Could God be both personal and impersonal?


#1

It’s been argued that time and space are part of the same thing, and that the God who created them must exist outside of time, but it’s also been argued that a god who exists only in the “timelessl present” would be impersonal (incapable of thought processes.)

Is it possible that God is both personal and impersonal?

Would a God who was (on some level) both personal and impersonal be compatible with an Orthodox view of the Trinity (where the person of The Father is the fountain of existence, even within the Godhead)?

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are said to share one essence, but is the “essence” personal or impersonal (or both)?

What is apophatic theology, and is it relevant to this topic?


JRP addresses recent metaphysical crits of trinitarianism
#2

well, i think we can argue that the God we know through Scripture is most certainly personal. in the sense of His having a personality, and being capable of and desiring to relate to us, personally. our human nature is in a sense modeled after His divine nature, and we see mercy, grace, anger, grief, long-suffering, wrath, tenderness, wisdom, and judgement reflected in descriptions of God, and His interactions with us.

God may seem impersonal philosophically, on par perhaps with the Hindu concept of Brahman, or the Greek philisophical concept of The One. but to know Him as a Christian is to know Him as Father, and through His Son as Christ, God incarnate, God made touchable and knowable in an unprecidented way (John 14:6-9). and God guiding our hearts, decisions, prayers, and lives as and through His Holy Spirit, as we follow Him in the flesh, through His Son, Jesus.

so i’d say that it’s very personal, on an inter-connected level Trinitarily, and on a micro-level within every Christian. God is vast and infinite, but also capable of confining His nature to flesh, and being very specific, too. and personal.


#3

“A good many people nowadays say, `I believe in a God, but not in a personal God.’ They feel that the mysterious something which is behind all other things must be more than a person. Now the Christians quite agree. But the Christians are the only people who offer any idea of what a being that is beyond personality could be like. All the other people, though they say that God is beyond personality, really think of Him as something impersonal: that is, as something less than personal. If you are looking for something super-personal, something more than a person, then it is not a question of choosing between the Christian idea and the other ideas. The Christian idea is the only one on the market.”
-C.S. Lewis


#4

I’ve read that before (I’ve probably even quoted it), but it doesn’t answer the questions I’m asking now.

Persons think, reason, remember, and anticipate.

How is any of that possible without time?

If time is created by a timeless God, wouldn’t some part of Him have to be impersonal?

If time itself is uncreated, and God had no begining, His infinite past would be an endless sequence of thoughts, memories, and anticipations leading up to creation, but how could an enless sequence lead anywhere?

Perhaps Lewis was right, and the Trinity can help us conceive of God as more than a person.

But it seems to me that there must also be a sense in which He (at least partly) is impersonal–and I don’t see how that fits in with classic, Orthodox Trinitarianism.

But if man is created in the image of God, and man has both a conscious and a subconscious mind, perhaps The Father’s subconscious mind could be the impersonal reality that lies behind time.

It would contain the ideas of time, space, all the laws of physics, and everything that ever has or ever will be–but God would only be a conscious, thinking person (or three persons) here within the dimension of time.

I don’t know if that’s heresy.

I only know the creeds say that The Father is uncreated, unmade, and un-proceeding–and that He generated The Son “before all worlds.”

(I need my faith. I still have a father to take care of, and I’ve been little comfort to him–but I’m finding that I have more questions than answers.)

Any thoughts would be welcome.


#5

Mike, glad to see you mellow out a bit and look at the other perspectives. Different doesn’t mean bad or wrong. :smiley:


#6

Sensitive of you to say that you’re “glad” to see me asking these questions now.

Thanks for your brief comments here.


#7

To put my question in another way, The Eastern Orthodox accuse the west of introducing an impersonal aspect into the Trinity.

maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/ … inity.html

Could that be a good thing?

Could it help resolve any incongruity in the concept of God existing (at least in part, before or above cretion) outside of time?


#8

I’m not sure how God being outside of time would make him anymore impersonal. If anything, I’d think it would make him more personal, if only arguing from human reasoning that he would therefore understand every aspect of us better, since he sees every version of ourselves, including our future selves, all at the same exact “time.”

Of course we know that God loves because he IS love, but then again, if he is eternal in this way, then there was never a time when he was not like that anyway. It’s an eternal mystery - I mean, we can’t really understand it without understanding eternity.

And, I believe, that’s something we have to have a taste of. Eternal life, and all.


#9

I’m amazed by the questions your asking Michael. These are the sort of questions that keep me up at night sometimes. :slight_smile:

My experiences with God definitely lead me to believe that the entire time/space/person-hood concept is based on our perception of physical reality as we presently operate in it. I hate to play the “incomprehensible to humans” card but really, I do think that’s exactly what we’re coming up against here.

Referring to God as a “He” and saying that He has plans for us etc - all that is solely for the purpose of edifying our understanding as we exist here in this plane. God experiences time/space/person-hood through us and outside of time/space there is no linear thought processes or person-hood as we now understand it. The idea of the Spirit of God being the “Breath of life” is the idea which shows how God experiences time/space through human consciousness.

Plus - this entire universe is only one tiny fraction of an infinity of other “things” “done” by God in other dimensions which have nothing to do with time/space. A lot of people ask “Why did God wait till a certain time to create the universe” and, of course, this is not even a valid question if we understand that time has nothing to do with it.


#10

No linear thought processes doesn’t necessarily mean no thoughts (much less no “feeling,” “knowledge,” or “will.”)

Also, if experiential, phenomenal, or psychological time is the only time that exists outside creation (and without the laws of physics), there could be a thought process.

It could even be sequential (giving this “quasi-time” length, but no particular length–to quote Zimmerman), but the sequence wouldn’t necessarily be infinite (and whatever sequence there was, whatever length there was, would be all the “time” there was.)

That seems to be the view of so-called “Divine temporalists” like Zimmerman, and their pre-creation temporality is not an infinity of time as we know it this side of creation (in the time/space continuum, with active laws of physcs.)

P.S. Whether there’s a sequential thought process or not, I don’t see why there couldn’t be personhood (if the essential qualities of personhood are feeling, knowing, and willing.)


#11

I have this notion that we cannot fully comprehend anything which is outside of our three dimensional world. Even in the Zimmerman interview I had the distinct impression that he was on the verge of breaking out into laughter at any second and saying “I don’t even know what the heck I’m talking about!”. But that’s all a part of the awe of transcendence.

Obviously God is the super-intellect in this universe although deism sprang (in part) from observing the apparent disinterest God has toward intervening in the details of this universe EXCEPT through human consciousness.

Kudos to you for reaching into this deep thought process. It’s a noble endeavor for sure. I do think the musings about a different kind of “time” which exists as and resides within an infinite super-consciousness is as close as we may get at this point.

I also think the answer to your question is “yes” - it’s both.


#12

There’s nothing noble about it, but there are times when we all question our faith (and at such times it’s sometimes necessary to delve into things you’ve comfotably shelved in the past.)

I wish to God I still had other, more important things to do.