Is God a Person? - J.P. Moreland

J.P. Moreland - Philosophy of Mind

J.P. Moreland

James Porter Moreland is an American philosopher, theologian, and Christian apologist. He currently serves as a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University in La Mirada, California.

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J.P.
Moreland

Philosopher, Biola University

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Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

JP, I am fascinated, even obsessed, with the desire to understand God. Does God exist? But to me what is even more interesting is if God exists, what is that entity like? And it reflects back on, do I believe in that entity to understand, what would that be?

J.P. Moreland:

You bet.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

How do you see God? What is God's nature? Is God a person?

J.P. Moreland:

This is such a wonderful question. God is a person and he's not a person in different senses. I believe God is tri-personal; that is, he's three persons in one being. So, what is a person? For our purposes, a person is a center of consciousness that has certain complex mental states, like certain kinds of thoughts, feelings, desires, and beliefs. God is one being with an essence. Now, what's an essence? An essence is a thing's attributes that make it what it is; so, Fido has the essence of a dog. I have the essence of a human. Your essence is your "what-ness." Now, there's only one being that has the essence of God. That is, there is only one God that has the attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, who's all-loving and all-just. So, God's "what-ness" are his essential attributes that make him what he is, and there's only one being that has those essential attributes. But there are three centers of consciousness. There is a community of three persons within that one being. This is not a contradiction, because Christians don't affirm there's one God in three Gods, or one person in three persons. There is one being with one essence, but three centers of consciousness that all participate in that same essence.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

Is that like saying there's a dog with three heads?

J.P. Moreland:

You can use that analogy. Some have used that analogy, so that's a fair analogy, but all analogies break down some at point. Yeah, that's a fair analogy.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

How about the analogy that there are human beings, and there are 6 billion examples of that, or instantiations of that?

J.P. Moreland:

Well, that's an example of the one in the many. You have one humanness, but many humans, that all participate in the same humanness, so there is an analogy there, but I wouldn't want to push it too far.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

Where does that fall off?

J.P. Moreland:

Well, because when two individual humans have the same humanness, if forms distinct substances. But when the Father, Son and Spirit have the same divinity, it doesn't form three distinct beings; it's all a differentiation within one being.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

But you're defining that that essence of Godness as a -- with a word.

J.P. Moreland:

Well, God is a...

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

And you're picking the word to sort of unify these three centers of consciousness. And I'm picking a word human beings, that, you know, we're are all made of matter in the same way, and it's formed in a certain way. We all know -- We don't have to think. Human beings are distinct from everything else that exists; every other animal, every other non-animate object. It's obvious.

J.P. Moreland:

Well, I'm coming at it in a different way. So I'm saying that there is one substantial being, one individual being, that is constituted not by matter, but by an essence. That being has certain properties, self-existent, it is -- and so on, but that there are three centers of subjectivity, three conscious centers of awareness that all partake equally of that same one essence without forming three distinct things. So there's one being with three centers of consciousness that tap into that one being.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

And they can be in three separate spatial dimensions? Certainly, when Jesus had a body, he had a spatial dimension, right?

J.P. Moreland:

No.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

No?

J.P. Moreland:

Yes and no. What you're confusing is, in the incarnation, Christian theology teaches that the second person of that three persons, who tapped into a divine nature added alongside a human nature. So that when we ascribe Jesus being located and weighing and eating and having a certain -- you know, having diarrhea, or whatever it might be, we are describing that the person Jesus, insofar as he had a human nature, we're not localizing his divine nature. So, when God became man in Jesus, the divine nature didn't become human nature; you have a human nature, so you've got to keep the attributes distinct.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

But by having three separate centers of consciousness, you don't have one thing. You have three separate things.

J.P. Moreland:

Well, you have three separate persons within a substance.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

And that substance is one substance?

J.P. Moreland:

It's one integral, unified being with three centers of consciousness partaking of that very same substantial being.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

And in terms of a world -- a non-physical world, you believe that there are other persons, like angels or demons, that also inhabit, a non-physical existence?

J.P. Moreland:

Yes, as do I. My body inhabits physical existence, but my soul is disgustingly invisible. By the way, I'm glad sometimes that it allows me to hide. This is not unimportant.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

Okay. So, in this non-physical world, we have these other entities --

J.P. Moreland:

Right. That's right.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

-- human souls, angels and demons, and then God with three distinct centers of consciousness?

J.P. Moreland:

Here's why this is important. Physics does not get at the fundamental nature of reality. Psychology does. It is the study of persons and their nature that gets at the fundamental being. Matter is a Johnny-come-lately. The material world is real and so on, but the fundamental being that underlies the material world is a person, it's a person; he is personal.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

How do you define a person?

J.P. Moreland:

A person is a center of consciousness that has a certain range of mental states like sophisticated desires, beliefs, feelings, and thoughts. And so, God is capable of thinking, he's conscious; he has feelings and that sort of thing. The important point is then, that persons matter. I mean, being a person is a huge thing. Persons aren't emergent specks on a sea of physicality. Persons are fundamental beings to which bodies are given. We are not human beings trying to have a spiritual life; we are spiritual beings trying to have a human life. And so, the fundamental reality in the universe is a tri-personal being, which means that individuality and community are both primitive. Individuality is not more fundamental than community, nor community than individuality. They're both basic in the Godhead.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

And they are all co-existent in time in the same way?

J.P. Moreland:

Absolutely. Yes.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

So, why is one the Father?

J.P. Moreland:

Well, he has different attributes.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

So, he has a father attribute?

J.P. Moreland:

He has attributes that give him that role.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

And, being a father, you don't have to have any pre-explanation or pre-time or anything, you can be coterminous, be exactly the same, but one be the father?

J.P. Moreland:

That's right. And so --

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

But they choose up sides? Do they get the long straw?

J.P. Moreland:

Well, I will tell you this. I am dead serious when I say that I think there is great hilarity and joking that goes on among them, and I think that the life of God is so staggeringly rich, and interesting, and fun, that very few people have any idea of how rich God's life is.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

Well, looking at my life, I'm sure they have a good laugh.

J.P. Moreland:

There you go. [laughter] But the good news is, that at the fundamental core of the universe is personhood, not matter, and I think that's pretty exciting.

Transcript

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Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

JP, how do you see God? What is God's nature? Is God a person?

J.P. Moreland:

I believe God is tri-personal; that is, he's three persons in one being. So, what is a person? For our purposes, a person is a center of consciousness that has certain complex mental states, like certain kinds of thoughts, feelings, desires, and beliefs. God is one being with an essence. Now, what's an essence? An essence is a thing's attributes that make it what it is; so, Fido has the essence of a dog. I have the essence of a human. Your essence is your "what-ness." Now, there's only one being that has the essence of God. That is, there is only one God that has the attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, who's all-loving and all-just. But there are three centers of consciousness. There is a community of three persons within that one being.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

Is that like saying there's a dog with three heads?

J.P. Moreland:

You can use that analogy, but all analogies break down at some point. When two individual humans have the same humanness, if forms distinct substances. But when the Father, Son and Spirit have the same divinity, it doesn't form three distinct beings; it's all a differentiation within one being.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

And they can be in three separate spatial dimensions? Certainly Jesus had a body, he had a spatial dimension, right?

J.P. Moreland:

No.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

No?

J.P. Moreland:

Yes and no. What you're confusing is, in the incarnation, Christian theology teaches that the second person of that three persons, who tapped into a divine nature added alongside a human nature, so that when we ascribe Jesus being located and weighing and eating, we are describing that - the person Jesus, insofar as he had a human nature, we're not localizing his divine nature. So, when God became man in Jesus, the divine nature didn't become human nature; you have a human nature, so you've got to keep the attributes distinct.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

But by having three separate centers of consciousness, you don't have one thing. You have three separate things.

J.P. Moreland:

Well, you have three separate persons within a substance. Here's why this is important. Physics does not get at the fundamental nature of reality. Psychology does. It is the study of persons and their nature that gets at the fundamental being. Being a person is a huge thing. Persons aren't emergent specks on a sea of physicality. Persons are fundamental beings to which bodies are given. We are not human beings trying to have a spiritual life; we are spiritual beings trying to have a human life. And so, the fundamental reality in the universe is a tri-personal being, which means that individuality and community are both primitive. They're both basic in the Godhead.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

And they are all co-existent in time in the same way?

J.P. Moreland:

Absolutely. Yes.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

So, why is one the Father?

J.P. Moreland:

Well, he has different attributes.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

And, being a father, you don't have to have any pre-explanation or pre-time or anything, you can be coterminous, be exactly the same, but one be the father?

J.P. Moreland:

That's right. And so --

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

But they choose up sides? Do they get the long straw or something?

J.P. Moreland:

Well, I will tell you this. I am dead serious when I say that I think there is great hilarity and joking that goes on among them, and I think that the life of God is so staggeringly rich, and interesting, and fun, that very few people have any idea of how rich God's life is.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

Well, looking at my life, I'm sure they have a good laugh.

J.P. Moreland:

There you go.