Tuesday, September 10, 2013

God "Is": And We "Are" Only In Relation To God

Of God
"God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’”  Exodus 3:14

I've always loved this passage, because it demonstrates one amazing thing about the universe: There is no frame of reference that can define God.

When we describe things, we do so by placing them in a larger frame of reference, by relating them to something already known. We say, "The sun is a big yellow ball in the sky," because we are speaking to people who already understand what "big," "yellow", "ball," etc. already mean. We describe things in relation to something else.

But that method falls flat when it comes to describing or defining God. Moses asks God who he is, and God replies by merely saying "I am ME." Because there is no "larger frame of reference" that we can use to really define God as he is. There is nothing that God exists under, no larger category of things, that we can use to make sense of him.

And since we know that this God is also the creator of everything, we can arrive at another awesome truth: God Himself is the definition by which everything else is defined.

Of Creation and Humanity

Everything is ultimately defined by its relationship to God. The easiest example is the word we use to describe the universe, a word so integral to our idea of the universe that it was inescapable even by Darwin himself: "Creation." The core essence of the universe and everything in it is defined by that one word: Its relationship to its creator is not merely one of many attributes, but the core identity of the thing itself.

Of course, this extends to humanity itself. We are, at bottom, created beings. And we are defined by our relationship to our Creator. Karl Barth says it in a particularly awesome way:

"The being, life and act of man is always quite simply his history in relation to the being, life and act of his Creator."

Everything about us is defined in relation to our Creator and our God. We cannot be defined apart from him; We do not act apart from him; We do not even exist apart from him. We are not "Creations of God, and etc." Everything that I am, I am in relation to God.

Of Knowledge and Love

This means, of course, that accurate knowledge of humanity must, by necessity, be grounded in accurate knowledge of God. Human existence is derived from God and God only, and any claim to knowledge of humanity without a corresponding knowledge of God will be faulty and incomplete.

And, also by necessity, any attempt to bring about the good of humanity requires a true and accurate knowledge of humanity. Which means that any attempt to bring about the good of humanity, or of any one person in particular, requires a knowledge of God.

Which means that any attempt to simply "love" humans, to do away with "confining, divisive theology" and simply get on with the business of "love", is a non-starter. 

To love someone is to desire their good. And this isn't just desiring good feelings, but real, actual, capital "G" GOOD. Loving someone is to desire for them to fulfill their identity, to be who they were created to be, to do what they were created to do.

It has to do with ultimate Good, and that means that it has to do with God. For how can you know what is "Good" for someone until you know what they are, and what they are for? And how can you know what they are until you know who created them, and what they are for until you know what they were created for?

It always comes back to God and our knowledge of him. It always comes back to the dogmatic letters of Paul and his dogged claim to faith and truth, to the hard, unyielding truths that Jesus proclaimed over and over again, though it drove his followers away.

And we would do well to remember that while God is, indeed, Love, that does not mean that everything that we call "love" is God.


James (see below) makes the valid point that non-Christians can (and do) show true, real love every day. And, of course, people attempt to show love every single day (and often succeed).

However: When push comes to shove, we have to affirm that "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick." And when we try to love well, to work for the Good of our beloved, the ultimate guide for that has to be our knowledge of God. If we try to work backwards from our own love and our own heart and use that as a portrait for God, we're going to end up with a lie, and a desperately sick one at that. We have to work from our knowledge of God, and use that to effect love.


  1. Do we need correct knowledge to love well? If God is love, and we love well, can we learn about God through the back-door of action?

    1. But how do we love well (desiring and acting for the Good of others) without correct knowledge concerning that Good?

    2. Here's what I'm getting at, and what I was aiming for with my comment.

      Does common grace play a role in our ability to love well? Is no man capable of any type of good love without the explicit and direct reflection that this love is of the God of Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, Peter, and Paul?

    3. I think that just as general revelation allows us to know *something* about God, so common grace can allow us to love well *to an extent.*

      However, it is quite limited in its scope and accuracy. Without a corresponding knowledge of God, it is prone to error ("the heart is deceitful above all things etc etc").

      So a distinction needs to be made. You can act out of love...but if the base is not there, you may harm the object of your love rather than help.

      A mother can love her son, and give him poison when she thinks that it is medicine; Likewise, many Christians think the best way to love pregnant women is to encourage them to have an abortion if they're not "ready" for a baby.

      So a distinction between loving and loving well, between desiring the Good of the beloved, and actually knowing that Good and being able to move towards it. We are enabled, by common grace, to love well *to an extent*... but it will quickly become insufficient.


    4. I think that's much closer to right. You've got to allow for common grace. You're right to push against someone loving very well when they don't know God, I think, though perhaps some respond to common grace better than others.

      "And, also by necessity, any attempt to bring about the good of humanity requires a true and accurate knowledge of humanity."

      It's that "any attempt" part that throws me off. Aside from the common grace argument, I don't think I'm comfortable with making love dependent on some sort of cerebral acknowledgement of the human condition. Basing love on knowledge seems like a strange move, to me.