Archive for July 11th, 2011

The Unnecessary God

July 11, 2011

Many years ago I knew a pastor who said he did not believe in angels. I was surprised by his statement and asked him why. His response was interesting:

“I do not believe in angels because I cannot think of anything that they do that the Holy Spirit could not do instead.”

I thought his reasoning was confused at the time and still do. Essentially, he did not believe in angels because he did not think them necessary. Of course, the fault in his logic is that nothing created exists by necessity. All creation exists by the will of God and nothing can lay claim to necessity. Creation does not need to exist.

It is also correct to say that God does not need to exist – there is no necessity in God – His existence is pure freedom.

To speak of things as unnecessary or of God’s lack of necessity is very troubling. We often have an interior sense that things which do not exist by necessity may therefore not really exist at all. It is only natural for a child to have a sense of fear and insecurity when they come to an age to realize that their own existence not only had a beginning, but that they need not ever to have existed. It’s similar to the fear of death.

The lack of necessity in God is quite similar. Most arguments for the existence of God are a search for such necessity. Arguments that win and become persuasive are generally grounded in some form of necessity. The argument for God’s existence is not only that He does exist, but that He must exist. Of course if there is no necessity in God, if we cannot say, “God must,” then believers can find themselves deeply unsettled, thinking that if we cannot say “God must,” then perhaps we can say, “God isn’t.”

Such things are logical problems and the fear of them is rooted deep in the fears that haunt humanity.

At the heart of these problems is the problem of freedom. St. Paul says, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” 2 Corinthians 3:17. We are also taught in the Scriptures that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). These are not separate understandings – for there is no love except love exists in freedom. That which is by compulsion is not love. Believers are invited into an existence that is rooted in love and freedom not necessity. Such an existence is the very basis of what it means for us to exist as persons.

All of this sets us in a place that can feel very insecure. We frequently prefer necessity to freedom and compulsion to love.

Those who argue against the existence of God remind me of my friend who found the existence of angels unnecessary. Many people have the experience described by St. Paul in Romans 1, in which the existence of God is easily inferred from the very existence and order of creation. But St. Paul does not describe such an experience as “necessary.” In our modern world such “necessity” would not always seem obvious. Moreover, such necessity is not immune to doubt.

The movement from a necessary existence to an existence grounded in freedom and love is a difficult journey for most people. The lack of compulsion (which is also a lack of violence) seems untenable in the world. People fear that without compulsion the world becomes far too dangerous. Compulsion can restrain evil, but it cannot make evil be good.

To use the word “unnecessary” with regard to God is not to say that we can exist without Him. It is to say that to exist with Him, in the fullness of life to which we are called, is to live beyond necessity and to embrace God in freedom and love.

Forgive my clumsy expressions.