An Essay on Divine Attributes

 

attributesQueuing off of my post from late last week, I looked back through some of my old college/seminary writing. I found an Essay I wrote on Divine Attributes and thought I would share it with you (with minor editing). I wrote this essay for a Theology class back in 2007. Enjoy!

An Essay on Divine Attributes

When we look at the attributes of God we must first look at what we bring to the table. Often, we are not aware that we come to the text with “alien norms” or pre conceived notions.

Feuerbach’s Critique was that all religion is a projection into the metaphysical realm of our highest dreams and fantasies and makes a god of our choosing. [1] This happens when people bring meaning to the words of the text that would not have been there in the original writings. We all do this to some degree, typically unconsciously. However, if we are unaware that we have preconceived notions about God then when we look at the Bible, we begin to create our own god. This should not be! God should be discovered on his own terms not by what we bring to the text. Those who are not aware that they bring something to the Bible are susceptible to its misinterpretation.

The attributes of God can be put into two categories: Communicable and Non-Communicable. These categories are not absolute, but they are helpful. The Non-Communicable attributes are those attributes that God does not share with other beings, they belong exclusively to Him. They include God’s Eternity, Immutability, Omni Characteristics, and Aseity. His Communicable attributes are those attributes that God shares and insists that we seek. Included in this category are Love, Knowledge, and Mercy. Finally I will discuss God’s Impassability.

All of God’s attributes are equal. At no time can we place one above or against another. Interestingly the further left one travels on their doctrinal prospective, the less interest one will find in the Non-Communicable attributes of God.

Non-communicable Attributes

Eternality

God is God forever. God’s Eternality is not a characteristic of Humanity. This attribute, among others, sets him apart from all things. Eternity is something that is a divine blessing bestowed on humanity from God.

Immutability

God is Immutable or Unchanging. We find this attribute clearly defined throughout Scripture.

“In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”

Psalm 102:25-27

In this passage the Psalmist compares those things in the earth that are seen as permanent with the actual permanence of God. In this comparison earthy things are volatile and temporal compared to an immutable God. Those things are here today and gone tomorrow.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

James 1:17

Since good gifts are coming down always we can expect that they will continue to come down in the future. He has been the source of all good gifts and will remain the source of all good gifts because He does not change.

Be careful not to forget the covenant of the LORD your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the LORD your God has forbidden.

Deuteronomy 4:23

We cannot forget those things that God has done for us and those things that God has called us to. When we forget that we all struggle with the issue of idolatry. We begin to look toward other places to find what only God can give. This is an insult to God. He has not changed from when we first began to follow him. Also, he will not change in the future so that we would want to stop following him. He is what he is now and will be that forever.

There is an argument that goes something like, “But in the Bible it says, ‘God repented/ regretted.’” It is true that the Bible does say that. However, the language used in theses instances is Anthropomorphic Language. It is like a parent using language to explain to a child something complex in words that the child will be able to understand. There is also a sense in most of these situations where God provides an “if” clause. This is seen clearly in the case of Jonah where we see that if the Ninevites repent then they will avoid the destruction that is to come.

Omni Characteristics

God has three Omni Characteristics: Omnipresent, Omnipotent, and Omniscient.

Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the LORD. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD.

Jeremiah 23:24

Here is shown that God is not limited to one space. The predominant thought of the day was that God was only in “this” space. However, we find that this line of thinking was just not true. God’s Omnipresence is seen as Companionship in the Great Commission when Jesus says, “I will be with you always even to the end of the age.”

Omnipotence is defined as the ability of God to do all things consistently with his character, or that God is not limited in any of his attributes by anything outside of Himself. The only restriction to His power is that He cannot deny Himself. He will not do anything that is inconsistent with His own character. This however, is not ‘really’ a restriction. God is not bound to do certain things, but is free to carry out everything that He purposes. There is no barrier to obstruct his way. Divine Omnipotence does not allow for any resistance to God’s will. At the same time, free will and divine omnipotence are not at odds with one another. God has purposed them both.

Omniscience is God’s knowledge of all things. We have some degree of this attribute but not to the “Omni” level.

Aseity

God is altogether independent according to the doctrine of His Aseity. He lives and survives from nothing outside of Himself and creates from nothing but himself. Acts 17:24-25 shows us that God does not need humans, but that humans are in desperate need of God.

The God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things.

Acts 17:24-25

Job 41 and Psalm 50 tell us that God owns everything in all of creation.

God did not create us because He was lonely but because He was free too. We can understand from this that grace was not a fallback position when works didn’t fly. We were created to be totally dependent upon God, by grace through faith from the beginning. God is dependent upon us to make him who he is.

From the beginning paradise was characterized by permission (you may freely eat of all the trees, Genesis2:16) not prohibition. Ultimately, God requires faith in Him as Creator and Redeemer. Without faith in both aspects of God’s character we have an incomplete faith. In light of ‘the fall of man,’ the redeemer quality of his character is shown–and God can be worshipped for both qualities.

This topic, as do many of the topics in Theology end with a discussion of Free Will. This however is not the aim of the topic discussed in this essay. I will however note that God gets done whatever he needs to get done to accomplish his will. However, He is able to accomplish this without compromising the free will of humanity to do so.

Impassibility

Finally, God’s Impassibility. This comes from the doctrine of Immutability. However this does not necessitate that He changes. Mostly we see the problem in conjunction with the theology of the cross. Concerning Jesus on the cross we find that in His incarnate state, Jesus suspends the continuous use of the prerogatives of his deity for the sake of his redeeming qualities. God is not surprised, he is not at the mercy of anything outside of himself, and he is not ‘overwhelmed’ by emotion.

Communicable Attributes

While we do not share the majority of the attributes of God, there are some that he wants us to seek and share with him–His love, knowledge (not to the omni degree), and mercy. These are all attributes that the New Testament writers consistently encourage us to attain to, grow in, or lavish on others.

 

 

[1] https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ludwig-feuerbach/

 

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