This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Dear Doctor Craig,
I have recently thought myself into a theological dilemma, which, to be perfectly honest, I find somewhat frightening. I look forward to your analysis:
I do not want to say or even think that God's existence might be purposeless, but I'm having a hard time not coming to that conclusion. Consider: purposes do not lie within themselves. Purposes depend upon an external factor, or judgment. Does the purpose of a tree lie within that tree's mere existence? No. The purpose of the tree becomes known only after observing the tree with various other things, i.e. the bird nesting in its branches, the shade its leaves provide on a hot summer day.
Therefore, it follows that for one to assert a /purpose/ for God implies that there remains something outside of God, thus making God God.
Because we know that purposes must be external to the objects their objects, is it impossible for us to say then that there IS a purpose or reason for God's existence? We've asked 'Why does anything exist at all,', but, why does God exist at all?
I can find a reason for our existence, (in God), but what is the reason for His existence? Us? Wouldn't God's dependence upon us turn us into the necessary/higher being? It seems wrong to say that God's being is purposeless, but I can't seem to avoid this conclusion.
Any insights you can share would be greatly appreciated.
Dr. William Lane Craig’s Response
I’m delighted to receive your question, JCD, because I believe the answer to it will help to magnify your concept of God.
I’ve argued that without God human life is absurd, that is to say, ultimately meaningless, valueless, and purposeless. On the other hand, if God exists, then He is the basis for affirming the objective meaning, value, and purpose of human existence. Our end is to be found in knowing God, which is an incommensurable good.
Now this raises the obvious question: what about God Himself? To what end does He exist? As you rightly say, nothing external to God could ever provide a basis for the meaning, value, and purpose of His life.
The answer is obviously not the absurd conclusion that God’s life is therefore meaningless, valueless, and purposeless. Rather the answer must be that God’s end is Himself. As Thomas Aquinas rightly saw, God is the summum bonum, the highest Good, Goodness itself. Just as our wills are properly to be directed toward the highest Good, so also God wills Himself as the highest Good. It could not be otherwise, for anything less would be idolatry.
Thus, when one gets to the highest Good, your principle that “purposes do not lie within themselves” fails. While it is true that for finite goods “purposes depend upon an external factor,” that is not the case for an infinite Good. God’s end is the same as ours: God Himself, the paradigm of goodness.
The wonder is that such a self-sufficient being should condescend to create finite persons like us who are invited to participate in this divine goodness as children of God. It is the marvelous grace of God manifested toward us.
Pretty awesome, isn’t it?
This post and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website: www.reasonablefaith.org