What is God?

On Christmas Eve (or shortly after it had passed, to be precise), brooding in the dark mystery and majesty of the Midnight Mass of Christmas, I found myself, for whatever reason, recalling the fourth question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, drilled indelibly into my head a dozen years ago: 

Q. What is God?

A: God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.

In that moment, surrounded by the darkness of the night and the brightness of the lights, inhaling the fragrance of frankincense, with songs of incarnation in the air and signs of incarnation on the altar, this definition struck me, for the first time, as perfectly ludicrous.  What worse way to define the God of the Bible could you possibly choose?  To start with the abstract and objectifying “What” instead of the concrete and personal “Who” was demeaning enough, but then to proceed to treat this living and active God, sharper than a two-edged sword, at once ineffable and loving Paternity, enfleshed Word, and life-giving Spirit, as a set of reified properties?  Perhaps it was no coincidence, I mused, that many of the Westminster Divines eschewed the observance of Christmas–only a group of Christians who ignored the holiday of the Incarnation could be so oblivious as to its message about God.  If I might be so bold, the event of Christmas would suggest something more like this:

Q: Who is God?

A: God is a spirit who became human flesh, the infinitely condescending, King in a manger, the Eternal born in the fulness of time, the Unchangeable subjected to the change of history, in His being with us and for us, His Wisdom that made us and remade us by its foolishness, His power to become impotent, His holiness displayed among sinners, His justice crucified by the unjust, His goodness to his murderers, His truth proclaimed by a lonely Galilean.


PS: Dang I’ve become a Barthian!  Must be something about the air here. 

PPS: I recognize of course that there is a place for metaphysical language about God, but I don’t think it should be the first thing we say about him, as it is in the WSC.