In studying what God is like, it is common to begin with His attributes. While this is useful for study in a systematic fashion, it carries with it the risk of viewing these characteristics as subdivisions of or extrinsic properties divorced from God's own Being. In the case of the former, the attributes become a giant collage or collection of components that make up God, much like the following figure:
where words are assembled independently to formulate what God is in varying degrees (even to the point of eliminting God's Being itself). In other cases, these attributes become appendages pasted onto God's Being, as demonstrated in the following figure:
where somewhat of a sticky-note approach to concocting God is taken (which is actually an Aristotelian construct of substance / attribute). God's attributes, however, are best understood as descriptions of God's own intrinsic character and nature. Each describes an aspect of God that permeates His entire being. A better analogy than the above representations might be found in the use of color. A green circle, for example, is not composed of separate blue and yellow portions (left circle below); but, instead, a green circle is composed of both blue and yellow colors blended uniformly together and throughout (right circle below):
Likewise, God is what He is in entirety. Attribute "A" does not battle with attribute "B," like the Yin and the Yang; neither does attribute "A" take on 30% of God, while attribute "B" takes on only 10%. When attributes are used to describe God, each describes His entire Being. For example, God is both completely loving and completely wrathful, although each is manifested or demonstrated to different extents at different points in time. This concept of the simplicity or unity of God (that He is not composed of subparts and is wholly all that He is) is paramount to understanding God. It leaves no room for the foolish notion that God was wrathful in the Old Testament but loving in the New Testament (for a treatment of this problem, see "Is the God of the Old Testament more wrathful than the God of the New Testament? Less loving?"). It should always be remembered that the subject of revelation and the object of study is the living God, rather than a collection of words and statements about God. Each attribute, when properly considered, is a glimpse at the Being of God.
A second common practice in studying God's character is distinguishing between His incommunicable and communicable attributes. Of the former it is commonly implied that these attributes are those that God does not share with man. Of the latter, these attributes are those that God shares to a degree with man, some perhaps close to fully in the Christian's glorification. In this first article on what God is like, the former will be considered with a focus on understanding the qualitative differences between God and man. It is a consideration of the very Being of God, whose nature is a difference of kind rather than degree (the communicable attributes are covered in a second article, Part II).
The Incommunicable Attributes of God
Aseity: God is completely independent of everything, needing nothing outside of Himself. God's aseity is a fundamental teaching of the scriptures regarding God's character and Being. It is a most basic creature-Creator distinction. Unlike man, who derives His value and very existence from the Creator (Job 41:11; Ps. 50:10-12), God is self-existent, needing nothing (Acts 17:24-25). The Triune God never needed to create man (or anything else), for His glory and love were complete from before all time within Himself among the three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (John 17:5, 17:24). God's existence is based on Him and Him alone, which is the very essence of His exclamation that "I AM WHO I AM" (Ex. 3:14). God IS (and always was, Ps. 90:2). He will remain always all-sufficient.
Immutability: God is unchanging in His being, character, purposes, and promises. The scriptures clearly teach of God's immutability, especially as it is often contrasted to the temporary nature of created things and man's own wavering and regular mutability. Whereas all of creation is subject to withering and decay, God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow (Ps. 102:25-27, also quoted in Heb. 1:11-12). Whereas man is subject to change and teetering, God is ever consistent and unchanging (Ps. 110:4; Mal. 3:6; James 1:17). The latter is the very basis of God's trustworthiness, goodness, and His inability to lie (Heb. 6:17-18). It is why we can refer to God as a rock, who will never cease to be God. It is the reason man can look with confidence to the fulfillment of God's promises (Num 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29; Is. 46:9-11).
Does God have feelings and emotions?
Does God change His mind?
Eternity: God is without beginning or end and is sovereign over time, seeing all things past, present, and future equally clearly. The Eternal nature of God is taught throughout the Bible. God has been God from everlasting, just as much as He will always be God unto everlasting: "Before the mountains were brought forth, Or ever You had formed the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God" (Ps. 90:2; see also Ps. 41:13). The following figure illustrates the endless eternity from before all time, as well as the endless eternity for all future time.
This is why God's years are said to be unsearchable (Job 36:26) and His name Alpha and Omega (the beginning and the end, as alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet - Rev. 1:8). The Lord's choosing to reveal Himself as "I AM" instead of "I WAS" or "I WILL BE" is indicative of God's always having been. It is as the four living creatures declare, "God was, and is, and is to come!" (Rev. 4:8).
Because God is eternal and self-existent, He is sovereign over time, as well. For God, a thousand years is like a single day (Ps. 90:4; 2 Pet. 3:8), meaning that God can see and remember all time like it is a single moment. If a math student discovered that 1=1000, then all of mathematics would be thrown in a trash can. So too, time with God is miniscule. God exists over and above time.
It is important to note at this point, that even though God is sovereign over and not acted upon by time, he does act in time. The Bible is a record of God's entering into time and acting in history. In fact, God has affixed a time for all things to transpire (Gal. 4:4-5; Acts 17:30-31).
Omnipresence: God is not limited by space, as He does not have size or spatial dimensions and is present everywhere in entirety. As the Creator God is sovereign over time, He is also sovereign over space. Consequently, He is present everywhere (omnipresence comes from the Latin words omni, meaning "everywhere," and praesens, meaning "present"). God's spacial fullness is presented so clearly in the scriptures, as God declares there is no place a man can hide from Him including heaven or hell (Ps. 139:7-10; Jer. 23:23-24). God, as a Spirit, does not have spacial dimensions (1 King 8:27; Isa. 66:1-2; Acts 7:48). As such, man does not have to exclusively go to a special place or building to commune or worship God. (Refer to The Lord Jesus' teaching that God is Spirit [John 4:24] in direct response to the woman at the well, who was concerned about where to worship the Lord [John 4:19-20].) Wherever you may go, God is there.
Now, even though God is present everywhere, it is not implied that He acts the same in all places. God's wrath may be manifested over and above his love in a situation where he is presented with sin or evil. The converse would be true of his love. The scriptures teach of God punishing those in hell (Amos 9:1-4) and specially blessing those who are his people (Ps. 16:11). If it were not so, there would be little that was special about the incarnation of God in Christ (Col. 2:9). There is real beauty and comfort in what the scriptures refer to as the "presence" of the Lord. This is not to say that God is ever absent at any place at any given time. However, the "presence of the Lord" is frequently used to refer to the manifested blessings of a Covenant God, who resides in a privileged way with His People.
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