God Has No Potential: Actus Purus

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People, circumstances, and our physical environment are all we know through our five senses. These are always in a constant flux, an ebb and flow of change; things appear to settle into being constant only to change again.

For example:

    • Printed newspaper circulation has decreased by 7,000,000 readers over the last 25 years. They’re losing to online newspapers, which have increased in readership by 30,000,000 in the last 5 years…
    • Google has 31 billion searches conducted every month…that’s an increase from 2006 in which the number was 2.7 billion.
    • 15 years ago, YouTube, Facebook, and MySpace did not exist: now they collectively receive 250,000,000 unique visitors. Compare that to the 6,000,000 unique visitors who watch CNN, NBC, and ABC every month (NBC began almost 60 years ago).
    • The number of Internet devices in 1984 was 1,000. The number of Internet devices in 2008 was 1,000,000,000.
    • "The computer in your cell phone today is 1,000,000 times cheaper and 1,000 times more powerful and about 100,000 times smaller than the one computer at MIT in 1965. So what used to fit in a building now fits in your pocket, what fits in your pocket now will fit inside a blood cell in 25 years”—Ray Kurvweil
    • The top 10 high paying jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004.
    • The amount of technical information doubles every 2 years. What does this mean for students aspiring for a 4-year technical diploma? Half of what they learned in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year of study.

And then we have in Malachi (and many other places in Scripture) this statement by God: For I the Lord do not change(Mal. 3:6). So there is one thing, one reality, one Person in the universe that actually does not change? That’s something that causes our brains to stutter a bit because we don’t have clear categories of relating to someone or something that doesn’t change.

Actus Purus

However, here is how Christians think: Thomas Aquinas, the infamous 12th century Italian Priest and Philosopher who is arguably the most influential thinker to engage the Western world said that God is actus purus, he is a “pure act.”

This means that God has no potential.

God doesn’t aspire to anything.

God has no goals.

God is totally and completely perfect in himself, from eternity past to eternity future.

Another way to say this is that God has no potential that is not already fully realized. Or as Michael Horton tells us - “God cannot be more infinite, loving, or holy tomorrow than he already is today.” (Christian Faith)

For us, change might be for better or for worse, but for a perfect God, change can only demonstrate that he has a deficiency.

One Practical Implication: Haunting or Comforting?

However, having a God that cannot and will not change can be a very haunting or a very comforting thing depending on your relationship with him.

It is haunting in the sense that God will never compromise his standards for entry into his Kingdom. That’s scary for most of the world. This means that he’ll never change and make the narrow mountainside path, the Person and Work of Jesus, into an eight-lane freeway for all to travel into heaven. This will not change.

However, for Jesus’ sheep, it is also far more comforting to know that God won’t change his standards—it will always be ‘grace alone’ and no other means. He will never accept our futile attempts to earn his love or atone for sins. If you are a Christian, Abba will never change the way he relates to you. He insists on calling you “Son, daughter, forgiven, clean and beloved.”

He is Actus Purus.

(During your reading of this post, 67 babies were born in the U.S, 274 were born in China, 395 were born in India, and 694,000 songs were downloaded illegally).