The identification of God with Being has its origins in God’s revelation to Moses on Sinai Patrick Henry Reardon is a Senior Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
There is a glaring fallacy in the contemporary presumption that idolatry is found only in polytheism. I admit, of course, that all polytheism is necessarily idolatrous, but it seems not to have occurred to most folks that the confession of one false god is just as idolatrous as the confession of several. Monotheism is no defence against idolatry. This modern misunderstanding about idolatry, moreover, is the twin and steady companion of another, the strange fancy that all monotheists necessarily confess the same divinity.
Arguably the clearest spokesman for the latter fallacy may be that C.S. Lewis character who forthrightly declared, ‘Tash is another name for Asian. All that old idea of us being right and the Calormenes wrong is silly. We know better now. The Cal-ormenes use different words but we all mean the same thing. Tash and Asian are only two different names for you know Who. That’s why there can never be any quarrel between them. Get that into your heads, you stupid brutes. Tash is Asian: Asian is Tash.’
The telltale line in that discourse, I submit, is ‘We know better now.’ On matters respecting God, I cannot think of anything we know better now. The character that made that proclamation was, of course, the Ape in Lewis’ The Last Battle, and it really was an apish thing to say. Although I have heard his thesis proclaimed times out of mind, it cannot stand up to two seconds of critical reflection.
Let us recall that monotheism made its appearance in this world in the same voice that identified the one God’s essence with his existence: T am the One Who Is.’ When Moses heard that auto-identification, perhaps he did not have a clear idea, at first, what it meant, but he faithfully recorded the words, and the faithful have been thinking about them seriously ever since.
Typical of the faithful in this respect was St Gregory of Nyssa, who interpreted the words to mean that God revealed himself as ‘the Existent One’ [Against Eunomius, 2.4]. The same writer reflected further, ‘all things depend on Him Who is, nor can there be anything that does not owe its existence to Him Who is’ [The Great Catechism, 25]. Gregory asserts two things in these texts. First, it is of God’s very being that he exists, which is to say that God exists of himself. Whatever exists, besides God, exists only because of God.
Christian thinkers have converted these theological considerations into apologetic arguments for the existence of God. First, there is God as Being in Himself. Now it is a fact that no pagan philosopher ever thought to identify God as Being. This historical fact is perhaps difficult for us to appreciate, because the history of Christian reflection has so accustomed us to a proposition unknown to ancient pagan thought.
The striking fact about this argument is that it never occurred to anyone outside of the data of biblical revelation. Nor is there is any reason to believe that it would have entered anyone’s mind except for that voice on Sinai.
This thesis, too, provided an argument for God’s existence, an inductive, a posteriori case known as the Cosmological Argument. This line of reasoning, which is found explicitly in Holy Scripture itself, endeavours to discover an explanation (or efficient cause) for the existence of those things that do, in fact, exist. Both of these approaches to the existence of God are based in the voice from Sinai, in which God identified himself as the Existing One, the One who, needing nothing from us, nonetheless decided to talk to us.