Part 1: Was God constrained, prior to creation, to create the world, send his Son, and reveal himself to humans?

The gods of ancient mythology were bored–that’s how their inventors made them. Likewise, when we contemplate eternal power and infinite life, we get the Q character from Star Trek (or some other wandering deity who has tried everything). We invent purpose driven gods. These are the restless deities of our imagination, wearied from being eternal and bored with power, who finally discover meaning in the place we find it: in us (in humans). Notice that this kind of inventive thinking starts innocently enough with raw facts about what it means to be divine: To be divine includes being infinite in power and freedom.

Indeed, God is free. And that fact becomes a staring point for the imagination. Some philosophers imagine that prior to creation no divine acts were done from any divine necessity. God chose freely, and not from any constraint (so the reasoning goes). Since God really is free, the human mind might postulate that the Incarnation and the Cross were not rooted in anything necessary to God’s character, but came about as a result of his choices (the first being the choice to create). From this same starting point (that God is free) even conservative Christians may mistakenly attribute the Incarnation and the Cross to God’s mere volition, and not to his character. And here is where the imagination runs amuck.

God Acts from His Character

God is free–for sure–but he is driven by his character and not his volition alone; thus, as an example, it is an immutable fact that it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18). Which means that he cannot will his way into lying. He is free, but his activities are necessitated by his character, and his character informs upon his willing. That he cannot lie is essential to his character, and is not a choice he made when inventing himself. The scriptures (at this point) are telling us about his character, not his volition. God is not constrained in the way he is (i.e., unable to lie) because he picked that as the configuration for the reality we now experience. His inability to lie is rooted in his character, not his volition. And his volition conforms to his character, not the other way around.

To make it so that God has picked what he is like is to use our imagination, and it means resisting that he has revealed himself truly and accurately by his Word. To contemplate him as picking this reality among other possible realities would be to look around his Word (to bypass revelation) and discover what he is really like. If we chose to think this way of him, we would be lost in a hopeless word-maze where the Bible itself would be the result of this particular reality, and not another. We would invent a god who is a giant contingency machine, having this reality as the contingency-experiment now being explored. For us, the real god would be the one discovered independent of revelation–the really real god would lie outside of his own revelation (beyond the word-maze). In this way, we would discover a god like Q–a bored mythological deity trying different reality paths as he spends his time being infinitely bored.

God is not the bored deity of mythology with an infinitude of choices before him (many of them attempted already), trying this thing then that thing. And even if we want to make him more sophisticated than that, it does us no good to make him a divine personage running an algorithm against all possible outcomes and choices. He is not an optimal-choice machine, weighing all the choice-inputs against all resulting outputs, then selecting the optimal version of reality wherein he is most glorified. The Scriptures do not teach us to think this way.

What God reveals to us by his Word is that he is the good and loving God who has made himself known in the man, Jesus. Who he is in the incarnation of Jesus is by necessity of his character, and is not merely an optimal choice in a post-fall world. We discover that God revealing himself is part of who he is (it is related to his character), and what we say about Christ is what we say about the unique revelation of God.

The Divine Necessity

God is free and at the same time he is motivated by his character to make his glory known. In this way, his self revelation in Christ was not a mere option (one possible choice to which his choice-making engine found optimal return), but corresponds to who he is. Therefor, we cannot speak about God in terms of what choices he might have made, for that is not how he has taught us to speak of him. Instead, he bids us to look upon Christ and to form our thoughts on God that way. All other paths are idolatry. There is no way to speak about a god and a world of possible choices (of which his volition picked this one), for no such deity exists. We know the only true God by his acts in Christ (which are accompanied by his speaking about those acts, explaining what they mean and why he did them).

Did God create this reality from an infinitude of possible realities? No. It is of his excellent character that he created this world and then acted in it by the Incarnation and the Cross (Acts 17:3, Matt 16:21, Luke 24:7). The Cross of Christ came about by the constraint of who God is, and this constraint was prior to creation, and explains why there is a creation. God created all things that he might demonstrate his love in the Incarnation and the Cross. It is who he is (cf. Rom 3:25, Acts 17:30). Paul speaks of this in Acts 17:3 as a divine necessity (the revelation of God by the Cross of Christ is rooted in the character of God, see Matt 16:21-23). God acted from his character and not from a choice algorithm that told him how to optimize his glory in this particular reality. Acts 17:3 puts an end to philosophy, and we find out what God is like in, by and with the Cross of Christ.

God cannot lie, and he must have revealed himself in Christ. Both are equally true. Both are who he is. He cannot lie, and he could not have forgone creation and, with it, incarnation, death and resurrection. To that end, he made all things and died for sinners that he might share his glory and make himself known. He acts necessarily according to his character, and he cannot deny himself (2 Tim 2:13).

First Things

The revelation of God to his image-bearing creatures is not the second thing, even though it came second (after he created his image-creatures!), but rather it belongs to first things. Without a creation, there would be no revelation of God to creation. Creation serves the cause. But creation does not exist for the purpose of revelation in general, but it exists for the revelation of God in the exact way that that revelation has come to be. That is, creation is unto the revelation of God on the Cross. Christ on Cross is ultimate and preeminent, and from that came creation wherein there would be that revelation. The activity of God’s self-revelation does not exist for itself, but it exists because God is a God who is a certain way. God is the God who takes up a Cross. That is what he is like. It is what God is already like–his nature–that necessitated and drove (determined and dictated) the essence, form and content of his self-revelation in Christ. That is, it is not just that God is a God who likes to be revealed, but it is because of what he is like (how excellent he is), that he is to be revealed. What is God like? Christ. And Christ ought to be revealed, worshiped and known. It is a divine-must and a divine-necessity.

Addendum: Which Philosophers?

Philosophers cannot imagine a god of this sort. This seems a strange violation of intuition regarding what a divine entity ought to be like. That God must have revealed himself in Christ is an alien concept to the inventive mind.

I have mentioned philosophy a few times. I have in mind Gottfried Leibniz and his theory about this reality being the best of all possible worlds. I won’t develop his thought further, but it should be noted that Leibniz came to his ideas while wrestling with the meaning of pain and suffering (with man at the center of a conundrum, he worked his way backward into heaven — and the god he found there was a devil). Prior to Leibniz, there was William of Ockham and his divine command theory (of whom I may have something to say in Part 2 of this series).

Continue here to read Part 2.

This article was published under Creation, Divine Nature, God, Theology.

One Response to Part 1: Was God constrained, prior to creation, to create the world, send his Son, and reveal himself to humans?

  1. Someone asked this helpful question: “Stephen are you saying then that God works entirely from His character? Or does He exercise His will as well?”

    One point I hope to be clear on is as I said in the article, “And his volition conforms to his character, not the other way around.” But I should expound further.

    It is interesting to note that when Jesus was in the garden, he said, “Not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22:42). In his dark hour, Jesus was wrestling with going to the Cross (the place where he was going to most reveal God’s character!). But his will (his volition) could not then pick some other course even as it was really painful to die on the Cross–real agony and anguish. And at that moment, the will (the volition) of Christ found a greater principle.

    The will of God then conforms to his character. Not only is it impossible for God to lie, but his willing does not go against his nature. God, by his very nature, must act in conformity to his nature. Does this put God in a box? Only in an ironic way. It puts God in the God Box (if you will). God is like God, and cannot be unlike himself.

    To answer the question directly: Yes, he exercises his will. And his will refuses to find a route that bypasses his nature. So Jesus goes to the Cross. It is fascinating that at the Cross (the crux of the revelation of God in the flesh — the very reason for all creation) that Jesus says, “Not my will, but thine be done.” His volition found the character of God more appealing than even the preservation of his own life.

    Death was more appealing to Jesus than the horrifying notion of not revealing what God is like. In fact, in dying, he was revealing what God is like. God wants to be like God. So his willing turns out to be pleasing to him. Christ counted it all Joy to endure the Cross (Hebrews 12:2). He was able to see the revelation of the nature and character of God as the occasion for Joy — and this while he was in the Garden and sore oppressed by the suffering that was waiting for him.