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Perfect Being

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
September 29, 2023 12:01 am

Perfect Being

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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September 29, 2023 12:01 am

As creatures, we are always changing, always becoming what we formerly were not. Not so with God. Today, R.C. Sproul continues his study of the Westminster Confession and explains what it means for God to be the perfect Being.

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God is that being who is most perfect, and even though most perfect is kind of a redundancy, nevertheless, the reason for that description is to underscore the majestic, superlative greatness of the being of God that is totally full and integrated in its complete character and has nothing lacking in it. Describing God is no easy task, ensuring that our language doesn't portray God as smaller than He is or unintentionally make us, His creatures, bigger than we are.

Theologians have been very careful, even painstakingly so, to ensure that our descriptions of God are faithful to what's been revealed in the Scriptures, and that's vital. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind as we've spent this week thinking about creeds and confessions, and we've heard R.C. Sproul teach from the Westminster Confession of Faith. I also told you about a new resource featuring 20 creeds, catechisms, and confessions of faith. Today's actually the last day that you can request your copy for a donation of any amount at renewingyourmind.org, so be sure to request yours while there's still time. As you heard in the preview of today's episode, God is the most perfect being.

Here's R.C. Sproul on the superlative greatness of God. There is a word that is used as a qualifying term that occurs over and over and over in section 1, and it is the word most. Now, in our language, when we use the word most, we are using it to describe something to what is called the superlative degree. When we compare one thing to another in terms of excellency, we might say that something is good at the first level. When we go to the comparative level, the second degree, we would say it is better. But when we want to go to the final degree, the third degree, the superlative degree, the highest degree, we use the term most.

And so I think that it sort of jumps out at us as we're looking over section 1 of chapter 2, how many times this qualifying word occurs. Now, in the scholastic period of theological inquiry, centuries and centuries ago, a term was in vogue to describe the nature of God that has survived the age and has become part of the technical language of Christian Orthodoxy with respect to the nature of God. And it is the Latin term ens, e-n-s, perfectissimum.

The ens perfectissimum. Now this term being translated means that being who is most perfect. We remember the ontological argument for the existence of God that was made famous by Saint Anselm of Canterbury where he set forth the argument that defined God as that being no greater than which can be conceived. Some people have translated it in a less awkward way by saying God is the greatest being conceivable.

And there was reasons why Anselm stated it a little differently, but we'll leave that go for now. But this idea developed as an important concept to describe God, and it has a little bit of a grammatical difficulty contained within it because we realize that the idea of perfection is not a concept that on the positive side of the ledger really can admit to degrees. We use degrees because of the negative side. We know that certain things are imperfect, and other things are more imperfecter than others, that something that falls short of perfection can just miss it or it can miss it by a mile. And so we see gradations of failure to meet a standard in its absolute sense of perfection. And that's why sometimes people will use gradations to speak positively about perfection. If something is less imperfect than something else, we say that it more closely approximates perfection, and so we use the language somewhat loosely of saying that it is therefore more perfect than others. Though as I say, that's kind of impossible because once the state of perfection is reached, it doesn't admit to any further degrees.

You can't get any better than perfect. And the theologians that coined this expression understood that, but they were trying to accommodate themselves to the confusion that we have about this by saying that God is that being who is most perfect. And even though most perfect is kind of a redundancy, nevertheless the reason for that description is to underscore the majestic, superlative greatness of the being of God that is totally full and integrated in its complete character and has nothing lacking in it. Now let's go to the other side of the definition, the first word that is there, which is the word being. And there is nothing that provokes more mystery in the study of metaphysics, the study of philosophy historically, than the very question of being. And when we describe ourselves over against the nature of God, we call ourselves human beings as distinguished from God who is the supreme being. And so we have the same word being or ends in this case to describe God as we use to describe human creatures.

But the difference between God and us is not found so much in the difference between supreme and human as it is in our understanding of being itself. One of the earliest pursuits of intellectual activity among thinkers in the ancient world was the pursuit for what was called the arche-principle of reality, the principle of ultimate reality, which the philosophers of that day talked of in terms of the concept of being. And that was debated by the philosophers before Socrates, the so-called pre-Socratic philosophers. And then of course it was dealt with in great detail by Plato, and I'll mention him again in a few moments. But then we get to the work of the one who is known simply as the philosopher, Aristotle. Aristotle described being in terms of the distinction between what he spoke of of actuality and potentiality.

Now these are common everyday words that we use. I can remember my introduction to the concept of potentiality, which I found somewhat embarrassing as a young boy. The second time my name ever appeared in print to my knowledge was in the local newspaper when I was the subject of a sports deal that took place in our town. This was before the advent of Little League and Pony League and Prep League and all of that. We had three baseball teams in our town, and they went up to age twenty-one. Although most of the players in that league, there were three teams, most of the players in the league were high school players. Well I was twelve years old and in the seventh grade, and I was playing for one of the teams in this league.

I was playing with the big boys. I was little Sonny Sproul there at twelve years old trying to compete against seniors in high school, and the fact the best pitcher in the league was twenty-one years old. Well these teams had not only coaches, but they had general managers, and they would pull off trades just like they do in the big leagues. And I made it to the paper because I was involved in a blockbuster deal where I was traded from one team to another for three players. And here I was in seventh grade, and the three players for which I was traded were tenth graders. And you can imagine how good they would be to be traded for one kid kid that was twelve years old. But I was really proud that I was traded for three people, three for one deal, and got the starting position at second base on this one particular team, the Indians as it was. But the newspaper article said the Indians acquired the slick-feeling second baseman Sonny Sproul, who lacks a potential bat. That was a way of saying, this kid might be able to catch a ball that's thrown to him, but he can't hit his weight in this league. And that was really insulting.

It hurt my feelings when I read that in print. I didn't like the meaning of that term potential, and I would also hear it from my teachers in school because I was following three years behind my sister who was always first in her class in everything, and I was more interested in everything but grades, and the teachers would say, you're not living up to your potential. I came to hate that word potential. The only redeeming, salutary thing that happened to me is I went almost the entire season on that year on that year without a hit until my first hit came against the 21-year-old pitcher. And I have to tell you, it left the ballpark over the left center field wall. And as I was rounding the bases, I was thinking, take that for a potential bat. But isn't it funny the things that stick in your mind over the years?

And I thought, I'm sure you're much more interested in what we're about here than those anecdotes. But potentiality meant ability or power or something that has not yet been realized. The possibility exists for certain growth to take place, but until it is realized, it's not actually part of who you are or what you've done. And so Aristotle in describing creaturely things described creatures as in a state of potentiality that all people have within them a certain potential, just as an acorn is at the moment an acorn, but it is potentially what?

An oak tree, so that there's great potentiality compressed into that little seed that we call an acorn. And so anything that changes can change either to the good or to the bad. It can improve or it can be involved in de-provement. The potentiality goes in both directions. And Aristotle also said, try to conceive of something that was only potentiality, no actuality, just pure potentiality. It could be potentially anything, said Aristotle, said Aristotle, but actually what?

Nothing. So pure potentiality is an empty concept. You can't have something that is only potential. Only something that has some degree of reality to it, some actuality to it can be described in terms of potentiality. Only existing things have potential. So we can speak of ourselves as having potential. We can speak of our dogs as having potential or whatever. But when we come to God, Aristotle in contemplating pure being, ultimate reality said that God is pure actuality, actual purist was his technical term that he used, pure actuality, meaning that in God all reality of being is fully and totally realized, and there is absolutely no potential in God.

Now think about that, no potential. That's what's behind the idea of God's immutability. God already is filled in His being with the fullness of all perfection.

He can't possibly get any better, and He will never change for the worse, because in Him there is no lack, nothing that is still to be realized or actualized because He's pure being. Now I promised that I would mention at least briefly in passing of Plato. Again in antiquity, going back before Plato, the philosophers argued about reality, and their big question was unity and diversity. The philosophers would look around themselves, and they would see animals and vegetables, and they'd see trees and kangaroos, and they'd see gravel, and they'd see clouds in the sky, and they would see people.

And they would notice the overwhelming diversity of reality as they encountered it in their daily experience. And they were asking the question then that philosophers have asked even down to the day, what's it all about, Alfie? How does all of this stuff come together and mean anything?

Is there anything that gives unity to all of this diversity? So the old problem of what is called the one and the many is what started the whole pursuit of science, and the reason for the existence of universities was the idea was that we would go and learn about as many things as we possibly can, and not only learn about the possibilities of the world, but also learn about the particulars that are manifested in biology and psychology and chemistry and physics and so on, but also try to go above and beyond the natural sciences to find that ultimate reality that would give unity and coherence to all things. Again, as Carl Sagan said, how we can explain that the universe is not chaos but cosmos.

For it to be cosmos, it has to have some overarching power that pulls everything together into coherency. Now from Plato's perspective, Plato was a scientist, and we think of him as a philosopher, but in his day there was not this great distinction between science and philosophy and the academy that was built outside of Athens in the groves of a man whose name was Akademi who donated the property, and we now talk about the groves of academia ever since the academy there. But in any case, when he started his school, he had the sign over the door that said, Let none but geometers enter here. So it was a graduate school for the study of geometry.

But we don't think of that when we think of Plato. We think of him as being a philosopher first, as a scientist second. But the reason why he was concerned about geometry was he was studying the subject of form, formal truth, rational truth, truth that doesn't change every minute. And in that, he said the task of the scientist and the philosopher is to save the phenomena. Now that's a tremendous concept that has had an enormous impact on the whole history of intellectual investigation and of science. What is the task of science but to explain the reality in which we find ourselves? Do we have all the phenomena, those things that appear before our investigation? But how do we make sense of it all?

How do we save the phenomenon from meaninglessness? And that's what Plato said can only be done ultimately by having an adequate understanding of being. And he used the distinction that was already in vogue from the earlier philosophers to distinguish between being and becoming. I've mentioned this in some other context where he looked back to the two previous philosophers, Parmenides and Heraclitus, where Parmenides made the statement that the first time I heard it in the philosophy class when I was in college, I laughed out loud. His famous statement was, whatever is, is.

When I heard that, I said to the philosophy professor, I said, this guy's famous? I said, what a great insight that is. Whatever is, is. And I didn't realize and I didn't realize at the time that I had just been introduced to probably the most profound concept that I would ever have to deal with in my pursuit of knowledge. Because what he was saying is that for something to exist, it must be what it is. It must have being where it simply couldn't be.

And over against that, Heraclitus said, no, no, no, no. Everything that we see in this world is changing. The only thing that's permanent is change itself. Everything is in a state of flux. You can't step into the same river twice because after you've put your left foot in the water of the river, by the time you put the second foot in, the river's moved along.

It's changed. And there's been infinitesimal, invisible erosion to its banks. And if nothing else, you have changed if only being two or three seconds older than you were before you took your first step. The one thing that characterized all creatureliness is change. And so we can't say that we are ultimately human beings. Rather, we are human becomings, because whatever we were when we walked into this room tonight, we will have changed by the time we leave, if only with respect to putting on some minutes of age to our lives. And so that's our experience as human beings. We're always becoming something different from what we were.

That's the nature of creatureliness. But that's the great distinction between the creature and the Creator, that God is who He is and what He is from everlasting to everlasting to everlasting. That's why it's so profound that when God spoke to Moses and revealed Himself to Moses in the Midianite wilderness, and He used His memorial name to do it when Moses said, Who shall I say has sent me?

God answered him by saying, What? I am who I am. That is to say, I am not the one who was and is and continues or will be something different tomorrow. I am from everlasting to everlasting.

There is no shadow of turning. There is no change ever in the being and character of God. Now we'll look at it a little bit later in the Confession about what that says about His character wherein He has the power of being itself in Himself. None of us can exist by ourselves. We are all as creatures, people, or things of a history. There was a time when we were not. There was a time when we did not exist. You know, it says it on our tombstones. We live our lives between two periods in time, between our birth and our death.

But there is no birthday for God, and there's no death day for God because He is eternal. And in His being, we find the fullness of every perfection totally actualized, totally realized. And that's the philosophical underpinnings behind this string of statements that are made about God here in section 1 of chapter 2 where God is called most this and most that, and so on. As we live in rather turbulent times, we can close our eyes and lay down our heads at night, knowing, as R.C. Sproul just said, there is no shadow of turning.

There is no change ever in the being and character of God. You're listening to the Friday edition of Renewing Your Mind as we conclude a week of study in the Westminster Confession of Faith. That confession has helped generations of Christians defend their faith, and you can own a copy to read, study, and memorize, along with other documents that have served the church, including the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, the Heidelberg Catechism, or Luther's Small Catechism. Today is the final day for this offer, so request this new hardcover volume, We Believe, at renewingyourmind.org while time remains. If you prefer, you can call us at 800 435 4343, and you'll get the e-book edition of We Believe as well so that you can take it with you wherever you go on your smartphone or your tablet.

This offer ends at midnight, so visit renewingyourmind.org today. We spent this week talking about the one true and living God, but how do we defend our faith and witness to those that disagree with us? Can you talk about the Christian faith with Muslims? Join us Monday as we consider Islam here on Renewing Your Mind. you
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-29 05:37:50 / 2023-09-29 05:45:51 / 8

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