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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Personal Attributes of God

Don Stewart :: Is God a Personal God?

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Is God a Personal God?

The Personal Attributes of God – Question 1

While most of the religions of the world believe that God is an impersonal being, the God who is revealed in the Bible is a personal God. This means that He has the characteristics of a person. A person can be defined as someone who is rational, conscious of his own being. This is how the Bible portrays God. He is a Person; He is not an impersonal force. A number of important points need to be made.

He Is the Living God

The Bible speaks of the God of Scripture as the living God. In the Book of Joshua, we read the following about Him.

This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. (Joshua 3:10 NIV)

The God the Bible is the living God as compared to the gods of the other nations which are not alive. Indeed, they do not exist.

As a youth, David realized that the giant Goliath was defying “the living God.” The Bible records the following episode.

David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26 NIV)

The gods of the Philistines were not living. They were non-existent idols. The God of Israel is the living God. David made this clear when he challenged the giant Goliath.

David later wrote in the Psalms that the Lord, the God of the Bible, was the fountain, or basis of life itself. He expressed it this way.

For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light. (Psalm 36:9 NKJV)

All life stems from the God of Scripture.

The prophet Jeremiah proclaimed the truth that the Lord is the living God, the true God. He wrote the following.

But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King. When he is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure his wrath. (Jeremiah 10:10 NIV)

Consequently, it is the consistent teaching of Scripture that the Lord, the God of the Bible, is the living God. Of this, there is no doubt.

God Has the Characteristics of a Person

The Scriptures attribute characteristics to the living God that can only be those of a Person. They include the following descriptions.

1. God Has Personal Names

We find in Scripture personal names used in reference to God. When God spoke to Moses at the burning bush, He told him His name. The Bible says,

God said to Moses: I am the eternal God. So tell them that the LORD, whose name is “I Am,” has sent you. This is my name forever, and it is the name that people must use from now on. (Exodus 3:14, 15 CEV)

The personal name of the Lord is Yahweh, or Jehovah. Only a genuine person has a personal name. God is not a force.

Jesus referred to God as His “Father.” This also implies personality. Mathew record Jesus praying the following.

Then Jesus prayed this prayer: “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding the truth from those who think themselves so wise and clever, and for revealing it to the childlike.” (Matthew 11:25 NLT)

The fact that the God of the Bible is called the Father emphasizes that He is a Person, not some impersonal force.

2. He Can Give and Receive Love

The Bible speaks of God having the capacity to give love. We read the following from the writings of the prophet Jeremiah.

The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3 NIV)

Love is a mark of personality.

Paul wrote about the love that Jesus Christ showed when He died for the sins of the world. He stated it as follows.

But God showed how much he loved us by having Christ die for us, even though we were sinful. (Romans 5:8 CEV)

Again, we see the indications of personality.

The Lord has spoken of His everlasting love for Israel. Isaiah the prophet records the Lord saying the following.

In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the LORD, your Redeemer. (Isaiah 54:8 RSV)

The God of the Bible continually showed His love and compassion for His chosen people.

The psalmist recognized the love that God has had for His children.

But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children... (Psalm 103:17 NIV)

Giving and receiving love is only possible for a person to do. Impersonal objects can neither give nor receive love.

3. He Is a God Who Has Feelings

Scripture attributes feelings, or emotions, to the God of Scripture. For example, He can show kindness. The psalmist wrote,

He loves justice and fairness, and he is kind to everyone everywhere on earth. (Psalm 33:5 CEV)

This is certainly a mark of personality.

On the other hand, the Lord can be grieved. In Genesis, we read the following description of the Lord’s feelings before He sent the great flood to the earth.

The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. (Genesis 6:6 NIV)

Scripture explains God’s response to sin as “grief.” This type of emotion is a further sign of personality.

The psalmist wrote about how the Lord was grieved with His people.

How often they rebelled against him in the desert and grieved him in the wasteland! (Psalm 78:40 NIV)

Again, only a person can be grieved.

4. God Can Experience Sorrow

The Bible also teaches that God can feel sorrow. Jesus, God the Son, cried at the tomb of His friend Lazarus. The Bible says,

Jesus wept. (John 11:35 KJV)

The fact that Jesus cried shows both compassion as well as sorrow.

God is a compassionate God. The New Testament writer James emphasizes that aspect of God’s character. He wrote,

We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. Job is an example of a man who endured patiently. From his experience we see how the Lord’s plan finally ended in good, for he is full of tenderness and mercy. (James 5:11 NLT)

Here the God of the Bible is described as a tender and merciful God.

The psalmist also recognized the compassion the Lord has for those who are His. He wrote the following.

As a father has compassion for his children, so the LORD has compassion for those who fear him. (Psalm 103:13 God’s Word)

Here the Lord is compared to a loving Father which has compassion for His children.

Isaiah the prophet compared God to a young man who cared for his bride. We read the following analogy.

Your children will care for you with joy, O Jerusalem, just as a young man cares for his bride. Then God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride. (Isaiah 62:5 NLT)

God is a God who expresses His feelings. This is a further sign of personality.

5. God Can Show Anger

At times, we find that the God of Scripture can show His anger. The Lord spoke to Moses about His anger toward the nation which had sinned against Him.

“Now leave me alone. I’m so angry with them I am going to destroy them. Then I’ll make you into a great nation.” But Moses pleaded with the LORD his God. “LORD,” he said, “why are you so angry with your people whom you brought out of Egypt using your great power and mighty hand?” (Exodus 32:10, 11 God’s Word)

Anger is a characteristic that God shows when necessary. However, it is not something He takes pleasure in.

6. He Has a Will to Choose

The Bible says that God has a will or self-determination. He is free to do whatever He chooses. The psalmist wrote,

Our God is in the heavens, doing as he chooses. (Psalm 115:3 CEV)

God makes the choices Himself. Nobody counsels Him or tells Him what He must do.

Isaiah the prophet records the Lord saying that He has a plan. Indeed, the Lord said the following about His ability to predict events in the future.

“I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.” (Isaiah 46:10, 11 NIV)

This is not only a sign of personality; it is a sign of deity. Indeed only a personal being can plan for the future but only God can know what is going to occur.

The Bible speaks of God as wanting or desiring things. Peter wrote about God’s desire that all people should come to repentance.

The Lord isn’t slow about keeping his promises, as some people think he is. In fact, God is patient, because he wants everyone to turn from sin and no one to be lost. (2 Peter 3:9 CEV)

Although God has the ability to make choices, they are not responsive to outside stimulus as is often the case with human beings. God makes choices based on His own determination. Nothing causes or forces Him to choose a certain path or plan.

7. He Is a God of Mercy

The Scriptures teach that God has the ability to show mercy. We read about this in the Book of Jonah.

When God saw that they had put a stop to their evil ways, he had mercy on them and didn’t carry out the destruction he had threatened. (Jonah 3:10 NLT)

Thankfully, God is a God of mercy.

8. God Has an Intellect

The Bible says that God has an intellect. He has a mind that thinks. We find that God uses His mind to instruct His people concerning what they should do. The Bible says,

Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go.” (Isaiah 48:17 NASB)

Only someone with an actual personality has the ability to teach.

In Proverbs, it says that God sees both good and evil.

The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good. (Proverbs 15:3 NIV)

To do something like this, takes an intellect.

The Bible also says that God makes “plans.” Jeremiah wrote,

“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.‘” (Jeremiah 29:11 NASB)

Making plans means intellect.

In the Book of Acts, we read that God has known His works for all of eternity.

“Known to God from eternity are all His works.” (Acts 15:18 NKJV)

God has had knowledge for all eternity. This too shows that He is a personal being.

The writer to the Hebrews stated that God knows all things. The fact that nothing can be hidden from Him indicates He is an actual Person rather than some impersonal force.

And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. (Hebrews 4:13 NRSV)

The God of the Bible can think. This is another trait of personality.

9. He Is Contrasted with Idols

The Bible also contrasts the personal living God to idols, which neither hear nor speak. The Apostle Paul told a crowd at Lystra,

“Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.” (Acts 14:15 NRSV)

The contrast is that God is alive while the idols are not.

When he wrote to the church at Thessalonica, Paul again brought out the distinction between the living God and non-living idols. He said,

For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV).

Hence the Bible contrasts the living God who hears, sees, thinks, feels, and acts like a person with idols which are things, not persons. The conclusion is that God is a personal God.

These are some of the attributes that the Bible says God possesses. They are all consistent with personhood. By demonstrating these in His character, God has shown that He is a personal God.

Summary – Question 1
Is God a Personal God?

The Bible designates God as the living God. He is a rational being, One who is conscious of His own existence. As the living God, He possesses the attributes of a person. From Scripture, we find the following things are said about God’s personhood.

Among other things, God can give love as well as receive love. Only a genuine person can do this. Impersonal objects cannot love others.

The Bible also says that God can express anger. Again, this is a sign of genuine personality for only personal beings have this capacity.

Scripture also says that the God of the Bible has feelings or emotions. He can be grieved and He can feel compassion. This is further evidence that He is a personal Being.

One of the great things about the Lord is His ability to show mercy to those who deserve judgment. Showing mercy is something only a person can do.

The Bible also says that God has a will and an intellect. He thinks, He plans and He makes choices. All of these are consistent with personality.

The Bible also contrasts the personal living God of the Bible with impersonal idols that are mere things. The reason for the contrast is to show that God is a Being who truly exists.

All of these characteristics are consistent with personhood. Therefore, it is clear that Scripture portrays the Lord as a personal God.

What Humans and God Have in Common (Introduction) ← Prior Section
In What Sense Is God a Father? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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