Reflections on Understanding God

Posted on February 22, 2012 by

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There are few biblical subjects that demand as must attention as does the attributes of God. Unfortunately, it seems sometimes insufficient attention to this topic is given. We are not overstating the case when it is suggested that as a consequence of neglecting a specific study of the attributes of God, unbiblical concepts are formulated on the part of many Bible students regarding God and his attributes.

The scope of this subject is so vast; however, that obviously it cannot be addressed completely in such a minute space as this. However, there are few items that we can address. The particular lines of thought considered below are crucial to the formulation of a balanced and biblical understanding of God and his attributes.

First, understanding God and his attributes is paradoxal.

A paradox is basically two statements that sound contradictory, but actually are not. For example, the Bible claims that God can be known by humanity. On the other hand, Scripture presents God as beyond total human comprehension. Look at an example of this contrast (1 John 2.3 and Phil. 4.7).

This seeming contradiction – paradox – suggests that we know God to the limit that He has revealed himself to humanity through Scripture and Nature (Eph. 4.6; Rom. 1.19-20). Beyond his revelation, we cannot search (Isa. 40.28; 1 Cor. 2.10-16). And this is precisely the point, the “secret things” belong to Him (Deut. 29.29). We cannot exhaust our knowledge of Him.

We may be certain, moreover, that His revelation can be adequately understood (John 6.44-45), the same by revelation by which man will be ultimately judged (2 Thess. 1.8; Jude 3).

Philosophies such as subjectivity or post-modernity will not be the standard of judgment; instead, it will be righteousness (Acts 17.31; John 12.48ff).

Second, understanding God and his attributes must be synthetic.

We must not focus upon one attribute to the exclusion of all the rest. To focus upon one attribute to the exclusion is to be analytical, which literally means to break apart to the most basic components.

Analysis can be done to great profit; however, we must remember that God is every attribute at the same time (Matt. 5.48). God’s attributes exist simultaneously and in unison; consequently, God is beyond total human comprehension (Rom. 11.33). It is truly ironic when Atheist who are woefully ignorant of the Bible, or even when supposed Bible scholars presumptuously act as if they know God better than God (Isa. 55.6-11).

Third, we must understand that the attributes of God are “cooperative”, not divisive.

Where humans are prone to sacrificing one or more of their characteristics for another, God alone exists with all of his attributes intact. God’s goodness is not diminished by his mercy; neither is his justice altered by his love and good will, nor is his holiness infringed upon when God enacts his wrath.

As we underscored above, we must understand God and his attributes synthetically. The attributes of God never cancel each other out; otherwise, God would not be God and infinite. Furthermore, he will never do anything that would diminish or contradict any of his attributes. If he did, it would mean that he is not infinite in all of his attributes; hence, not the God of the Bible – the only true God (1 Thess. 1.9).

God’s Attributes in Concert.

We will briefly introduce a number of attributes of God and observe that there is no way to accept one attribute to the exclusion of another.

These observations are made in light of the fact that so many sincere people extract one attribute that is most appealing to them, and divorce it from the totality of the nature of God. Virtually everything we believe and practice religiously goes back to our perception of God; consequently, if our perception of God is skewed our beliefs will be too.

The attribute of love. Among many of the more popular attributes of God is his love. The Bible says that “God is love” (1 John 4.16). The term here used is agape, and expresses behavior that has another’s best interest in mind (Newman, Concise Greek-English Dictionary 2). Furthermore, action is taken to obtain the best possible state of being for another.

This is expressed clearly in the sacrifice of Jesus, where God agape-loved the whole world, that he demonstrated the measure of his concern for our best spiritual interests by sending his son to give us spiritual life (John 3.16). But, we live under false assumptions if we exclude that God is equally demonstrative in his other attributes, like his just wrath (John 3.33-36).

The attribute of justice. Justice includes God’s ability to evaluate humanity’s moral and immoral actions, and as its judge respond rightly (Gen. 18.25). Sometimes in God’s infinite justice certain actions, or punishments, are taken that do not make sense to finite humanity.

For example, since God is holy, and will not allow sin to be in his presence (Lev. 16.13-15), sinners deserve estrangement from his presence (Isa. 59.1-2ff). That is the magnitude of sin (Rom. 3.23, 5.12). The ultimate estrangement is an eternal punishment in hell (Rev. 20.14). While some have over stressed the wrath aspect of the justice of God (cf. Jonathon Edwards), we must constantly remember God is also infinite in the mercy aspect of his justice.

The attribute of mercy. The attribute of mercy is profoundly important to consider here. It seems that despite the just punishment of estrangement from God due to our sins, redemptive mercy had to be made and offered to humanity for God to be God (Rom. 3.23-26).

It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3.23-26 ESV)

His mercy and justice did not clash, but work harmoniously. Humans probably do not like the idea that punishment is still there looming in the possible future should they reject God’s mercy (Matt. 23.33; Mark 16.16). This disposition says more about the limitation or incompletion of our finite concept of justice and mercy, than it does about the alleged incompatibility of eternal punishment for unforgiven sin.

The attribute of omnipotence. Defining omnipotence is extremely important. Thomas B. Warren presents a helpful description of the omnipotence of God:

God can do whatever is possible to be done (that is, he can accomplish whatever is subject to power), and that (in harmony with his perfection in goodness and in justice) he will only do what is in harmony with the absolute perfection of his own nature. (Have Atheists Proved there is no God? 27)

The omnipotence of God is a two-sided concept. God has infinite power, but God only uses that power in harmony with his other attributes (mercy, holiness, etc.). Power cannot violate any of God’s other infinite attributes, even if he is employing infinite power. Note these examples: God cannot lie (Titus 1.2), God cannot be tempted with evil (Jas. 1.13), and God cannot be illogical since he is the foundation of logic and reason (John 1.1). These are things that no amount of power can accomplish.

Concluding Thoughts

It can hardly be said that we have scratched the surface on this topic; nevertheless, the above issues appear to be tremendously vital in our understanding of the God of creation as revealed in the Bible.

While the nature and harmony of the universe reflect God’s “eternal power and divine nature” leaving humanity without excuse to reach out in service to their Creator (Rom. 1.19-20), Scripture provides those of faith with a resource to understand His Divine Will, and see how He involves Himself in the affairs of humanity. All these elements give us insight into His Character and His Attributes.

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