Talking about God often means talking about “universals”– about “omniscience” (the “all knowingness” of God), about “omnipresence” (God’s “everywhereness”), and “omnipotence” (His “all powerfulness”).

But what about “particulars”– particularly the particulars of creation, its finitudes, its limitations– what about individual planets, plants, and people?


More importantly, how — indeed why– did a God whose nature is “universals” create a universe whose nature is “particulars”?

Would a person who hates spiders keep spiders as pets– much less create them? Wouldn’t that go against “nature”?

So why doesn’t the universe go against God’s nature?

Ancient Greeks wrestled with that problem. Plato saw ultimate reality divided into two domains: a higher realm of pure forms (“universals”) and a lower realm populated with temporary and always changing shadows (“particulars”).1

Although Plato provided a model of how the present world relates to ultimate reality, he didn’t provide satisfying answers to the questions of “how” and “why”– how did a cosmos of particulars exist as shadows over against an eternal world of universals? Why?

… but Plato’s followers did. It’s a long story, but they eventually came to see the cosmos as an unfortunate accident– an accident whose nature– whose particulars– was or were inherently evil. Those ideas crept into the church and eventually came to be known as the heresy of “Gnosticism.”

All of the above isn’t an exercise in antiquarian philosophy. The problem of universals versus particulars is, after all, universal. Language may vary, but every worldview struggles with the nature of present existence over against something more permanent. And the answer offered by ancient Greeks still survives in New Age thinking, neo-Gnostic worldviews, Christian Science, and even in the platonic piety of many unsuspecting Christians.

Christianity responded and still responds with an answer that is radically different from that asserted by ancient Greeks and their modern counterparts. A good God of universals really can create a good creation of particulars– without contradiction.

It all goes back to the Trinity– Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In Christian belief, God is of course a god of “universals”– of omniscience, of omnipresence, and of absolute power. But there’s also an aspect of God that has an affinity for finitude, for individuation, for limitation, for particulars, and for subordination. Ancient Christian writers associated that aspect of God with the Logos– known as “the Son”– incarnated in Jesus.

… at this point, lights should be coming on…

All of this is why it was the Son, not the Father, who created the world. It was the Son, not the Father, who entered into the world. It is the Son, not the Father, who judges and redeems the world. It was the Son, not the Father, who “emptied Himself” in the Incarnation.

… because, although there is an aspect of God that clings to universals, there’s also an aspect of God that clings to particulars– particulars like you and I.

And for that reason, the Father was glad to send the Son and the Son was glad to go, who

though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:6-11 NLT)


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1 The author of Hebrews uses this kind of Platonic thought: 1:17– God is unchanging with no “shadow” of inconsistency; 8:5– the earthly sanctuary of the tabernacle was a “shadow” of the heavenly one; 10:1– the law is a “shadow” of the good things to come.


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