A scene from The Canterbury Psalter (12th century)

God is Like What God Does

To what shall we compare God? This is a question about analogies. And we shouldn’t treat God as an inert entity about which we can only know by way of analogies. To do so misses the “agential idiom” which alone is appropriate to God, since God acts, and makes himself known.

So if we know God by way of how he represents himself in acts, we could say God is like what God does. But of course it would be even better to say that what God does is like God. Still better: Those actions of God in which God intentionally makes himself known are like God.

The main divine actions in which God intentionally makes himself known are the Father sending the Son and the Holy Spirit. These sendings show the character of God’s eternal life. So God is like what God does here above all. Very, very like, & on purpose.

The principle “God is like what God does” reaches its highest possible fulfillment in the sending of the Son, since the sending is a mighty & mightily appropriate act, & since the Sent One is fully God. He is w/us from God (incarnation), & was ever w/God from God (generation).

I know this equation is at risk of simplifying down to “God is like God,” but that’s not necessarily bad. It’s more or less what we could expect of “I am that I am.” But it does kind of deflate the quest for understanding! Is there some way into this circle of divine knowledge?

Well, “God is like what God does” may also apply, in a weakened sense, to other divine acts. Skipping over unskippoverable acts like the Exodus, we could go straight to creation itself. Is God like what God does in making & governing the world? Sometimes.

“Sometimes” or “in part” isn’t a coy answer. It’s an attempt to recognize that while God never behaves unbecomingly, still the world & its history aren’t God’s self-portrait. God does not set all of this forward as an intentional, formal self-representation; “I’m like this!”

So we can know things about God, including some sense of what God is like, from the mighty act of creation & from some sub-actions w/in that action. But we want to focus on the right acts, from the right angle, interpreted in the right way. For that, we need guidance.

As Calvin says, we need glasses; Scripture spectacles for rightly viewing the theater of divine glory in which we are set. Or: To see how God is like what God does in creation, we need guidance from how God is like what God does in Christ & the Spirit, as told in Scripture.

When it’s all joined up, this works swell. I know it can seem like a long, strange trip from “what is God like” to all this trinitarian stuff. But if you bracket out the Trinity, pretend it doesn’t matter, & just root around in the lesser correspondences, you get lesser results.

[God is also like what God says. But (a) to develop this idea along the lines of revelation in general, you have to translate nature into a book of God, which is an extra step w/extra ideas, & (b) “what God says” is also a beeline for the Trinity, since it’s Jesus’ nickname.]

About This Blog

Fred Sanders is a theologian who tried to specialize in the doctrine of the Trinity, but found that everything in Christian life and thought is connected to the triune God.

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