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Did God Make Himself?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
January 6, 2022 12:01 am

Did God Make Himself?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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January 6, 2022 12:01 am

God is the unconditional being who has the power of being eternally within Himself. Today, R.C. Sproul investigates Thomas Aquinas' thoughts on the necessity of God's existence.

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The philosopher-theologian Thomas Aquinas insisted that we could learn about God in nature. What was significant for Thomas was those who had attacked the Christian view of God, leveled their attack chiefly at the doctrine of creation. Because if creation can be denied, then the very first teachings of the biblical record would fall with it. Thomas called his view of God in nature natural theology, but many biblical scholars are critical of that view because they say it allows for revelation apart from the Bible.

So, who's right? Let's listen as Dr. R.C. Sproul continues his series, The Consequences of Ideas. In our last session, we looked briefly at the theology and philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. As you will recall, he's known in the Roman Catholic Church as the angelic doctor and has been the most important theologian, I think, in the second millennium, certainly in terms of Roman Catholic development. But his thinking at the philosophical level has impacted not only Roman Catholic thought, but also classical Protestant thought. So, in our day, there's often strong negative reactions against Thomas. I don't share in that negativity with respect to his philosophical contributions. And we looked in our last session at the charge against Thomas of separating nature and grace and of his development of the concept of natural theology.

And I'd like to review that a little bit more and expand upon it today. The idea of natural theology is a concept that has been much under attack in the 20th century, particularly from Protestant theologians, because the tendency to see in natural theology a departure from the purity of biblical revelation and too much of a dependence upon man's unaided intellect, by which he, in philosophical speculation, develops his ideas of God and so on. But again, for Thomas Aquinas, he based his view of natural theology on the plain teaching of the Apostle Paul in the first chapter of Romans, in which Paul speaks about a knowledge of God that is derived through nature. Now, for Aquinas, Aquinas qualified his understanding of the natural theology that is available to us by reflecting upon the cosmos. He said that the knowledge of God that we gain through nature is what he called incomplete, mediate, and it is analogical but true. Now, let's just take a few moments to look at what he meant by these qualifying terms.

I'll leave the incomplete a little bit later. He argued for what is called mediate natural theology, meaning by that that the knowledge that we gain from nature about God is not a direct, immediate knowledge by which we would know God directly. When he talks about immediate, he's not talking about something that happens instantly with respect to time, but he means by it the term immediate means without a medium. We use the term media today to refer to the press, to television, to radio, and so on, because those are media through which we learn things.

And so the term mediate and immediate here has no reference to time. It is a reference to whether there's an intervening mediator by which the knowledge is acquired. And so when he speaks of natural theology, he says it's mediate. That is, we don't get it directly from God, but rather indirectly, that God reveals himself in and through the creation.

The psalmist says the heavens declare the glory of God, the firmament shows forth his handiwork. Paul in Romans 1 speaks of the knowledge of God that comes through the things that are made. That is, through the creation, through the creature. So whatever knowledge of God we have from nature is a mediated knowledge.

It comes through nature itself. Second of all, it is analogical, and I'm going to pass over that for a second because I want to explore that more deeply. He says it's mediate, incomplete, and analogical, and let's look at the word now, incomplete. What he means by that is that the knowledge of God that we gain through the creation is not a complete and comprehensive knowledge of God.

It is incomplete. Nevertheless, it's true, and this was the point he was trying to make, that the knowledge of God that we gain from nature, though it is not as vast or as deep as the knowledge of God we get from Scripture, nevertheless, it is true as far as it goes. Now, why is that significant? Well, it's significant particularly in light of today's debates about natural theology. Many of the things that are said about natural theology is that not only is it inadequate and worthless, but many see it as positively harmful because any knowledge of God that is gleaned from nature remains stripped of so much of the important content of our understanding of God that is given to us in the Bible. And so it can give us perhaps Aristotle's first cause, but there's a long way from an abstract first cause to the personal redeeming Father of Jesus Christ who is revealed in Scripture. But as I've already mentioned, what was significant for Thomas was those who had attacked the Christian view of God leveled their attack chiefly at the doctrine of creation. And that's true today, that if one is an atheist, the most important item of Christian doctrine that needs to be demolished is this item of creation, because if creation can be denied, then the very first teachings of the biblical record with respect to the character of God would fall with it.

Genesis 1 begins with the affirmation, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, so that if you can attack the idea of a first cause or of a creation altogether, then you demolish the very foundation of Christian thought. So what Aquinas is saying is simply this, yes, nature may not prove the full content of God that we get from sacred Scripture, at least what nature does yield us through a rational treatment of the created realm is enough truth to stop the mouths of the atheists and of the skeptics because natural theology, according to Aquinas, clearly demonstrates that God is the author of the universe. And though that doesn't tell us everything there is to know about God, it tells us something that is true as far as it goes.

That's what he means when he says natural theology is incomplete but true, and that true as far as it goes is vital to the historic philosophical debates that have gone on between various forms of theism and various kinds of atheism. Now, before I come back to the analogical one, let me remind you again what I covered briefly in our last session, namely that in Aquinas' arguments for the existence of God, the five classic arguments that he gives, he talked in part about God's being, necessary being, and I didn't have a whole lot of time to develop that, but the technical phrase that was used by the theologians in the Middle Ages was the phrase, ends necessarium. Now, that just is a fancy way to say necessary being. But if you recall from Anselm and Aquinas, there are two ways in which God is said to be a necessary being, and we need to keep that in mind because sometimes these two ways of necessity are confused among people. God is a necessary being ontologically, according to Aquinas, and logically.

What does that mean? To say that God has ontological necessary being is almost the redundancy. Ontology is the study of being. We've mentioned that from the very beginning when we looked at the struggle for understanding reality that began with Thales and through the pre-Socratics and the struggle over being and becoming that we found in Plato and Aristotle and so on.

So that ontology focuses attention on the question of being. Now, what Aquinas and others meant by necessary being was to describe a being whose being is not dependent, derived, or contingent. And remember I mentioned the difference between supreme being and human beings.

The difference between the supreme being and a human being is a difference in being, that a human being is dependent. You can't live for very long without oxygen and without water and without food and so on, so that you have certain needs that you must have met for you to continue to be. Not only that, you are not the cause of your own being. You are derived through the normal process of procreation. You were born, you have a birthday, and you are contingent being, meaning that it's possible, at least theoretically, that you didn't exist. There was a time when you were not, and there's a time when you will die, and in between those two poles you will undergo changes, which are all indicators of contingent being. Now, when Aquinas speaks about God's being necessary being, he means that God is not derived, not dependent, not contingent. He is the unconditional one who has the power of being within himself eternally. He didn't get his being from someone else or something else.

And since he has the power of being within himself, it is said that he is self-existing. I often talk about the two children that were having a dispute about these questions, and one little boy said to the other little boy, Where did that tree come from? And the other boy said, Well, God made the tree. Well, where did that fish come from? God made the fish. Well, where did we come from?

Well, God made us. Until finally, after this discussion reached a breaking point, the one child said to the other, Well, where did God come from? And the other child said, God made himself.

And that's supposed to communicate to us a profound level of insight from a small child. Unfortunately, it's an erroneous thought. God did not make himself. Nothing makes itself. Again, for something to create itself would require that it existed before it was.

It would have to be and not be at the same time. And even God cannot bring himself into being from nothing. The answer is that God is not caused. That in order for us to apply causal links or a causal chain, we do that routinely when we're trying to trace the origins of various things in the world in which we live. But sooner or later, you're going to have to come to that which is uncaused, that which has the power of being in and of itself. And if it has the power of being eternally in and of itself, it cannot not be. That is, its being is of ontological necessity. An ontologically necessary being is a being who cannot not be. That's the simple explanation for what Aquinas is getting at. Now the second way in which he speaks of necessary being is logically.

Through his arguments for the existence of God, Aquinas was trying to show that not only is God ontologically necessary, but it is logically necessary that there be an ontologically necessary being. Because without an ontologically necessary being, nothing could possibly be. Now this presupposes one assumption, and that assumption is that something exists, that there is something rather than nothing. So that if something exists, anything exists right now, then there never could have been a time when there was absolutely nothing. Because if ever there was absolutely nothing, what could logically possibly be now? Absolutely nothing. And I noticed, I said, what could logically possibly be now?

I said absolutely nothing. And that's for this simple reason, that if ever there was a time when there was absolutely nothing, and now there is something somewhere along the line, something would have had to pop into existence by its own power. And for something to create itself, as we said, is rationally impossible.

It's a logical impossibility. I know people speak that way. I talked about the launching of the Hubble telescope and listening to a very respected physicist on the radio, who said 12 to 15 billion years ago the universe exploded into being.

And I said, whoops. If it exploded into being, from what did it explode? Non-being? Is this respectable physicist trying to pass off the idea that something came absolutely from nothing?

That would destroy the most important logical axiom we have, Ex nihilo, nihil fit, out of nothing, nothing comes. But if something is here, then logic demands that something somewhere has this power of being within itself, or nothing could possibly be. So for Aquinas, he argues that from reflecting on nature, we come to the conclusion that there is both an ontologically necessary being, whose necessary being is a logically necessary postulate. Alright, now let's go then to this word, analogical.

This is so important to understand Aquinas' contribution to the history of theological and philosophical thought. When he talks about the knowledge of God that we have as being analogical, of course the word that he has in view there, this is the adjectival form of the word analogy. Now when we talk about analogies, we talk about things that have similarities to other things, such and such is analogous to something, that means it's like it, participates in certain similarities.

It's not identical with it, but it's similar to it. Now Aquinas distinguished among three different ways of speaking descriptively. What's called, first of all, the univocal, or sometimes pronounced univocal. The second is the equivocal, and the third is the analogical.

Univocal or univocal language is when a word is used to describe two different beings, and the meaning of the term remains exactly the same. I like to use the illustration of the word good. We talk about good people, we say that God is good, and we say that our dogs are good. Do you have a dog, Roger? No, sir, you don't, so you can't help me with my illustration. Does anybody have a dog?

Anyone? I have a dog, and my dog's a good dog. And I tell him that every day, I say, good dog. And what do I mean by that he's a good dog, that he has a highly advanced ethical sense, whereby he is impeccable in his morality? No, I mean when I say that my dog is good, I mean by that that he comes when I call him, sometimes, he's housebroken, he doesn't bite the mailman on the leg. Now, when I say that Fred back here is a good man, do I mean by that simply that he comes when I call him, or that he's housebroken, or that he doesn't bite the mailman on the leg?

Obviously not. So that when I describe two different beings, a dog and a human being, and use the same word good, I am not using it in a univocal sense. I don't mean exactly the same thing in both circumstances. Now, the term equivocal is where the meaning of the word is vastly different from the beings being described. For example, if I said I went to a dramatic reading the other night, and I came back and said that the narrative was bald, what I mean by that, that the story didn't have hair on its head, of course not.

I would mean that something is lacking, just as hair is lacking on a bald head, so drama or pizazz was lacking from this dramatic reading. So in that case, here the terms differ radically when applied to two different beings. So you have radical discontinuity with the equivocal language and radical unity with univocal language, and in between those two extremes exists what Aquinas calls analogical language. That is language of analogy. And that's the basis upon which we can communicate with each other, and it's even because though we are all human, all of our experiences of certain realities in this world do not match exactly the same.

Nevertheless, there's enough similarity to your experience and to my experience that we can communicate in a meaningful, intelligible way. Well, what Aquinas is saying is that the language we use about God is the language of analogy. When the Bible calls God Father, it doesn't mean by that that He's exactly the same as an earthly father, but nor does it mean that the differences are so vast that the language is worthless and equivocal and inadequate, but rather that there are similarities between God's fatherhood and human fatherhood and enough similarities to make discussions and language meaningful. Now that's very important because in our day we're living in a time when some critics have argued that all language about God is meaningless. And this is all based on what Aquinas called the analogy of being, looking to Scripture that says we are created in the image of God. We are not gods. God is not exactly like we are. But we have some point of contact, some point of similarity with God, or we would not be able to speak meaningfully at all about God. And so that point has been critical in the history of philosophy, that because there is some similarity between human beingness and divine beingness, there is some ground there for meaningful conversation and communication between the two. As one writer put it, Thomas Aquinas is a theologian some Protestants love to hate and others love to love.

No matter where you land on the matter, Dr. R.C. Sproul's message today has shown us why Thomas is such an important figure in the history of Christian thought. We're glad you've joined us today for Renewing Your Mind. All week we have featured portions of Dr. Sproul's series, The Consequences of Ideas, his survey of Western philosophy. We'd like for you to have this 35-message series for your own library.

As you view the videos, you'll begin to see how these thinkers influence the way we think every day. When you give a donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries, we will be glad to send you this nine-DVD set. There are a couple of ways you can reach us to make your request.

One is by phone at 800-435-4343, or if you prefer to give your gift online, our web address is You know, studying philosophy can seem a bit daunting at first. It was for Kent, who is one of my colleagues here at Ligonier Ministries. You know, when I first started working at Ligonier, the thing that really grabbed hold of me from R.C. was that series, Consequences of Ideas. And as much as anything, it challenged me to think through where the ideas that I had had been coming from, and I'd really been kind of thoughtless about the whole thing. And suddenly realizing that these ideas that had come from what I thought were kind of brainiac academic towers, were actually in the culture, and I was swallowing it whole and not even thinking about it.

So thinking through those things, R.C. 's kind of put me in a place where I started thinking biblically, and it's really changed the way I look at anything now. And I have to think with that filter on now, you know, what is it that God is saying versus what is the culture telling me? Well, I appreciate Kent sharing that with us. That's an important point for us to consider. Studying these things helps us discern when we're straying from a biblical worldview. Tomorrow, we'll wrap up Dr. Sproul's series as he concentrates on the Renaissance, when the Church and society experienced massive upheaval.

So make plans to join us Friday for Renewing Your Mind. Copyright © 2017 Mooji Media Ltd. All Rights Reserved. No part of this recording may be reproduced
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-01 11:54:51 / 2023-07-01 12:03:21 / 9

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