Analogies, Thought Experiments, and the Creator-Creature Distinction
Following up on the previous post (my take on whether an all-powerful being is a moral monster if he can save all but doesn’t), the following might prove helpful and/or clarifying.
As I mentioned, many missteps in theology are on account of the implicit idea that God must act as we would act. It is common among some to appeal to the image of God, our sense of moral intuition, and Jesus as the ultimate revelation of God to advance the idea that if we wouldn’t act in a certain way, then we know that God cannot act this way and remain righteous.
But I think that is inverting the proper Creator-creature relationship. A. B. Caneday has a thoughtful discussion on this point:
Apprehension of God and relation to God are ours only in terms of analogies that derive from the fact that God made man in his own image.
God’s imprinted image is organic.
The Creator-creature analogy yields the Bible’s five primary analogical relationships within which we relate to God:
(1) king and subject;
(2) judge and defendant/litigant;
(3) husband and wife;
(4) father and child; and
(5) master and slave.
God, who made his creatures in his own image, is pleased to disclose himself to us in keeping with the God-like adornment with which he clothed us.
Here is the essence of anthropomorphism. God reveals himself to us in human terms, yet we must not compare God to us as if we were the ultimate reference point. God organically and indelibly impressed his image upon man so that our relationships to one another reflect his relationships with us.
We do not come to know God as creator ex nihilo because we know ourselves to be creative and imagine him to be greater. Instead, man creates because we are like God. God is the original; we are the organic image, the living copy.
We do not rightly speak of God as king by projecting onto him regal imagery because we think it is fitting for God. Rather, bowing before God who has dominion is proper because man, as king over creation, is the image of kingship; God, the true king, is the reality that casts the image of the earthly king.
It is not as if God looked around his creation and found marital union between male and female to be a fit pattern for his relationship with humans. “Male and female he created them” that they may “become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). The union of husband and wife is an earthly image or copy of the heavenly union of God, the true husband, with his people, the true bride. Paul understood marriage in Genesis 2:24 this way, for he cites the passage and explains, “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32).
—A. B. Caneday, “Veiled Glory: God’s Self-Revelation in Human Likeness—A Biblical Theology of God’s Anthropomorphic Self-Disclosure,” in Beyond the Bounds, ed. Piper, Taylor, and Helseth (Crossway, 2003), p. 163; my emphasis. [The whole book is online for free.]
The great Princetonian theologian B. B. Warfield reflects on this when it comes to the issue of universalism. Fred Zaspel (The Theology of B. B. Warfield, pp. 418-419) summarizes:
Universalistic notions seem to be driven by the assumptions that God “owes” salvation equally to all men, that it would be unfair for him to favor a few, and that sin is not really sin deserving of wrath but rather misfortune deserving of pity—that is, a low view of sin.
Warfield illustrates the matter by comparing a doctor and a judge.
We might fault a doctor who, although able to relieve a sickness in all, actually relieves only some.
Yet we may wonder how a judge could release any guilty offender at all.
God in his love does pity and save, but he is righteous as well as loving. Accordingly, God in love saves only as many “as he can get the consent of his whole nature to save.” God “will not permit even his ineffable love to betray him into any action which is not right.”
We might sympathize with the “leveling” tendencies of politics—freedom for all, rights for all, education for all, and so on. The cry from a nation’s citizens to its government to give all “an equal chance” is one thing. But the turbulent self-assertion of convicted criminals demanding clemency is quite another.
We must fix it firmly in our minds, Warfield insists, that salvation is the right of no one and that a “chance” to save oneself is no chance of salvation for any, and that if anyone at all is saved, it must be by a miracle of divine grace on which no one has any claim whatever. All this is so designed that any who are saved can only be “filled with wondering adoration of the marvels of the inexplicable love of God.” Indeed, Warfield continues, “To demand that all criminals shall be given a ‘chance’ of escaping their penalties, and that all shall be given an ‘equal chance,’ is simply to mock at the very idea of justice, and no less, at the very idea of love.”