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Who is God and Why Should I Care

Who or what do you conceive God to be?

The main qualities or characteristics we ascribe to God are called His attributes. 

God's attributes are not of concern to theologians alone. Every person's concept of God is bound to influence his or her life and decisions. For instance, if you are completely convinced that God is omniscient (knows all things perfectly), then you are more likely to follow scriptural guidelines for living than if you thought that God was wise, but limited, and therefore human beings must decide moral issues as best they can.

In every way, what you and I think of God is going to shape the way we live our daily lives. 

While some of God's qualities are similar to human qualities (God has emotions, thinks, decides, and acts), other qualities have no analogy in the human personality (God is sovereign). Yet each of the major characteristics of God does have practical implications for you and me.

What are the major characteristics? The lists that we find in Christian writing through the ages differ, but most Christians would include qualities like the following: God is personal. God thinks, chooses, loves, and hates.

We, too, have the capacity of thought, will, and emotions, and so we have a basis for understanding some things about the nature of God. But while God shares personhood with us, His thoughts, His will, His love, and His hatred are not exactly like ours.

Through Isaiah, God reminds His people:
"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are My ways your ways… For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts." --Isaiah 55:8

Yet the fact that God is a person reassures us. God is no impersonal force, no abstract architect, no logical first cause so vastly different from us that we have no basis for any relationship. No, God is a person who understands our thoughts, feelings, and struggles to choose; He can relate to us on every level of our own personalities. But we must always remember that God remains the standard against which to judge our thoughts, emotions, and choices; we must resist the temptation to judge God by human thoughts and ways.

God is moral. 

God possesses all the moral virtues. At times, some of the virtues that mark His character are listed as separate attributes by theologians. However we list them, we can not think correctly about God unless we accept the Bible's description of Him: loving, good, holy, righteous, forgiving, truthful, and faithful. While you and I can be merciful, truthful, and compassionate, for example, only God is perfectly good, and only God's actions are untarnished by sin.

Unlike our love, God's love never fails. Unlike our forgiveness, God's forgiveness erases even the remembrance of sin. While God's holiness generates a wrath that focuses on sin and sinner, His anger is never spiteful or arbitrary, and in wrath God always remembers mercy. Only God, who is perfect, can be both wholly loving and angry at the same moment.

Each of these qualities is central to our Christian understanding of both God and morality. Each is deeply imbedded in God's revelation of His will for His people. Each is reflected in our convictions about how human beings ought to live with one another. Because God is truly moral, we can confidently trust ourselves to Him. And because God is truly moral, we who are His children can "be imitators of God… and walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and has given Himself up for us" (Eph. 5:1).

God is sovereign

To acknowledge God as sovereign is to recognize Him as supreme ruler of the universe. Ephesians 1:11 puts it powerfully: God is the One who "works all things according to the counsel of His will." To affirm God's sovereignty is to acknowledge that our universe and our individual lives have meaning and purpose.

While God does not act arbitrarily to exert His control of events, we believe that through the out-working of the physical and moral laws God designed, as well as by supernatural interventions, God is working out His entire complex plan in history. A passage that exalts God as sovereign helps us sense how wonderful it is to have a relationship to One who is truly in control of all things.

Isaiah cries out to Judah, encouraging God's people not to be afraid but to catch a vision of God:

"Behold, the Lord God shall come with a strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him; Behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him. He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young." --(Is. 40:10-11)

How wonderful to realize that the God who is the actual ruler of our universe stoops to use His power to care for His beloved own.

God is unlimited. 

Many of God's attributes have no corollary in human experience. We can only begin to grasp their meaning by contrast. We human beings are finite, limited to a single place and time, limited in our knowledge and our power. But God is unlimited in all these dimensions. Theologians speak of God as omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent.

God is omniscient; 

He knows everything. He knows every fact, every thought and every motive in every human heart. God knows the past and the future as well as He knows the present. There are no limitations to God's full knowledge of all things.

God is omnipresent; 

He is present everywhere. God's presence cannot be localized as ours necessarily is. Pantheism assumes that part of God is in every material thing-rocks, trees, people. But the Christian knows a God who is above nature, yet fully present at every location in the physical universe.

David, filled with wonder at the unlimited nature of God, pauses to express his thoughts:

"Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
and dwell in the uttermost part of the sea,
even there Your hand will lead me,
and Your right hand shall hold me."
Ps. 139:7-10

Because God is everywhere present, He is with you and me always, whether our moments are dark or light.

God is omnipotent; 

He is all-powerful. God's power and ability to act are limited only by His own character. No one and nothing outside Himself can place limits on the Lord; He is able to do whatever He pleases. But it is important to realize that God limits Himself by His moral character; He pleases to do only what is good and right. God cannot sin, because His character is so perfectly holy that He would never choose to sin. But whatever God might choose to do, He can do.

Isaiah puts into beautiful perspective the meaning of this quality:

The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.

God is eternal.
God is independent of time. A psalm of Moses puts it this way:

"Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God" (Psalm 90:2).

The eternity of God affirms that God has always existed and always will exist. While He is the source of all things, He Himself has no source. The eternity of God holds an exciting promise for us. When God offers us eternal life in Jesus, He holds out the promise of an endless existence rich with those same qualities that make His own life so rich and full.

God is free

God's freedom is seen in that He acts spontaneously, unrestricted by any consideration other than His own character and will. God's decision to save is a free choice, which does not grow out of any obligation to humanity. As a free choice, God's willingness to aid human beings who have become enemies is a demonstration of pure grace. All He has done for us is done out of His love and compassion.

Closely associated with this concept is the traditional idea of God's immutability. God does not change, and His essential character is not affected by events in this world of time and space. We can count on God to continue forever to be the kind of person that He is.

How are we so sure that God has these attributes? Basically because we are convinced that God has spoken and that He has revealed Himself to us. It is by God's initiative and not through speculative imagination that our concept of God has grown and taken clearer form. The God of the Bible is the one true God, and this God is personal, moral, sovereign, eternal, unlimited, and free.


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