world as his representatives. We rule God’s creation using the power he is sharing with us from his never-ending supply of power.

1] Spurgeon, Charles, “God’s Nearness to Us,” Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Spurgeon was paraphrasing a quote from Blaise Pascal: “Nature is an infinite sphere in which the center is everywhere, the circumference is nowhere.”

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