“Does god exist?” is one of the great questions of philosophy. We could fill libraries with the books and articles in which philosophers and theologians have tried to answer this question. Part of the reason this question is so difficult, many would say impossible, to answer satisfactorily is that we approach the question with a whole heap of different ideas about god.
What we understand god to be is vital to being able to answer the question, “Does god exist?” When we hear this question asked, our response should be, “Which god?” If we are talking about the common-denominator-god-of-all-theistic-religions, then the answer is, “No, that god does not exist. He is a mere human construct.” In fact, if we are talking about any god other than the true and living God revealed in the pages of the Bible and in creation, then I agree with the atheists. God defined in any way other than in the Bible does not exist.
We often run into problems trying to offer any positive explanation of the Christian God. Last week we saw, in WSC #3, that a central function of Scripture is to teach what we are to believe concerning God. However, if we were asked, “Who do you say that god is?” the most many of us could say is, “You know, the God of the Bible.” If we are going to take a stand saying, “Yes, God does exist!” then we need to be clear in our thinking and speaking about what the God we say exists is like. The fourth question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism proves helpful on this very point. It asks, “What is God?
” and answers, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” This is a good starting point, but it is far from the whole story.
WSC #4 lays out several deep truths that we need to study; I want to focus our attention on three. First, God is a Spirit (see John 4.24). In the Westminster Confession, the explanation, “without body, parts, or passions” (WCF 2.1) is added to the statement that God is a Spirit. However, what does it mean to say, “God is a Spirit.” Robert Reymond writes, “…when we say that God is ‘spirit,’ we are only using theological shorthand for saying that God is personal and noncorporeal (without a body)…” (Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith).
Second, God is different from us. The attributes of God that are given in WSC #4, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, highlight that God is different than you and I. Theologians have referred to these as the incommunicable attributes of God; that is to say, they “have no analogies in the creature” (Berkhof, Manual of Christian Doctrine). Recognizing that God is different than we are in a fundamental way is important when we talk about God, for the philosophical gods that we often speculate over are merely trumped up humans.
Third, God is not utterly different from us. That is to say, God is not so different from us that he is necessarily and completely uninvolved with us. The second set of attributes given in WSC #4, being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth, are what theologians have called the communicable attributes of God. “The communicable attributes of God are those to which the attributes of man bear some analogy” (Berkhof, Manual of Christian Doctrine). However, it is only an analogy. If you read the question closely, you will see that God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable IN HIS being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.
WSC #4 lays a good foundation for our thinking about God. It begins to teach us what we are to believe concerning God. When we talk about, think about, sing about, pray to, and rest in God, let us make sure it is the true and living God who is actually there.