The Nature of God
The Absolute God
In writing this chapter, I stand on the shoulders of giants indeed. I gratefully acknowledge the tremendous help and influence that the writings of A. W. Pink, J. I. Packer, and Stephen Charnock have been over the years in helping me come to know and understand the Absolute God.
The deacon shifted uneasily in his seat–this interview was not going well at all. He eyed the gentle, but (as far as the deacon was concerned) obstinate middle-aged man seated across from him. He’d been all for Reverend Dodd coming here as pastor two years ago, and the church had nearly doubled in size since his arrival, but he could not stand the preacher’s teachings about the nature of God. Bro. Dodd’s version of God was even a bit scary to Deacon Smith! “Now look here, Reverend, I just can’t believe what you are saying! You are telling me that God’s plans cannot be thwarted, and that He controls all of the events of human history for His own purposes–is that fair? I’ve always thought of God as a gentleman, the kind of fellow that presents His case to you, and lets you work things out. He lets human beings work out the world their own way, except when He decides to intervene in some special case.”
The preacher removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes, and sighed deeply. “Where do you find that in the Bible, Smitty? God never claims to be fair–only just. Fairness is a human standard that changes as often as our perceptions change–God never changes, and His decrees are never altered. God is not, and cannot be, judged by any standard manufactured by men!” The preacher opened his Bible and read several verses out loud that spoke of God’s ruling the affairs of nations, and of His plan for redemption through the sacrifice of the Cross. “Smitty, was it fair for God to send His Son to die for us? Did God ever promise anywhere to take our thoughts, whims, and petty human pride into account in His eternal councils? No! Smitty, God is either absolute, or He is not God!”
The deacon closed his own Bible nervously. “Reverend, I’ve got to go. I, uh, have a business appointment across town.” Without any hesitation, before the pastor could suggest they pray, Deacon Smith got up to leave. At the door, he hesitated, turned, and said, “I’ll say this–you and I don’t worship the same God.” Pastor Dodd never saw Deacon Smith in church again; Smith would not return his calls. He heard some time later that the Smiths had moved their membership to a liberal Protestant church across town.
The story above is true, though the characters are composites. Some of the circumstances, and of course the names, have been changed, but that interview really happened to a preacher in the southern United States in the late 1970s. A prominent layman in an evangelical Baptist church, who had been in the church for many years, had a concept of God which was far removed from the Bible’s picture of Him. This man thought of God as a kind of cosmic grandfather, a good Joe, a fair businessman who minded his own affairs unless some extraordinary circumstance came along. Why, “Smitty’s” God would have felt right at home at the businessman’s luncheon club and on the links at Smitty’s country club. In short, Smitty’s God was a lot like Smitty!
Psalm 50:16-23 But to the wicked, God says: “What right have you to recite my laws or take my covenant on your lips? You hate my instruction and cast my words behind you. When you see a thief, you join with him; you throw in your lot with adulterers. You use your mouth for evil and harness your tongue to deceit. You speak continually against your brother and slander your own mother’s son. These things you have done and I kept silent; you thought I was altogether like you. But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face. “Consider this, you who forget God, or I will tear you to pieces, with none to rescue: He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.” (NIV) (Emphasis Added)
What kind of God do you worship? Are you like “Smitty” in our story? Are you like Israel in the passage in Psalms–do you think God is like you? Do you think of God as an errand boy, a cosmic, doddering doting old Grandpa, a gentleman who wouldn’t hurt a flea. Does your God dismiss sin? Is your God at the mercy of Man or Nature? Is your God too small? Is he “Itsy-bitsy, teensy-weensy?”
Or do you worship the God of the Bible? Is your God the God of Joseph, Who turns the evil intent of wicked men to His own use? (Gen. 50:20) Do you worship the God of Job, Whose greatness caused that patriarch to abhor himself and be silent? (Job 42:1-6) Do you fall down in worship of the Holy, Holy, Holy, God of Isaiah? (Isa. 6:1-5) Do you realize that your life is ruled by the Sovereign Ruler and Omniscient God of Daniel? (Dan. 2:20-23, 27-28; 4:34-35) Do you trust in the God of the Psalms, who does as He pleases? (Psa 115:3; 135:6) Do you pray to the God of Abraham, who calls those things that are not as though they were? (Rom 4:17) Have you met the God of Paul, who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords? (1 Tim. 6:14-16).
In this chapter, we look briefly at seven of the many attributes of God. They are certainly not His only attributes, but they are the ones this decadent age disregards the most. Not only are these attributes of God ignored in this era, they are hated and despised by many because of the vaunted independence and self-worship of modern man. The attributes of Sovereignty, Holiness, Omnipotence, Omniscience, and Immutability, Wrath, and Love, set God apart from the false Gods of pagans, and from the false Gods of “Christians” who as A.W. Pink has said, make up their own God out of their imaginations.
Attribute #1–God is Sovereign
God is Sovereign, that is, He is THE BOSS, period. God is subject to no one–no one can tell God what to do or judge His actions. (Rom 9:1-25; Psa 115:3; 135:6) The concept of a sovereign, that is, a ruler with absolute authority who answers to no one, is unfamiliar to most Americans. We may hear of a dictator or “strongman” who has sovereign-like powers, but that is a far cry from the classic definition of a sovereign. In history, a sovereign was a ruler who had absolute authority and who had the right to that authority, usually by heredity or conquest, but even the true sovereigns of history were only a pale reflection of the Sovereign Lord God.
A knife, a bullet, poison, a fever, or at last, time, unseated every sovereign that ever lived–except the eternal Sovereign who lives forever. Omnipotence, which we look at a few pages later, talks about God’s Power and Ability–Sovereignty expresses His authority by right. If we study in detail passages such as Isaiah 40 and Job 38-42, we find that God claims the right to rule based on His creatorship, His eternality, and His solitariness–there is no one like Him.
God defines what is right. If we do not like an action by God, or if we think God is not “fair,” that is irrelevant–whatever God says is right, is right–”Let God be true and every man a liar . . .” (Rom 3:4). Whatever God does, is, by definition, right. We do not have any basis upon which to challenge any action of His, because His is the only viewpoint that counts (Rom 9:11-21; Dan. 4:34-35).
God’s rulership is universal. It is not confined by time or place. God sovereignly rules the affairs of nations. He is not waiting to see what the latest political developments are going to be–he is arranging the circumstances of the universe to fit His purposes. He does not cause the sinful actions of men and nations in this, nor does He make people act like robots. Just how He rules is mysterious, but we know that He does it by intervention in history (Acts 17:26-27; Isa 46:9-11).
Psalm 115:3 Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. (NIV)
Psalm 135:6 The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. (NIV)
Attribute #2–God is Holy
Holy is a Bible term that means “set apart.” God is separate from all other things, and is 100% pure in everything. He is set apart because of who He is. His very nature and attributes set Him apart as unique from all else, and Holiness is, in a sense, His central attribute. Like the hub of a giant wheel, His Holiness defines the infinite degree of His other perfections. Is God sovereign? Yes, and He is perfectly so, infinitely so–He is set apart in the perfection of His sovereignty. Is God loving? Yes, and His love is perfect and completely surpasses any other love by any other creature. Is God omnipotent and omniscient? Yes, and His power and knowledge are infinite, again, setting Him apart from all His creatures. Revelation 15:4 says of God “. . . You alone are Holy.” Moses, in his song says “. . . Who among the ‘gods’ is like you, O LORD. . . majestic in Holiness.” Eternity will be a joyous celebration of the Holy God. We get a glimpse of the scene in heaven by the visions of Isaiah and the aged apostle John, as well as those of the book of Psalms:
Revelation 4:8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” (NIV)
Isaiah 6:1-3 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. (Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (NIV)
Psalm 99:9 Exalt the LORD our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the LORD our God is holy. (NIV)
Psalm 33:21 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. (NIV)
Psalm 77:13 Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God? (NIV)
Psalm 89:18 Indeed, our shield belongs to the LORD, our king to the Holy One of Israel. (NIV)
Psalm 105:3 Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. (NIV)
Psalm 145:21 My mouth will speak in praise of the LORD. Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever. (NIV)
Attribute #3–God is Omnipotent
God is all-powerful. The wags and lovers of arguments have much fun with this one, asking ridiculous questions like “If God is Omnipotent, can he make a mountain so big that He can’t lift it? If He can, then He isn’t all powerful, because He can’t lift it, and if He can’t, then He isn’t all-powerful because He can’t make the mountain so big He can’t lift it.” Of course, the answer is that the all-powerful God is infinite, and there is no limit to His infinity! The armchair “philosopher’s” question tries to impose on God a set of circumstances based on human logic and reason, like the false human standard of “fairness.” The fact is, whatever God wants to accomplish, He can accomplish! There is no limit to His might! Divine Sovereignty expresses God’s RIGHT to do whatever He pleases, Omnipotence expresses His ABILITY.
Isaiah 43:13 Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?” (NIV)
Job 42:2 I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. (NIV)
Attribute #4–God is Omniscient
God knows everything. Again, our little minds have difficulty even fathoming the breadth and depth of that statement. God knows things that we cannot even conceive–He knows our thoughts, our sins, our innermost desires (Heb 4:13), and He knows our destiny. God is, says the Psalmist, of “infinite understanding” (Psalm 147:4-5) Nothing can be hidden from Him (Job 34:21-23).
God also has foreknowledge, which is a concept with two aspects, prescience and preaquaintanceship. Prescience refers to God’s knowledge of events, situations, and persons in general, before they happen or come into being.
Isaiah 42:9 See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you. (NIV)
Daniel 2:19-23, 27-28 During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven and said: “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers: You have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, you have made known to us the dream of the king.”
Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. (NIV)
Preacquaintanceship refers to God’s personal foreknowledge of His People. He knows them in an intimate, personal sense–He does not just know about them He knows them.
Jeremiah 1:5 Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. (NIV)
Romans 8:29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (NIV)
Romans 11:2-5 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah– how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. (NIV)
1 Peter 1:1-2 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. (NIV)
Attribute #5–God is Immutable
It is a constant with life–things change, people change. A man leaves the woman who has been his companion for many years–”people change,” he says. An executive who has worked faithfully for a company for 20 years is let go for no apparent reason, “times have changed,” says the person who fires her. Fashion changes, music changes, politics change–everything and everyone changes, except God. God does not change. He may differentiate His manifestations to men; He may reveal mysteries previously concealed (Eph 3:7-11); He may even speak anthropomorphically (that $100-dollar word means, “as if He were human,” when He speaks anthropomorphically, God uses human terms in order to be understood), but God does not change in His essence–He is eternally the same.
This also applies to the Son of God, the God-man Christ Jesus, and to the Spirit as well. But what about Christ becoming a man (see chapter 5)? Is this not a change? Not in the way that God defines a change (and His definition is the only one that counts). He did not change in His essence, only in the way He manifested Himself to mankind–He was the “lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” Job called God “my Redeemer,” many years before His incarnation (coming in the flesh).
Malachi 3:6 “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. (NIV)
James 1:17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (NIV)
Hebrews 1:10-12 He also says, “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” (NIV)
Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (NIV)
Deuteronomy 33:27 The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemy before you, saying, `Destroy him!’ (NIV)
Attribute #6–God is Wrathful
This is a solemn topic for discussion, but one which we cannot avoid. The idea of an all-powerful Being Who gets mad is scary. We know that we are fallible; we know that we do things that are contrary to righteousness. The notion that we may have to answer for those faults, and worse, for specific sins, to a God Who possesses wrath is the stuff of which nightmares are made. On this topic, the author can think of no better commentary on the Wrath of God than that written by A. W. Pink:
“. . . that the wrath of God is a Divine perfection is plainly demonstrated by what we read in Psa 95:11 ‘unto whom I swear in My wrath.’ There are two occasions of God’s ‘swearing’: in making promises (Gen 22:16); and in pronouncing judgments (Deut 1:34 ff.) In the former, He swears in mercy to His children; in the latter, He swears to deprive a wicked generation of its murmuring and unbelief. An oath is for solemn confirmation (Heb 6:16). In Gen 22:16, God says, ‘By myself have I sworn. . . .’ In Psa 89:35, He declares, ‘Once have I sworn by my holiness.’ While in Psa 95:11, He affirms ‘I swear in my wrath.” Thus the great Jehovah Himself appeals to His ‘wrath’ as a perfection equal to His ‘holiness’; He swears by the one as much as by the other! Again, as in Christ ‘dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily’ (Col. 2:9), and as all the Divine perfections are illustriously displayed by Him (John 1:18), therefore do we read of ‘the wrath of the Lamb.’ (Rev 6:19).” (The Attributes of God)
The people who populate Modern Western civilization hate the concept of a God who possesses wrath. All people want to know about God (if, indeed they want to know anything at all) is about His love. Men create in their minds the concept of a God who is all love and nothing else–they make an idol in their heads. The Bible, however, is absolute about the fact that God is a God of wrath. As we will see in chapters 4 and 6, God’s wrath is the reason for the necessity of the Gospel (Rom 1:16-18)–atonement and salvation by grace are required because of God’s righteous wrath against sin. For the believer, deliverance from wrath is our great hope (1 Thess. 1:10), and God’s wrath is turned aside (propitiated) for believers by the Blood of Christ (Rom 3:25-26; 5:8-9). God’s wrath against sin and sinners is so great that He sent His Son to die in the place of those who were to be redeemed–no lesser sacrifice would do. If we deny wrath, we essentially deny the gospel.
Attribute #7–God is Love
Having just written that God is a God of wrath, we turn to the other side of the coin, and speak of His love. For many, it is contradictory to speak of God being wrathful and yet being a God of love, but the Bible is full of both concepts about Him. Again, A.W. Pink:
There are many today who talk about the love of God, who are total strangers to the God of love. The Divine love is commonly regarded as a species of amiable weakness, a sort of good-natured indulgence; it is reduced to a mere sickly sentiment, patterned after human emotion. Now the truth is that on this, as on everything else, our thoughts need to be formed and regulated by what is revealed thereon in Holy Scripture. (The Attributes of God)
The love of God is really more than just an attribute; it is part of His essence. In a general sense, God loves everyone (and everything) He has created. In John 3:16 “for God so loved the world,” the word for “world” is the Greek word, kosmos, which in a general sense, refers to the whole universe. For instance, God sends His rain upon the just and the unjust (Matt 5:45). Some measure of caring and protection extends to the race, except where God chooses not to mollify and restrain the natural effects of our sin and rebellion. But there is a distinction between His universal care for all creation and His special love for His People.
1 Timothy 4:10 (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. (NIV)
Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad–in order that God’s purpose in election might stand, not by works but by him who calls–she was told,
Romans 9:11-13 “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (NIV)
We do not deserve the love of God–it is unmerited and “uninfluenced”(Pink)–we cannot earn it. God exercises the expression of His love according to His sovereign will, not according to our actions, for as members of a rebel race, we really deserve nothing.
Deuteronomy 7:7-8 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (NIV)
1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us. (NIV)
The love of God is Eternal, like His immutability, it never wavers, changes, or dies. The supreme act of God’s great love was in sending His own Son to die in the place of condemned sinners. We cannot imagine the horror of Christ, the Son of God and God the Son, as He faced the cross–not the physical sufferings so much as the fact that He, the perfect, Holy, unblemished Son of God, would take the guilt of our sins upon His own shoulders and face the wrath of His own Father. Such love is unspeakable (see Chapter 5). Given this great sacrifice, this great love, this great condescension, nothing can separate a redeemed person from the love of God.
Jeremiah 31:3 The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with lovingkindness. (NIV)
Ephesians 1:4-5 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will– (NIV)
This is the doctrine of God’s Love–but there is more to it. I am not, by nature, an emotional man, but there is something about the love of God that raises passions from deep within my soul that defy description. I cannot conceive of One so loving that He would leave the glories of heaven, walk in my shoes for 30 years, and then die for me. I cannot imagine a Being so merciful that He would as the song says, “look beyond my fault and see my need.” The love of God is not some sickly sentimental thing that is like the cotton-candy love humans express to one another–it is not here today and gone tomorrow. If you grasp the scope and power of God’s Love, and know the eternal significance of His grace and mercy through the Cross (see Chapters 5 and 6), there is no force on earth, no tragedy of human life, and no sin in your own past that can take away the sweetness of His love or the joy of His fellowship. The love of God is a treasure beyond price for those who know Him. Many years ago, as a young believer, I wrote a lyric which describes the eternal, powerful Love of God;
Before the world was made, Jesus loved me.
Before creation’s day, He cared.
He knew my sin, He knew it all,
He knew that I would reject His call,
But He loved me, He saved me, He cared.
When I was lost in Sin, Jesus loved me.
When I profaned His name, He cared.
He bore my sin, He took my blame,
Wicked men brought him to shame (including me),
He loved me, He saved me, He cared.
When I refused to hear, Jesus loved me.
When I closed my ear, He cared.
He gently broke my wicked will,
His Spirit strove with me until
He found me He saved me, He cared.
These sentiments still pale beside the burning, passionate Light of His Presence–when the world has dealt us a blow, when all seems dark and we can see no light, it is then that the Lord Himself will impress on our minds and hearts the depth of His love. It is when we feel the utter joy of knowing that we are a soul set free by His sacrifice, and that nothing can keep us from His love that we can understand the utter awesome power of the words of Paul.
Romans 8:35-39 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NIV)
This is the Absolute God of the Bible–He does as He pleases, he accomplishes what He sets out to do, no plan of His is thwarted by the whims and decisions of mankind. He is wrathful against our rebellion, yet loving beyond our imagination. In one of the most concise and profound statements ever written on the subject of The Absolute God, A W. Pink said:
“The ‘god’ of this twentieth century no more resembles the Supreme Sovereign of Holy Writ than does the dim flickering of a candle the glory of the midday sun. The ‘god’ who is now talked about in the average pulpit, spoken of in the ordinary Sunday School, mentioned in much of the religious literature of the day, and preached in most of the so-called Bible conferences, is the figment of human imagination, an invention of maudlin sentimentality. The heathen outside of the pale of Christendom form ‘gods’ out of wood and stone, while the millions of heathen inside Christendom manufacture a ‘god’ out of their own carnal mind. In reality, they are but atheists, for there is no other possible alternative between an absolutely supreme God, and no God at all. a ‘god’ whose will is resisted, whose designs are frustrated, whose purpose is checkmated, possesses no title to Deity, and so far from being a fit object of worship, merits naught but contempt.” (Attributes of God)