He who has commanded us not to lie, shall much more Himself not lie; for nothing is impossible with God, except to lie.
This passage can at first catch anyone by surprise. Imagine saying that it is “impossible for God” to do this or that. St. Clement reveals to us a glimpse of theology that later Greek and Western concepts may not be able to grasp completely. The idea that there are many things God, the infinite, the boundless, the timeless, the eternal, the incomprehensible, the “awe-ful”, the all-encompassing, the omnipotent God cannot do sounds very troubling to our minds.
There are some questions that have been asked concerning philosophical conundrums on belief in God. For instance, can God create a boulder heavier than Himself? Can God create a square circle? Many philosophers answered these questions by invoking the questions’ silliness. It is nonsense to think of such questions on the omnipotence of God because we dare ask of things we have no ability to even understand. Therefore, the questions themselves are invalid to be even asked.
While this is a valid way of answering the conundrum, a Semitic understanding of God seems not to look at God with mathematical terms of infinitude, eternity, and incomprehension. In Semitic theology, it is more important to think of God in relational terms, in salvific terms, not in a static metaphysical description. The Old Testament Scriptures are filled with imagery of God being angry, joyful, smelling the smoke of sacrifices, even appearing as man or angel to certain people. God is a God of the people who look upon Him for refuge and hope. God does not associate Himself with those who disown Him. If you accept Him as God, then you become “His people” (cf. Lev. 26:12, Ex. 6:7, Jer. 7:23 among others).
Of course, God is not merely the God of those who obey Him, but He is actively in relationship with those who seek to be in relationship with Him. Therefore, in a relational sense, God is the ideal being of whom all mankind seeks in a relationship. God is righteousness and cannot sin. God is Light and cannot be darkness. God is clarity and cannot be a source of confusion. God is Life and cannot be death. God is goodness and cannot have anything evil. God is Love and cannot hate. God is Truth and cannot lie. With these characteristics, God is the direction to which we walk to, He is the Way, and when we stray from this direction, we become what God cannot be!
The same cannot be said of His metaphysical characteristics which seem to come from Graeco-Roman philosophy, for which there is a huge divine paradox played into this. God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, but He can condescend to our weaknesses and build us up into His presence. He can show forth omnipotence in frailties. His infinite presence can dwell fully in time and place. His omniscience can be demonstrated even in ignorance!
This last part on omniscience is interesting. There is nothing I can find that can say God can “choose” not to know. This is not “open theism”, where God is thought to be in some sense ignorant of the future (I am most probably misrepresenting “open theism” as it is infinitely more complicated than that). However, others have postulated, and it seems the Church fathers have thought similarly, that it is impossible for God to be ignorant. With that said, we can also say, it is impossible for God to be weak and lacking presence in some place and time. (I will confess though, I find it very enticing to believe that God, who is the true and ultimately free by nature, can choose to be omniscient and choose not to know altogether, a true divine paradox and mystery, but to say so without clear explicit and patristic proof will only do more harm than good. Therefore, best to be honest in my weakness and leave it as mystery than to speculate any further without strong spiritual backing, of which I do not claim to have.)
The divine paradox however must encompass an aspect of theology that is lacking in Graeco-Roman thought. God is not some superpower that we can draw in a comic book. These metaphysical descriptions describe something beyond which we will ever know completely, but not impossible to know gradually. While one can say He cannot be the opposite of such things, as an anchor to which we have confidence in drawing towards, we can also say that we do not want to describe God solely in those terms, as if God cannot be in communion with us or cannot share His infinite nature with us. Otherwise, the logical outcome is a form of deism or a heretical intermediary theism.
Therefore, these metaphysical terms do not mean the same thing as the Greek philosophers think. Omnipotence, Omnipresence, and Omniscience can also be manifest paradoxically in the weakness, limitedness, and ignorance of the righteous perfected in faith. These three terms are connected relationally with the former terms of Light, Clarity, Life, Goodness, Love, and Truth, and not in any way can be made distinct at all in reality as some static metaphysical description. One may contemplate these definitions as distinct in contemplation of the definitions of each term, but even then, it would be wrong to make distinct these characteristics, when in reality, it is really our weak minds describing all things of a divine simplicity.
St. Clement most probably lacked this Graeco-Roman tendency, and I say “most probably” so as to leave room for error. I do take confidence in this opinion because of his strong grasp of the Old Testament Scriptures and a very possible Jewish background. To lack this theological tendency is a very good thing for Orthodoxy. Why is this a good thing? Consider Arianism! Arius believed in a God who is so devoid from creation and incapable of communing Himself with us. He had to create an all-righteous intermediary, His own Son the Logos, in order for all things to be created. At this point, Arius actually went so deep into Greek philosophy, He created a heresy of God, by which God is even unable to limit His own power. So a semi-divine creature had to be created (which is inconsistent in thought) that the power given to it may be limited enough to create us as well as to be incarnate among us!
Such thinking is inconsistent with the goals of salvation of a Christian. A Christian seeks salvation in God Himself. A Christian seeks salvation in Him who is the treasury of all goodness, from which we receive a super-abundance of grace. And such infinite abundance is made manifest in His Son, who is not created, but uncreated with the omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient Light, Clarity, Life, Goodness, Love, and Truth, that is the Father. The Son is an intermediary not because of the inability of the Father to condescend to us, but precisely because the Son, in exactly the same way as His Father, is the omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient Light, Clarity, Life, Goodness, Love, and Truth in a fully real human form, who wants to bring us into this same relationship He has with His Father by granting us the communion with His flesh and the dwelling in of His omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient Light, Clarity, Life, Goodness, Love, and Truth, that is the Holy Spirit Himself. And you cannot believe in that if you believe “omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience” makes God devoid of any communication or communion with us!
But consider the typical anti-Trinitarian Monotheists. Usually, their idea of God is not that He is Truth, but that He speaks truth. “Truth” is not a substance to describe God, but an action God does. Consider the phrase “God is Love”. That is not what these anti-Trinitarians believe. God loves, but “is” not Love. To them, God can choose to lie if He wants to, but He will not. For the Trinitarian, God CANNOT choose to lie. One can attack the Trinitarian for thinking that if God “cannot” lie (or in another instance, Fr. Thomas Hopko also believed God “cannot” take away our free will), then that means man can do more things than God, or simply that God is not omnipotent! (I wonder if Arius believed similarly) However, such silly arguments are the same essential arguments made as that silly conundrum we described earlier. But more importantly, it also shows the same philosophical tendency for a possibility to ridicule (or vainly defend) the metaphysical omnipotence argument, rather than exploring the more mysterious and dignifying relational omnipotence theology of ancient Semites and earliest Christians. God created us for Himself, and if we choose not to be for Himself, we become “ungodly”, and this includes lies, darkness, confusion, hate, death, sin, etc.
St. Clement of Rome most probably believed that the most important elements of God’s “omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience” is His relationship with us, not necessarily His metaphysical “substance”. It is not impossible for God to manifest Himself as humble and dwelling in someone or something. Equally true is the idea that it is impossible for God to lie, since He becomes for us the source, the means, and the goal by which we partake of His divine and infinite and eternal and incomprehensible “omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient”, or to put in one simple word “perfect” (cf. Mt. 5:48) Truth!
A blessed feast of St. Clement to you all! and…
Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and unto the ages of all ages! Amen!