DESCRIBING THE DIVINE
by Jeff Hagan
(Tacoma, WA, USA)
To really describe God is an impossible task because He is completely “other.” Human beings cannot fathom the depths of who God is. However, we do have some clues and certainties about God as He has been gracious enough to reveal some of His characteristics through His Word.
A. W. Tozer wrote, “’What is God like?’ If by that question we mean ‘What is God like in Himself?’ there is no answer. If we mean ‘What has God disclosed about Himself that the reverent reason can comprehend?’ there is, I believe, an answer both full and satisfying.”*
I believe Tozer is right on the money in saying we cannot know what God is with respect to Himself, He is beyond our understanding in that fashion. As Job declared in the book that bears his name, “Can you discover the depths of God? Can you discover the limits of the Almighty? They are high as the heavens, what can you do? Deeper than Sheol, what can you know?” (Job 11:7-8). Clearly these questions are rhetorical as what he is portraying is God is too deep for us to comprehend, to powerful for us to fully grasp, His ways surpass ours and are as “high as the heavens” and “deeper than Sheol.”
However, as briefly mentioned in the first paragraph above, we can ask what God has revealed about Himself in His Word and in creation that those who are willing are able to understand.
Let's take a look at what God said to Moses when He directed Moses to go to the Egyptian Pharaoh and demand the release of the Israelites. Well, as you can imagine Moses was terrified at the prospect, “Me, Moses, demanding from the Pharaoh?” So, Moses asked God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13).
God answered Moses in a very simple, yet immensely revealing way: “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’; and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you”’” (Exodus 3:14). Imagine that... “I AM” is basically what God told Moses to say. “I AM” as if He is all that there is.
This name speaks to the fact that God is pure existence or pure actuality. Pure actuality is that which IS with no possibility of not existing. Or, to put it another way, many things can have existence (e.g., human beings, animals, plants), but only one thing can BE existence. Other things have “being” but only God IS Being.**
As gotquestions.org points out in the answer to the question “What is God?”, because God alone is Being gives us at least five truths we can look at in regards to what God is – what type of being God is.
One, Only God is a self-existent being. He is the first cause of everything else that exists. John 5:26 says, “The Father has life in Himself.” Paul declared, “He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:25).
Two, God is a necessary being, meaning a being whose nonexistence is impossible. God alone is a necessary being; all other beings are contingent beings, which means they could not exist. But, if God did not exist, then nothing else would exist either. He alone is the necessary being by which everything else currently exists – Job attests to this truth: “If He should determine to do so, If He should gather to Himself His spirit and His breath, All flesh would perish together, And man would return to dust” (Job 34:14-15).
Three, God is a personal being. In this sense the word personal does not mean personality (e.g., shy, outgoing, humorous, etc.); instead, it means “having intent.” God is a purposeful being who has a will, creates, and directs events and situations to satisfy Him. Isaiah prophesied, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’” (Isa. 46:9-10).
Four, God is a triune being. This truth is a complex mystery, but even so the whole of Scripture and even life in general attests to this truth. The Bible makes it perfectly clear that there is only one God: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4). But the Bible also makes it perfectly clear that there is a plurality to God. Before Jesus ascended and returned to heaven, He commanded His disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). Notice the singular “name” in the verse; it does not say “names,” which would convey three gods. In “THE name of” (one God), but Father, Son, and Spirit are all listed as the one name. There is one name belonging to the three “Persons” who make up the Godhead.
We find that throughout Scripture the Father is referred to as God, Jesus is referred to as God, and the Holy Spirit is referred to as God. So what are we to do? Some way, somehow, all these are God yet God is one. That's what Scripture says and that's what history attests to. We must accept this and do our best to understand and explain, but one day, in eternity, we will understand in full.
Five, God is a loving being. In the same way that many things can exist but only one thing can BE existence, people and even other living things can have and experience love, but only one thing can BE love. 1 John 4:8 makes the very simple, brief statement, “God is love.”***
Let's Get Personal:
After reading the above I noticed it felt a little impersonal. Sure, I mentioned God is love, He is a (or the) Being, has personality in a certain sense, but let me continue addressing more of WHO God is than WHAT. If God has a will, emotions, etc., then I think a look at who, and not just what, He is will give us a more well rounded understanding.
“The Bible teaches us that in all existence, from all eternity, there has been and always will be only one God.”**** God was not created, He is the Creator. He is completely and perfectly loving, just, holy, merciful, gracious, and He wants the best for us. God is holy and righteous and can have nothing to do with sin. The Bible says in Hab. 1:13, “His eyes are too pure to look upon evil.” However, this does not mean that God cannot see what someone is doing that is wrong. It's a way of describing God's holiness. He cannot sin. He is perfect.
As stated above, God is what is called a Trinity, a Tri-une Being. This means that God is three persons (again, not persons in the sense of people – see above for the explanation of persons in this sense), NOT three gods. The doctrine of the Trinity states that within the one God is the person of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each is not the same person as the other; yet there are not three gods there is only one God. “This is similar in analogy to the nature of time. Time is past, present, and future. The past is not the same as the present, which is not the same as the future. But, there are not three times. There is only one thing called time.”*****
Because of the Trinity, God was able to humble Himself and become flesh in the form of the Son, and still exist in a manner to completely run the universe. The Son set aside His divine attributes, or characteristics, for a time, and was then able to communicate to us on our level.
The Bible says there is only one God: "I am the Lord, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God," (Isa. 45:5). Yet, the Bible teaches that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each called God. The Trinity of God, the three Persons of the Godhead, is the only explanation that fits.
Below I have included an extremely brief list of comparisons showing that each of the persons in the Trinity share the same attributes that God alone shares. But, it's vitally important to remember that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each have wills, and each are able to speak (communicate), etc. That is why we say there are three Persons.******
The Father is called God (Phil. 1:2), the Son is called God (John 1:1, 14), and the Holy Spirit is called God (Acts 5:3-4).
The Father is Creator (Isa. 64:8), the Son is Creator (John 1:3), and the Holy Spirit is Creator (Job 33:4; 26:13).
The Father is Omnipresent (always present and present everywhere) (1 Kings 8:27), the Son is Omnipresent (Matt. 28:20), and the Holy Spirit is Omnipresent (Psalm 139:7-10).
The Father is Omniscient (all knowing) (1 John 3:20), the Son is Omniscient (John 16:30; 21:17), and the Holy Spirit is Omniscient (1 Cor. 2:10-11).
The Father has a will and speaks/communicates (Luke 22:42; Matt. 3:17), the Son has a will and speaks/communicates (Luke 22:42; 5:20; 7:48), and the Holy Spirit has a will and speaks/communicates (1 Cor. 12:12; Acts 13:2).
I know some of this may have been repetitive, and that was done purposefully. This is a topic of utmost importance so I felt some things needed mentioning more than once. Hopefully this sheds some light on who historic, orthodox, biblical Christians believe God to be. Of course He is much more, but for those seeking answers I pray this gives you a helpful start in beginning to understand who God is.
*Quote taken from “What Is God?”, gotquestions.org
**Adapted from Ibid.
****Quote taken from “Who Is God/?”, Matt Slick, carm.org
******Adapted from Ibid.