Sunday, March 12, 2017

What is God like? (part 1)

What are the attributes of God? Volumes could be, and have been, written on this subject. We will present here some of the primary attributes of God, with selected scripture references. A crucial point in understanding God – and of proper Biblical exegesis – is interpreting individual scriptures in light of the entire context of the Bible. Using one verse to form an entire doctrine may give a skewed understanding of God’s nature. Those attributes discussed here in Part 1 indicate that God is:  eternal, good, just, loving, merciful, and omnipotent.

The Bible states clearly that God is eternal, in these and other verses:
·         Everlasting God” (Isaiah 40:28)
·         Eternal God” (Deuteronomy 33:27)
·         “the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Timothy 1:17)
·         “according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (2 Timothy 1:9)
·         Jesus said, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5)

Some have asked, “Did God always exist?” and “Where did God come from?” If God created the known universe, which began as astronomers believe around 13.87 billion years ago with a big bang, what was God doing before that? The easy answer is – we don’t know. The Bible does provide some information, concerning the distant past, which is as much as we need to know at this time. Here is what we do know:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

Since the Bible’s target audience is humans, “the beginning” is of our known universe. Some have also stated, seemingly accurately, that this was also the beginning of time, matter, energy and even of the physical laws, as we know them. God’s word provides little or no information concerning God prior to the creation of the physical universe and the angelic beings, which were created before humans. Anything that may have happened before is irrelevant for us. However, His word does inform us what God will do in the future:
“there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5).
Believers will reign with God forever in the future.

Here are a few of the many verses in the Bible that indicate God is good:
·         “The Lord is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting” (Jeremiah 33:11)
·         “Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good” (Psalm 135:3)
·         “O taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8)
·         “The Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting” (Psalm 100:5)
·         “The Lord is good to all and His mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:9)
·         “The lovingkindness of God endures all day long” (Psalm 52:1).
·         “the kindness of God leads you to repentance” (Romans 2:4)

OK, so the Bible states the Lord is good, but is He good to everyone? And, is He good all the time? No, He is not good to everyone. As with most topics, accurate Biblical interpretation demands that we understand individual verses in relation to the context of the entire Bible. For example, God was not good to Pharoah during the time of Moses. God was not good to Goliath, and so on. He is a good God and, in fact, takes great delight in demonstrating His lovingkindness:
“The Lord … delights in the prosperity of His servant” (Psalm 35:27).
But, not toward someone who is in willful rebellion against Him:
“If you will not listen to the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the command of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you” (1 Samuel 12:15).
God is very good to those who love Him, but not to those who rebel against Him.

·         “God is just” (Job 5:1)
·         “the justice of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 33:21)
·         “your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9)
·         Jesus said, “My judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will, but the will of Him who sent me” (John 5:30).
·         “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

The Hebrew word used for “just” is saddiq or tsaddiyq (Strong’s 6662), which means “righteous, upright, just, innocent; in accordance with a proper (God’s) standard, and so implying innocence”.[1] The Greek word dikaios (Strong’s 1342) is used for “just” about 79 times in the New Testament, usually to indicate “righteous”. Strong’s states:
“right, righteous, upright; in the NT this refers to God’s proper standards and actions, expressed in the covenants”.[2]

This is an easy one, since everyone knows He is a God of love. The Bible states, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). One of the greatest verses indicating His love is Romans 5:8:
·         “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
And another:
·         “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

But, it gets a little more complicated when we ask if God loves everyone or if He loves some people more than others. If He loves all the same, what about mass murderers, Adolf Hitler, an ex-boyfriend or ex-wife? A key question in John 15:13 is who His friends are. Jesus stated explicitly in the next verse:  “You are my friends if you do what I command you”.
And, as we know, John 3:16 states:
            “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son”.
The second half of that verse informs us this love will not benefit those who do not believe:
“that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life”.
God’s love is available for all people, but not all choose to receive that love.

·         “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious” (Psalm 86:15)
·         “the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful” (James 5:11)
·         “The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness” (Psalm 145:8)
·         "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36)
·         “I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12)

The same issue is raised here as with God’s goodness:  Is He merciful to everyone? Again, the answer is no. “His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him” (Luke 1:50) and “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). God’s mercy is available to those who fear Him and are willing to pass on that mercy to others. Fortunately for us, He would much rather show mercy than judgment.

The Bible indicates that God is all-powerful and able to do whatever He wishes.
·         “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns” (Revelation 19:6)
·         “With God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26)
·         “Lord God! Behold, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for you” (Jeremiah 32:17)
And, in the NASB version, the word “Almighty” is used of God 58 times.

Someone might ask, if God is all-powerful, can He make a rock so big that He cannot lift it? Or, is there something else God cannot do, such as cease to exist? On their face, these seem to be ridiculous questions. But, there are some things God cannot do - not because He is unable, but because they are contrary to His nature and He will not do them. For example, God will not sin, will not cease to exist, will not act unjustly, and so on. As Peter Kreeft, Professor of Philosophy at Boston College, has stated:
“What does it mean when we say that God is all-powerful … That means he can do everything that is meaningful, everything that is possible, everything that makes any sense at all. God cannot make himself to cease to exist. He cannot make good evil.”
“Precisely because he is all powerful, he can’t do some things. He can’t make mistakes. Only weak and stupid beings make mistakes.”[3]

[Biblical quotations are from the NASB version.]

[1] James Strong, John Kohlenberger, and James Swanson, The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2001), 1557.
[2] Ibid, 1603.
[3]Strobel, 37. 

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