Friday, September 17, 2010

The Omni-Characteristics of God (Part 1: Omnibenevolence)

This will be my first post in a five part series discussing the common characteristics of God and how I see them in light of my universalism. The five parts are:
  1. Omnibenevolence (God is all-loving)
  2. Omnipresence (God is present everywhere in space and time)
  3. Omniscience (God is all-knowing, past, present, and future)
  4. Omnipotence (God is all-powerful)
  5. The Problem of Evil (The question of why, if God has the above 4 characteristics, evil exists in the universe)
 I begin with God's omnibenevolence, which, for me, is His most important characteristic. The word omnibenevolent comes from three Latin words: omnis (meaning "all"), bene (good/well), and volo (want).

Basically, to say that God is omnibenevolent is to say that He is perfectly good, totally merciful, and all-loving. But how exactly do we define these three pieces of omnibenevolence and what do they mean for our relationship with God?

Perfectly Good:

To be perfectly good means to have no trace of evil. To be sinless. God is never jealous or selfish. He never acts out of anger. Everything God does he does for the benefit of His creation. It is God himself who decided what is good and what a person must do to be good. First, it was the 10 Commandments. Later, Jesus shortened this to "love God and your neighbor". For an individual to be good, he or she must follow God's example. Being good is what brings us closer to God.

Totally Merciful:

Saying God is totally merciful means that God is always willing to forgive sin. As a universalist, I take it a step further. I believe God always forgives sin. God does "not [count] men's sins against them" (2 Corinthians 5:19). God has already forgiven your sins, even the ones you have not repented or even committed. This does NOT mean repentance is not important. It is vital. Yet God's forgiving grace covers you no matter what. Mercy, as opposed to strict justice, allows us to learn compassion for others, again helping us become closer to God.

Last, and most complexly, God's omnibenevolence means God is all-loving. God's love extends over all His creation. It is infinite. There is no way to exhaust God's love. God loves every human equally, the worst no less than the best. This love cannot be earned, it is freely given by God; it is unconditional, and does not require that the love be returned. Nothing you do will make God want to love you less or stop loving you.

Yet love is a complicated word. What do we mean by love? How does God love?

There are several different types of love, including:
  • Parental love: The love a parent has for a child. Often considered the closet humans can get to unconditional love.
  • Philos love:  The love between good friends with no sexual feelings.
  • Romantic love: Love between individuals which does involve sexual feelings.
The love often used to describe God however, is called agape. In my opinion, it is a combination between parental love and philos love. God loves us unconditionally like a parent. He is our creator and sustainer, and we are His children. It is why many address Him as "Father". Yet I do not feel parental love completely represent the love of God. He is also our friend. A parent's job is to nurture, protect, and discipline, and God does these things. Yet it is in friends that we confide in. God is our confidant. He knows our every thought. He discerns our motive for every action, good and bad. He understands us far better than we understand ourselves.

For any human to know us the way God knows us, to know every fleeting thought crossing our mind, would be terrible. How many of us entertain thoughts we do not truly mean or thoughts we would never act on?

However, it is different with God. His unconditional love and his absolute understanding means we should not feel anxious or embarrassed that he knows us so intimately. It means we can share our hopes, dreams, fears, and problems without anxiety over being judged negatively.

It is omnibenevolence which make God our God. It is how he creates a personal relationship with all individuals in his creation. It is why we worship Him, pray to Him. It allows Him not to be just our parent, but friend, confidant, and partner. Most importantly, it is why we trust Him and have confidence that, no matter our suffering, God is with us and will never leave us.

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