Evaluation of the Terms Used
The name ‘attributes’ is not ideal, since it conveys the notion of adding or assigning something to someone and is therefore apt to create the impression that something is added to the Devine Being. Undoubtedly, the term ‘properties’ is better as it points to something that is proper to God and to god only. But even this term contains the suggestion or a distinction between the essence or nature of God and that which is proper to it. On the whole it is preferable to speak of the perfections or virtues of God. If we still continue to use the name ‘attributes’, it is because it is commonly used and with the distinct understanding that the notion of something added to the /being of God must be rigidly excluded.
Methods of Determining the Attributes of God
The only proper way to obtain perfectly reliable knowledge of the Divine Attributes is by the study of God’s self-revelation in Scripture. What Jesus teaches us about God is that God is a Spirit (John 4:24). What does it mean then, when it says in Genesis 1:27 that God created man in His own image? It means that man was created in truth, he was righteous, and he was holy.
It is true that we can acquire some knowledge of the greatness and power, the wisdom and goodness of God through the study of nature, but for an adequate conception of even these attributes it is necessary to turn to the Word of God. In the theology of Revelation, we seek to learn from the Word of God what the attributes of Divine Being are.
Suggested Divisions of the Attributes
The question of the classification of the Divine Attributes has engaged the attention of theologians for a long time. Several classifications have been suggested, most of which have been designed by different names and represent different points of views, but are substantially the same in the various classifications. The following are the most important of them.
Natural and Moral Attributes
Some speak of natural and moral attributes. The former includes Self-Existence (Psalm 102:24-27). Infinity and Eternity which belong to the constitutional nature of God as distinguished from His will (Psalm 90:2-4; Romans 1:20). When we speak of such attributes such as Truth, Goodness, Mercy, Justice and Holiness, they qualify God as a moral Being.
1. God is Eternal
When we speak of eternal we mean there is no beginning or end. God is the Everlasting One. He has always been and will always be. There never was a time when God was not. Isaiah writes:
‘Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me (Isaiah 43:10)
The Psalmist says of God:
From everlasting to everlasting thou are God – Psalm 90:3
The following statements testify to the eternal existence of God:
a) I AM that I AM – Exodus 3:14
b) The Everlasting God – Genesis 21:33
c) In the beginning God – Genesis 1: 1; John 1:1; Hebrews 1:10
d) Thy years are throughout all generations – Psalm 102:24
e) The Lord of Hosts, he is the First and the Last – Isaiah 44:6
f) The High and Holy One inhabits eternity –Isaiah 57:15
g) The Eternal God is our refuge – Deuteronomy 33:27
h) The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the ending – Revelation 1:8
i) The King Eternal – 1 Timothy 1:17
Although the saints receive eternal life and will live forever, as God, such eternal life is given by God. Eternity of being can never be ascribed to man, as it is only an essential attribute of God.
2. God is Self Existent
God does not owe His existence to any one neither does He depend on any other person/thing to sustain Him. He exists all by Himself. He is the source of all life and His life is inexhaustible. He is therefore independent of all outside of Himself. This quality does not apply to man because he is dependent on God for his origin, life and continued existence.
The following Scriptures convey the truth of God’s existence:
a) I AM that I AM - Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 41:4
b) I am Jehovah, that is My Name – Exodus 3:14-15; 6:3
c) In Him is life – John 1:4
d) With Thee is the fountain of life –Psalm 36:9
e) He is King eternal, immortal, invisible – 1 Timothy 1:17
f) He who has the Son has life, for God has given eternal life and this life is in the Son – 1 John 5: 11-13
g) He is the living God – Joshua 3:10; Psalm 84:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:9
3. God is immutable
By god’s immutability is meant that He is unchanging and unchangeable as to His character. In His natural and moral attributes, He is unchanging. In all of His perfections, He cannot change. The following Scriptures give witness to this fact.
a) … and there is no variableness nor shadow of turning with Him – Psalm 33:11; James 1:17
b) He is the same yesterday, today and forever – Psalm 102:7; Hebrews 1:12; 13:8
c) I am the Lord, I change not – Malachi 3:6
d) The Strength of Israel will not repent – Numbers 23:18; 1 Samuel 15:29; Romans 11:29
e) God’s purposes, plans and power change not – Isaiah 46:10; Romans 4:20-21
Although God’s actions and dealings with man vary or change, God in His natural and moral attributes never changes. Man, on the other hand, must change in order to be what God intends him to be.
4. God is Omniscient
By Omniscient is meant that God knows all things and is absolutely perfect in knowledge.
Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? (Job 11:7-8)
No, such is beyond their human, finite knowledge.
How, unsearchable are His Judgements and His ways past finding out (Romans 11:33)
His knowledge is absolutely comprehensive: The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch upon the evil and the good (Proverbs 15:3)
God has perfect knowledge of all this is in nature: He tell the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names (Psalm 147:4)
God has perfect knowledge of all that transpires in human experience: Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thoughts afar off (Psalm 139:24)
He has perfect knowledge of all that transpires in human history: Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world (ages) (Acts 15:18)
He knows from eternity to Eternity what will take place: We are like a man standing by a river in a low place, and who, consequently, can see that part of the river only that passes by him; but he who is aloof in the air may see the whole course of the river, how it rises, how it runs. Thus it is with God ( ref: Isaiah 48:5-8)
5. God is Omnipotent
God’s power admits to no bounds or limitations (Job 42:2)
God’s power in the world of nature: The Mountains quake at Him … the hills melt … the earth is burned at His presence … the rocks are thrown down by Him (Nahum 1:5-6)
Everything in the sky, in the sea and on the earth is absolutely subject to His control.
God’s power in the experience of mankind: All human actions, whether present or future, are dependent upon the will and power of God (ref: Nebuchadnezzar)
The heavenly inhabitants are subject to His will and His Word (Daniel 4:35; Hebrews 1:13-140)
Satan is under His control: (Reference the experiences of job 1:12-2:6)
6. God is Omnipresent
By the omnipresence of God is meant that God is everywhere present. He is everywhere and in every place. His centre is everywhere; His circumference is nowhere. This presence is spiritual and not material yet it is a real presence (1 Kings8:30; Psalm 139:7-12; Jeremiah 23: 23-24; Revelation 21:2)
THE MORAL ATTRIBUTES OF GOD
1. God is Holy
The holiness of God is the one attribute which God would have His people remember Him by more than any other. The holiness of God is the message of the entire Old Testament. To the prophets, God was absolutely the Holy One; the One with eyes too pure to behold evil (Habakkuk 1:13). It is His holiness by which He desires to be remembered as this is the attribute which glorifies Him most.
There is absolutely nothing unholy in Him. The cross shows how much God loves holiness. The cross stands for God’s holiness even above His love. For Christ died not merely for our sins, but in order that He might provide us with that righteousness of life which God loves.
2. The Righteousness and Justice of God
Whilst holiness deals with the character of God in itself, righteousness and justice deal with the character expressed in the dealings of God toward mankind. Justice as an attribute of God is devoid of all passion or caprice; it is indicative and not vindictive.
Psalm 145:7 The Lord is righteous in all His ways and holy in all His works
The righteousness and justice of God are revealed in the punishment of the wicked: Psalm11:4-7 The Lord is in His holy temple… His eyes behold, His eyelids try the children of men… Upon the wicked shall He rain snares, fire and brimstone and an horrible tempest…
Men may reign upon the earth and do wickedly but God reigns from heaven and will do right. In Exodus 9:23-27 we find Pharaoh acknowledging the perfect justice of God in punishing him for his sin and rebellion. How careful sinners ought to be not to fall into the hands of the Righteous Judge. No sinner will be able to say ‘I did not deserve this punishment’.
The righteousness and justice of God are revealed in the forgiveness of sins of the penitent: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Here we are assured that if we confess our sins, the righteousness and justice of God are our guarantee for forgiveness.
The righteousness and justice of God are revealed in keeping His Word to His Children: Nehemiah 9:7-8 Thou are the Lord the God, who didst choose Abram… and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites…. To his seed and has performed thy words for thou art righteous.
The righteousness and justice of God are revealed in showing Himself to be the vindicator of His people from all their enemies: Psalm 129:1-4 Many a time have they afflicted me… The Lord is righteous: He hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked. Even in this life God will give us rest from our enemies; and there shall assuredly come a day when we shall be where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.
The righteous and justice of God are revealed in the rewarding of the righteous: The Righteous Judge will not allow the faithful believer to go unrewarded. The Righteousness of God is the guarantee of all this (Hebrews 6:10)
3. The mercy and Loving-kindness of God
By these attributes is meant the kindness, goodness and compassion of God and the love of God in relation to both the obedient and the disobedient. Mercy is usually exercised in connection with guilt (ref woman caught in Adultery). Loving-kindness is that attribute of God which leads Him to bestow upon His obedient children His constant and choice blessings.
Instead of inflicting pain, poverty and death which are the wages of sin; God has spared our lives, given us health and life, increased our blessings and comforts us (ref Psalm 103:8)
God is merciful towards sinners (Matthew 5:45). Here, the impenitent and hard hearted are the recipients of Gods mercy. Other references Nehemiah 9:31 and 2 Peter 3:9
God extends His loving-kindness towards the Saints.
The moment I throw myself on God, I am enveloped in His mercy, mercy is my environment, like a fiery wall it surrounds me, with no break through which evil can creep.
4. The Love of God
Christianity is the only religion that sets forth the Supreme Being as love. The gods of the heathen are angry, hateful beings, and are in constant need of appeasing. The nature of God is to love. It appears from certain Scriptures (John 3:16; 1John 3:16) that the love of God is of such a nature that it betokens a constant interest in the physical and spiritual welfare of His creatures to lead Him to make sacrifices beyond human conception to reveal that love.
If the love of God is eternal, as is the nature of God, then that love must have had an eternal object to love. So Christ, in addressing the Father says: Thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world (John 17:24)
As believers, we are not on the outskirts of God’s love, but in its very midst (Ref Romans 5:8). This is wonderful when we begin to realise the state of sin the world is in. The love of God is broader than the measure of man’s mind.
God desires the salvation of all men ( 1 Timothy 2:4). God’s love is revealed in making the infinite sacrifice for the salvation of men (1 John 4:9-10)
Love is more than compassion; it hides not itself as compassion may do, but displays itself actively on behalf of its object. The Cross of Calvary is the highest expression of the love of God for a sinful man. He gave not only a son, but His only Son, His well beloved.