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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Understanding the God of the Bible

Don Stewart :: What Are Some Important Things to Understand about God and His Attributes?

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What Are Some Important Things to Understand about God and His Attributes?

Understanding the God of the Bible – Question 2

The permanent characteristics of God’s nature are also called His attributes. It is crucial that we know what He is like. These characteristics can only be known from a study of Scripture.

There are a number of points that need to be remembered when we study the attributes of the God of the Bible. They include the following.

1. We Need to Know Who God Truly Is

The fact that we recognize that the God of the Bible exists is not enough. It is important that we know who He truly is and what He is like. This is not merely an academic question. We must properly understand who God is so that we can worship Him correctly. Indeed, our character and behavior will be shaped by how we view God.

Studying the attributes or qualities of God will help us understand who He is. When we examine the various parts of His character we will have a better overall understanding of the God of the Bible. The attributes of God speak of His essential being. Indeed, God would not be God unless He was righteous, holy, infinite, and all knowing. Individual attributes of God may be studied by themselves so we can know how they relate to the overall character of God.

2. The Attributes Are the Same for Each Member of Trinity

There is another point which we must understand. These attributes of God are true for each member of the Trinity. Indeed, they equally describe God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Therefore if God the Father is holy, then so are the Son and the Holy Spirit. If the Son is merciful, then so are the Father and the Holy Spirit. In sum, each member of the Trinity has exactly the same attributes.

3. We Cannot Divide God Up into Different Parts

Although it is helpful to look at each of the individual attributes of God that Scripture has revealed, we cannot divide God up into a number of different parts. He is a unified being. We should not think of His attributes as separate or distinct parts of His being. God’s entire being is holy, righteous, all-knowing, everywhere-present, etc.

At times, God may display one particular quality. However, no one quality is independent of the others. Neither is any quality that He possesses preeminent over the others. For example, when God judges sin, He is still a loving God. When He displays His love, His holiness is still part of His character.

4. The Attributes Are Closely Related to Each Other

Another point which must be stressed is that each individual attribute of God is closely associated with the others. Indeed, they are all interrelated. When we treat each of these attributes separately we can begin to comprehend the true greatness of God. Yet we must remember that these characteristics of God are closely related to each other.

5. We Should Not Set One Attribute in Opposition against Another

It is also important not to place one of God’s attributes in opposition against another. The Bible says that God is love, but His love does not come at the expense of His holiness, and His justice. The Bible never singles out one attribute as more important than the rest. While some may be more prominent, we are not to attempt to attach relative importance to them, they are all important.

6. We Do Not Know How Many Attributes There Are

In addition, we do not really know how many attributes that God has. The only ones that we know about are those that are revealed to us in Scripture. There may be many more. We simply do not know. The God of the Bible has not revealed to humanity everything about Himself. Consequently, we cannot fully describe God even if we knew all of His attributes. Our understanding of His character is limited because of our finite, or limited, nature. It will always be this way.

7. We Have the Limitations of Human Language in Trying to Understand God

There is also the matter of the limitation of human language in speaking about God. God is eternal, infinite, and invisible. We are unable to perceive Him with our physical senses. Indeed, humans have no firsthand knowledge of beings that have these qualities. Yet human language can only relate to that which we perceive with our senses. Therefore when we speak about God we speak by analogy.

8. We Explain God’s Attributes by Analogy

God has spoken to humanity by means of analogies. An analogy is something in one area of experience that is used to explain something in another area. For example, when we talk of God being a “Father” or “Shepherd” we are using analogies. God is not a Father in the same sense that we understand the word. The same holds true for any word we use of Him.

Yet there is some relationship between the terms we use about God and the way we use these terms on a human level. This is because God created humankind in His image. The Bible explains how humans were created in the beginning. We read in Genesis,

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:26 NRSV)

The God of the Bible has made humanity in such a way that meaningful communication is possible. Therefore we can have some understanding, however imperfect, of His character and being.

Summary – Question 2
What Are Some Important Things to Understand about God and His Attributes?

The God of the Bible has His own unique attributes or characteristics. Believers in Christ want to know these attributes. Indeed, we want to understand the God whom we love and serve. It is therefore important that we understand certain things about them.

For one thing, we need to know who God truly is. Knowing that He merely exists is not enough. We need to know His character.

It is also important for us to realize that each attribute of God is the same for the three members of the Trinity. Thus, the Father does not have any characteristics which are unique to Him. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit possess exactly the same attributes.

We also must realize that God is a unified being. Though we look at His individual attributes we cannot divide Him up into different parts. Thus, the attributes of God are closely related to each other. Indeed, they are all interrelated.

We should not set one of God’s attributes in opposition to other ones. Unhappily, this is often done. For example, we should not set God’s love against His justice. God is both a God of love as well as a God of justice. They do not cancel out one another or are opposed to one another.

Ultimately, we do not know how many attributes which God has. While He has revealed a number of them in Scripture there may be more than what the Bible discloses.

There are also the limitations of human language in trying to understand God. This is something else we must appreciate. Our knowledge of God will always be limited to some degree.

Finally, we must realize that all communication and explanations about God are done by analogy. God is not a Father, a Shepherd, or a Warrior. These analogies are given to us so that we can have something by which we can relate to. They give us a better understanding of His character but certainly not a complete understanding of who He is.

These things are all important for us to understand as we begin our study of the attributes or characteristics of the God of Scripture.

What Are the Attributes of God? ← Prior Section
Should We Attempt to Categorize the Attributes, or Characteristics, of God? Next Section →
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