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Don Stewart :: What Are the Attributes of God? (God's Perfections)

Don Stewart

What is God like? What are his attributes? What does the Bible have to say about the character of God?

The Word Attribute Defined

An attribute of God can be defined as "an essential and permanent characteristic of His nature." They are also called God's "perfections." Individual attributes may be studied by themselves and then considering how they relate to the overall character of God.

How We Know God's Attributes
We are able to know certain things about God's attributes from nature. From looking at the natural world we see that He is a loving Creator - making all things fit perfectly together. However, our knowledge of the attributes of the God of the Bible is mainly found in Scripture. In the Bible God's character is specifically revealed to us. Many things about God's nature, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, the nature and extent of God's knowledge, and God's intimate involvement with humanity, can only be known from Scripture. While nature gives us insight into God's character, it is the revelation in Scripture that explains who He really is and what He is like. Consequently, we do not attribute these characteristics to Him He reveals them to us. Therefore, apart from divine revelation we would know next to nothing about the character of God.

God Has Told Us What He Is Like

Because God has told us what he is like we are not ignorant of his character. Without God's revelation of himself to us humanity would stumble around in darkness.

This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart (Ephesians 4:17-18).

Jesus said.

All things have been delivered to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal him. (Matthew 11:27).

Human Reason Is Inadequate

Consequently human reason alone is not an adequate way to understand the character of God. When left to our own ideas about the character of God each of us goes our own way. The Bible informs us that through philosophical reasoning humanity cannot understand God.

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe (1 Corinthians 1:21).

Unaided human reason ends up making God into the image that we think He should be. Divine revelation informs us of whom He truly is.

It Is Important For Us To Know What He Is Like
It is important that we know exactly what God is like. God has warned humanity not to worship false gods.
You shall have no other gods besides me (Exodus 20:3).
Therefore it is important to have correct ideas about God and His nature.
Some Points That Need To Be Remembered

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

We Need To Know Who God Is

Studying the attributes 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 God. The attributes of God speak of His essential being. God would not be God unless He was righteous, holy, infinite, and all knowing.

The Attributes Are True For Each Member Of Trinity

The attributes of God are true for each member of the Trinity. They equally describe the Father, the Son, and 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.

We Cannot Divide God Up

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 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 preeminent over the others. For example, when God judges sin, He is still a holy God. When He displays His love, His holiness is still part of His character.

The Attributes Are Closely Related To Each Other

Each attribute is closely associated with the others. It is only by treating each of the attributes separately that we can begin to comprehend the greatness of God.

We Should Not Pit One Against The Other

It is also important not to pit one of God's attributes against another. The Bible says that God is love but His love does not come at the expense of His holiness and His justice.

We Do Not Know How Many Attributes There Are

In addition, we do not 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. God has not revealed to humanity everything about Himself. Therefore we cannot fully describe God even if we knew all of His attributes. Our understanding of His character is limited because of our finite nature.

We Have The Limitations Of Human Language

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 senses. Humans have no firsthand knowledge of beings that have these qualities. Yet human language can only relate what we perceive with our senses. Therefore when we speak about God we speak by analogy.

We Discover God's Attributes By Analogy

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.

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).

God 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

Studying the attributes, or the characteristics of God is important. Although nature tells us something about his character it is only divine revelation that informs us what he is really like. His knowledge, care, and plan for humanity can only be known through what he has revealed to us.

It is also important to realize that God is a unity - we cannot divide Him into a number of separate parts.

Finally, it must be remembered that we talk about God by analogy. He is not a Father or Shepherd in the same sense as we understand the word. Therefore our understanding of him, while true, will not be complete.

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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