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.

God, History, Time and Eternity

Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. (Ps. 90:2)

     The Bible is a record of what matters most to us.  It gives us insights into realities we could never know except that God has revealed them to us in understandable terms.  God has not revealed everything to us, but what He has revealed is perfectly true.  Scripture gives us insight into things eternal and temporal, heavenly and earthly, angelic and human, good and evil, and above all, the thoughts, character, and actions of the Triune God.  We live in time-space history, which is driven by divine choices, angelic choices, human choices, and natural causes.  God’s choices are always supreme, all creatures being subordinate, influenced and controlled.  The Lord allows fallen angels and humans to produce sin and evil, but never beyond or against His sovereign will (Job 1:1-21; Ps. 105:12-15; 1 Kings 22:19-23; 2 Cor. 12:7-10).  God’s providential control over creation guarantees there are no accidents in history, but that all is within His sovereign plan.  “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps. 135:6).  There is no one who can comprehend all His ways, or who can stand against Him when He acts.  “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan 4:35).

     Most of us think about history in time and space, which began when “God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).  However, according to Scripture, history moves backward and forward beyond time and space and touches things heavenly as well as earthly.  The heavens and earth in Genesis 1:1 refers to material heavens and planet earth.  The Hebrew word translated heavens is plural (שָׁמַיִם shamayim) and refers to:

  1. The atmosphere around the earth (where birds fly; Gen. 1:20).
  2. The stellar heaven which is the universe beyond the earth (Gen. 1:14; 15:5).

Paul mentions a third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2), which is the heaven beyond the universe, and is the place where God rules all things (Dan. 2:44).  Most Christians think of heaven as the place where God rules from His throne.  “Scripture implies the existence of three heavens. The first is the atmosphere above us, that is, the blue sky. The second is the stellar heaven. The third is the highest heaven where the throne of God is.”[1] 

     It is important to be aware of these distinctions because there is both an earthly history and a heavenly history (i.e. the third heaven).  These are connected and touch each other, for things which occur in heaven have direct impact on the earth (Job 1:1-20; 2:1-7; 2 Chron. 18:18-22; Luke 22:31-32), and things which occur on the earth impact things heavenly (Matt. 18:10; Luke 15:10).  The fall of Satan first occurred in heaven (Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:11-18), and afterward he came to earth and influenced the fall of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:1-7; Rom. 5:12; 1 Tim. 2:13-14).  On the other hand, God the Son came to earth and became a man (John 1:1, 14; Gal. 4:4), lived a righteous life (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 John 3:5), died a substitutionary death on a cross (Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:6-11; 1 Pet. 3:18), was buried in a grave, and rose again to life on the third day after His crucifixion (Matt. 20:18-19; 1 Cor. 15:3-4).  In His resurrection body, Jesus bore the wounds of the cross (John 20:24-28) and carried those wounds with Him when He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9-11).  All this reveals that heaven touches earth and the earth touches heaven.

     In the Bible, God occasionally pulls back the curtain of time and space and gives us glimpses into things eternal, revealing a history before time, before the creation of the world.  We learn that God Himself is eternal, for “Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God” (Ps. 90:2; cf. Deut. 33:27; Ps. 93:2; Isa. 40:28; Jer. 10:10).  From eternity past there was a loving and glorious relationship among the members of the Trinity, who exist as three distinct Persons (Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:2): God the Father (Gal. 1:1; Eph. 6:23; Phil. 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 14, 18; 8:58; 20:28; Col. 1:17; 2:9; Heb. 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:20), and God the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17; Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor. 2:11-12; 2 Cor. 13:14; Heb. 9:14).  All three Persons are co-equal, co-infinite, co-eternal, and worthy of all praise and service.  The Persons of the Trinity communicated with each other, loved each other, and made decisions and promises which impacted the world and entire course of history.  There was forethought and intentionality to the creation of the heavens and earth, to mankind, to permit the fall of Adam and Eve, and to provide a monergistic solution that righteously judges sin and saves lost sinners.  To deal with sin, the Father designed and prepared a body for Jesus, and this decision was made in heaven, for “when He [God the Son] comes into the world [time and space], He says, ‘Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me’” (Heb. 10:5).  God the Holy Spirit created Jesus’ body in the womb of the Virgin Mary (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23; Luke 1:26-38), for an angel from heaven told her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).  During His time on earth, Jesus lived a sinless life and walked in perfect obedience to God the Father (2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 2:8-11; 1 John 3:5).  Jesus offered a prayer just a few hours before going to the cross, a prayer spoken among His friends, a prayer in which He mentions a glory and love He enjoyed with the Father before the world existed.  Jesus said, “Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5), “for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).  This prayer reveals a wonderful relationship that existed from eternity past, which relationship broke into time and space for our benefit, and resumed its full expression when Jesus returned to heaven.  It was also from their relationship in eternity past that God “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4), which choosing was secured by means of the cross.  From His eternal choice, God promised us eternal life, which speaks both of a current relationship with the Father (John 17:3), as well as an eternal destiny forever in heaven (John 3:16). 

     Our current experiences are connected with our eternal destiny which is assured to us who are in Christ.  Throughout our earthly life, God works through His Word, through others, and through circumstances to grow us spiritually in order to form the character of Christ in us.  All of God’s work in us is intentional, designed to prepare us for the life we will come to know when we leave this world and enter into His eternal presence.  Life on earth—in time and space—becomes more meaningful when we live beyond ourselves, beyond our struggles, beyond our circumstances and see everything within the context of eternity to which we belong right now.  I say we belong to eternity “right now” because as Christians we possess eternal life from the moment we believed in Christ as our Savior (John 10:28).  Eternal life is not what we can have, but what we have from the moment of salvation onward.  Our eternal life is the forever-life that finds its greatest experiential expression when we leave this world and enter into the presence of God in heaven.  At death, the flow of time ceases and all worldly experience comes to an end when we pass into eternity.  Until then, we enjoy eternal life here and now with God who has saved us and adopted us as His own.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1865.