The Person and Attributes of God

Genesis - Hebrew     Scripture opens with the statement, “In the beginning God” (Gen 1:1a). The Bible does not seek to prove the existence of God, but simply acknowledges His being. The Bible teaches God has made Himself known through nature. David wrote, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Psa 19:1). And Paul stated, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Rom 1:20).

And God has revealed Himself within the heart of every person. Paul wrote, “that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them” (Rom 1:19). Within each human mind is an intuitive awareness of God. John Calvin called this awareness the sensus divinitatis (sense of divinity). Calvin wrote, “there is no nation so barbarous, no race so brutish, as not to be imbued with the conviction that there is a God…Since, then, there never has been, from the very first, any quarter of the globe, any city, any household even, without religion, this amounts to a tacit confession, that a sense of Deity is inscribed on every heart.”[1] This awareness does not inform us as to the specifics of God, but merely informs us that He is. The Bible is that special revelation that informs us about the particulars of God.

The Bible reveals God exists as a Trinity (or Triunity). In the Bible we learn that there is one God (Deut 6:4), who exists as three Persons (Gen 1:26; Matt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14; 1 Pet 1:2). All three members of the Godhead are co-equal, co-infinite, and co-eternal, possessing the same nature and attributes (Deut 6:4; Isa 44:6-8; John 10:30; 14:9).[2] The Trinity consists of God the Father (Gal 1:1; Eph 6:23; Phil 2:11), God the Son (Isa 7:14; 9:6; John 1:1, 8:58; 20:28; Col 2:9; Heb 1:8), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor 2:11-12; 2 Cor 13:14). An ancient Christian diagram illustrates the Trinity as follows:

Ancient Diagram of the Trinity

Furthermore, the Bible reveals God has specific attributes that describe who He is and explain why He thinks and acts in certain ways. What we know of God’s attributes comes to us only by divine revelation, and these attributes belong to all the members of the Trinity, who are worthy of all praise and service. Charles Ryrie states:

The various perfections of God are not component parts of God. Each describes His total being. Love, for example, is not a part of God’s nature; God in His total being is love. Although God may display one quality or another at a given time, no quality is independent of or preeminent over any of the others. Whenever God displays His wrath, He is still love. When He shows His love, He does not abandon His holiness. God is more than the sum total of His perfections. When we have listed all the attributes we can glean from revelation, we have not fully described God. This stems from His incomprehensibility. Even if we could say we had a complete list of all God’s perfections, we could not fathom their meaning, for finite man cannot comprehend the infinite God.[3]

When studying the attributes of God in Scripture, we should never seek to understand them separately from God, as though an attribute of God may exist apart from Him. More so, the attributes of God are as infinite as God Himself, and to try to understand them fully is not within the scope of our ability. A detailed understanding of God’s attributes prevents us from having an incomplete or faulty view of God, in which we see Him only in part. For example, a solitary view of God as righteous can lead to legalistic behavior, whereas a singular understanding of God as loving or gracious can lead to licentiousness. A thorough understanding of God will prove healthy for us who seek to reflect His character. The biblical revelation of God has practical application for growing Christians, for as we advance in spiritual maturity, we will take on the characteristics of God, though only a few of those characteristics may be visible to others at any given moment, depending on the situation. Below is a short paragraph listing God’s attributes with a basic meaning of each.[4]

God’s Attributes

     God is living and is the ultimate source of life (Psa 42:2; 84:2; Jer 10:10; Matt 16:16). Paul states, “for in Him we live and move and exist” (Act 17:28). He is personal, thoughtful, emotive, volitional and active. This attribute takes priority, for if God is not living, none of the other attributes are possible. God is self-existent (aseity), and His existence depends on nothing outside of Himself (Ex 3:14; John 1:4; 5:26). He has life in Himself. There is no prior cause that brought God into existence, He will never cease to be, and He depends on nothing outside of Himself. God is holy (Lev 11:44; Psa 99:9; Isa 45:5-19). This means God is positively righteous and separate from all that is sinful. Holiness connotes moral purity. Being holy means God cannot be affixed to anything morally imperfect. God is Spirit (John 4:24; 2 Cor 3:17). This means the nature of God’s being is spirit, not material. God is sovereign (Psa 115:3; Isa 46:9-11; Dan 4:35; Acts 17:24-28). This means God acts freely as He pleases, always as He pleases, and only as He pleases. God is immutable (Psa 102:26-27; Mal 3:6). This means God’s essential nature does not change. God is eternal (Deut 33:27; 1 Tim 1:17). This means God has always existed, does exist, and forever will exist. God is infinite (1 Ki 8:27; Jer 23:24). Though God exists in space, He is also beyond space, infinite in being. God is omniscient (Psa 139:1-4; Matt 6:31-33). This means God knows all things, being infinite in knowledge. God is omnipresent (Psa 139:7-10; Jer 23:24). This means He is equally and fully everywhere present. God is omnipotent (Job 42:2; Isa 40:28). This means God is all-powerful and able to accomplish all He desires. God is righteous (Psa 11:7; 119:137). His righteousness is that intrinsic moral perfection, from which He commands all things in heaven and earth, and declares as good that which conforms to His righteousness and as evil that which deviates. God is just (Psa 9:7-8; 19:9). His justice is the outworking of His righteousness in which He justifies or condemns, blesses or curses, that which does or does not conform to His righteous character. God is true (Jer 10:10; John 17:3), which means He is genuine, in contrast to false idols. God is truthful (2 Sam 7:28; John 17:17). His knowledge and declarations define reality and help us make sense of what is. God is love (Jer 31:3; 1 John 4:7-8). Because God is love it means He is committed to us, desires our best, and gives for our benefit. God is good and He is the ultimate source of all that is good (Psa 100:5; 145:9; Nah 1:7; Jam 1:17). God is faithful (Deut 7:9; Lam 3:21-23); which means He is reliable in all He says and does, always keeping His word. God is merciful (Psa 86:15; Tit 3:5). Mercy is when God is kind toward us and does not judge us as we deserve. God is gracious (Psa 111:4; 116:5). Grace means God treats us better than we deserve.

Learning about God and His character helps us understand the fundamental nature of reality. Our complex universe is the result of a complex divine Being that chose to create. And what He created is magnificent and beautiful. In contrast to biblical theism is atheism, which is the belief that God does not exist.[5] Biblically, this is the view of the wicked and foolish, who say in their hearts, “There is no God” (Psa 10:4; 14:1). For the atheist, mankind is nothing more than a molecular accident in a material universe where everything is the product of matter, motion, time and chance. For the atheist, there is no reason for humans to exist; therefore, no given purpose for life. Our thoughts, feelings, morals and actions are simply electrochemical impulses that occur in the body and brain, and when we die, those impulses cease. Right and wrong as well as good and evil become arbitrary. Without God and Scripture to guide and give purpose, our uniqueness is lost in the universe, as we ultimately are of no greater value than what we paint on the canvass or study under the microscope. If there is no God and man is not unique (as the Bible teaches), then we are of no greater value than the tree, the rock, or the worm on a hook.  If there is no God, then we are a zero. When we die, our biological life is consumed by the material universe from which we came. Bertrand Russell wrote:

Bertrand RussellMan is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hope and fears, his loves and beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruin – all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy that rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built [bold added for emphasis].[6]

Most who hold to atheism desire to operate independently of any authority outside of themselves, especially God’s authority set forth in Scripture. These assign no serious thought of God to their discussions, plans, or projects, but seek to use His resources independently of His wishes. But these same persons become trapped in their own system when their individual sense of good and evil, right and wrong, clashes with another person who holds to opposing moral standards. Having rejected God and moral absolutes, they have no objective final standard by which to measure values and behavior, to declare anything good or bad. These can go about their daily lives as long as the pressures of life are not too great; however, if they’re ever confronted with vicious evil that disrupts their lives, they’ll naturally seek a mechanism to control it, lest it destroy them (I’m speaking about the atheist who desires law and order rather than anarchy and chaos). If they continue to reject God, they’ll likely turn to a totalitarian government they hope is strong enough to deal with the depravity of reckless people; but in so doing, they’ll trade freedom and prosperity for slavery and the illusion of equality. In contrast, a society that acknowledges God and operates in accordance with His moral laws will tend to produce a virtuous people that can enjoy freedom and prosperity; but this must start with God and His Word.

Learning about God and applying the knowledge of who He is to our thinking results in a mental paradigm shift that changes how we see ourselves and the world around us. “In our spiritual lives, we cannot transcend the God we worship; we can rise no higher than what we believe to be the highest. Our concept of God will have a marked effect on our practical lives.”[7]

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 1.44

[2] The use of the Hebrew numeral אֶחָד echad reveals, in some contexts, the idea of a complex one (cf. Gen 2:24; Ezra 3:1; Ezek 37:17).

[3] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 39–40.

[4] Bible scholars are not entirely in agreement concerning the number of God’s attributes. I started with a basic understanding of God’s attributes back in the mid 90’s, but it has grown since then as I’ve learned more about God through His Word.

[5] There are pagan theistic views other than what is being set forth here; however, this article is written from a Christian perspective which does not recognize other claims to deity, whether Islam, Hinduism, Mormonism, etc. Therefore, biblical theism is being contrasted with atheism, which seeks to deny the existence of God, and which is the dominant view among unbelievers in America.

[6] Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship” from Mysticism and Logic (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1917).

[7] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2003), 18.

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