This material was written in 1988, for an on-line philosophy forum. It is an informational topic on just what the theistic position is. That position is an interesting intellectual construct, if nothing else, and if you are not a theist, you might at least be sure you are attacking beliefs that the opposition really holds. That was why I put it in the philosophy forum.
The different monotheistic religions have different opinions about God, of course, but by late antiquity they had worked out a large number of agreed doctrines. Philosophically educated Jews, Christians, and Muslims all believed a number of things in common about God, and still largely do. The differences lie mostly in what people think He has done in the world, not in their descriptions of His nature.
From time to time, however, I may diverge from the theology of Judaism or Islam, so I have entitled the note "Christian Theology." Besides, it's a punchier title than "Monotheistic Theology."
"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all conceive of God as the creator of the universe. In their philosophical traditions, the Cosmological and First Cause arguments for God's existence explicitly cast God in the role of Creator. It seems almost axiomatic to most of us that God (if He exists) created the world, but it need not be conceived that way.
For example, Aristotle believed in a supreme God but thought the world was infinitely old and had never been created; Aristotle's God did not create or actively guide the world, but merely inspired the lower divinities to action by His shining example of perfection.
The Gnostic cults of the first few centuries BC and AD regarded the creation of the world as a dreadful sin or mistake, committed against the will of God by a foolish and/or evil subordinate spirit. However, the Gnostics still regarded God as having given rise to these subordinate spirits, so their picture of God is not so strictly uncreative as Aristotle's.
In formal orthodox theology, God is said to have created the world ex nihilo, "from nothing." That is, He did not make it out of His own substance, which is indivisible, nor did He make it out of some raw material pre-existing with Him and like Him uncreated.
This brings up St. Augustine's old riddle – What was God doing before He created the world? The famous answer – Making a hell for people who ask silly questions – was, by the way, a joke, and it seems to have been an old joke even in Augustine's time (354-430). Augustine's serious answer is that time is a measure of the change in material bodies; without a material world, there is no time. Time and the world began together, both created by God.
Plus or minus God, this sort of talk is now familiar to us in descriptions of the Big Bang. But there are alternate cosmologies, in which the universe pulsates, or eternally inflates with big bangs fizzing in it like bubbles in seltzer water – modern equivalents of Aristotle's infinitely old world. Suppose such a cosmology were verified. Does an infinitely old universe do away with the need for a creator?
Christian theology usually assumes that time had a beginning, or argues that there must have been a beginning, and has not spent much energy on coping with the alternate possibility. Not much, but a little.
Even if the universe was not created in the sense of having a first moment of being, it can be regarded as being created perpetually, sustained, by God's activity. Rene Descartes (1596-1650) and Bishop George Berkley (1685-1753) put forth such ideas of God's sustained creativity.
In this view, the universe is continually made by God the way light and heat are made by a fire, or a melody is made by a musician. In neither case does the maker exert itself once, and then you have the maker and the made persisting with nothing more than a historical connection. Instead, making and sustaining are the same act.
One of the better-known attributes of God is omnscience. Put simply, God knows everything. There are some implications to this, however, that don't always sink in.
For example, some people find it absurd that God should have time for one little planet like Earth, much less one individual petitioner praying for help. But this implies that God's attention is limited. The doctrine of omniscience says it is unlimited. Just as a great painter gives full attention to each brush-stroke as well as to the balance and theme of the whole canvas, just as a great author gives full attention to each turn of phrase as well as the outline of the whole book, so God gives full attention to every detail of His creation – not only the doings of every planet and person, but of every atom and quantum. (He notes the fall of each sparrow and numbers the hairs on our heads, Christ said.) To suppose otherwise is really to picture God in our own image.
Another implication is that you can't play games with God. This is an implication insufficiently remembered by the religious. It does no good to lie or tell half-truths in your prayers, or try any other form of insincerity.
Philosophically, one of the most interesting implications of omniscience is foreknowledge. If God knows everything, does He know the future? And if He does, does that mean there no real freedom?
There is disagreement on this. Some denominations feel that complete foreknowledge would preclude human freedom, and so God mercifully refrains from exercising His omniscience in that direction, permitting Himself only the glimpses of the future that are strategically necessary.
Those who believe in the strictest forms of predestination believe that foreknowledge precludes freedom and that there is no freedom; the idea is just a piece of human arrogance. This raises difficult ethical questions.
Some theologians, for instance those who use the Process philosophy of Whitehead and Hartshorne, if I understand them rightly, feel that the future has no definite character to be known. God does not know the future, but this is no limitation on His omniscience, because the future isn't the sort of thing one can know, any more than you can know the diameter of a square circle.
The most traditional answer, and in my opinion the most plausible and interesting, is that God knows the future but this places no limitation on human freedom. So far as I know, this apparent paradox was first worked out by the Christian philosopher Boethius (480-524), in his De Consolatione Philosophiae ("The Consolations of Philosophy").
Boethius says that, because God is the creator of time as well as of all other things, He sees all of it at once. There is no particular marker in time for the present; each moment is present to the people at it, and God is "at" all of them, in the temporal version of omnipresence. All of time is what Boethius calls "the Eternal Now."
Strictly speaking, He never foresees; He simply sees. Your 'future' is only an area, and only for us a special area, of His infinite Now. He sees (not remembers) your yesterday's acts because yesterday is still 'there' for Him; he sees (not foresees) your tomorrow's acts because He is already in tomorrow. As a human spectator, by watching my present act, does not at all infringe its freedom, so I am none the less free to act as I choose in the future because God, in that future (His present) watches me acting.
– C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image, Cambridge University Press, 1978
The most breath-taking utterance about omniscience, I think, comes from St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), who said of God that "His knowing is our being." If something exists, God knows all about it; if God "believes" something to exist, it does. God's knowledge of a thing may not cause it to exist (depending on your particular theology), but because His knowledge is complete and perfect, a thing's existence and God's knowledge of it are logically equivalent. Things as God sees them are things as they are.
Another well-known attribute of God is omnipotence. Like omniscience, it is simply stated: God can do anything. But it ties itself into knots even faster than omniscience does.
The classic problem with omnipotence is known as the "Paradox of the Stone," and runs, "If God can do anything, can He make a stone so heavy He can't lift it?" It seems there is no way out – if He can't make the stone, He can't do everything; if He can't lift the stone, He can't do everything.
C. Wade Savage (1932- ) has proposed an answer that seems cogent to me. He says that God can not make the stone, but that this does not imply a flaw in omnipotence. Rather, it is an effect of the nature of infinite quantities. God can make a stone of any specified weight. But God can also generate an equally arbitrary quantity of lifting force.
Name a weight. God can match that and do better by one (or by a quadrillion) in terms of thrust. Name a thrust. God can out-match it in weight. God can create any quantity of weight or thrust. God can not make a stone too heavy for Him to lift Himself, but only because there is no last number.
This raises a wider problem about omnipotence: Is God constrained by logic? Can God perform logical contradictions? Can God make something be X and not-X at the same time? St. Thomas Aquinas did not think He could. C. S. Lewis put this position very clearly:
His Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrisically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. This is no limit to His power. If you choose to say "God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it," you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix them with the two other words "God can." It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.
– C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
I must agree with Aquinas and Lewis, simply because any concerted attempt to imagine the reverse leaves me in a jumble of words in which I cannot, in fact, find or imagine any meaning. God can do anything, but a logical contradiction is not a "thing"; it is a sequence of symbols that cannot refer to anything.
In any case, such puzzles, pitting God against Himself or against sleight-of-word, are far removed from the central meaning of omnipotence, which is that He cannot be overpowered by any other agent or combination of agents.
Artists often represent God as a vigorous old man with shaggy white hair and beard, usually robed and often haloed (though Blake's "Ancient of Days," shown above, is neither). A very few monotheistic denominations actually believe God has a body, even a man-like one, but mainstream theology long ago condemned this as the error of "anthropomorphism." God has no body and no location. Since He made matter and space, He could not very well require either body or location. How would He have gotten along before them?
Since God is bodiless, it follows that He is not literally male. Why, then, use the masculine pronoun? To change pronouns now would cause confusion and impede understanding of the religious writings of the past. To the believer, another explanation is that God, Who knows how our minds work, has chosen to use masculine language, images, and voices when appearing to us, so we may assume that this was the most appropriate gender.
It should not be taken as a derogation of the female. Inasmuch as humans bear the image of God, both sexes bear it equally. "And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." (Genesis 1:27) "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)
Since God is not localized, He seems to be nowhere. In fact, He is everywhere, or "omnipresent" in theological jargon. Saints and mystics sometimes report an immediate perception of this metaphysical fact. The psalmist sings that, whether you ascend to heaven or descend into the grave, God is there. "Called or uncalled, God will be there," an old Latin proverb says.
One reason, perhaps, that God forbade humans to worship Him with idols, is that they tempt us into the error of anthropomorphism, or at least into forgetting that God is not only in the Temple, but in our home and at work and at our elbow.
(This is sometimes called "omnibenevolence," partly because of its universal and all-embracing character, but partly just to make it line up nicely with the three preceeding omni's.)
Of course, all the mainline monotheisms hold that God's ethical character is perfect and exalted in the highest degree. Christianity differs from the others (though it by no means contradicts the others) in declaring love to be the central theme of this excellence, summed up in the famous aphorism, "God is love." (From 1 John 4:8.)
God's love is the motive from which He created and sustains the world. The foundation of heavenly joy is conscious experience of the love of God; some say that the damned suffer only from the deliberate rejection of that love. God extends salvation to us from sheer love, not because we can deserve it.
The Bible and Christian tradition use all the forms of created love to illustrate the Uncreated Love. (In Christian philosophy, that Uncreated Love is the original from which all the other forms splinter off, like colors refracted out of white light.) Like a father, God is forgiving, provident, and commanding. Like a lover, He is passionate, tender, intimate, and exclusive. Like a man to a pet or to a work of art in progress, He is caring and despotic both at once.
Note that the love of God is seldom likened to a warm, drowsy, rosy glow. The image also contains fire and storm, ice and steel.
This theme naturally intertwines itself with Christian ethical theory. In the Christian view, good and evil are related as whole and part; good is the complete thing, evil is the twisted and broken fragment of it. St. Augustine (354-430) first articulated this idea, saying that evil is the lack of good.
The two are not related as two opposing football teams on the playing field of the universe, the blue uniforms arbitrarily labeled "good," the red ones "evil," with God the captain of the Blue Team and Satan the captain of the Red Team. This is the dualist view, a perversion of a Zoroastrian doctrine, occasionally used by Satanists. Rather, Christian scripture and legend picture the powers of evil as rebels against their own lawful King, not hostile foreigners.
Evil is fragmentary good because evil is a lack of sufficient love. Typically, an evil person is so because he does not love his neighbor as himself, but loves himself better. Or he does not love anything better than himself. Or he may love something more than himself but out of proportion to its worth – less of a spiritual disaster, though it may be a great problem to the general public. Virtue, said St. Augustine, is ordinate love.
Sometimes the question arises, Does God will the good because it is good in itself, or is something good because God wills it? In other words, did God choose the nature of ethics arbitrarily? Could he have just as easily ordered us to hate our fellow creatures, ourselves, and Him? Would that, then, be the good?
Some Christian thinkers, carried away with the theme of God's supremacy, have said Yes. But the mainstream answer, based on the ethics of Augustine, is No. God "obeys" the good, rather than defining it, though "obey" is the wrong word, too; since God is love, the good is His own essential nature.
The doctrine of God's benevolence, when combined with the doctrine of His omnipotence, gives rise to a famous theological problem generally called "the Problem of Evil."
(See also here.)
The Problem of Evil is the most emotional problem in philosophical theology. The responses to it vary enormously. I know hardy souls for whom the glory of just being alive makes all questions of suffering secondary; I know sensitive souls who see the Problem of Evil as such a monstrous one that it makes, for them, an iron-clad case for atheism.
Stated briefly, the Problem of Evil is: If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and benevolent, why is there evil? After all, if He is omniscient, He must know that evil is going on and must also know the best way to stop it. If He's omnipotent, He must be able to stop it. If He's benevolent, He must want to stop it. But obviously He doesn't. So how can anyone believe that God is all three of those things at once?
Jon Callas once remarked to me that the Problem of Evil can be solved by "backing away" from any of those three things – omniscience, omnipotence, and benevolence. The standard answer to the Problem of Evil is called the Free Will Defense. It "backs away" from both omnipotence and benevolence. It does not deny either of them, but it says their results and inherent limitations are not exactly what we intuitively expect.
The Free Will Defense says that God is not responsible for the existence of evil; His creatures are. Some of these creatures, humans in particular, can make free choices and have used the ability to do evil, to themselves and their fellow creatures.
How do we define a free agent? In my own view, if a being is a free agent, then its actions cannot be completely explained in terms of its internal and external conditions preceeding those actions. That would mean that no one, not even God, could give a determinate prediction for how a free agent would act in a hypothetical situation. Thus God knew from the beginning of time that Abraham would be willing to sacrifice Isaac to Him, but He knew this by observing Abraham's action. I don't think even God knows (though He could make the best possible educated guess) how Abraham would react in a situation that never arose, e.g. if his wife Sarah had had a girl or twins instead of Isaac.
Why would God create free agents, if they were going to cause so much havoc? Presumably, God thinks the havoc of real vice is a price worth paying for having real virtue. Unless virtuous behavior is free, it does not spring from virtue, but is merely forced or coerced or expedient. Two cogs in a machine "cooperate" not out of mutual love or a sense of duty, but because they can't do anything else. If Gunther and Floyd cooperate only because Dad is there to insist on it, they are no more loving or dutiful than the two gears.
There is a question I have not heard asked in the debates over the Problem of Evil, though it seems to me that it lurks in the background, strangely ignored by both sides. (They always seem to get side-tracked.) The question is: Why should a free agent be allowed to harm others? Why couldn't God organize the world so that people could sin but no one would suffer for this but themselves?
The answer, it seems to me, is a variation on the answer to the first question: Just as the risk of sin is worth the value of a free individual, the risk of crime is worth the value of a free community. You can only love your neighbor as yourself if you have neighbors; but if you have neighbors, you may choose to love yourself more than them. If your love is to mean anything to those neighbors, your choices must have consequences for them.
In the limiting case, if God does not allow an agent's actions to have any consequences for others, there can be no community at all; the individuals are isolated. The degree to which God limits the consequences our acts can have for each other is the degree to which He limits the freedom of our communities. Obviously, He does not give us total freedom; there are barriers of natural law; there are, on the religious view, interferences from God in the form of revelations, miracles, and providence. Just as obviously, He permits enough mutual effect for us to do really horrible things to each other – and really splendid ones.
If God is to permit love freely given between creatures, He must also permit the love to be freely withheld. And He must let the giving and withhold have consequences. How dire the consequences are is just a matter of degree, though that degree may be a measure of the importance of that love.
There remains another class of evil, not moral evil but natural evil, meaning disease, death, and natural disaster. Why does God permit this? I have not heard a complete answer to this question, though I have heard partial and speculative ones.
One answer reduces the problem to a special case of crime and community evil. There are, according to the traditions of the monotheistic religions, other free and intelligent moral agents besides humans who form with us a larger community, though we may seldom be aware of them, just as a dog or a child is seldom aware of the larger world of adult politics. These are, of course, angels and devils. Devils are thought to account for a certain amount of natural evil. For instance, Christ spoke of a woman with a deformed leg as one bound by Satan.
But this explanation will not recommend itself much to people who regard all talk of angels and demons as superstition. And even many believers in spirits have a hard time believing that all disasters are orchestrated by devils.
Another partial answer is that much "natural" disaster is our own fault. If we were more perfect in wisdom and charity, we could avoid a surprising number of these accidents. We would have caught on to the causes of diseases generations earlier, bent greater efforts to relieving famine, and so forth.
A third answer, speculative and harsh, is that God may expect us to cope with a certain amount of chaos, less concerned with the pain we stumble into than with the wisdom and compassion we show in dealing with it. (How do you like that for "backing away" from benevolence, Jon? I repeat, this is just a speculation of my own.)
The wise parents of my acquaintance seem to observe the following policy regarding their children's freedom: you give the kids advice, but you let them act freely with each other, giving them a chance to settle their differences, letting them get into trouble, but no more trouble than you can get them out of. If God follows such a policy, the implications are both comforting and frightening. The good news is that omnipotence and omniscience can rescue from a great deal of disaster. The bad news is that omnipotence and omniscience can therefore afford to let a great deal of disaster happen.
One of the less controversial doctrines of monotheism is God's unity. You may disagree with monotheism and believe in no gods or a million, or that the number is strictly unknowable, but there's nothing very tricky about the proposition that there is exactly one god.
God's unity, however, is closely related to a more obscure divine property, His simplicity. This was more often spoken of by the medieval Scholastics than by later theologians. It doesn't seem to attract much interest now. But I think it has an application to arguments such as I have seen about the origin of the universe.
By His "simplicity," the Scholastics meant that God has nothing comparable to anatomy; He is without parts. Even His omnipresence does not mean that He is spread out in space, so that two shoe-boxes contain twice as much God as one shoe-box. In this way, God is like an abstract principle, say gravitation. There may be twice as much gravitational flux passing through two boxes as through one, but the principle of gravitation is merely operating in both. One place doesn't have twice as much of it as another.
(This does not mean that monotheism believes God to be an abstraction. This is just another analogy, like those made between God and parents or shepherds.)
Just because God is simple, it does not follow that He is obvious. "God is subtle," said Einstein, referring to the way He designed the world, but the Scholastics would also apply this subtlty to God's own nature. In fact, they joined the mystics of all religions in declaring Him unsearchably subtle and mysterious. (More about that in the next topic.)
As an example of how simplicity co-exists with subtlty, cast your mind back to some problem you strove to solve, hammering away at it, beating out long chains of code or strings of equations or whatever the medium was you were working in. Then you had a flash of insight. You saw an answer, much shorter and simpler than the futile efforts you had been trying. But you would be unable to explain your solution to anyone who had not had the same insight. To anyone else, it would look like a trick of dubious validity or utility. This new solution is both simple and subtle.
God's simplicity becomes significant when God is used to explain the origin of the universe. People sometimes complain that this does not simplify the total picture, as good scientific explanations are supposed to do, because the explanation brings in something even more complex than the universe, i.e. God. But, at least according to this little-discussed aspect of traditional theology, God is not more complex than the universe, though He is certainly greater. (It does not follow automatically that God can be properly used in scientific explanations. There may be other objections.)
I believe the Tao Te Ching, the central book of Taoism, somewhere describes all things as arising out of the Tao, the Way, though the Tao itself is of an unutterable simplicity. If we equate the Tao with God, monotheism would have no objections to that idea, though it would have a great deal more to add.
All the confident and sweeping statements about God in the preceding topics may give Christian theology a very cocksure look. It may seem to claim an undue familiarity with God, to be indulging in metaphysical name-dropping. I hope this topic will correct any such impression. For one of the properties traditionally ascribed to God is "Incomprehensibility."
This property is probably the most empirically verified, for the mystics of all denominations and faiths, and even the free-lance mystics of no particular religion, agree in the negative observation that the Absolute is incomprehensible. This Absolute may be called "God" or the "One" or "Brahm" or the "Tao" or the "Buddha-nature," and for "incomprehensible" they may write "unimaginable," "unthinkable," "ineffable," or some other negative adjective for bottomless mystery. But the idea is the same. Though it is less like an idea than like the experience of finding a hole which no idea can ever fill.
The doctrinal and metaphysical interpretations put on this experience vary wildly, so wildly as to raise reasonable doubts that they are all having the same experience. But Occam's Razor and the parallelisms in the accounts suggest that they are.
The Scholastic theologians went so far as to call God "impersonal." C. S. Lewis suggested that a better term for modern ears might be "super-personal." For "impersonal" suggests something less than human rather than more. If God is impersonal, it is because His qualities exceed the bounds of "person" the way ours exceed those of "geometrical object" or "organism," or the ways a three-dimensional object has features with no exact counterpart in objects of lower dimensionality. God is more than a person, not less.
But this means, Thomas Aquinas wrote, that much of what we say of God is only true by analogy. We measure God on the scale of knowledge or power and watch Him go off the scale; we say He is omniscient or omnipotent. But this is like trying to measure a person only in geometrical or metabolic terms. No doubt the near-fractal structures of our skin and nerves and veins is geometrically amazing, but that is hardly the salient point of being human. One can speak usefully and colorfully of a mind "digesting facts" or "ruminating" on ideas or "laboring to bring forth" concepts, but these are metaphors and cannot be pursued indefinitely.
This is probably another reason for the monotheistic religions to forbid idolatry. Idols would be a temptation to believe you know more about God than you do, or can. Unfortunately, it is impossible to prevent people from idolizing their mental models of God.
According to classical theology, God is "necessary." That is, under no conditions could God fail to exist. He "contains the cause of His existence within Himself." He is uncreated, the First Cause, the Unmoved Mover.
Just as any logical system of theorems starts off with a small set of unproved axioms and laws of inference, so the universe of actual beings is founded on an uncaused Being. Just as the subsequent theorems depend on the axioms for their proof, so the other beings depend on this first Being for their existence.
The most famous approach to God's necessity is St. Anselm's ontological proof. The ontological proof attempts to show (and for some people it succeeds in showing) that God's nature ensures His existence. Given what God is, He would have to exist.
Non-theists reject Anslem's proof, of course, but so do many staunch monotheists. (Naturally, they agree with his conclusion that God exists.) They may even agree with Anselm that God exists necessarily; they simply do not accept Anselm's demonstration of that necessity. For example, if they believe, on other grounds, that God exists and is the creator of the world, they may conclude that, whatever the reason for God's existence, He exists necessarily, since there exist no other beings that could create Him.
God's necessity relates to the use of God as a scientific or metaphysical hypothesis, just as His simplicity did. After being confronted with some version of the cosmological argument for God's existence, people sometimes ask, "If you have to have God to explain where the universe came from, why don't you have to explain where God came from?"
The answer is that, just as you don't have to prove an axiom and couldn't if you tried, you can not and need not provide God with a creator. According to the doctrine of necessity, God is not obliged to "come from" somewhere. Rather He is obliged to not come from anywhere but to have always been there.
God both transcends the created universe and is immanent in it. "Transcendent" means "exceeding usual limits." "Immanent" means "remaining or operating within a domain of reality or realm of discourse."
This is often presented as a theological paradox or conundrum, but frankly I have never understood why. There is no contradiction between the idea that God operates within Creation and the idea that He does not share its limits, unless you go out of your way to create a paradox by taking one side or the other of the idea and exagerating it. If you take "transcendent" to mean "exceeding the bounds of the universe and leaving it behind" or "immanent" to mean "remaining wholly within the universe," then, yes, there is a contradiction. But the words are not used that way, so far as I know.
My favorite analogy for God's transcendence of, and immanence in, the Creation is the relation of author to story. The author transcends the story, because his whole being is not contained in the book. The author is immanent in the story because he is present and active at every place and moment of the fictional world.
The reader is wholly transcendent, existing solely outside the story. (An even purer example of transcendence is someone who never reads the book!) If we distinguish the omniscient narrator from the author, the narrator is wholly immanent, present and active at all places and times within the fictional world but having no existence outside it. Most of the characters in the story are neither immanent nor transcendent; they exist in some times and places but not others. A friend of mine dubbed this mode of existence "phenomenal."
Sometimes, the author or narrator appears phenomenally in a story – a story narrated in the first person might qualify. But sometimes the character who appears in the story is the real-life person whose name appears on the cover of the book. A. A. Milne, for instance, sometimes breaks into the narrative of "Winnie the Pooh" to discuss things with Christopher Robin. Rudyard Kipling appears as a bit part in many of his own short stories and novelettes. Alfred Hitchcock did the same in his movies.
Does God ever make analogous guest-appearances within His own creation? The belief that He does not is called "deism." It was very popular in and around the 18th century, though it is not much heard of now. All other forms of monotheism hold that God has made many such particular appearances.
Although Christianity and other monotheisms say many philosophically interesting things, philosophy is not as central to these religions as history. The abstract attributes of God are necessary and integral parts of these religions, but they are not the central parts or the focus of attention.
Like Judaism and Islam, Christianity believes that God intervenes in human history, directing it. The focus of Christian attention is, of course, the death and resurrection of Jesus.
From time to time, Christendom, or a given denomination within Christendom, summarizes its beliefs in a short statement called a "creed." The oldest surviving creed, called "The Apostles' Creed," is of obscure origin, but it is also the most widely accepted as a summary of Christian doctrine:
The Apostles' Creed
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord, who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He decended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into Heaven and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From there he shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy universal church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
This is a short chronology of miracles, past and future. The central miracle is the resurrection, which accomplishes the salvation of humanity.
The Bible itself uses several different ways to describe the "mechanics" of salvation. The commonest image is that of ransom – Christ gives himself to pay the debt of the imperfect human race to perfect justice. (E.g. Ephesians 1:7) It also speaks of Christ overcoming the power of death (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:26) so that death is no longer "escape proof." And Christ is a "second Adam" (1 Cor 15:45) establishing a new humanity, a new human nature that we can assume, leaving behind the old, crippled nature.
Exactly how the resurrection accomplishes salvation is a matter of speculation, but the accomplishment is the central doctrine of Christianity.
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Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2011