The article, "The Character of God, Part I," served as Xristian.org's introductory consideration of what God is like. The attributes addressed therein were those that exclusively described God and which man therefore does not possess to any degree. In this second article, the scriptures are used to further understand God's nature by considering those "communicable" attributes that man is also at least partly endowed with as a creature formed in God's image.
The following qualities, though, are based in their purest form upon God alone, as he IS the perfect reality of each quality. Therefore, man can gain more insight into any of these attributes by considering their source and then formulating a definition, rather than looking at other creatures and basing his definition of God's attributes on mankind. God is ultimately the source of all these qualities, thoroughly and completely.
The Communicable Attributes of God
THOSE ATTRIBUTES RELATED TO GOD'S BEING / ESSENCE
Spirituality: God's being or essence is not made of matter, is not therefore measurable by distance, and is void of parts. Jesus taught plainly and simply that "God is Spirit" (John 4:24). The absence of the indefinite article "a" in this verse is significant (it does not read "God is a Spirit" even in the Greek), in that it denotes what God's very essence is. God is not just "a" spirit of many. He is uniquely spiritual and distinct from creation. This teaching of the scriptures is the basis for God's commandment against forming images of him (Ex. 20:4-6; Deut. 5:8), as there is and can be no physical likeness of him in all the universe (the implication of Deut. 4:12-15). It is the premise in John 4 behind man's call to worship God in Spirit anywhere and at anytime, as God is omnipresent. Because God is invisible (see "Invisibility" section below), he must be spiritual and without form.
As one formed in the image of God, man is also endowed with a spiritual element within his flesh (Ecc. 12:7; Rom. 8:6; 1 Cor. 14:14; Phil. 1:23-24; 3:3; Heb. 12:23). Note, however, that the scriptures do not teach that "man is spirit," since man is not purely spirit and does have a body. The only "body" that God has ever had anything to do with is the body of Christ, which was voluntarily taken upon by the Son when he was made flesh (John 1:14. cf. Acts 17:24), where Christ's divine nature was united with (not mixed with or transformed into) a human nature. Christ's divine nature remained, remains, and will always remain wholly spiritual in essence.
Does God Have A Body?
Invisibility: God's essence and being can and will never be discerned fully by man's natural senses. As One who is spiritual, God's invisibility is consequential to the former. The Apostles Paul (1 Tim. 1:17) and John taught that God was invisible and that "no one has seen God at any time" (John 1:18 and 1 John 4:12; cf. John 6:46). Man, quite simply, is not able to fully see God (Ex. 33:20; 1 Tim. 6:16).
THOSE ATTRIBUTES RELATED TO GOD'S INTELLECT
Knowledge: God is perfect in his exhaustive knowledge of Himself and all things, uniquely knowing all things in one simple eternal instance. God's omniscience is testified to throughout the scriptures (1 Sam. 2:3; Job 12:13; 37:16; Ps. 94:9; 139:16; 147:4; Isa. 29:15; 40:27-28; Matt. 6:8; 1 John 3:20). God, an infinite Being, fully knows even Himself (1 Cor. 2:10-11). God's knowledge is instantaneous and innate and is not dependent upon reasoning or watching and observing created things, as he has known all things from before time (Isa. 46:9-10; 42:8-9). God knows the intent of our hearts and our thoughts (Ps. 139:1-2, 4). God is the very source of his own knowledge and knows: 1) all things possible1; and, 2) all things actual. Man, although he possesses the ability to obtain knowledge will never attain the level of knowledge that God now and forevermore has (Ps. 139:6; Isa. 55:9).
Wisdom: God always purposes wisely and chooses the means most appropriate to that end. A famed Hymn of Christendom is sung, "Immortal, invisible, God only wise...," and the scriptures assuredly attest to this wisdom of God (Job 9:4; 12:3; Ps. 104:24; Rom. 11:33; 16:27). The two great revelations of God's wisdom are Christ (1 Cor. 1:14,30) and the gospel itself (1 Cor. 1:18-20), both of which are foolishness to those who do not believe (1 Cor. 1;21, 27, 29). That God is wise should be a comfort to His people, as God can be relied upon even when times are difficult and hard to understand. Even in the midst of life-threatening war, famine, or sickness, God's plan will work out the best for his people (Rom. 8:28; cf. the joy Paul found in God's wisdom as he suffered a "thorn in the flesh" in 2 Cor. 12:7-10). While man may by the grace of God possess wisdom also (James 1:5), his wisdom is finite as is his knowledge (Rom. 11:33). It is for this reason that man must ultimately live by faith, trusting in God (which is the beginning of wisdom: Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10) and His ways, even when man cannot explicitly see God's wisdom behind His acts.
Veracity: God is the true God, the very source of all truth, and His knowledge and words are both true. The God of the Bible is the single true God beyond whom there are no others (Ps. 96:5; Isa. 44:8; 45:5-6; John 17:3; 1 John 5:20). The other so-called "gods" are merely foolish idols (Deut 32:21), who will perish from the earth (Jer. 10:10-11). God is also true and faithful in his promises, words, actions, laws, and ordinances (2 Sam 7:28; Ps. 19:9; 25:10; 33:4; 111:7; 119:86, 142, 151; Dan 4:37), as his immutability necessarily implies (Num 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29). That God is truthful and faithful is the basis of our confidence in His swearing by His own Name (Gen 22:16; Heb. 6:13), the basis of His being a Rock to His people (Deut 32:4, 15, 18, 30, 37; 2 Sam. 22:3, 32; Ps. 18:2, 31; 19:14; 28:1; 31:3; 71:3; 144:1; Isa. 26:4).
THOSE ATTRIBUTES RELATED TO GOD'S MORALITY
Goodness: God is the absolute measure of goodness, and His being and actions are perfectly good. Jesus taught that no one is good except God alone (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19), and that God's goodness (as are His being and all His attributes) is complete, absolute, and perfect (Matt. 5:48). All other good things man enjoys and sees are derivative and a result of God's own general grace of goodness unto creation (Gen 1:31; Ps. 104; 145:9; Acts 14:17; James 1:17). This is why the believer can return thanks to God for all that he has (1 Thes. 5:16-18), why he is called to reflect God's goodness to all (Luke 6:27,33-35; Gal. 6:10; 2 Tim. 3:17), and why he is to praise God (1 Chron. 16:34; 2 Chron 5:13; Ps. 34:9; 106:1; 107:1; Jer. 33:11). Anything short of a wholly and completely perfect God would leave open the possibility that Satan is instead ruler over all. Yet this terrifying thought is not to be feared, for God was, is, and always will be good. He is, therefore, to be sought (Ps. 73:25-26).
God's goodness is manifested in several ways: through His kindness, love, grace, mercy, and patience. Each of these aspects of God's goodness will be considered individually as attributes of God below.
Love: God in His goodness eternally gives and shares of Himself. The scriptures clearly teach that God is a God of love2 (1 Jn. 4:8). As the ultimate source of true love, God loves His people. God has most supremely loved mankind by suffering His Son on the cross as payment for sins (John 3:16; 1 Jn. 4:10). But not only is God the subject of love, He also is an object, receiving the love of His people. In fact, among the Triune God love has been present from before all time (John 17:24). The Father has always loved the Son and Spirit, the Son the Father and Spirit, and the Spirit the Father and the Son. This means that God's love is dependent upon nothing outside himself and that God has been eternally complete in His love (ie., He did not need to create in order to love).
Man is certainly called to reflect God's love in his relationship with: God (Prov. 3:5-6; Matt 22:37-38; 1 Jn. 5:3), fellow believers, neighbors, and even enemies (Matt 5:43-48).
Grace: God freely extends His goodness to those who deserve punishment. Popularly referred to as "unmerited favor," grace is most supremely a Godly characteristic. God most assuredly is a God of "of all grace" (1 Pet. 5:10), who freely extends His goodness as He wills to those who do not deserve it (Ex. 33:19; cf. Rom 9:15). God's specific and saving grace is most obvious in the scriptures, whereby salvation in Christ is a gift made available to God's chosen people through faith (Rom. 4:16), which cannot be obtained by man's own effort (Rom. 3:23-24). A God who requires work of man in exchange for salvation would no longer be a God of grace (Rom. 11:6; Eph. 2:8-9) and would therefore be a false God.
Outside of specific grace, however, God also extends general grace unto the entire world by sustaining it every day. The many sins of mankind, which are significant enough to warrant immediate judgment and execution by God, are not all met with instant penalty. In fact, God is graceful and allows some level of undeserved "goodness" to subsist in the world for all to enjoy. While tragedies such as the Inquisition, Holocaust, and September 11 all show just how evil man inherently is, the very fact that these things are not persistent broadly attests to the fact that God gives of His goodness to even those who do not believe, those in rebellion against their Creator, those that are not God's chosen people.
Whether one considers it specifically or generally, grace remains God's sharing of His goodness disproportionately to the labors offered by the party(ies) receiving it.
Mercy: God extends His goodness toward those in need. God's mercy is attested to throughout the scriptures as God meeting man's needs in typically difficult circumstances (2 Sam. 24:14; Matt 9:27). God is truly the Father of all mercies, as the Apostle Paul states (2 Cor. 1:3). God's mercy is most fully revealed in the salvation He provided man through Jesus Christ. Perhaps most profound is the compassion God has on and with man by virtue of having taken a human nature upon Himself (Heb. 2:17; 4:15-16). Due to the incarnation, God is able to relate to man and fully understand his needs for mercy, making His mercy is all the more loving and real.
Patience: God extends His goodness by withholding His wrath for some time and as He wills. God's patience is often referred to as His "longsuffering" or a "slowness to anger," because it is quite literally that. In a great corporate confession of sin of the scriptures, God's people abundantly professed God's patience (along with His general goodness, love, grace, and mercy as discussed above: Neh. 9:17; cf. Ex. 34:6; Ps. 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). The rest of the scriptures attest to the fact that were it not for God's patience, He would have struck mankind dead with Adam's first sin (Rom. 3:25; 9:22) or prior to delivering some from the flood through Noah (1 Pet. 3:20). Man should praise God for being a God of patience (Rom. 15:5; cf. verses on Christ's patience in the flesh: 1 Tim. 1:16; 2 Pet. 3:15) and subsequently be patient unto his own neighbors (Matt 5:7; 2 Cor. 1:3-4).
Holiness: God is separate from sin and creation. The institution of the Sabbath Day as a day most holy (Gen. 2:3; Ex. 20:11), the settings apart of God's servants and places of worship (Ex. 29:44), and the dedication of religious practices (Ex. 30:25-33) all demonstrate the "separateness" aspect of ceremonial holiness. The bible teaches that the basis for all holiness is that God is a wholly holy being. Firstly, based on the fact that God is the uncreated Creator, it naturally follows that He is separate from created things and not to be confused with creation itself (Rom. 1:18-25). Secondly, it is equally true that God is also morally holy, having nothing to do with sin (Hab. 1:13). This is why the scriptures refer to God as the Holy One of Israel (Lev. 20:3; Ps. 22:3; 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; 99:3, 5, 9; Isa. 1:4; 5:19, 24; 6:3; Rev. 4:8). In fact, the Lord God is uniquely Holy (1 Sam. 2:2; Rev. 15:4). The Lord is working all things, including man, to be holy unto him (Zech. 14:20-21), whereupon all things will be purged of sin and evil, inclined unto the Lord, and morally right.
Righteousness: God is the standard of justice and always thinks and acts justly. Were God not a holy and just God, man would be fearfully subject to an almighty being that could wreak havoc upon creation. So it is with joy that man should praise and enjoy the righteousness of God, for "He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He" (Deut. 32:4; cf. Gen. 18:25; Ps. 19:8; Isa. 45:19). For even in extending His goodness to sinful man (His love, grace, mercy, and patience), God is not guilty of overlooking the sin unjustly. God remains just in justifying the sinner, in that He punished the sins of His people in His sacrificial and perfect Son on the Cross:
Wrath: God in His holiness and righteousness severely hates and punishes all that is opposed to His moral character. Just as God rewards and loves all that is right and good, God also hates all that is opposed to him. While this may seem harsh to some, it should be more surprising to consider a God who does not express wrath at those individuals and things that are opposed to good. Sin is to be hated (Zech. 8:17; Heb. 1:9). The examples of God's wrath in the scriptures are plentiful (Ex. 32:9-10; Deut. 9:7-8; 2 Kings 22:13; John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 2:5, 8; 5:9; Heb. 3:11; Rev. 6:16-17; 19:15)3.
God's wrath is to be viewed in conjunction with His love, grace, mercy, and patience, since he is all of these. In fact, the believer in Christ has been justified and punished in Christ and by His work of atonement. Therefore, the believer is no longer a child of wrath (Eph. 2:3) subject to the wrath to come (1 Thes. 1:10; cf. Rom. 5:10). Rather, the believer by faith and repentance (Rom. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9-10) now rests in the favor of God.
Jealousy: God is quick to defend and promote His own glory and honor. In disclosing the Ten Commandments, God revealed His jealousy: "For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God" (Ex. 20:5). This is the exact reason why clear instructions are given in the scriptures that man should have no other Gods before him (Ex. 34:14; Deut. 4:24; 5:9). God is worthy to receive this honor and glory, for all that He does is aimed to this end (Isa. 48:11; Rom. 11:36). God is uniquely qualified to receive this honor and glory (Rev. 4:11) and is therefore rightfully jealous that it should not be directed elsewhere. Man, on the other hand, is completely unworthy of receiving glory and honor and cannot rightly be jealous for his own sake (man in that case becomes prideful). Yet, man may for God's purposes hold forth a jealous passion and heart (2 Cor. 11:2).
THOSE ATTRIBUTES RELATED TO GOD'S PURPOSES & SOVEREIGNTY
Will: God endorses and purposes to bring about all things required for the existence and sustenance of Himself and His people. In the words of the Scriptures, God "works all things according to the counsel of His will" (Eph. 1:11). From the days of creation (Rev. 4:11), over the governments and kingdoms of the world (Dan 4:32; Rom. 13:1), through the death of Christ (Acts 4:27-28), and into the indefinite future (James 4:13-15) God wills and purposes all things. Therefore, nothing happens or exists, which is not expressly willed by God. The Christian can take great comfort in this fact, as even our suffering is willed unto a great purpose of the Lord (1 Pet. 3:17; 4:19).
Freedom: God does whatever He desires whenever He pleases. God is not hindered in His actions by anything or anyone. He simply does what he pleases (Ps. 115:3). God is sovereign over kings and rulers (Prov. 21:1), as Nebuchadnezzar learned (Dan. 4:35). Man should take joy in this knowledge, as the voluntary creation of man by God was a free act in which he acted. Why God specifically created man, man may never know; yet, that He freely purposed it so gives ultimate value and purpose to man's own life and existence.
Power: God is able to accomplish all things that he wills. This attribute of God is typically referred to as "omnipotence," as God is "all" (Latin root, omni) "powerful" (Latin root, potens). At its core is the implication that God is able to accomplish all that he wants to, as nothing can constrain or inhibit God in what he does (Matt. 19:26; Luke 1:37). The scriptures are clear that God is strong and mighty (Ps. 24:8) and that nothing is too hard for Him (Jer. 32:17; cf. Gen. 18:14 and Jer. 32:27, where the rhetorical question undoubtedly implies an all powerful God). This Almighty God (2 Cor. 6:18; Rev. 1:8) is one who, therefore, is able to answer prayers and do all that His people need (Eph. 3:20).
While God cannot be encompassed by a list of words, the Bible does reveal and teach basic characteristics about God. These characteristics do not serve as external constraints on God, but His actions are always consistent with who He is. Many an error in theological instruction can be traced to an improper regard of God's character and being.
1A good example of God's knowing things that CAN happen is David's learning that the men of Keilah would turn him over to Saul if he did not escape (1 Sam. 23:11-13).
2Note that references to God's love are present in both the Old Testament and New Testament. For more on the common misconception that God was not or was less loving in the Old Testament, please see the article on this website entitled: "Is the God of the OT More Wrathful Than the God of the NT? Less Loving?"
3Note that references to God's wrath are present in both the Old Testament and New Testament. For more on the common misconception that God is no longer wrathful in the New Testament, please see the article on this website entitled: "Is the God of the OT More Wrathful Than the God of the NT? Less Loving?"
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