The Doctrine of God in Christian Theology: God’s Nature within the Christian Tradition

Introduction

The knowledge and love of God are central to Christianity and the Christian tradition. They are at the heart of Christian revelation, which tells Christians who God is and how all created things relate to him. Founda-tionally, God is triune, personal, and transcendent. These frame and qualify all descriptions of God’s nature. The belief that God is personal and loving begins with the intra-Trinitarian relationship between God the Father, Son, and Spirit, which shapes and analogously models not simply human relationships, but the relational nature of all creation. Further, God as personal assures the Christian that God is not somehow weighing options and making decisions far removed from those affected by such decisions. As personal, the Christian tradition believes God has a loving relationship with each Christian, and his knowledge (omniscience), power (omnipotence), and goodness (omnibenevolence) invite, sustain, and apply to every Christian personally. In other words, because God is good, he has the best interests of his creation, especially humans, in mind; in that God is allknowing, he lovingly makes decisions knowing the best possible outcomes; and due to his power, he directs each and every life event for their good (Romans 8:28). Combined, these show God’s all-embracing providential care for his people, including Christians with depression and anxiety.

God’s personal presence in the daily life of every Christian is possible through God’s transcendence. It is precisely God’s complete otherness that affirms his absolute presence. The classical Christian view of God’s transcendence holds that he is Lord of time and space (he is eternal and omnipresent). This does not mean that he is far away, however. Rather, because he is not limited to time and space (as humans are), God can be everywhere fully present. So, the personal goodness, power, and knowledge of God is relationally present to every' one of his people, wherever and whenever they' live. Even in the midst of emotional disorders, when isolation and loneliness seem to press in, the Christian can be assured that God is there. Based on this personal awareness of God’s perfect characteristics, Christians struggling with psychological pain can more confidently express their pain to him, accept and reframe challenging inner and outer experiences, and engage in healthy new behaviors.

God’s Nature within the Christian Tradition

In the Christian tradition, all that exists is viewed as a gift. It was created by a personal God who made us to relate to him personally and enjoy him gratefully in and through the good world he created. Indeed, one of the great ways this has been stated is found in the Westminster Catechism,1 which says that the chief purpose of human life is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” For a Christian, then, the overall purpose of life is not attainments to be amassed, but a relationship with God, the maker of heaven and earth, who is active and present in his world and with his people, even in the midst of psychological pain.

As we will see in the coming chapters, within the Christian tradition, to know and love God is the best means of coming to know and understand ourselves. John Calvin, the great 16th century pastor and theologian, opens his work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, stating the following:

Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern. In the first place, no one can look upon himself without immediately turning his thoughts to contemplation of God, in whom he “lives and moves” [Acts 17:28].

(Calvin, 1960, p. 35)

Beginning this way, Calvin articulated a long tradition within Christianity. Humans, created in God’s image, are now alienated from that image through sin and struggle to properly understand ourselves. When reconciled with God through the work of Jesus, Christians have a restored relationship with God and can understand more clearly who we are and what we were created to be. Further, as our knowledge and understanding of God increases, so does our knowledge and understanding of ourselves.

To rightly understand Christianity in its proper context, we must begin with the source of all being—God himself. Because of its importance to understanding the context of Christianity, this chapter will cover God as triune, personal, and transcendent in successive order, ending with a section joining them together in God’s providence and discussing why this is important for psychological functioning. The discussions below will be brief and, as such, incomplete. We make no claim to full treatment, but will offer general descriptions of key doctrines that inform the context for Christian psychotherapy. Because our effort is to give a general description, we will focus on what is held in common within these great doctrines of

Doctrine of God in Christian Theology: God’s Nature 23 the Christian intellectual tradition and not on the contentious points. Much fuller treatments are available on each of these rich, and at times controversial, doctrines (many of the sources will be mentioned along the way). Our hope, however, is to join the doctrines together in a way that is faithful to the tradition and helpful to those who are working with Christian clients with depression and/or anxiety in psychotherapy.

 
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