Series 1 Episode 7

Primary Attributes

In our last episode, episode 6, we talked about the nature of God and we talked about the personhood of God. We defined Trinity. We shared metaphors of the Trinity. We saw the trinity explained from scripture and tradition and from reason. We also talked about heretical views of the Trinity and shared a spectrum of various views.

 

Today we’re going to look at God’s attributes. So far - as we’ve used the Apostle’s Creed as our guide – we’ve covered the words – “I believe in God, the Father.” And today we want to take a look at “Almighty.” And as we do so we’re going to look at a few of God’s other attributes as well.

 

The Attributes of God are best studied as a devotional exercise and not an intellectual exercise. It’s easy to get bogged down in the monotony of vocabulary but this can be honey to our souls to talk about what God is like and who God is. When we truly love something, whether that be a spouse or a donut – we want to possess it, behold it, enjoy it, taste, touch, smell, experience it. I think sometimes we get that wrong about love. We can imagine that love is purely selfless and maybe you’ve heard that before. Theologian Thomas C Oden once defined love as (101) “The confluence of two seemingly paradoxical tendencies: The desire to enjoy the object of love, and the will to do good for the beloved. In other words there’s a very strong desire to possess and enjoy that which we love and a very strong desire to bless and to freely give to that which we love no matter how much it may cost us. I say all of that to say that God deserves our love and part of that means that it’s good for us to desire to possess and enjoy Him. Let’s be vigilant to guard against coming at this subject as if it were merely an intellectual discussion.
 

Secondly I think we have to recognize that any discussion on God’s attributes is going to fall short. God is best summed up as “I AM.”

I remember being in a Lutheran Sunday school class as a child and learning about God telling Moses that He was I AM. And the Sunday school teacher thought it was so profound and tried to explain it and I just sat there thinking, “Well, I am too. And so is everyone else in this room.” So what did God mean? Well here are some other ways that we could translate “I AM”
 

  1. “He Who is”

  2. He Who is What He is

  3. NRSV “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE”

  4. Jesus: “Before Abraham was born, I AM”
     

Even though we recognize we’re going to fall short – GK Chesterton said, (102) “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” Scratching the surface of who God is helps us to know who God isn’t. And in this case, that’s a very, very, worthwhile thing.
 

(Lastly, I would encourage you to embrace the mystery) Spurgeon has this great quote on predestination and while it’s relevant for a lot of topics when it comes to Christianity – I think it’s particularly applicable as we talk about the attributes of God. Spurgeon says (103) There are some men who claim to know all about the matter. They twist it round their fingers as easily as if it were an everyday thing; but depend upon it, he who thinks he knows all about this mystery, knows but very little. It is but the shallowness of his mind that permits him to see the bottom of his knowledge; he who dives deep, finds that there is in the lowest depth to which he can attain a deeper depth still.

So to summarize then – the study of the attributes of God should be a devotional exercise – an act of love. It’s going to fall short. But it’s worth attempting. And we need to be willing to wade out to the deep water and embrace some mystery.
 

So that’s perhaps what we should know about the study of the attributes of God – here’s two things to know about the attributes themselves:
 

  1. Attributes are not something outside of God that God is measured against. Attributes of God aren’t standards that He lives up to but rather God is the standard and these attributes are words that help us understand God more. For example, truth isn’t something that exists outside of God that He has to conform by. Perfect truth is God’s nature and finds its source in God. Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He does not say, “I know the way, teach the truth, and give life.”
     

  2. Secondly, the attributes have Perfect Harmony in God. All of God’s attributes together are one in God. “In their unity they reveal God’s singular character and personality. In their variety they allow us to behold and praise various aspects of divine activity.” (Thomas C. Oden 136) Each attribute is inseparable from the other… they are united in God. God is not at one moment unmercifully strong and at another moment unwisely omnipotent. God is not at one time Just, at another time Loving, and at another time, all-knowing. God is fully and simultaneously all of these attributes.

 

Many theologians have attempted to list and categorize God’s attributes. And there are some neat infographics out there. There are a lot of attributes and so creating categories just kind of helps us to feel like we have a better grasp on things. So this is my favorite set up that I’ve seen so far:
 

4 Categories:

  1. Primary Attributes – What can be known about God apart from creation.

  2. Relational Attributes – What can be known about God because he created.

  3. Interpersonal Attributes – What can be known about God because he created man.

  4. Moral Attributes – What can be known about God because he created free man.


In this episode we’ll look at God’s primary attributes (what we can know about God apart from creation)
 

Primary Attributes:

The Uncreated One

Definition: Aseity (From Self), Independence, Immutable
 

Scripture:

  1. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1)

  2. …From everlasting to everlasting you are God (Psalm 90:2)

  3. …The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired… (Isaiah 40:28)

  4. Before Me there was no god formed, And there will be none after Me… (Isaiah 43:10)

  5. “…I am the First and the Last; There is no other God.” (Isaiah 44:6)

  6. “I am Who I am…” (Exodus 3:14) This one will come up a lot

 

Tradition:

  1. Before God created time, time was not. God did not “wait” for ages and ages doing nothing before He created the Heavens and the Earth because God lives outside of time and views time altogether, all at once. (Paraphrased from Augustine Confessions Book 11 Chap. 13)
     

  2. “But, in no way does the supreme Nature exist through another, nor is it later or less than itself or anything else. Therefore, the supreme Nature could not be created by itself, nor by another; nor could itself or any other be the matter whence it should be created; nor did it assist itself in any way; nor did anything assist it to be what it was not before.” (Anselm, Monologion, Chap. 6)

  3. …absolute existence is peculiar to Him Who, abiding eternally, had no beginning… (Hilary on the Trinity Book 1 Chap. 6)
     

  4. “Make your choice: either to love things temporal and pass away with time’s passing, or not to love the world, and to live forever with God. The river of time sweeps us on; but there, like a tree growing by the river, is our Lord Jesus Christ. He took flesh, died, rose again, ascended into heaven. He willed to plant himself as it were beside the river of things temporal. If you are drifting down to the rapids, lay hold of the tree: if you are caught up in the world’s love, lay hold of Christ. He for your sake entered into time, that you might win eternity; for by his entering into time he did not cease himself to be eternal.” Homilies on 1 John by Augustine
     

  5. Oden sums up Augustine’s and Hilary’s view of time by saying, “It is as if God were on a mountain watching a river. Humans see the flow of this river only from a particular point on the bank, but God, as if from high above, sees the river in its whole extent, at every point, simultaneously. (ebook page 178 Thomas C Oden, Classic Christianity).
     

The Unity of God

Involves discussing both Oneness and Simplicity

Oneness (One God)              

Definition: One God, not many
 

Against

  1. Polytheism (Multiple Gods),

  2. Dualism (Good and Evil are Equal Opposites),

  3. Henotheism (Adherence to one god while recognizing many)

 

How is a triune God one?\

  1. The persons mutually indwell one another in space and time

  2. Thoughts & Wills are separate but aligned

  3. Example: God the Father sent Jesus to die on the cross but the Eternal Son of God also willingly took on flesh and willingly died on the cross. (Against “cosmic child abuse.”

  4. The persons are equal in attributes (one is not stronger than the other). There is no hierarchy of persons.


Scripture: 

  1. “I am Who I am…” (Exodus 3:14)

  2. “Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

  3. “Is there any God besides Me, Or is there any other Rock? I know of none.’” (Isaiah 44:8)

  4. Read Isaiah 44:14-20 (The folly of idolatry and polytheism)

  5. “Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord” (Mark 12:29)

  6. For You are great and do wondrous deeds; You alone are God. (Psalm 86:10)

  7. “Yet for us there is but one God…” (1 Corinthians 8:6)

Tradition:

  1. “If there are many Gods, how can one maintain that God is uncircumscribed? For where the one would be, the other could not be.” (John of Damascus An Exposition of Orthodox Faith Book 1 Chap. 5)

 

Reason:

We said in a previous episode that Theology grows and develops naturally but doesn’t change. In the OT we had one God. In the New Testament we have One God and three persons. It would be a red flag to say that there was once one God and then two gods. Theologian Thomas Oden once dreamed that he was walking through a cemetery and came upon his own tombstone and his epitaph read, “He contributed nothing new to theology.”

 

Simplicity (The other attributes that The Unity of God covers)

Definition: Opposite of composition. God is not composed of parts (head, shoulders, knees and toes), the Fullness of God is present everywhere. God’s attributes don’t describe what he has but rather what he is.

From Scripture:

  1. “I AM” Exodus 3:14

  2. “…The Lord our God, The Lord is one…” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

  3. Metaphors of God as “light (1 John 1:5 & John 12:36), Life (John 14:6), love (1 John 4:8)” a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29)

  4. “God is Spirit” John 4:24
     

From Tradition:

  1. “In truth, God is of an uncompounded nature; nothing can be added to Him, and that alone which is Divine has He in His nature; filling all things, yet nowhere Himself confounded with anything; penetrating all things, yet Himself nowhere to be penetrated; present in all His fullness at one and the same moment, in heaven, in earth, in the deepest depth of the sea, to sight invisible, by speech not to be declared, by feeling not to be measured;” (Ambrose Exposition of the Christian Faith, Book 1, Ch. 16)
     

  2. “What are you, Lord, what are You; what shall my heart understand You to be? You are, assuredly, life, You are wisdom, You are truth, You are goodness, You are blessedness, You are eternity, and You are every true good. These are many things, and my limited understanding cannot see them all in one single glance so as to delight in all at once. How then, Lord, are You all these things? Are they parts of You, or rather, is each one of these wholly what You are? For whatever is made up of parts is not absolutely one, but in a sense many and other than itself, and it can be broken up either actually or by the mind – all of which things are foreign to You….Therefore there are no parts in You, Lord, neither are You many, but You are so much one and the same with Yourself that in nothing You are dissimilar with Yourself. Indeed You are unity itself not divisible by any mind. Life and wisdom and the other [attributes] then, are not parts of You, but all are one and each one of them is wholly what You are and what all the others are. Since, then, neither You nor Your eternity which You are have parts, no part of You or of Your eternity is anywhere or at any time, but You exist as a whole everywhere and Your eternity exists as a whole always.” Anselm of Canterbury, The Major Works, p. 98.

 

Implications:

  1. God has no gender (because He’s spirit)

  2. no weakness (no Achilles heal)

  3. no body (no limbs)

  4. no governing forces outside of himself

The Infinity of God

Definition: (The Infinity of God covers both his Immensity – in relation to space and his Eternality – in relation to time)

Scripture:

  1. “…His greatness is unsearchable.” (Psalm 145:3)

  2. “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27)

  3. “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.” (2 Peter 3:8)

  4. “But you are the same and your years will not come to an end.” (Psalm 102:27)

  5. “…Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come…” (Revelation 1:4)

  6. “Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” (Psalm 90:2)

Tradition:

  1. God always was, and always is, and always will be. Or rather, God always Is. For Was and Will be are fragments of our time, and of changeable nature, but He is Eternal Being. And this is the Name that He gives to Himself when giving the Oracle to Moses in the Mount. For in Himself He sums up and contains all Being, having neither beginning in the past nor end in the future; like some great Sea of Being, limitless and unbounded, transcending all conception of time and nature…” (Gregory of Nazianzus, On Theophany, Oration 38 Chap. 7)
     

  2. “The Divine Nature then is boundless and hard to understand; and all that we can comprehend of Him is His boundlessness…”  (Gregory of Nazianzus, On Theophany, Oration 38 Chap. 7)

The Living God

Definition: Refers to his Incomparable Aliveness. Contrasted with the immobility and impotence of false gods. 

 

Scripture:

  1.  “Who is the uncircumcised Philistine who should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26)

  2. “My Soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:2)

  3. “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

  4. “…how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God.” (1 Thessalonians 1:9)

  5. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God…” Hebrews 12:22;

  6. …having the seal of the living God…” (Revelation 7:2)

  7. “But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King…” (Jeremiah 10:10)

  8. “My heart and flesh cry out for the living God” Psalm 84:2

  9. “…He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Psalm 121:4)

  10. “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary…” (Isaiah 40:28)

  11. Motionless metal gods Isaiah 46:5-7

 

From Tradition:

Justin Martyr has this writing called the first apology and in it he talks about how pagans treat their gods – their idols, their statues and he finds it morally wrong to think that a man should be able to craft a god and then set it up in a temple and have other men worship it.Furthermore Justin is appalled that they post guards at their pagan temples – as if a god would ever need to be protected by men. And, if I’m not mistaken I seem to recall a church father talking about how pagan romans would lock up their gods in dark rooms like closest or temples and leave these idols trapped by themselves and they just couldn’t fathom how anyone’s actions were lining up with their stated beliefs. In other words – if even you really thought these things were alive – is that how you would actually treat them?
 

  1. “The real and true life then is the Father, who through the Son in the Holy Spirit pours forth as from a fountain His heavenly gifts to all; and through His love to man, the blessings of the life eternal are promised without fail to us men also. (Cyril of Jerusalem Catechetical lectures 18 par 29).
     

  2. But all that He is is life, a nature, that is, complete, absolute and infinite, not composed of dissimilar elements but with one life permeating the whole (Hilary on the trinity book 8 par 43).


A Devotion: Vitality & GK Chesterton’s Do it Again

"The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life.
 

The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.


It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore."

So that’s what we know about God apart from creation – That He is Uncreated, That He is Unity, that He is Infinite, and that He is incomparably alive.

In our next episode we’ll discuss God’s relational attributes – what we know about God because He has created.

Waite Park Church is a multi-generational, neighborhood church that strives to share the life Jesus promised in our community and around the world.

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1510 33rd Ave NE

Minneapolis, MN  55418

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