Helix Nebula aka “Eye of God”
(NASA, NOAO, ESA, the Helix Nebula Team, M. Meixner (STSci) and T.A. Rector more)
As finite beings confined to the space-time dimensions of this universe, it is truly impossible to fully comprehend God – a being who, among other things, is eternal (has no beginning or end), self-existent(depends on nothing for his existence), immutable (never changes), transcendent (not limited to the space-time dimensions of the universe), triune (one what yet three whos), loving yet just, merciful yet wrathful.
How can all of these attributes perfectly exist in one being? It is simply beyond man’s ability to exhaustively comprehend all that God is. [See, R.C. Sproul, Renewing Your Mind, “Knowledge of God”, aired 1/17/2012 on NRB] Nevertheless, as noted by Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias, just because men cannot comprehensively understand God doesn’t mean men can’t understand God in a meaningful way. [Ravi Zacharias, Enjoying Everyday Life with Joyce Meyer, NRB, 12/17/12] Christian philosopher R.C. Sproul states that by exploring God’s attributes, men can develop a meaningful understanding of who God is, what he is like and how he is different from everything else that exists. We can also come to an understanding of how his beingness affects each one of us personally.
This article summarizes God’s attributes and provides links to other articles which investigate each of God’s attributes in greater detail.
What is God Like? How is He Different than Us? (skip to>>)
Exploring God’s Incommunicable Attributes (skip to >>)
Exploring God’s Communicable Attributes (skip to>>)
Conclusion (skip to>>)
WHAT IS GOD LIKE? HOW IS HE DIFFERENT THAN US?
Although people tend to consider God’s attributes one attribute at a time, God consists of all of his attributes and his attributes are indivisible. For example, God’s love, grace and mercy cannot be separated from his justice, holiness and righteousness. God is all of those things all the time. God does not demand justice one minute and demonstrate mercy the next. Rather, God is perfectly just and perfectly merciful, all the time and all at the same time. [See, R.C. Sproul, Renewing Your Mind, Foundations: Incommunicable Attributes, aired 1/22/12 on NRB] As stated by Christian apologist R.C. Sproul, it’s not so much that God hasattributes but that God is his attributes in an undivided and simple way. [See, R.C. Sproul, Renewing Your Mind, Foundations: Incommunicable Attributes, aired 1/22/12 on NRB]
Nevertheless, for us to gain a better understanding of God’s attributes it is helpful to divide his attributes into categories and many theologians start by distinguishing God’s communicable attributes from those which are incommunicable. [See, R.C. Sproul, Renewing Your Mind, Foundations: Incommunicable Attributes, aired 1/22/12 on NRB; see also, Kenneth Samples, A World of Difference, pg. 141 (2007)]
Exploring God’s Incommunicable Attributes
God’s incommunicable attributes refer to those attributes which are not found in human beings or at least are far more difficult to find in, or associate with, human beings. [See, Kenneth Samples, A World of Difference, pg. 141(2007)] For example, since human beings have not always existed they are not eternal beings; therefore, although God promises to give eternal life to those who believe in his son, Jesus (John 3:16), no man is an eternal being in the same way God is an eternal being because God never came into existence and he will never go out of existence. [See, R.C. Sproul, Renewing Your Mind, Foundations: Incommunicable Attributes, aired 1/22/12 on NRB]
God’s incommunicable attributes include the following:
➜ God Is Self-Existent (Self-Sufficient, Independent, Aseity)
Human beings and everything else that exists in the universe depend on something else for existence. Without exception, everything in this universe emanates from, is tied to or in some other way is dependent on something else for its existence.
However, it has been said that whereas humans have being, God is being. God is totally self-sufficient; he depends on nothing outside of himself for his existence; he is independent of anything and everything that exists, has existed or ever will exist . Theologians sometimes refer to God’s self-existence as aseity (pronounced uh-see-i-tee from the Latin “a se” meaning “from self” or “by itself”).
For more about God’s self-existence, go here>>
➜ God is Eternal
As human beings who came into existence at some point in the past, we are finite beings who are confined to the time dimensions of this universe, specifically, a ½ dimension of time that only proceeds forward (more>>). Contrarily, God has no beginning and no end. God never came into existence and he will never go out of existence. Because God transcends this universe, God is not constrained by the space-time dimensions of the universe.
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (NIV) — 1 Timothy 1:17
For more on God’s eternal nature and what it means to each of us personally, go here>>.
➜ God Is Triune (One What and Three Whos)
In the Christian worldview, there is only one God but that one God exists eternally as three distinct persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is one in essence (he is one what or one in being) while three in person (he is three whos – Father, Son and Holy Spirit).
God’s triune nature should not be viewed as God consisting of three separate parts that come together to form one God (more>>). Rather, God is one in one sense and three in different sense. Although it is impossible for the human mind to completely comprehend such a being, the triune nature of God (one what yet three whos) is not irrational and does not violate the law of noncontradiction; rather, God’s triune nature exhibits unity and diversity in one perfectly complete being (more>>).
➜ God is a Simple Being (Unified, Non-Complex)
Human beings are complex beings in the sense they are made up of a number of divisible parts (brains, hearts, arms, legs, souls, spirits, etc.). God, on the other hand, is a perfectly unified being with no divisible parts and, in that sense, God is a simple being (more>>). It should further be noted that God’s triunity (see above>>) doesn’t mean God consists of three separate parts (more>>); rather, God exists as one divine nature (one what) with three persons (three whos). The three persons within the trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) are one indivisible, simple and unified divine nature.
➜ God is a Spirit (Incorporeal and Invisible)
Whereas human beings have material bodies consisting of multiple, visible body parts, God does not have a material body but is pure spirit (John 4:24); therefore, God is not visible to the human eye (1 Tim. 1:17, Col. 1:15, Rom. 1:20, John 1:18) except for those occasions when God chooses to manifest himself in a physical way (e.g., Exodus 33:18-23). Additionally, although the Bible contains references to God walking (Gen. 3:8), working and resting (Exodus 31:17), sitting on a throne (Ps. 11:4), etc., such references are anthropomorphic in nature and ado not signify that God has a physical body. Because God does not have a physical body, it is said that God is incorporeal (without body or substance). Some Christian apologists, such as William Lane Craig, suggest God may be pictured something like an unembodied mind.
➜ God Does Not Change (He is Immutable, Constant)
As human beings, we live in time and we experience change with the passage of time. Everything in the universe constantly undergoes change with the passage of time (e.g., people and things get older; some things converted into other things, e.g., energy is converted into matter (E = mc2), etc.)
Contrarily, God does not experience change (Malachi 3:6, Numbers 23:19, James 1:17). God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow – he never changes.
➜ God is Omnipotent (All-Powerful)
Whereas human beings are limited in their ability to do and accomplish things, God is not so limited (Jeremiah 32:17). God is omnipotent, i.e., he is all-powerful and nothing can frustrate his sovereign will (Prov. 19:9, Is. 14:27, Dan. 4:35, Is. 46:9-10, Job 42:2). God is able to do things which are humanly impossible to do (e.g., God can perform supernatural miracles).
However, as many Christian apologists explain, God’s omnipotence does not mean he is able to do illogical things such as make a square circle or create a married bachelor. Moreover, God cannot do things that violate his very nature (2 Tim. 2:13); therefore, God cannot do things like tell a lie (Num. 23:19, Heb.6:18), break a promise (Ps. 89:34) or create things that are greater or more powerful than himself.
Can God Make a Rock too Big for Him to Lift? Can God Commit Suicide? Do Such Questions Prove the Omnipotent God Described in the Bible Cannot Exist? (here)
➜ God Is Omnipresent (All-Present)
As human beings, we are confined to the space-time dimensions of this universe and, as such, we can only be in one place at one time. But, because God is a spirit who transcends the universe, he exists independently of the space-time dimensions of the universe and he is free to operate outside of the space-time constraints of the universe. As such, God is not confined to being in one place at a time but is present everywhere, all the time (Jer. 23:24).
➜ God Is Omniscient (All-Knowing)
Human beings are limited in knowledge. Although people can gain knowledge and some people know more than others regarding certain matters, no person knows everything. Because we do not know everything, all of us are capable of believing things that aren’t true and not believing things that are true.
Conversely, God is knows everything (1 John 3:19-20) and his knowledge is perfect (Job 37:16). God sees everything (Job 28:24, Ps. 33:13-15), he knows what we think (Ps. 139:1-2) and he knows everything we do (Heb. 4:13). God’s understanding is unfathomable (Is. 40:28) and has no limit (Ps. 147:5). Because God knows everything and his understanding is perfect, God knows every proposition that is true and believes no proposition that is false, which is why God can carry out perfect justice.
➜ God is Transcendent (God Exists Beyond the Created Order)
As created beings, men exist within the created order (i.e., within the space-time constraints of the universe). But God transcends the universe and exists beyond the created order. God’s transcendence does not refer to a geographical location; rather, is a description of his beingness. As a result, some theologians describe God’s transcendence as a higher order of being than anything else that exists.
➜ God is Immanent (God is Present Throughout the Created Order)
Although God is transcendent (see above>>), he is also immanent, i.e., he is present throughout the entire created order (Jeremiah 23:24).
➜ God is Sovereign (Absolute in Authority)
God has absolute authority and is sovereign over everything; there is no higher authority (Ps. 103:19, 1 Chron. 29:11-12). As such, God’s ultimate will cannot be thwarted (Prov. 16:9, Is. 14:27, Job 42:2, Prov. 19:21) .
Exploring God’s Communicable Attributes
God’s communicable attributes are attributes that are shared with mankind or at least are more easily associated with human beings. The fact that God has communicated at least some of his attributes to man is indicated in the following Bible verses:
Genesis 1:26-27 states: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, ….” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
In Ephesians 5:1, the apostle Paul instructs Christ-followers to “be imitators of God.”
According to these verses, human beings were created with a capacity to reflect or imitate at least some of God’s attributes. However, although some of God’s attributes can be reflected by human beings in a limited and/or imperfect way, none of God’s attributes are completely communicable to human beings. [See, Kenneth Samples, A World of Difference, pg. 141(2007); see also, R.C. Sproul, Renewing Your Mind, Foundations: Communicable Attributes, aired 1/22/12 on NRB]. For example, 1 John 4:8, 16 says that God is love and although men have certainly been created with the capacity to love, no human being has the capacity to love perfectly like God loves. [See, R.C. Sproul, Renewing Your Mind, Foundations: Incommunicable Attributes, aired 1/22/12 on NRB]
God’s communicable attributes include the following:
The Bible says “God is love.” There is a difference between being and doing and 1 John 4:8 (see below) makes the point that love is who God is, not just what He does. When we do something, we do it from time to time, (sometimes more than others); but, when we are something, we are that all the time. Because love is who God is, He is that all the time and God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners, he sent his son to die for us:
1 John 4:8-12, 19 (NIV):
“… God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. We love because he first loved us.”
Romans 5:8 (NIV):
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
God’s love is sacrificial, committed and unwavering. Love is who God is!
God is perfectly good and his goodness is demonstrated to all men via his forbearance, love, grace, mercy, forgiveness as well as his justice.
God shows his mercy by not giving repentant sinners (those who have rebelled against him) the judgment they justly deserve (Titus 3:5). Instead, he graciously offers full and complete forgiveness.
Whereas God shows mercy by not giving repentant sinners the righteous judgment they deserve, God’s grace is shown by giving repentant sinners things they do not deserve, e.g., an invitation to have a personal relationship with him, be adopted into his family and be made heirs to his kingdom, etc. (more>>).
God is perfectly faithful, loyal and trustworthy, even when men are not faithful to him (2 Timothy 2:13).
God is truth and everything he says or does is absolutely true. God cannot lie or deceive (Num. 23:19).
All that God does is perfectly right. Although human beings can do right things, no human being does everything right either because they choose not to or because they do not know all the necessary facts to know what the right thing is in a particular situation. God’s very nature is righteous and because God knows everything, he can do and will do what is right in every situation.
Although human beings can be just, no human being is perfectly just either because they choose not to be or because they do not know all the necessary facts to be just. God’s very nature is to be just (Psalm 89:14) and because God knows everything (see above>>), he can be just in every situation.
God’s perfect holiness and justness requires that he exercise his wrath against evil in a perfectly holy and just way (Romans 1:18).
The God revealed in the Bible is a personal God who desires to be known and makes himself known. Moreover, through the sacrifice that his son, Jesus, made on the cross, God offers to accept us as his children and make us co-heirs with Christ to his kingdom (more>>)
‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,’
declares the Lord.
‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.’
A huge gap exists between God (the Creator) and human beings (the created). The enormity of this gap is easily appreciated when one considers God’s attributes which are so substantively different than the attributes of man. [See, R.C. Sproul, Renewing Your Mind, Foundations: Incommunicable Attributes, aired 1/22/12 on NRB] It is precisely because of God’s incomparable greatness that men owe him glory, honor and praise. [See, R.C. Sproul, Renewing Your Mind, Foundations: Incommunicable Attributes, aired 1/22/12 on NRB] This is what King David recognized when he wrote Psalm 145 — a psalm of praise written as an acrostic poem in which each verse, including verse 13b, begins with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet:
Psalm 145 (NIV)
I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty — and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They tell of the power of your awesome works — and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.
The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.
All your works praise you, Lord; your faithful people extol you.
They tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might,
so that all people may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does.
The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does.
The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.
The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.
My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord
Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.
© 2012 by Andrina G. Hanson
Published: August 20, 2012 / Last Updated: February 26, 2013
SOURCES REFERENCED OR RELIED ON IN THIS ARTICLE
Kenneth Richard Samples, World of Difference, A: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test (Reasons to Believe) (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007)
R.C. Sproul, Renewing Your Mind, “Foundations: Incommunicable Attributes”, aired 1/22/12 on NRB, available at http://www.ligonier.org/learn/series/foundations/
R.C. Sproul, Renewing Your Mind, “Knowledge of God, aired 1/17/12 on NRB, available at http://www.ligonier.org/learn/series/foundations/knowledge-of-god/
IMAGE CREDITS & LICENSING
Slideshow Photo: Photo of the Helix Nebula aka NGC 7293 and the “Eye of God”. The Helix nebula is located in the constellation Aquarius about 700 light years from Earth. The image was produced by NASA, NOAO, ESA, the Helix Nebula Team, M. Meixner (STSci) and T.A. Rector and was downloaded from wikimedia.org which states the file is in the public domain because it was created by NASA and ESA. NASA Hubble material (and ESA Hubble material prior to 2009) is copyright-free and may be freely used as in the public domain without fee, on the condition that only NASA, STScI, and/or ESA is credited as the source of the material.