(This one goes over my usual word limit, and I don’t even care. Enjoy.)
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him. Yet He is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In Him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed His offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. Acts 17:24-29
Who is God? What is God like? Our answers here determine who we are, how we live our lives, what we think of the universe, how we treat others, how we find meaning, value, and purpose in life, and so forth. And now here’s my bumbling, stumbling, feeble attempt to answer those questions.
But first, there’s a caveat I need to mention. Theologians typically speak of God as “incomprehensible,” meaning we cannot fully comprehend the being of God. We can know God rightly and truly, but we cannot know God as God knows Himself. Or, we can know God as He has revealed Himself to us, but we cannot know God as He is in Himself. Thus, when we speak of God, it will be helpful for us to speak of Him in both positive and negative ways. (This does not mean we speak of God in positive and negative terms, e.g., “I like God” or “I don’t like God.”) When we speak positively of God, we say what He is, e.g., God is love (1 John 4:8). When we speak negatively of God, we say what He is not, e.g., God is not a man that He should lie or change His mind (Numbers 23:19).
Yet even this way of speaking of God, which is genuinely helpful for us, does not capture the fullness of God’s being. As John Owen said, “How inconceivable is this glorious [God] unto the thoughts and minds of men! How weak are the ways and terms whereby they go about to express [Him]….He that says most only signifies what he knows of what [God] is not.” So the task of theology is not to bring God down out of heaven to put Him in a little box so that we may control Him. Rather, once we have said all that we can say about God, we say with Owen, “And now I cannot think what I have said, but only have intimated what I adore” (Works of John Owen [Banner of Truth], 6:622). The task of theology is to fix our minds on God so that we may adore Him.
1. Divine Perfection
The first thing we should say about God is that He is perfect. This means that He is not subject to defect or deformity. He is absolutely full and therefore lacks nothing. Jesus says that we are to be perfect “as [our] heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The very being and essence of God is perfect. He is free of any stain or imperfection whatsoever.
God’s perfection also entails His supremacy. That God is supreme means that He is the most ultimate being, the “Lord of heaven and earth” (Acts 17:24), the One to whom be all the glory forever and ever (Romans 11:36). Hebrews 6:13 says, “when God made a promise to Abraham, since He had no one greater by whom to swear, He swore by Himself, saying, ‘Surely I will bless you and multiply you.'” The fact is that there is no one who is greater than God. Perfection means supremacy.
Next, the perfection of God means that all of God’s work is perfect. Everything that God does is good and right. Psalm 18:30 says that God’s “way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true.” This follows logically from the fact that God’s being is perfect. A supreme and perfect being necessarily does perfect work. Psalm 145:17 makes this point: “The LORD is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His works.” The point is not only that God’s ways are righteous, but that God Himself is righteous as He accomplishes all of His perfect work.
What this means is that God is supremely, perfectly, and infinitely happy. God is not some sad or frustrated deity who never gets His way; rather, “our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases” (Psalm 115:3). Moreover, “whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 135:6). God’s perfection means that He is never frustrated, He is never lacking, nothing can ultimately oppose Him or prevent Him from doing what He pleases; He is supremely and perfectly happy.
2. Divine Aseity
The second thing we should say about God is that He exists a se. This is a Latin term which means “from Himself.” In simple terms, God’s aseity means that He is not subject to dependency. God has the very power of being and has all life in Himself. He is totally independent of creation and does not depend upon anything for His being. Acts 17:25 makes this clear when Paul says that God “is not served by human hands, as though He needed anything.” The point is that God doesn’t need anything for His infinite life.
In Scripture, God is constantly compared to idols and what sets God apart from those idols is that He is the living God. Jeremiah 10:10-11 provides us with this picture: “The LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure His indignation. Thus you shall say to them: ‘The gods who did not make the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens.'” The contrast between the living and true God and false idols here serves to demonstrate that God has all life in Himself. He will not perish or go out of being, for He is simply being.
Moreover, aseity entails that God is self-sufficient. He does not need anything outside Himself in order to be or to act or to accomplish all His purpose. When God comes to Abram in Genesis 17:1, He announces Himself as God Almighty, El Shaddai, which means, “All-Sufficient One.” God comes to Abram and declares Himself to be the One whom Abram can trust to fulfill His covenant promises.
Since God is all-sufficient in Himself, He is all-sufficient for us. In a very practical sense, we need nothing outside of God. Not only do we “live and move and have our being” in Him (Acts 17:28), but we live on “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). The Christian exults with the Psalmist, “whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26). The God of infinite life is also the God of our infinite joy (cf. Psalm 16:11).
This also profoundly shapes our understanding of what happens at conversion. One of the reasons I get so irritable when people use language like “make a decision for Christ” or “you need to accept Jesus Christ,” is because that simply does not accurately portray what is happening when we are converted. The biblical testimony is clear: the natural man is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1; cf. Colossians 2:13) and unable to please God (cf. Romans 8:8). But the God of infinite life, the God who has the very power of being in Himself, the God who depends upon nothing for His being or action whatsoever, looks upon us in our helpless estate, and says, “Let light shine out of darkness,” shining in our hearts to give us “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). This God looks at dead sinners and makes them alive in Christ (cf. Ephesians 2:5). It is no wonder, then, that John Owen proclaimed, “How inconceivable is this glorious [God] unto the thoughts and minds of men!”
3. Divine Immutability
Third, we come to a slightly more controversial truth about God, which is that God is immutable. Immutability is the idea that God is not subject to change. It does not mean, contrary to what some think, that God is inactive or immobile; rather, it means that His being, character, and purpose will never change. More strongly, the being, character, and purpose of God cannot change.
Psalm 102:25-27 says that God’s being will not change: “Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but You are the same, and Your years have no end.” The heavens and the earth are subject to change since they are created things. But since God is not a created thing, since He has all life in Himself, He is not subject to change. He remains the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Lamentations 3:22-24 says that God’s character will not change: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new everything; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him.'” The foundation for our hope in God is God’s immutability, His unchanging character. God is our chosen portion and we hope in Him because His steadfast love never ceases, never changes.
Isaiah 46:9-11 says that God’s purpose will not change: “I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’….I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” What sets God apart from all the idols of the nations (and of our own hearts) is that He declares the end from the beginning, and He accomplishes all His purpose.
Divine immutability means that God will not some day change His mind about His love for us. Malachi 3:6 says, “I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” The reason that the children of Jacob are not consumed, even though they deserved to be totally obliterated, is because God is immutable. The reason that we can know that we have been given eternal life in Christ now and forever is because God is immutable. God’s immutability, His unchanging being, character, and purpose, are the solid rock upon which our faith and assurance is grounded. The fundamental reason that genuine Christians will never lose their salvation, persevering to the end in faith and obedience is because God Himself will preserve us to the end (cf. John 10:29 ; Romans 8:28-39; Philippians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; Jude 1:24-25). If God were subject to change, we could have no assurance that He would keep us to the very end.
4. Divine Eternity
The fourth thing we should say of God is that He is eternal. This means, simply, that God is not subject to time. This follows from aseity and immutability. Since time is a created thing, God does not depend upon it for His being or action, nor does God move into time when He creates, as if time suddenly became more ultimate than God. Rather, when God creates or blesses or curses or does any number of acts which are accorded to Him in Scripture, He does so as the eternal God. The human mind literally cannot comprehend this truth since we are temporally bound. Yet we still confess that God’s eternity means that He is omnipresent, infinite, and transcendent over time.
Psalm 139:7-12 captures the omnipresence of God: “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there!…even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with You.” God pervades the entirety of reality since He is its maker. There is nowhere sinners can go to escape from Him in His wrath, yet there is nowhere Christians can go without His sovereign hand to guide and bless them in Christ. That God is eternal means He is everywhere present to us.
God’s eternity also means that God is infinite. His glory is “above the heavens” (Psalm 8:1) and “heaven and the highest of heaven cannot contain” God (1 Kings 8:27). Indeed, the Lord is great and “greatly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3). God’s greatness is unfathomable; there is no bottom to it, no mind which can comprehend it (cf. Romans 11:33-34). Moreover, God’s infinity entails that He has the fullness of being: “I am He; I am the first, and I am the last” (Isaiah 48:12; cf. 41:4; 44:6; Revelation 1:8). The infinite and perfect God who has all life in Himself and is not subject to change is the God we worship, the God who holds our lives in His hands, ensuring that nothing befalls us which will not increase our love and enjoyment of Him.
5. Divine Simplicity
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention God’s simplicity. That God is simple means not that He is easy to understand or comprehend, but that He is not subject to composition. God does not rely upon things which are more ultimate than Him to be who He is. The sheer simplicity of God’s being means that all that is in God is God.
Simplicity means that God is not composed of parts. When we say that God is love (1 John 4:8), holy, holy, holy (Isaiah 6:3), spirit (John 4:24), and light (1 John 1:5), we do not mean that God is love plus holy, holy, holy plus spirit plus light. Rather, we mean that God Himself is all of those things and all of those things are one in God. The attributes of God cannot be pitted against each other since they are all the same in God. Holiness is not opposite love in God; they are not at odds with each other. God’s holiness and God’s love are simply God. This truth follows and mutually reinforces the other attributes which have been mentioned here. If God is perfect, a se, immutable, and eternal, then He must be simple. There is nothing more supreme than God, nothing upon which God relies for His being and life, nothing back of God which enforces change upon or in God or which makes God to be God, and therefore God is simple.
In summary of all which has gone before, Paul says, “for from God and through God and to God are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36). This is perhaps the most profound statement in all of Scripture, and it strongly implies the simplicity of God. God cannot be composed of parts since all things are from Him and through Him and to Him. We rejoice in the perfect, self-existent, immutable, eternal, and simple God.
God is the sure anchor of our souls. As Hebrews 6:17-19 puts it, “when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that…we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” That God is perfect, a se, immutable, eternal, and simple is the “sure and steadfast anchor of our souls.” We can be utterly assured that God will not leave us or forsake us (cf. Hebrews 13:5) because His perfect love for us in Christ will simply never change nor run out.
Thanks for reading. Have any additional thoughts? Leave a comment below.