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Deity

By Dr. Douglas Groothuis


An Opinionated Philosophical Dictionary


Deity

 

Deity refers to a non-natural or supernatural personal agent who exists objectively. Some psychological thinkers, such as Carl Jung and James Hillman, speak of the gods as aspects or inhabitants of the psyche, but this is psychology, not theology. Let us speak of objective truth claims.


A deity may be finite or infinite; there may be one or several. Polytheism has several variants, including Greek, Roman, and Mormon. In all cases the gods are limited. Francis Schaffer’s comment on polytheism is apt. He is speaking of the problems the Greeks had for giving meaning to the particulars of life based on something outside of them.

But the difficulty is that the Greek gods (and this includes Plato’s gods) simply were inadequate. They were personal gods—in contrast to the Eastern gods, who include everything and are impersonal—but they were not big enough. Consequently, because their gods were not big enough, the problem remained unsolved for the Greeks.[1]

The inadequacy of the Greek gods (or for any polytheistic system) is that these gods are finite and not morally perfect. Thus, they can explain neither the origin of the universe, its regular operation, or serve as the final reference point for goodness or for purpose (teleology). A meaningful personal relationship of trust and devotion with such a deity is ruled out for the same reasons. Monotheism, however, suffers none of these insufferable defects. Monotheism affirms the existence of one infinite and personal Creator and Designer of the cosmos, who upholds its existence and is able to intervene through revelation and miracles.


It can be established that the universe began to exist a finite time ago and in a highly fine-tuned constellation of contingent factors needed to make life possible. Only a supremely powerful agent with vast knowledge can explain the existence of this creation and design. There is no reason to posit more than one being contributing to the origin of the universe. We need not multiply explanatory factors unnecessarily. Since the laws of nature are constant and universal, it is more logical to posit one infinite Creator and Designer as their author than to appeal to several finite deities. And if there were many gods responsible for the universe, then their existence would need to be explained by something beyond them, thus forbidding any final explanation. On the contrary, monotheism provides a compelling and metaphysically complete explanation for the cosmos. The case, in fact, gets better as physicists learn more about cosmic fine-tuning and biologists learn more about the inner workings of the cell.[2]


The three major monotheistic religions are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.[3] Judaism, as the religion God revealed to the Jews, is best understood as the preparation for Jesus Christ as Messiah and for Christianity as the one fully true religion. Islam denies crucial features of Christianity, such as the Trinity (Matthew 28:18-20), the Incarnation (John 1:1-5; 14), and salvation through faith alone (Ephesians 2:1-10), and has no rational basis for so doing.[4]

Pantheism affirms the existence of one impersonal deitythat is one with the world (monism or nondualism). There is no Creator-creature distinction (John 1:1-5; see Romans 1:18-21), which is essential to monotheism. This deity is typically thought to transcend rational description and to be beyond words, thoughts, concept, or logic. If so, such a being could not be known intellectually. Nor could this being be known personally, since it is impersonal and amoral. Natural theology, which grounds rationally the existence of an infinite-personal (or perfect) deity, refutes pantheism through the revelation of God given in nature. The historically grounded claims of Christianity refute pantheism through the revelation God has given in history and in the Bible.[5] Pantheism, in fact, fails to explain human nature, morality, or anything else significant to human life.[6]


One noncanonical form of theism has been called misotheism—the claim that there is one monotheistic God but that one should revolt against this God. In Hating God, Bernard Schweizer named and defined this new or anti-religion: “Simply put, misotheism is a response to suffering, injustice, and disorder in a troubled world. Misotheists feel that humanity is the subject of divine carelessness or sadism, and question God’s love for humanity.”[7]


Theism, whether Jewish, Christian, or Islamic, confesses a belief in God and accepts (sometimes kicking and screaming) God’s authority and prerogatives. Atheism denies the existence of God and tries to live in the aftermath. However, many atheists seem to be proclaiming, “There is no God, and I hate him.”


Misotheism denies both theism and atheism. Instead, it accepts the existence of God, but refuses to love, like, or especially worship God. Beyond that, misotheists hate God, just as misanthropes hate humanity and misogynists hate women. Misotheists shout, “There is a God, and I hate him.”[8]


While this broken and groaning world may illicit such attacks on the deity (Romans 8:18-26), the evidence is in that God exists and is both all-good and all-powerful. Thus, the best response to trouble is to cry out to the God who is there and who was concerned enough about humanity to take on human flesh and die for our sins in the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:14; Philippians 2:5-11). Since Christ rose from the dead, we can have hope as rational monotheists (1 Corinthians 15), who may lament before God (Psalm 90), but who must cast all our anxieties on our Creator and Redeemer (1 Peter 5:6-7).

 

 

 

 


[1] Francis Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, date), Kindle Edition.

[2] See Stephen C. Meyer, “The Origin of Life and the DNA Enigma.” Return of the God Hypothesis (New York: HarperOne, 2021).

[3] On each of these religions, see Douglas Groothuis’s World Religions in Seven Sentences (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity-Academic, 2023).

[4] See Douglas Groothuis, “The Challenge of Islam,” Christian Apologetics, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity-Academic, 2022).

[5] See Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, Part Two, “The Case for Christian Theism.”

[6] See Douglas Groothuis, “Comparing Gods,” Confronting the New Age (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988).

[7] Bernard Schweizer, Hating God: The Untold Story of Misotheism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 8. Misotheism can be picked up in some of the works of Nietzsche.

[8] This section on misotheism is taken from Groothuis, Douglas. Walking Through Twilight: A Wife's Illness—A Philosopher's Lament, 2017 (pp. 42-43). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

 

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