Divine Aseity: A Life-Giving Doctrine

1.  What Is Divine Aseity?

When we think of God, we must never think that we have exhausted Him fully.  God cannot be forced by us into a little box.  The purpose of theology is not to drag God down to our level; rather, good theology raises our minds toward God in adoration.  And rightly understanding God’s aseity helps us adore Him.

Divine aseity is the idea that God is independent in His being, knowledge, and will.  The word “aseity” comes from the Latin a se, meaning that God exists “of Himself.”  Aseity is sometimes considered an abstract doctrine with little relevance for the Christian life, but this is far from the truth.  Rather than being irrelevant, divine aseity is the grounds upon which we can actually live and move and have our being.

2.  Independent in Being

God’s aseity means that He is independent in His being.  God does not rely upon anything which is not God in order to be God.  Before anything was, God is who He is (cf. Exodus 3:14).  God does not receive His life from anyone or anything else, as if He depended upon something outside Himself for His life.  Rather, God has all “life in Himself” (John 5:26).  Unlike creaturely life, which comes upon us and slips away through moments of time, God perfectly possesses the fullness of His life.  God simply is.  He is the “Alpha and the Omega,” the One who “created all things, and by [whose] will they existed and were created” (Revelation 1:8; 4:11).  All things exist “from God and through God and to God” (Romans 11:36).  This means that God cannot depend upon anything for His own being, since He Himself gives being to all else that exists.  All things are utterly dependent upon God, and “all things hold together” in Christ (Colossians 1:17).

Paul sees the pagan idolatry in Athens and in response proclaims: “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” (vv. 24-25, emphasis added).  The reason that God is not served by human hands is because He does not need anything.  As Paul asks elsewhere, “Who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid?” (Romans 11:35).  No one can put God in their debt because God gives to all mankind “life and breath and everything.”  God, since He is the self-existent Creator of all things, cannot be given anything which He does not already own.

This is why salvation cannot be attained through our works.  To conceive of our works as contributing something to God which He previously lacked (and which He needs in order to save us) is to assume that we are capable of giving something to God which God Himself does not already have.  But how on earth (or in heaven or anywhere else, for that matter) could we give to God anything at all, since we are merely “the clay, and [God] is our potter; we are all the work of [His] hand” (Isaiah 64:8)?  Christians rejoice in the aseity of God because God has all “life in Himself” and is therefore capable of making “us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5), granting us faith (Philippians 1:29), repentance (2 Timothy 2:25) and eternal life (John 3:16).

3.  Independent in Knowledge

God’s aseity means also that He is independent in His knowledge.  God does not depend upon any created thing for what He knows.  Since God gives existence to all else which exists, there is nothing outside of God which could give knowledge to God.  Nothing ever informs God, in the sense of providing new information to Him which He did not already know.  God is never shocked, nor is He in the business of finding things out.  When Paul asks, “Who has been [God’s] counselor?” (Romans 11:34), the answer is no one.  No created thing is capable of giving to God new knowledge.

First John 1:5 says that “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.”  One of the implications of this for God’s knowledge is that He possesses perfect knowledge of His own infinite being.  As Herman Bavinck says, “nothing in [God’s] being is hidden from His consciousness…the term ‘light,’ when applied to God, first of all denotes that God completely understands and knows Himself” (Reformed Dogmatics, 2:191-192).  And if God perfectly and completely understands and knows His own infinite being, how much more does He perfectly and completely understand and know His own finite creation?

Job says, “with God are wisdom and might; He has counsel and understanding” (Job 12:13).  Indeed, “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; His understanding is beyond measure” (Psalm 147:5).  If God’s knowledge were dependent upon something outside of God, then God’s knowledge could be measured, for we could measure whatever it is upon which God depends for His knowledge.  But God’s knowledge is infinite and incapable of being measured because He depends upon nothing other than His own infinite being for His knowledge.

4.  Independent in Will

God’s aseity means also that God is independent in His will.  God does not depend upon anything outside Himself to accomplish all His purpose.  “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases” (Psalm 115:3).  “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 135:6).  Before God, “all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?'” (Daniel 4:35).  God “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11), and “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).  God declares, “I am God and there is no other; 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” (Isaiah 46:9-10).  What it means for God to be God is that He declares the end from the beginning and accomplishes all His purpose.

What this means, as we’ve already seen, is that God does not need anything (cf. Acts 17:25), including us.  God did not create the world because He was lonely or because He needed us for fellowship.  We cannot give to God anything which He does not already own since He “gives life to all things” (1 Timothy 6:13).  Moreover, God’s saving purposes for His people cannot be thwarted by anything.  God’s aseity means that God cannot and will not fail to redeem every single one of His chosen people, since He does not depend upon anything outside Himself in order to accomplish His purpose.  The reason that “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” is because the Father, who has all life in Himself, “is greater than all” (John 10:29).

5.  What This Means for Us

What else might this doctrine mean for us?  The aseity of God implies that God is absolute, perfect, and immutable.  There is nothing behind God which makes God to be God, nor is there anything more fundamental in the entire universe than the Absolute God of Christianity.  He alone has life in Himself, giving life to all things.  God never had a beginning, nor will He go out of being since He “alone has immortality” (1 Timothy 6:16).  He is perfect in His being, sufficient in Himself and before all things, “righteous in all His ways and kind in all His works” (Psalm 145:17).  And since God is absolute, perfect, and possesses all life in Himself, He is immutable, or unchanging.  God cannot change because all change is either addition to or subtraction from some previous state of being.  But nothing can be added to God or taken away from Him, for that would impinge upon His absoluteness and perfection.

This means God is infinitely happy in Himself.  Since nothing can frustrate the purpose of God, and since God does all that He pleases, He always accomplishes the fullness of His good pleasure.  The infinite God does not pace dejectedly around heaven because some finite piece of His finite creation thwarted His plan.  Rather, He is “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15).

In a world where everything changes, the absolute, perfect, immutable, self-existent, eternally blessed, all-sufficient God of Christianity is the sure foundation of our souls (cf. Hebrews 6:19).  Indeed, the God who is sufficient in Himself is also sufficient for us.  We need nothing beyond Him.  In the words of John Piper, “He is worthy of our highest interest, our greatest attention, our deepest admiration, and our sweetest enjoyments, including being superior in all those ways to the whole universe…”

Thanks for reading.  Have any additional thoughts?  Leave a comment below. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s