What is finite godism?
Question: "What is finite godism?"
Answer: In the broadest terms, finite godism is the belief that a god is limited in some way—either by a superior outside force or by a defect in the god’s nature. The god is finite in that his (or her) goodness, strength, wisdom, or some other attribute has a stopping point. A god who is finite in power might not be able to heal people or control the weather. A god who has finite creation abilities might not be able to create ex nihilo and may only be able to change one thing to another. A god who has finite goodness may act selfishly. A god who has finite knowledge may not know the future.
Finite godism is not the same thing as deism. Deism says that God created the world and then stepped back, choosing not to interfere with His creation. It was deism that influenced Thomas Jefferson to cut out all the accounts of miracles in his Bible. In deism, God chooses not to act; in finite godism, the god is incapable of acting.
Nearly every religion in the history of the world worshipped a finite god. Zeus was not good. Odin died in Ragnarok. In Plato’s theology, a demiurge formed the world based on what he saw in the “World of Ideas” despite having very little wisdom about what would happen next. Mormons do not believe their god is immutable or timeless. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in an “active force” but not the Holy Spirit. Process theology teaches that, while God is immortal, He is not eternal. The god of the Word of Faith movement is limited by what we “confess”; if we say we are sick, then we will be sick, but if we claim to be well, their god will make us well.
Today, finite godism is primarily associated with theodicy, that is, the problem of evil. The premise is, “How can an all-loving, all-powerful God allow evil and suffering to continue?” If He is all-loving, He wants our best; if He is all-powerful, destroying evil should be no problem. So, perhaps God is not completely good, and He doesn’t care that we suffer. Or perhaps He is not completely powerful, and evil has got the best of Him. The more common belief is that God is perfect in goodness and intention but limited in the knowledge of the future and the power to do anything about it. Rabbi Kuschner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, teaches that God is not all-powerful and that we should forgive Him for His inability to prevent evil. William James, who developed American pragmatism, believes that evil came about in part because God may not have had the power to establish a moral order for the world He created.
Finite godism is contrary to the theology of the Bible. The Bible presents a God who is unlimited in power (omnipotent), knowledge (omniscient), existence (omnipresent), and goodness (omnibenevolent). But there are a few challenges to the belief that God is not finite:
The problem of suffering: Why would a good God want us to suffer? Why wouldn’t a powerful God prevent suffering? The answer is, basically, God has greater priorities than mitigating all of our suffering, including allowing us to exercise the free will He created us with. And God can use our physical, worldly suffering to try to get our attention and help us mature spiritually.
God chose such a horrible way to save His people: If God is all-powerful, why did He require Jesus to be crucified in order for us to be saved? Why couldn’t He have chosen a less horrible way? There are several theological reasons for Jesus’ shed blood, in addition to the fact that the crucifixion was a sure-fire way to get our attention and make us realize how horrible sin is.
God created evil: If God created everything, He must have created evil, as well. This is a logical fallacy based on a wrong understanding of what “evil” is. Evil is not a “thing.” It is the lack of a thing, namely, godliness. As a shadow is the lack of light, evil is the result of something blocking God’s glory.
God created Satan: If God created everything, He must have created Satan. God created an angel named Lucifer. Lucifer chose to rebel against God and defile God’s creation. So, while God did create the being of Satan, He did not create the final character of that being.
God “regretted”: Genesis 6:5–7 says that God “regretted that he had made human beings on the earth.” If God regretted, He must have made a mistake. The word translated “regretted” (or, sometimes, “was sorry”) has the emotional weight we assume but not the consequence. God felt compassionate grief, but He did not wish He had not made the people. Instead, it drove Him to take action—to send the flood to wipe out the evil.
God lies: God told Moses to tell Pharaoh that the Israelites needed to travel for three days to sacrifice to God (Exodus 8:25–27), when really God wanted the Israelites to escape Egypt altogether. Therefore, God lied to Pharaoh. There are several issues with this argument. First, it’s possible that, if Pharaoh had let the Israelites travel for three days, God would have renegotiated with Pharaoh to just let the Israelites go. Second, God had already told Pharaoh that His intent was for the Israelites to leave Egypt (Exodus 6:11). We aren’t told about the specifics of the negotiations between Moses and Pharaoh, nor are we told what God would have done had Pharaoh let the Israelites leave to sacrifice.
God breaks promises: Long before, God had promised Abraham that he would be father of many nations, including the nation of God’s chosen people (Genesis 12:2). In Exodus 32, that chosen nation has rejected God and melted their jewelry to make a golden calf to worship. God tells Moses, “Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” So God is breaking His promise to Abraham and giving it to Moses. Except that He’s not. Moses was a descendent of Abraham, so Abraham still would have been the father of God’s chosen people. Like the population after the flood, the number of that nation just would have had a hiccup.
Subordination in the Trinity: Several times in the Gospels, Jesus is shown to be less than all-powerful or all-knowing. He didn’t know when He was going to return to earth after the ascension (Matthew 24:36). He said that the Father was greater than He was (John 14:28). And His will regarding the crucifixion seemed to be contrary to God’s (Matthew 26:39). So Jesus at least, if He was God, must have been a finite god. This view shows how difficult it is to understand the concept of the Trinity. Although Jesus is God, He is also a person independent of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. The Son had a different role in the salvation of man. Philippians 2:6–8 says that Jesus, when He became a man, did not try to retain His equality with God but took the nature of a servant. As the Son of Man, Jesus even humbly obeyed God’s plan for His death (Matthew 26:39).
God shows periods of limited knowledge: When Adam and Eve sinned, God asked where they were (Genesis 3:9). After Cain killed Abel, God asked Cain where his brother was (Genesis 4:9). When the woman with the issue of blood touched the hem of Jesus’ cloak, Jesus asked who did it (Mark 5:30). So God must be limited in knowledge. The first two examples can be easily explained with the understanding that God’s questions were intended to invite the sinners into a healing conversation with God. God was giving them an opportunity to repent, not asking for information He didn’t already have. This is a common tactic amongst parents in dealing with their children. As for Jesus and the woman, the reasoning is less clear. He may have been taking control of the conversation and inviting the woman to make herself public, or it could be that, while on this earth, Jesus voluntarily limited His omniscience and was given information by the Holy Spirit as needed. Jesus’ question to the woman, then, was not a sign of being finite but another example of subordination in the Trinity.
The consequences of believing in a finite god are catastrophic. Finite godism has been foundational to every false religion, from those that have a god for every aspect of life (fertility, war, crops, etc.) to those that teach we can become a god or part of god. Finite godism lowers the God of the Bible to the level of pagan idols and causes humanists to question whether we have the moral right to spread the gospel to people who already have their own religions. It leads atheists to claim all gods are the same and that the only difference between atheists and Christians is that atheists disbelieve in one more god. It causes Eastern Mysticism to de-personalize God into a good force that is checked by the evil force it is unable to conquer. Finite godism elevates human reason to the level of God and gives us permission to judge His character and actions.
On a more individual level, finite godism teaches people that God doesn’t love them or can’t save them. What starts as a philosophical attempt to explain hard passages in the Bible results in despair and loneliness in the hearts of those who need comfort. Finite godism directly contradicts who God is to His creation:
• Omnipotent: God has infinite power (Job 42:2; Psalm 33:6; Daniel 2:21; Revelation 19:1)
• Omnipresent: God is present everywhere (Psalm 139:11–12)
• Omniscient: God knows everything from our deepest thoughts to the far future (1 John 3:20; Isaiah 46:9–10)
• Omnibenevolent: God is infinitely good (Psalm 106:1; Mark 10:18)
• Immutable: God never changes (Malachi 3:6; Numbers 23:19; Psalm 33:11)
• Eternal: God has always existed and always will; He is outside of time (Psalm 90:2; Exodus 3:14)
• Transcendent: God is above and outside the limitations of His creation (Hebrews 1:3; Isaiah 55:8–9)
• Love: God is love (1 John 4:8; John 3:16)
Finite godism is another one of Satan’s lies meant to confuse, distract, and convince us that God does not have the ability or the desire to take care of us. It is the oldest temptation in the book (Genesis 3:5) and one we are very vulnerable to. To know the God of the Bible, read the Bible. Ask questions about the Bible. And ignore anyone who teaches something about God that’s not in the Bible.
Recommended Resource: Knowing God by J.I. Packer
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