I’ve noticed there is a challenge going around on Facebook. If you like the post of someone who is doing the challenge, you are challenged to post a statement of the following form once a day for a week:
“God is [attribute].”
If you’re interested, those attributes are:
- My strength
- My shield
Far be it from me to scorn a means of communicating our faith to the world or to ignore an opportunity to be reminded of the character of our God, but this challenge has several major shortcomings:
- The attributes in the challenge are familiar to the readers. This alone is not the problem, but in the context of the shortcomings below, it adds to the cliché nature of the entire exercise.
- There is no depth to the posts. Statements such as “God is love,” or “God is real,” or “God is faithful,” are incredibly deep. For example, Stephen Charnock’s “Discourse on the Existence of God” is 57 pages long in some editions. The faithfulness of God pervades Scripture—consider any passage recounting the history of Israel, any passage concerning the security of Salvation, or 1 John 1:9. But if we only state a single three word sentence, we ignore the depth of the truth stated, and cheapen the value of these truths in the eyes of readers, treating truth as trite and causing it to become even more so.
- There is no Biblical basis afforded for the attributes stated. The statements “God is my shield” and “God is my strength” only make sense in the Biblical contexts wherein they are stated. Otherwise, “God is my strength” could be rendered, “I can win this football game through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 sort of).
- There is no unity to the posts. When talking about the attributes of God, it’s easy to divorce the attributes from each other, resulting in a schizophrenic view of God. We then see God not as One, but as many. A great example of this is the “Jesus vs. God of the Old Testament” dichotomy, which is heretically wrong:
We need to view God rightly. We cannot afford to be subconscious polytheists. We need to understand the unity of God’s perfections. And God communicated to us, in Scripture, how to unify His attributes. Just as the center of the entire Bible is the scheme of redemption, so do we see the unity of His attributes in their natural relation to our justification.
- There is no application made of these statements. Perhaps some posters intend to imply the use of worship, no other use of truth is made to the reader’s life. Granted, application is the moral responsibility of an intelligent reader, but a reader needs to be treated to more depth than a single three word sentence before reaching conclusions and applications.
You may consider my criticisms irrelevant or nit-picky, but they’re not. Striving for excellence is important. Christians endeavor to redeem secular media and means to accomplish heavenly purposes; this challenge is hardly an appropriate redemption of the relevant media. Stating our theology requires effort and excellence. To quote a famous Christian rapper:
…excellence, that's what you should expect from us Least that we could do to thank Him for how He's blessed us All else is blaspheme. Disagree, get at me! And he with low standards don't get with no mics on The stages I stand on, …
While there is nothing inherently wrong with these facebook posts, if they are the most visible representation of our theology on social media, their shortcomings become ours in presenting your faith to the world. I don’t think we want that.
Therefore, I am doing the Facebook challenge in this blog post, making improvements as per my suggestions.
Attribute 1: God is transmundane.
That God is transmundane means He exists outside of the observable universe, transcending the physical realm that we can explore and study. This allows the divine essence to permeate and fill the universe—“For in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28)—without the universe merely being some sort of extension of the divine. How is this important? Consider:
- Because God is transmundane, He cannot be conclusively detected by scientific methodology. Many have tried to use this as an argument against the existence of God, but this fails. For God to not exist because science can’t detect Him means that scientific methodology can detect all things in reality. We know this because everything we know exists can be detected by science. But this is circular reasoning: science relies on itself to prove itself.One of the most interesting things I’ve noticed through reading histories and systematic theologies is that science was never given this place (that of determiner of all truth, that of God) by any significant majority of mankind until the nineteenth or twentieth century. Sometime during those heady days of enormous scientific productivity, philosophy was unseated from its rightful place and usurped by science in the minds of many as the discipline that attempts to determine absolute truth . This worship of science is not only incompatible with the existence of a transmundane God, but is incapable of disproving the existence of such a deity. This should strengthen our faith in God.
- One of the dominant philosophies throughout history has been pantheism, which essentially equates the universe with God. Hinduism and Buddhism today each have elements of pantheism. Some of the famous German liberals either borrowed from or believed in pantheism. But if God is transmundane, we can hold no such beliefs. This allows us to believe in a personal God, on which such important truths as His love for us hinge.
- This is a necessary logical basis of God’s holiness (“separateness, otherness, sanctity”), which, in interacting with His providence and sovereignty, gives Him the ability to allow sin without its staining His righteousness and goodness. That God is transmundane is essential to reformed theology, including how God can be sovereign and evil still exist. God is distinct from His creation; it can act distinctly from His character. This allows Him to use evil for His glory, revealing Himself in ways He could never do without the existence of evil. In this the church will on the glorious day marvel, rejoice, and worship.
- It is foundational to our entire conception of God. The attributes below don’t make sense if God is not transmundane.
Fun fact: this is not an attribute you can “proof text.” You can’t find a verse that clearly states “God is transmundane,” but instead have to construct this doctrine from His creation (Genesis 1) and other passages (e.g. the concluding chapters of Job).
Bonus fun fact: the first result if you google “transmundane” is a link to The Elder Scrolls Wiki. Bethesda puts good vocabulary in their video games.
Attribute 2: God is Personal.
This one, while seemingly trivial and obvious, is loaded with philosophical importance. We know that God is triune, that He is three persons in one God, but it is equally important to consider that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each a person. Christianity hinges on God being personal. The anthropomorphisms of Scripture, while not precisely describing God, fail to describe he alternative, some sort of “mere mystical force.” From Genesis 1 on, we see that God is a person. He creates, He moves, He speaks, He sees, He judges things to be good, He separates, He calls, He makes, He names, He commands, He places, He blesses. We see interpersonal interaction within the Trinity in verse 26:
Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.
We, persons, were made in the image and likeness of God. Everything we know about ourselves to be good should thus enhance our knowledge and understanding of God. If He is not a person, we are not persons either. If He is not a person, He cannot love us, nor us Him. Without a personal God, we have no relationship with Him, Jesus cannot become a man, Jesus cannot sympathize with us, and we cannot, in fact, sin, because we cannot offend an impersonal deity, or grieve an impersonal Spirit. The Bible everywhere uses personal pronouns to refer to God. A personal God is foundational to the gospel and our theology.
Attribute 3: God is holy.
Both the Old and New Testaments, for emphasis, refer to God as holy, holy, holy (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8), the repetition emphasizing the importance. Edwards, in his A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, considers holiness to be the root and source of all God’s other attributes. By holiness is intended the notion of separateness, of otherness, that God is completely different from us, outside our world and conceptions, infinitely removed from sin and pollution, completely and entirely pure.
Holiness caused Isaiah to fall on his face and, despite being a “good” man compared to the people of Israel of his day, pronounce woe upon himself (Isaiah 6:5). Holiness continually inspires the angels and church triumphant to worship God. In God’s holiness we see both His incomparable beauty and majesty and our worthlessness, sinfulness, and ugliness. Holiness gives us a far greater grasp of God’s mercy and patience. Holiness is essential in our understanding of God.
But God’s holiness is also our standard for living (Leviticus 19:2; 1 Peter 1:16). God’s holiness is practical: we are called to practical holiness. But in our necessarily falling short (Romans 3:23), we sin against God. And God cannot endure the presence of sin. All of us have offended a transmundane, personal, holy God. Our greatest need is a solution to that problem, lest we perish eternally.
Attribute 4: God is universal.
By universal I wish to communicate two things:
- That God is everywhere God of this universe (Psalm 24:1; Genesis 1; Psalm 139:1-12)
- That there is no other God (Exodus 20:1-4 ; Deuteronomy 6:4; Jeremiah 10:6-7; Job 38-41; Acts 17:22-31)
Again, this seems obvious, but it has profound implications. How many times in our evangelism have we heard the reply, “That’s your truth,” or “It’s cool for you to believe in God,” or “That’s your God, mine is different?” But if we believe in the universality of God, we can’t let people use this as a means of non-awkward escape. We must hold them to the universality of God regardless of the consequences. God’s universality is deeply intertwined with His eternality and immutability. From the truths of these attributes, we conclude we cannot escape our problem of sin, because we have sinned against a holy God, and that holy God is the only God, everlasting and unchanging. Thus the gospel applies to all humanity, and all humanity’s greatest interest lies in the gospel.
Attribute 5: God is Sovereign.
God’s sovereignty does not refer so much to His actions in controlling creation as much as to His right to do so and His power in doing so. His government and control of creation in sustaining creation and directing it to do as He wills is referred to by the word providence. Merriam-Webster defines providence as “divine guidance or care.” Sovereignty is “supreme power or authority,” implying God’s omnipotence while describing God as the king of kings. Grudem defines God’s sovereignty as His “exercise of power over His creation,” which amounts to the same thing. We use this frequently in comforting the hurt and suffering, which is appropriate as long as we remember to explain that God’s goodness, love, and mercy dictate the paths of His providence. God’s sovereignty inspires trust and faith in Him.
The implications of sovereignty and providence on our salvation should not be ignored. If we cede the decision of salvation entirely to the free will of man, letting election be “God looking ahead to see who chooses Him,” we create all sorts of inconsistencies in our hermeneutic of Scripture, and more importantly dethrone God by our pride. Historically, reformed Christians took issue with this misunderstanding because salvation by our own free will is a form of works righteousness. Understanding God’s sovereignty allows us to believe in salvation by grace alone, and results in deeper thankfulness and worship. God’s sovereignty is foundational to solving our problem of sin.
At the same time, this is the God we have sinned against. If we do not accept His offer of salvation, His power and wrath will utterly crush us. Do not think you will be able to withstand the King of Kings in the day of His judgment. None can bear up under His strength; those who are damned are eternally crushed by Him. None can compare. There is no rival to his power, nor can any thwart His sovereign purpose, whether that purpose is gracious or wrathful.
Attribute 6: God is merciful.
God would have every right to leave us damned. We have all sinned against Him; why should He care for us? Why should He forgive us? But our God is a God of mercy. He does not give us what we deserve as soon as we sin. He is slow to anger, and abounds in lovingkindness (Psalm 86:5; Psalm 103; Psalm 108:8; Lamentations 3:33). This is the basis of God’s gracious extension of salvation to us (Acts 16:30-31; Romans 5:8; Romans 6:23; Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:1-10).
The gospel is the greatest expression of God’s love, mercy, and grace that ever was. In the cross we saw the entirety of God’s attributes, as He providentially ordained for His holy wrath to be poured forth on the person of His Son in order to show love, mercy, and forgiveness to wretched sinners throughout the whole world. In the cross, we saw the Son, out of pity and love for lost sinners, offer up the entirety of Himself, not just His physical life to the brutality of crucifixion, but His soul to the infinite wrath of His divine Father, enduring the greatest alienation any being has ever endured. If death means separation, there never has been a greater death, nor shall there be ever again, for there can be no greater separation than that of God from God. And this greatest death was the just penalty for our sins against a holy God, but instead of putting this punishment on us, God put it on His Son Jesus Christ, in the greatest act of mercy in all eternity.
Practically, then, we learn from God’s mercy and holiness that we cannot earn our salvation, as it has already been accomplished, and could not be accomplished by us. And more than that, we cannot even contribute to our justification, as that would devalue and debase God’s work of mercy on the cross. Any attribution of our salvation to ourselves, whether through works we accomplish or free will we exercise, robs God of the glory and perfection of His holiness, sovereignty, and mercy.
Attribute 7: God is worthy.
All the previous attributes of God, centered on the doctrine of justification, lead to our response: that God is worthy of our worship, our life, our all. This is best summarized in Romans 12:1-2:
Therefore, I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Theology is applicable, because the gospel is applicable, and all theology comes to bear on our understanding of the gospel. We are called, by the One who gave His life for us, to offer ours back, not as payment for our justification, because that would be as filthy rags, but as worship, out of thankfulness to Him. We are called, not to continue in our old ways of sin, but to fulfill the good works He created us to do (Ephesians 2:10), and to live as new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). Jesus Christ is our Lord, and we live our lives in joyful submission now to Him. We take up our crosses daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23). We can humbly accept His gift of grace, and freed from the law and our debt of sin, live blessed lives worshipping God, enjoying paradise restored in our relationship with Jesus Christ communicated by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Our salvation by God, not of our own works, but by His grace received through His gift of faith, does not justify continued sin against Him, anymore than being pulled out of a burning building by a firefighter would warrant a return to that same building, or having a life saving operation from swallowing poison would justify one in drinking cyanide. Paul tells us this much in Romans 6. The theological basis for our new life is rooted in the God’s inherent worth and worthiness. For now that we are united in Christ, our sins against Him devalue and deface His acts of grace towards us. They are sins against greater love and mercy, against the person whom we are closest to and most united with: Christ our spiritual husband. By God’s inherent worthiness, we are encouraged to live for Him and worship Him with our lives.
Let us close in doxology:
Oh, the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever, Amen.