Where you take the Name That Heresy quiz to learn more about the doctrine of God as spirit.
Let’s play a game. It’s called “Name That Heresy.”
Here are your clues:
1. God has flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.
2. He is limited in what he knows, can do and can be.
3. He is only one of many gods.
4. He at one time was not God.
5. And because of his flesh and bones, he can’t be everywhere at all time.
Got any guesses?
If you guessed Mormonism, you’re right. This is exactly what current Mormon doctrine teaches about God.
A Heretical View of God?
So, why is this heresy? Let me explain.
Mormons rely on three sources for their doctrine of God: inspired scripture, Joseph Smith’s words and Mormon leaders.
For instance, the Pearl of Great Price taught there is more than one God. Brigham Young preached that Adam was the God of this world. And Joseph Smith reasoned that man’s basic intelligence is as old as God himself.
Moreover, Mormons teach that all three sources carry equal weight when it comes to describing the existence and attributes of God.
So, Mormons believe God has a flesh-and-bones body. But this is wrong.
The Orthodox View of God as Spirit
So, what does the Bible say about God as spirit?
The orthodox description of God is that he is invisible, which implies God is without body. Just spirit.
No one has seen God at any time. John 1:18
For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. Romans 1:20
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. Colossians 1:15
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. 1 Timothy 1:17
In addition to biblical authority, we also have historical proof that God is a spirit.
Three Historical Proofs God is Spirit
Tatian the Assyrian said that “God is a Spirit, not pervading matter, but the Maker of material spirits and of the forms that are in matter; He is invisible, impalpable, being Himself the father of both sensible and invisible things.”
And R. L. Dabney argues that matter crowds out other matter from the space it occupies. So, “That which is impenetrable obviously is not ubiquitous.” Instead, because he is spirit, God penetrates and inhabits all material bodies.
Now, someone might argue, if you take Calvin, Tatian and Dabney at their word, you are falling into the same trap that Mormons fall into when they exalt the words of their leaders.
There’s one major difference: We don’t believe Calvin, Tatian and Dabney because they speak. We believe them because their words align with Scripture.
Philosophically, It Makes Sense That God Is a Spirit
You and I have potential to change. Just like dirt. Just like parents. Just like suns. God, on the other hand, can’t change.
He cant’ change because he is self-existent. Thus, he can’t be made of matter. Dirt, parents and suns are imperfect because they are made of matter.
In a lot of ways, you might think there isn’t any difference between an invisible god and a dead god.
But there is a difference.
For one, He’s personal. Origen said “God, therefore is not to be thought of as being either a body or as existing in a body, but as an uncompounded intellectual nature….” That intellectual nature is how he relates to us.
Furthermore, God is infinite and simple, without parts or units. Infinity and simplicity imply spirit.
Finally, God is beyond the universe, time and space. He is eternal. And if he is eternal–not limited by time–he is an invisible spirit.
The universe, on the other hand, is visible, bound by time, space. And dying.
Beyond the Laws of Thermodynamics
God created the universe in a perfect state. But after the Fall, the universe started to decay. The laws of thermodynamics support this.
The first law of thermodynamics says that energy is not made. The second law of thermodynamics says we are running out of that energy.
Matter is subject to the second law of thermodynamics–pain, decay and death. God, because he is spirit, is not subject to pain, decay and death. But to say God is flesh and bones is to subject God to pain, decay and death.
Now, James says that man is made in the likeness of God. And Jesus Christ, who was flesh and bones, is the image of God. So how does the New Testament see man as in God’s likeness if God doesn’t know pain, decay or death? The following paragraphs explain.
The apostle Paul, when speaking about the resurrected body in 1 Corinthians 15, says:
The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
John Piper summarizes: “Paul is not contrasting a fallen body with a redeemed body, but a natural body with a spiritual body.”
Our flesh and bones will be buried so that our spiritual, incorruptible, bodies may blossom in the image of God–the heavenly spirit.
Why Should We Care That God Is a Spirit?
American Methodist theologian John Miley said we scorn this doctrine when we disobey the second commandment–do not worship idols. You you can hear the full meaning in Jesus’ words: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in Spirit and truth.”
In other words, if flesh and bones is all there is, then we have nothing to compare ourselves to and rise above pain, decay and death. Man becomes the true measure of man, the idol that we worship.
To avoid this we have to look on God as Martin Luther did: “In a word, God is an inexpressible Being above and beyond everything that may be said or thought.”
Think about this: If God were flesh and bones, we must relate to him the only way two lovers relate…close proximity at all time.
But Aquinas said we are not excluded from his spirit because of our bodies.
The very fact that he is spirit means he can fill every place. Thus, he fills every being. So, while we may never taste, see, touch, smell or hear God, we see and feel him at work in his creation, especially our minds and spirits.
It’s safe to say that the doctrine of God as spirit explains how God can be the the God who is ever near. Which is perfect comfort in times of pain, decay and death. Wouldn’t you agree?
**Part of The Nature of God series.**