Chapter OneChapter at a Glance
God is the creator of the universe and ruler over it.
God is like us in some ways.
God is unlike us in some ways.
Who Is God?
A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word "darkness" on the walls of his cell. —C. S. Lewis
What Do We Mean When We Say, "God"?
A young woman fell in love, and according to tradition, brought her husband-to-be home to meet her family. After dinner, her father invited the fiancé into his study for a man-to-man chat. "So, what are your plans?" he opened.
"I'm a theology scholar," the husband-to-be replied.
"That's very fine," the father returned, "but how will you provide a nice home for my daughter?"
"I will study, and the Lord will provide," he explained.
"How will you raise children and send them to college, and how will you prepare for your retirement?"
"The Lord will provide" came the answer again.
The young man left the study and the mother asked her husband, "How did it go?"
"Well, he has no money or employment plans," the father said. "But on the other hand, he thinks I'm the Lord."
We may chuckle, but many people's understanding of God is nearly as far-fetched. Fifty years ago, if we had asked a large number of people who God was, we would have gotten a pretty uniform answer. Today we wouldn't. Each person feels free to decide for himself or herself who God is.
A book entitled What Do We Mean When We Say God? is a compilation of answers received when thousands of people were asked that question. The answers varied widely. One person wrote, "My opinion of God is that everyone sees God in their own way. I see God as being black ... a white person might see God as being white. I have no objection ... we just see Him differently." Another wrote, "I know Santa Claus is not real, but if he was, God would have the exact personality of him."
However, if there is a God, then no matter what we mean when we say "God," it has no real value unless God says the same thing. If there is a God, then He is who He is, regardless of what we think. We cannot invent a definition of God and expect it to be true. Therefore, one of the great challenges in life is to find out who God is. It is from the Bible that Christians get their understanding of who God is (see chapter 25, "Why Believe in God?"). He is more than Santa Claus, more than a kindly grandfather, more than the conjurings of our imaginations.
God Is the Creator of the Universe and Ruler over It
"God is an infinite, eternal spirit, the self-existent creator of the universe and the sovereign over it." While this definition is not complete, it is a good beginning. The God we are talking about is the creator of the universe, the original being, the sovereign ruler of all that is, the sole judge of all that is true and false, right and wrong, good and bad. No one created Him (Acts 17:23-25). He has always been there and will continue eternally unchanged (Heb. 13:8). James I. Packer writes, "God does not have it in him to go out of existence."
God has two different kinds of characteristics: those which He shares with humanity (sometimes called His moral attributes or His communicable attributes), and those which He does not share with humanity (sometimes called His natural attributes or His incommunicable attributes).
God Is Like Us in Some Ways
God is holy. Technically, "holiness" means "set apart" from sin to righteousness. Not only has God never sinned but in fact He is incapable of sin because His character—His very nature—is what defines sin. Anything that is like God is not sin. Anything that is not like God is sin. It is not that He has the ability to live up to some high standard; rather, He is the standard (Isa. 6:3).
God is loving. Three words in the original Greek language of the New Testament are all translated into English as the one word "love." Eros is physical, sensual love. Philos is emotional love, such as one might have for a parent or close friend. Agape (pronounced uh-GOP-ay) is the exercise of one's will for the good of another. When the Bible says that God is love, it is saying that God is agape. He has committed His will to the good of humanity (1 John 4:8).
God is just. Today it is considered impolite to stick our nose into anyone else's business. Therefore, we hear little of God's justice. Nevertheless, justice is one of God's characteristics (Rev. 15:3). Justice applies consequences to a person's actions according to a fixed standard, without regard to favoritism or any other intervening thing.
God has said that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23), and that the "wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). Therefore, God's justice requires that all die.
God is merciful. Mercy is God's characteristic that causes Him to provide a way of escape when we deserve judgment (Titus 3:5-7). We deserve to die, but God sent Jesus to earth to die for us. Therefore, since God has provided a way of escape from judgment that satisfies Him, when we accept that way of escape, God would be unjust not to save us. God's justice and His mercy combine to provide humanity a safe haven from the consequences of our sin.
God is good. God is not a celestial scientist fooling around with human toys for His own enjoyment, regardless of the negative impact on those toys. "Goodness" must mean "goodness" from His children's point of view, not just God's. Otherwise, He could hatch all kinds of sadistic schemes against His hapless children, plunging them into misery purely for His own enjoyment. Such is not the case. He intends to do good for His children (Deut. 8:16; Mark 10:18).
This does not mean that life will always be easy and pleasurable. God's goodness means that, in the end, all will be well, even though some things between now and then may be difficult.
These characteristics are not all the ones that God shares with humankind. But they are among the most important ones.
God is enough like us to understand our problems and enough above us to be able to solve them.
God Is Unlike Us in Some Ways
God is eternal—with no beginning and no end. God never had a beginning, and He will never have an end (Ps. 90:2). It is much easier to think of humans, who have a beginning but no end. That is not so difficult. But to imagine that someone never had a beginning, that He has always existed, takes us beyond our ability to grasp. Nevertheless, that is true of God. It is a reassuring thought to me. It makes me feel safe. The universe can make sense to me. He always has been, and He always will be, and I am safe, loved, and significant. Nothing could be better.
God is immutable—unchanging. God has never and will never change. Webster defines immutability simply as "unchanging." God cannot change because His very nature is unchanging. Therefore, He can never be wiser, more holy, more just, more merciful, more truthful—nor less. Nor do His plans and purposes change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). The apostle James wrote that He is "the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning" (Jas. 1:17). Speaking for God, Malachi wrote, "I am the Lord, I do not change" (Mal. 3:6).
God is omnipresent—everywhere simultaneously. The next three characteristics of God form a well-known triad, each one beginning with the prefix "omni," which means "unlimited." The first one is "omnipresence," meaning that God is present everywhere simultaneously (Ps. 139:7-10). That is good news for the child of God. There is nowhere we can be that God is not there with us.
God is omniscient—all-knowing. Psalm 139:4 reads, "There is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether." When we say God knows everything, we mean that He know all things, both actual and possible. As an example of a possible thing Jesus knew, in Matthew 11:21 He said, "If the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes."
There is no hoodwinking God. There is no wool to be pulled over His eyes. Jeremiah wrote, "I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings" ( Jer. 17:10).
God is omnipotent—all-powerful. The final characteristic of God we want to look at is His omnipotence. Omnipotence means that God can do anything He chooses. Job 42:2 reads, "I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be with-held from You." He put the stars in place. He spoke the world into existence. He breathed life into a lump of clay and created the first man.
Sometimes we may be tempted to question God's character because He does not treat us better. I read one time of a missionary couple who had spent their entire lives on the mission field working tirelessly to improve the quality of life and to spread the gospel. When they retired, they sailed home on the same passenger ship carrying Teddy Roosevelt home from one of his famous safaris. As the ship docked in New York harbor, there was a band playing, crowds cheering, confetti flying, and banners waving, just for the president.
It's not fair, thought the missionary. The president goes hunting for a few weeks, and when he comes home, he receives a hero's welcome. We spend our entire lives in an underdeveloped country, and when we come home, there isn't even anyone at the dock to meet us. And then in a flash of insight given by the Holy Spirit, he realized, Ah, yes. But the difference is, I am not home yet.
You may be treated poorly in this life. You may not get the reward that is due you. That doesn't mean God has failed. It only means that you are not home yet.
You'll get your party when you get home!
1. God is the c_______ of the universe and ruler over it.
2. God shares His m_______ attributes with humanity.
3. God does not share His n_______ attributes with humanity.
Read: My book What You Need to Know about God for more helpful information about this subject. To learn even more about this, read My God by Michael Green and Knowing God by James I. Packer.
Memorize: 1 Timothy 1:17.
Pray: Dear Lord, I am so grateful for who You are—that You are perfect in character and so great in ability. Thank You that You chose to let me know who You are. Help me trust You to rule my life with wisdom, love, and power. Amen.
Chapter TwoChapter at a Glance
God is one.
God is three.
The Father initiates, provides, and protects.
What Is the Trinity?
God does not live in isolation—not in the solitude of a single person, but three persons in one essence. —Louis Everly
Believing the Impossible
In Lewis Carroll's Alice through the Looking Glass (a companion volume to Alice in Wonderland), Alice is asked to believe something that is impossible. Alice replies, "One can't believe impossible things!" The White Queen fires back that of course one can believe impossible things if one tries hard enough. She, herself, has made it a habit of believing six impossible things each day before breakfast.
The doctrine of the Trinity seems impossible to believe. Overly simplified, it says that God is one and yet three. A person could be excused for stumbling over the mathematics of it. Surely, if something is one it cannot be three, or vice versa!
Nevertheless, the doctrine of the Trinity has stood for centuries and is stoutly defended as one of the fundamentals of the faith. But where did the doctrine come from? The word "Trinity" never occurs in the Bible, but we come to the conclusion of the Trinity simply by endeavoring to be faithful to Scripture. The Bible says there is only one God. Yet the New Testament calls not only the Father God, but also Jesus and the Holy Spirit God. The doctrine of the Trinity is simply an effort to put these statements together.
No one started out saying, "I think we need an incomprehensible doctrine." Rather, any reader can see that the Bible teaches, with reasonable clarity, both truths: God is three and God is one. So we must either hold to the doctrine of the Trinity or begin whacking things out of our Bibles (which Jefferson did, cutting out what he didn't like, pasting together everything he did, creating the "Jeffersonian" Bible). But if we are not prepared to begin whacking things out of our Bible, how do we understand the Trinity?
God Is One The Old Testament emphasizes that there is only one true God, and He alone is to be worshiped. "You shall have no other gods before Me," God declared in the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:3). Forty years later, by the inspiration of God, Moses declared, "Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Deut. 6:4-5).
The concept of one God is reinforced in the New Testament. "There is no other God but one" (1 Cor. 8:4). "[There is] one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in you all" (Eph. 4:6). "You believe that there is one God. You do well" (James 2:19).
These Old and New Testament passages state clearly that there is only one true God.
God Is Three On the other hand, the New Testament also recognizes Jesus as God. When He appeared to His disciples after His crucifixion and resurrection and revealed to Thomas the scars in His hands and side, Thomas replied, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28). Earlier in that same Gospel (John 8:58) we learn that Jesus claimed deity for Himself. Also, in Titus 2:13, Jesus is called "our great God and Savior Jesus Christ." Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is presented as God.
Concerning the Holy Spirit, in Acts 5:3-4 the Spirit is equated with God. Also, the Holy Spirit has some of the same attributes as God, such as omniscience (1 Cor. 2:10) and omnipresence (Ps. 139:7). Moreover, He participated in the creation of the world (Gen. 1:2), along with the Father and the Son (Col. 1:15-16).
Add to all this the fact that, in 2 Corinthians 13:14, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are linked together in a benediction. Furthermore, in Matthew 28:19 the three are linked together in the Great Commission. These and more evidences link the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as coequal, coeternal members of the Trinity.
The doctrine of the Trinity is a vital doctrine. You cannot remain true to the teachings of the Scripture and hold to another position. Admittedly, it is a mystery, and our finite minds will never be able fully to comprehend an infinite mind. But it is not a muddle to God, and in the day when we will understand all things, it will become clear to us as well.