Thursday, December 3, 2009

The God of Non-Contradiction, Part III: The Nature of Divine Self-Limitation

“...My argument hinges on the logical point that God can not perform an action (the same action) performed by another (free) agent. I would not want to maintain that there are classes of actions only performable by finite beings, since this seems like too severe a restriction of God’s omnipotence and freedom. Rather, I want to make the different point that God cannot (logically) make the free choices or exert the self-control of other (distinct) agents” (Axel D. Steuer, “Freedom of God and Human Freedom.” Scottish Journal of Theology Vol. 36, page 173).

It is at this point in the article that Axel D. Steuer presents us with a problem. He has just stated in his article that God is not limited by the power man has over his choices; but now, he tells us that God has “restricted” Himself in a way: “God cannot (logically) make the free choices or exert the self-control of other (distinct) agents.” So, has God limited Himself or not? If so, in what way?

I think the answer to this question lies in the Law of Non-Contradiction, which, as I’ve stated, asserts that two opposing ideas cannot exist in the same respect at the same time (for instance, “short and tall”). Applying this to the issue at hand, God cannot be “Almighty” and yet, have “limited” might; to think that is preposterous! God cannot be “unlimited” and yet “limited” at the same time. So, if God has a self-limitation, then we must qualify that self-limitation.

I can tell you from the outset that God is not limited in His power or omniscience. Here is where I demonstrate the fact (as I’ve done before) that I do not agree with the Open Theist regarding God’s foreknowledge. God has exhaustive foreknowledge and knows all things----but this still leaves room open for “gratuitous” evil, as 1 Peter 4 showed us in a post I wrote earlier this month. 1 Peter reveals that God’s exhaustive foreknowledge and free choice (including evil) do co-exist in our world.
In what way has God “limited Himself”? As Steuer tells us in his quote above, God has limited Himself to not controlling the “self-controlling” power of human beings, for to do so would be contradictory. How can the God of logic and order “control my self-control”? It makes no sense at all...

Because God will not control my self-control, this means that He will not intervene at every little second in the world to “correct” my mistakes, or to prevent me from suffering the consequences of my actions. This does not make God “deist,” as some claim, but rather faithful and consistent. God didn’t step in when Adam and Eve ate the fruit; and if He didn’t step in to prevent sin from entering the world, it’s highly unlikely that He will enter into the world and correct every little bad thing before it happens.

But God has also limited Himself in another way: by binding Himself to His promises. The apostle Paul refers to God as the one “who cannot lie” in Titus 1:2. If God cannot lie, then this means that He is “limited” by His own promises, which serve as divine self-limitation. God “limits” Himself in that, while He could promise to do all sorts of things, upon making a specific promise (“I will do this...”), God does not rescind on His Word. Because He promises to do one thing out of a million, the other “999,999” options are now closed with regards to the specific promise.

A good case in point would be the Lord’s words to Noah and the Noahic covenant:
“Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying: ‘And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth. Thus I establish My covenant with you: NEVER AGAIN SHALL ALL FLESH BE CUT OFF BY THE WATERS OF THE FLOOD; NEVER AGAIN SHALL THERE BE A FLOOD TO DESTROY THE EARTH” (Genesis 9:8-11, NKJV).

The Lord’s sign to Noah was a rainbow (Gen. 9:12-17), and the Lord said that whenever He saw the rainbow in the sky, He would remember His promise not only to Noah and to his descendants, but to every one of His creatures, including the animal kingdom. In the words of Michael Horton, the Noahic covenant involves a “self-maledictory oath (bow turned toward him) in the rainbow” and “like the covenant with Noah, that with Abraham BINDS ONLY GOD. GOD OBLIGATES HIMSELF...”(Michael Horton, “God of Promise: An Introduction to Covenant Theology.” Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006, page 42).

We’ll get into the Creation Covenant at some point in the near future. For now, it should suffice to see that God limits Himself to be faithful to His promises. No matter what other punishment He sends to destroy the earth, it cannot be water...for He has bound Himself to not flood the entire earth with water, ever again.
The same God who cannot lie is faithful to His promises. And this is what is meant by the idea of “divine self-limitation”: that God will be faithful to that which He has promised. The only question becomes, “has He committed Himself to the choices of man and man’s dominion over the earth?” And that is a question that I will cover in posts to come...

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