“Immanuel, God with us in our nature, in our sorrow, in our lifework, in our punishment, in our grave and now with us, or rather we with Him, in resurrection, ascension, triumph, and Second Advent splendor.”
– Charles Spurgeon
When studying theology, it is not abnormal to be constantly bombarded by different views of who and what God is. There are multiple voices in the study of God, all of whom have multiple viewpoints and agendas they wish to accomplish. This miscellany of voices can sometimes muddy the purity of the subject of God. This is why it is important to go back to basics. It is important to understand God through His own voice and His own word. According to Strong’s Concordance, there are over 3000 verses in the Bible that mention “God.” This number is not including all of the uses of the different names of God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. The sheer amount of verses in the Word of God that discuss the being of God proves that the purpose of the Bible is to help the people of God know who their God is. Therefore, I hope to move beyond the muddied waters of theological interpretations and agendas for a brief moment and bring ones’ focus to the purity of the written Word of God. Thus, according to the Bible, who is God?
We must keep one thing in mind as we look at the Bible for a better understanding of God. God is unfathomable. A. W. Tozer states:
“When we try to imagine what God is like we must of necessity use that-which-is-not-God as the raw material for our minds to work on; hence whatever we visualize God to be, He is not, for we have constructed our image out of that which He has made and what He has made is not God. If we insist upon trying to imagine Him, we end with an idol, made not with hands but with thoughts: and an idol of the mind is as offensive to God as an idol of the hand.”
Even the prophet Ezekiel had trouble describing what he saw when he saw God:
”Then there was a voice from above the platform over their heads when they stood still. Above the platform over their heads was something like a sapphire shaped like a throne. High above on the throne was a form that appeared to be a man. I saw an amber glow like a fire enclosed all around from His waist up. From His waist down I saw something that looked like fire. There was a brilliant light around it, like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds after the rain. This was the appearance of the surrounding brilliant light; it looked like the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I threw myself face down, and I heard a voice speaking.”[i]
The prophet uses phrases such as “was something like,” “shaped like,” “was a form that appeared to be,” “something that looked like” to describe what he was seeing. These phrases, as well as others, show the struggle of Ezekiel to describe the indescribable. God cannot be described or understood because He exists outside the created understanding of man. Despite this, God loved His people and wanted a relationship with His creation so much that He revealed to His people, in His Word, attributes that reflect His being in the truest sense. It is through these attributes that we can catch a glimpse of who our God is.
Biblical Attributes of God
- Genesis 1:1- God was not created; He is the creator
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
I have often heard pastors say that this verse should be written in this form: “In the beginning was God. He created the heavens and the earth.” Though I do not care for this type of reading or interpretation of scripture, I do understand their point. God exists outside space and time, and it is solely through Him that all things were created. The Bible does not begin with how God came into being because He was already there before the beginning. However, it does begin with God creating us because that is where our relationship with Him begins; His forming of our existence.
- Deuteronomy 6:4- God is one God, no more, no less
“Listen, Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!”
God wanted to make it clear that He is a single being. He consistently used pronouns such as “I” and “me” to talk about Himself. He is not multiple gods, multiple voices, or multiple personalities. He also, is not less than one. Thus, He is not a form of energy that flows from one thing to the next, and He is not a supernatural wave or movement of forces. He is a single being that exists tangibly both in space and time and outside of space and time.
- Job 40:6-14-God is a God to be feared
“Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind:
“Get ready for a difficult task like a man.
I will question you and you will inform me!
Would you indeed annul my justice?
Would you declare me guilty so that you might be right?
Do you have an arm as powerful as God’s,
and can you thunder with a voice like his?
Adorn yourself, then, with majesty and excellency,
and clothe yourself with glory and honor!
Scatter abroad the abundance of your anger.
Look at every proud man and bring him low;
Look at every proud man and abase him;
crush the wicked on the spot!
Hide them in the dust together,
imprison them in the grave.
Then I myself will acknowledge to you
that your own right hand can save you.”
I have found that this is a hard concept for Christians to understand. They see God as a cuddling and nurturing being who will carry them through life. Now, I want to make clear that I am not saying that God is not those things. In fact, I believe He is. However, we must remember that we can never fully understand the complexities of God. God is also a God who demands respect from His people and who tells His people to fear Him. I read the verse above and I can only imagine Job cowering down with his face in the ground in the fetal position as God speaks through a rushing and chaotic whirlwind telling him that God is more than his doubt, frustrations or problems; that God is supreme over all. This is a scene that strikes the fear of God into my heart, forever.
- Leviticus 26:12-God wants a relationship with humanity
“I will walk among you, and I will be your God and you will be my people.”
God is the only god that seeks to walk among His people. Though He demands well-deserved respect, He also seeks to be in His creation. This verse is a part of a promise written to the Jewish people, however, because of Christ, we as Christians are grafted in among His people, and thus, God seeks a relationship with all of His people, including us.
- Joshua 1:9- God is always with us
“I repeat, be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the Lord your God, am with you in all you do.”
God wants to be with His people at all times. He wants to encourage, strengthen and comfort His people. We are special to Him not because of who we are, but because of who created us. He demands our respect and yet at the same time He holds us up and walks by our side.
- 1 Kings 8:56/Numbers 23:19-God is trustworthy, reliable and faithful
“The Lord is worthy of praise because He has made Israel His people secure just as He promised! Not one of all the faithful promises He made through His servant Moses is left unfulfilled!”
“God is not a man, that He should lie,
nor a human being, that He should change His mind.
Has He said, and will He not do it?”
God’s relationship with His people is one filled with honor and respect. God is not a trickster and He does not play games with His people as is commonly found with the ancient gods of Rome and Greece. God makes promises to His people and He keeps them. He does not lie, cheat or steal, He honors us (even though we don’t deserve it) with His trustworthiness, faithfulness, honesty and consistency. What He says to be true is true and what He says He will do He will do. God is perfection.
- Ezekiel 33:20- God is Judge
“Yet you say, ‘The behavior of the Lord is not right.’ House of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his behavior.”
God seeks to be relational with His people. He asks for His creation’s respect and we tend not to give it, He devotes Himself to us through His loyalty and dependability, yet, we fail to do the same. Because of our failure to uphold our end of the relationship, God must be God and thus He must be judge. We must remember that God is not just our friend or a companion but He is God and He must rule over His creation.
- 2 chronicles 30:8-9- God is merciful and compassionate, does not reject His people
“Now, don’t be stubborn like your fathers! Submit to the Lord and come to His sanctuary which He has permanently consecrated. Serve the Lord your God so that He might relent from His raging anger. 9 For if you return to the Lord, your brothers and sons will be shown mercy by their captors and return to this land. The Lord your God is merciful and compassionate; He will not reject you if you return to Him.”
Though God is Judge, we must know that He is a God of mercy and compassion. He cares for His creation. Throughout the Old Testament we see the constant judgement of God upon humanity. But we must remember that He does not judge us out of hate and He does not judge too harshly. Though sometimes this may be hard to understand, we deserve His judgement. But God cares about His people so much that He shows them abounding mercy and compassion and would rather show His care for His people than His judgement.
- Psalm 86:15-God is Love
“But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and merciful God.
You are patient and demonstrate great loyal love and faithfulness.”
God is love. The same God who created us, demands our respect, and judges us, loves us. I find the need to just sit back and dwell on this thought. The word that is used here for “love” is חֶסֶד (hesed). In a previous post (Entering the Spirit of a Theology Student) I have discussed the significance and true definition of this very special Hebrew word. God’s love for us is greater than we will ever understand. This is something I hope to make clear in next week’s post.
As we can see, the Word of God continuously gives us a glimpse of God’s attributes. There are many more attributes of God that are revealed throughout His Word. All of the verses used above are from the Old Testament. This was done on purpose. It is important that we recognize that the entire word of God brings us closer to the unfathomable understanding of God. The Old Testament is the arrow that points us on the path to truly discovering God’s heart for His people. The attributes of God found within the Old Testament are only half the story of the revelation of who God is. The New Testament contains even more attributes of God that can help us catch a glimpse of Him. It is in next week’s post that I wish to focus on the attributes of God found in the New Testament. Please feel free to comment and discuss below.
[i] Ezekiel 1:25-28