I’ve had funerals and death on the brain this past week. It comes with the job. I’m just happy that for the first time in over a year it’s not my own death and funeral that’s lingering on the brain. It’s most often in the context of death that I hear some hackneyed version (‘God has a plan for everything’ or ‘There’s a reason for everything’ or ‘I know it was a horrific life-altering loss for you but God must’ve needed one more angel in heaven.’) of what I’ve concluded is the most common heresy among Americans, Christian and Non- the fraught, turns-God-into-a-prick-that-his-Son-should-depose bullshit belief that God can do whatever God wants.
No, God cannot do whatever God wants.
The notion that God can do whatever God wants is called ‘Sovereignty’ by Calvinists.
The notion that God is free to do whatever God wants is called heresy by the ancient Christians.
As I’ve said again and again on this blog, God, by definition of the word ‘God,’ does not change. God’s unchanging nature, God’s immunity to change we could say, is called ‘immutability.’
Understanding God’s nature as immutable has been the consensus belief of most of Christianity since the time of Christ and continues to be so in most of the Church catholic. Behind the doctrine of immutability is the more foundational doctrine of Divine Simplicity; that is, God is not composed of parts whether spatial, temporal, or abstract. To be composed of parts, the ancient Christians held, implies that God is not the Composer.
Another way of putting it is that God is Simple in that there is no distinction between God’s Nature and God’s Will.
Or, to channel Forrest Gump, God IS as God DOES.
And God cannot DO in contradiction with who God IS.
The ancient Christians held that the categories we call Truth, Beauty or Goodness exist outside of our minds, cultures and languages. They are not merely relative concepts or words we attach to things in this world with no reality beyond this world.
They derive from the universal, eternal nature of God.
What we call ‘Goodness’ derives from the eternal, unchanging nature of God, whose Being is Absolute Goodness. In addition, God does not change.
If God is Perfect, Immutable Love then God cannot do something that is unloving.
If God is Perfect, Immutable Goodness then God cannot do something that is not good.
Not even God, the ancient Christians believed, can violate his eternal, unchanging nature. God cannot, say, use his omnipotence to will evil, for to do so would contradict God’s very nature.
For God to be free, then, is for God to act unhindered according to God’s nature.
As creatures made in this God’s image, therefore, our freedom is necessarily freedom ‘for.’ We are free when we are unhindered and unconstrained from acting towards the ‘Goodness’ in which we all move and live and have our being.
The heresy that says God can do whatever God wants is called ‘nominalism.’
In contradiction to the ancient tradition, nominalism argues that God has no eternal nature which limits, controls or guides God’s actions.
God is free to do whatever God wants, and those wants are not determined by anything prior in God’s character.
If God wants to will the collapse of a bridge, God has the freedom to will the bridge’s demise, no matter how many cars may be passing over it.
If God wants to break his promise to a People, by all means. What’s to stop God?
If God wants to give someone cancer or, on a different day and in a different mood, something better then God can.
According to nominalism, God can do whatever God wants and, by extension, whatever God does is ‘good’ simply because God does it.
It’s God’s actions in time and space that determine the ‘good’ not God’s eternal being.
Whereas ‘freedom’ in the realist mind refers to God acting in harmony with God’s eternal nature, ‘freedom’ for the nominalist refers to God’s ability to be pure, arbitrary will.
God’s will is supreme over God’s nature. Freedom, for God, is the freedom to will.
And as creatures made in this God’s image, freedom, for us, is the freedom to will. To want. To choose. Independent of and disconnected from the Good we call God. Freedom is for freedom’s sake alone.
Thus enters the atheist’s familiar conundrum:
Is something good because God says or does it?
Or does God say/do that which is good?
A Christian answers that it has to be the latter.
God is absolute goodness and God does only that which is good (all the time), and if it ever seems to us like God is not all the time good then the problem is with our perception of God not with God’s character and action.