We have pondered about whether God exists or not. But we haven’t discussed about God himself. Who is it? Is it a he? Is God a woman? (probably not) or He is like a super hero ? or What if he is an alien?
But the traditional picture of God, the one accepted, and even assumed, throughout Judeo-Christian tradition, up into modern times is what we might call an “omni-God,” possessing particular divine attributes, the characteristics believed to be held by God.
Philosophers like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, who were themselves influenced by the writings of Plato and Aristotle – came up with a general set of divine attributes that are still widely held today among theists.
According to them God is:
- Omniscient – God is omniscient, which means he knows everything that can be known.
- Omnipotent – all powerful.
- Omnibenevolent – possessing perfect goodness.
- Omnitemporal – meaning he all times at once.
- Omnipresent – exists at all places at once.
Now, it’s worth noting that none of these attributes is actually mentioned in the Bible. But philosophers like Aquinas reasoned that they must be the case, if God is perfect. And these philosophers took it as a given that he is. The problem is, a close investigation of these attributes reveals some rather tricky little puzzles.
And some of the questions that arise are not only about God, but also about us. For instance, if God knows everything, then he also knows the future, right? Which makes sense, if he’s also omnitemporal, because that would mean that he’s already in the future and also in the past and don’t forget the present.
But many theists also believe that God gave us free will. So, how can we be free, if God already knows what we’re gonna do? In that case, are we really free? Or is freedom just an illusion that he created for us, to make us feel like we’re in control?
What we’re seeing here is that, at least on the surface, God’s traditional divine attributes are internally inconsistent – meaning, they can’t all be true at the same time.
Now let’s consider another question about God’s personal skill set: Can God sin? If he’s omnipotent, it would seem that he can, because he can do anything. But if he’s omnibenevolent, or inherently good, then it would seem that he can’t. This doctrine, which says that God can’t sin, is known as divine impeccability.
But if God is impeccable and incapable of sin, then doesn’t that mean that he is not omnipotent? Some people try to solve this particular puzzle by saying that sin is necessarily a failure, so therefore, a perfect being can’t do it.
Others say that, even though God might do something that would be a sin if a human did it, the idea of ‘sin’ simply doesn’t apply to God. Perhaps because, given his omnibenevolence, everything God does is inherently good.
After all, it basically means that saying “God did a thing” would be the same thing as saying “God did a good thing,” because anything God does is good.
And if that’s the case, then his goodness doesn’t have any real meaning. It’s hard to understand how God could relate to us – or feel the way we feel – if he doesn’t experience time as we do: If he already knows what’s going to happen, how could he ever be surprised, or change his mind?
And if god is omnitemporal, is it even possible that he could be moved to respond to our prayers? By making a request to God, they’re making what are known as petitionary prayers.
When you pray in this way, you’re asking God for something – to help you pass a test, or to save a loved one who’s in danger, etc.
Contemporary American philosopher Eleanor Stump argues that we have no reason to think that asking God for something would actually make a difference.
If God knows everything, including the future which he does, if he’s omniscient –and if God has the power to bring about any state of affairs – which he does, if he’s omnipotent, and if he always wants to bring about the best state of affairs – which he does, if he’s omnibenevolent –then God has already decided what’s going to happen in every single case. To everyone. Always.
So either your prayer is asking God to do something he was already going to do, in which case your prayer was kind of a waste of time.
Or your prayer is asking God to do something he has already decided not to do, because it wasn’t actually the best thing.
However, Aquinas said that we can’t predicate, or assert, anything about God, because he’s so far beyond our understanding. When we speak of God, Aquinas said, we never say anything that’s true. Instead, we have to speak entirely in analogies, because that’s all we can do.
Now, there are other thinkers, particularly in modern times, who point out that none of the traditional divine attributes is in the Bible anyway. So, maybe God isn’t an omni-God.
Maybe he’s more like a superhero. He can be way smarter than us, way more powerful than us, way more good than us. But still not perfect.
To conclude, God probably isn’t an Omni-God.