God Has No Potential for Change
As finite creatures, we’re always changing—either for the better or for the worse. But God has no potential for change, for He has all being perfectly within Himself. In this brief clip, R.C. Sproul explains what it means for God to have “pure actuality.”
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But there’s no statement in secular philosophy that has jerked me back to contemplation more often than that one: “Whatever is, is.” What he’s saying is that reality, to be real, cannot be changing. Because that which is changing never truly is. You are not what you are, because since I’ve started that sentence, you changed. And not even Robin Williams with the Popeye image can say, “I am who I am, who I am, who I am: Popeye the sailor man.” What he should say is, “I’m potentially Popeye the sailor man. I’m becoming Popeye the sailor man. Because maybe I was Popeye the sailor man, but I’m not anymore. And even when I was, I wasn’t, because when I was, I was changing.” You can’t freeze time with creatures who are constantly undergoing this state of flux. That’s why it is a matter of great profundity that the God of sacred Scripture defines Himself as “I AM,” not “I am becoming,” not “I am changing.” But He is eternally perfect in His actuality. To put it another way: For God, there is no potential. God has no lack or deficiency into which He must grow to realize His full potential. He has pure actuality. And yet, as Aristotle would later discover, if something were only potential, and potentially everything, it would be actually nothing. So, there can’t be pure potentiality, or there can’t be something that is purely becoming. If all you are is change, if all you are is becoming, all that means is that what you are is that you are an illusion. You’re fig newton of somebody’s imagination. Because you don’t have anything that really is. Now, many of the thinkers following this debate in antiquity came to that conclusion. They said, “Whatever is, is changing.” If that’s true, then everything that undergoes change is just an illusion. It can’t really be. Now, what does that say about flowers and rocks and hills and rivers? Then the whole external world of our experience is an illusion. What about you? If you are undergoing change, and if you are in a state of becoming, if all you are is becoming, then you aren’t anything. You are nothing. But common sense says, “I may be changing but it is an I—an actuality—who really is changing.” But where do I find this being that keeps me from being just an illusion? You’re not going to find the answer in Parmenides. You’re not going to find it in Heraclitus. You’re going to have to go back to Mars Hill and have to hear the Apostle Paul say, “In Him you live and move and have your being.” The only thing that keeps me from being an illusion is the power of the One who created me, who Himself has all being perfectly within His own identity.