Western Systematic theology, often as influenced by Plato as the Scriptures, has a category called the “Attributes of God: the communicable and incommunicable.”
Please keep reading, it gets better!
You can hear the main word in the phrase, “Systematic theology,” right? The study of God, presumably, can be done scientifically by a system of analysis that breaks down its many aspects. With regard to the attributes of God, it is a systematic approach to answer a very heartfelt question for many: “What is God like?” That’s a very good question for children of all ages to ask.
When systematic theologians refer to “communicable attributes” they mean qualities that God has that we share as humans made in God’s image. They include such things as truthfulness, wisdom, love, mercy, knowledge, justice, and goodness, among others. Humans have these qualities in various measure simply because we are made in God’s image so we reflect what God is like.
But when systematic theologians refer to God’s “incommunicable attributes” they mean qualities that only God has which we as humans do not share. And naturally, though we share much in common with God, there is much that distinguishes God from us, with our human limitations. These include things like God’s holiness—which refers to the perfection of God’s character without flaw—that God alone is infinite, without beginning or end, and that God is self-existent and is not dependent upon anything else for God’s existence, along with other attributes.
But then come the heavy-hitters, the omni-triplets. God alone possesses Omnipotence, Omnipresence and Omniscience. The omni-triplets say that God has all power and can do anything God wants, that God is present in all places and dimensions simultaneously and that God has perfect and complete knowledge.
This kind of language and categorization may be helpful to some, as I suppose it was for me once upon a time. But, even more so these days, I am intrigued by the fuzziness of God’s attributes because the only way we know and experience God is as humans, and things are hardly systematic around here!
Is it possible that God has imposed limitations on God’s self so that God can be in relationship with us? We know from Philippians 2 that Jesus emptied himself of all his divine rights and prerogatives in order to become human and serve us in utter humility. But what if not only Jesus but also the triune God—father, son and holy spirit—willingly chose limitations, all for the sake of relationship?
I’m only asking, but what if it’s possible that God has chosen to limit God’s power? When something horrible happens we instinctively think, “If God knows all things and has power over all things, and can be all places at the same time, then why did He allow this to happen?” What if God is living within self-imposed limitations and that God feels the tragedy and absurdity of death just as much as we do?
I could tease this thought out a lot more, of course, as you can also. But I wonder in this direction not because I think God is weak, but because I know God is love—and love often relinquishes power for the sake of relationship.
Nothing but love,