Post Author: Bill Pratt
In the last post, we talked about how equivocal God-talk is self-defeating and how univocal God-talk lowers God to the level of a finite being. The only solution seems to be analogous God-talk. So how does analogous God-talk work?
Analogous God-talk ultimately tells us what God is like, but it does not describe him exactly as He is.
How does this work? According to Geisler, “The definition of the attribute applicable to both God and creatures must be the same, but the application of it differs, for in the one case (God’s) it is applied without limits, while in the other (humankind’s) it is predicated with limitations.” (emphasis added)
Take the example of goodness. The definition of good is “that which is desired for its own sake.” Now, when we take that concept of good and use it to describe God and man, we retain the same definition. But when we apply it (predicate it) to God, we apply it in an unlimited way. God is unlimited good, whereas man is limited good. God is good infinitely while man is good finitely. God is to be desired for his own sake absolutely, while man is to be desired for his own sake relatively.
Another example would be the concept of being. Geisler says, “Likewise, being may be defined univocally as “that which is,” but this univocal concept is predicated of God and creatures in an analogous way. God is “that which is” infinitely; a creature is “that which is” only finitely. Or, more properly, God is Existence and creatures merely have existence.”
Geisler further explains:
Generic concepts are univocal when abstracted, but analogical when asserted of different things, as man and dog are equally animal but are not equal animals. Animal is defined the same way (say, as “a sentient being”), but animality is predicated differently of Fido and of Socrates (c. 470–399 B.C.). (Socrates possesses animality in a higher sense than Fido does.) Likewise, both the flower and God are said to be beautiful, but God is beautiful in an infinitely higher sense than flowers are.
While this tells us nothing directly about the similarity between God and creation, it does inform us about the difference between an infinite being and a finite being. For if beauty means “that which, being seen, pleases,” then the pleasure of the beatific vision of God is infinitely greater than the pleasure of viewing a flower.
What about all the concepts of God that are applied negatively, such as eternal (non-temporal), uncaused (not caused), and immutable (not changing)? The reason these concepts are negated is because their definitions contain limits or imperfections. God, as an infinite (not limited) being, cannot be limited by any concept when it is applied to Him. Time, causation, and change are all concepts which would make God dependent on something else – they all limit his being. Therefore these terms must be negated.
Here is the bottom line. We can never describe, with language, exactly who God is, but we can say what He is like. We can take finite concepts and apply them to God in an infinite (unlimited) way. That is the best we can do using human language.
An additional point needs to be made. Some people find analogous God-talk to be difficult to understand (it can be more abstract that some people are comfortable with), and so they brush it aside and collapse their language back to univocal God-talk. The danger, of course, is that when you start talking about God as a finite being, then you are lowering him to a creature.
Mormon theology is the poster child for univocal God-talk gone wild. God is created, God is material, God is in time, and so forth and so on. The Mormon God is not transcendent, is not infinite, is not uncaused – he is just like the rest of us, a creature. Is this the God that is presented in Scripture? I think not.