GOD - Bridgeway Bible DictionaryThe Bible makes no attempt to prove the existence of God, but assumes it from the outset (Gen 1:1). This God is neither an impersonal ‘force’ nor an abstract ‘principle’ but a living person, and people find true meaning to existence by coming into a living relationship with him (Joh 17:3).
The personal God revealed
As people observe the physical world, they may conclude that there is an intelligent and powerful God who is the ultimate cause and controller of all things (Act 17:23-27; Rom 1:19-20; Heb 3:4; see CREATION). As they reflect upon their awareness of right and wrong, they may conclude that there is a moral God to whom all rational creatures are answerable (Act 17:23; Rom 2:15-16). However, God has not left people with only a vague or general knowledge of himself. He has revealed himself more fully through history, and he has recorded that revelation in the Bible (Jer 1:1-3; 2Pe 1:21; see REVELATION). The central truth of that revelation is that there is only one God (Deu 6:4; Isa 44:6; Jer 10:10; Mar 12:29; 1Th 1:9; 1Ti 2:5), though he exists in the form of a trinity (see TRINITY).
In any study of the character of God, we must bear in mind that God is a unified personality. He is not made up of different parts, nor can he be divided into different parts. Also, he is not simply a person who has certain qualities (e.g. goodness, truth, love, holiness, wisdom) but he is the full expression of these qualities. The Bible’s way of putting this truth into words is to say that God is love, he is light, he is truth (Joh 14:6; 1Jn 1:5; 1Jn 4:16; see LOVE; LIGHT; TRUTH). (In the present article many of the qualities, or attributes, of God can be mentioned only briefly. For fuller details see the separate articles as indicated.)
Eternal and independent
Since it is impossible to give a complete definition or description of God, the Bible makes no attempt to do so. In addition, it forbids the use of anything in nature or anything made by human hands as a physical image of God, for such things can lead only to wrong ideas about God (Exo 20:4-5; Deu 4:15-19; see IDOL, IDOLATRY).
When Moses asked for a name of God that would give the Israelites some idea of his character, the name that God revealed to him was ‘I am who I am’ (Exo 3:14). The name was given not to satisfy curiosity, but to tell God’s people that their God was independent, eternal, unchangeable and able always to do what he, in his absolute wisdom, knew to be best. (Concerning this and other names of God see YAHWEH.)
God’s existence cannot be measured according to time, for he is without beginning and without end. He is eternal (Psa 90:2; Isa 48:12; Joh 5:26; Rom 1:23; Rom 16:26; 1Ti 1:17; Rev 1:8; Rev 4:8; see ETERNITY). He is answerable to no one. He does not need to give reasons for his decisions or explanations of his actions (Psa 115:3; Isa 40:13-14; Dan 4:35; Act 4:28; Rom 9:20-24), though in his grace he may sometimes do so (Gen 18:17-19; Eph 1:9). His wisdom is infinite and therefore beyond human understanding (Psa 147:5; Isa 40:28; Dan 2:20; Rom 11:33; Rom 16:27; see WISDOM).
A God who is infinite has no needs. Nothing in the works of creation or in the activities of humans or angels can add anything to him or take anything from him (Psa 50:10-13; Act 17:24-25; Rom 11:36). He is under obligation to no one, he needs no one, and he depends on no one. Whatever he does, he does because he chooses to, not because he is required to (Eph 1:11). But, again in his grace, he may choose people to have the honour of serving him (Psa 105:26-27; Act 9:15).
Majestic and sovereign
As the creator and ruler of all things, God is pictured as enthroned in majesty in the heavens (Psa 47:7; Psa 93:1-2; Psa 95:3-5; Heb 1:3; see GLORY). Nothing can compare with his mighty power (Isa 40:12-15; Isa 40:25-26; Jer 32:17; Rom 1:20; Eph 1:19-20; Eph 3:20; see POWER).
God is the possessor of absolute authority and nothing can exist independently of it (Psa 2:1-6; Isa 2:10-12; Isa 2:20-22; Isa 40:23; see AUTHORITY). He maintains the whole creation (Psa 147:8-9; Mat 5:45; Col 1:17), he controls all life (Deu 7:15; Deu 28:60; Job 1:21; Psa 104:29-30; Mat 10:29) and he directs all events, small and great, towards the goals that he has determined (Gen 45:5-8; Psa 135:6 : Pro 16:33; Isa 10:5-7; Isa 44:24-28; Isa 46:9-11; Amo 3:6; Amo 4:6-11; Joh 11:49-53; Act 2:23; Act 17:26; Rom 8:28; Eph 1:11; see PREDESTINATION; PROVIDENCE). Yet people have the freedom to make their own decisions, and they are responsible for those decisions (Deu 30:15-20; Isa 1:16-20; Mat 27:21-26; Rom 9:30-32).
There are no limits to God’s knowledge or presence. This is a cause for both fear and joy: fear, because it means that no sin can escape him; joy, because it means that no one who trusts in his mercy can ever be separated from him (Psa 139:1-12; Pro 15:3; Isa 40:27-28; Isa 57:15; Jer 23:24; Heb 4:13). God is not only over all things, but is also in all things (Act 17:24; Act 17:27-28; Eph 4:6).
Since God is sovereign, people must submit to him and obey him. Refusing to do this, they rebel against him. They want to be independent, but instead they become slaves of sin (Gen 3:1-7; Joh 8:34; see SIN). They cannot escape God’s judgment through anything they themselves might do. They can do nothing but repent of their rebellion and surrender before the sovereign God, trusting solely in his grace for forgiveness (Act 17:30-31; Eph 2:8; see GRACE).
The rebellion of sinners, though in opposition to God, does not destroy God’s sovereignty. God allows evil to happen, but he never allows it to go beyond the bounds that he has determined (Job 1:12; see EVIL; SATAN). God still works according to his purposes, for his own glory. He still causes to happen whatever does happen, even to the salvation of rebellious sinners (Isa 14:24; Isa 37:26; Mat 25:34; Act 2:23; Eph 1:5; Eph 3:20; see ELECTION).
Invisible yet personal
From the above it is clear that God is not an impersonal ‘force’, but a personal being. He has knowledge, power, will and feelings. Human beings also have knowledge, power, will and feelings, but that does not mean that God is like a human being (Hos 11:9). On the contrary, human beings have these attributes only because God has them; for they have been made in God’s image (Gen 1:26; see IMAGE).
Being spirit, God is invisible (Joh 4:24; Rom 1:20; 1Ti 1:17; Heb 11:27). Since human language cannot properly describe a person who has no physical form, the Bible has to use pictures and comparisons when speaking of God. It may speak of God as if he has human features, functions and emotions, but such expressions should not be understood literally (Gen 2:2; Num 12:8; Deu 29:20; Deu 33:27; Psa 2:4; Joh 10:29; Heb 4:13).
Not only is God a person, but believers are so aware of a personal relationship with him that they can collectively call him ‘our God’ and individually ‘my God’ (Act 2:39; Php 4:19). They have an increased appreciation of God’s character through their understanding of Jesus Christ; because, in the person of Jesus Christ, God took upon himself human form and lived in the world he had created (Joh 1:14; Joh 1:18; Joh 14:9; Col 1:15; see JESUS CHRIST). God is the Father of Jesus Christ (Mar 14:36; Joh 5:18; Joh 8:54) and through Jesus Christ he becomes the Father of all who believe (Rom 8:15-17; see FATHER).
Unchangeable yet responsive
Although God is personal, he is unchangeable. Everything in creation changes, but the Creator never changes (Psa 33:11; Mal 3:6; Heb 1:10-12; 1Pe 1:24). This does not mean that God is mechanical, that he has no emotions, or that he is the helpless prisoner of his own laws. What it means may be summarized from two aspects.
Firstly, the unchangeability of God means that, because he is infinite, there is no way in which any of his attributes can become greater or less. They cannot change for either better or worse. God can neither increase nor decrease in knowledge, love, righteousness, truth, wisdom or justice, because he possesses these attributes in perfection (Exo 34:6-7).
Secondly, God’s unchangeability means that he is consistent in all his dealings. His standards do not change according to varying emotions or circumstances as do the standards of human beings. His love is always perfect love, his righteousness is always perfect righteousness (Heb 6:17-18; Jam 1:17). God’s unchangeable nature guarantees that every action of his is righteous, wise and true.
We must not understand God’s unchangeability to mean that he is unmoved by human suffering on the one hand or human rebellion on the other. In his mercy he may have compassion on the weak, and in his wrath he may punish the guilty (Exo 2:23-25; Exo 32:9-10; Jam 5:4; 1Pe 3:12). He may change his treatment of people from blessing to judgment when they rebel (Gen 6:6-7; 1Sa 15:11; 1Sa 15:23) or from judgment to blessing when they repent (Joe 2:13-14; Jon 3:10).
This does not mean that events take God by surprise and he has to revise his plans. He always knows the end from the beginning, and he always bases his plans on his perfect knowledge and wisdom (Num 23:19; 1Sa 15:29; Isa 14:24; Isa 46:9-10; Rom 11:29).
Righteous yet loving
When the Bible speaks of God as holy, the emphasis is not so much on his sinlessness and purity as on his ‘separateness’ from all other things. A thing that was holy, in the biblical sense, was a thing that was set apart from the common affairs of life and consecrated entirely to God. God is holy as the supreme and majestic one who exists apart from all else and rules over all (Exo 15:11; Isa 40:25; Joh 17:11; Rev 4:8-9; Rev 15:4; see HOLINESS). Any vision of such a holy God overpowers the worshipper with feelings of awe, terror and unworthiness (Job 40:1-4; Isa 6:1-5; Hab 3:3; Hab 3:16; Rev 1:17).
Since holiness means separation from all that is common, it includes separation from sin. Therefore, God’s holiness includes his moral perfection. He is separate from evil and opposed to it (Hab 1:12-13). The Bible usually speaks of this moral holiness of God as his righteousness (Psa 11:7; Psa 36:6; Isa 5:16; Heb 1:9; 1Jn 3:7; see RIGHTEOUSNESS). God’s attitude to sin is one of wrath, or righteous anger. He cannot ignore sin but must deal with it (Psa 9:8; Isa 11:4-5; Jer 30:23-24; Rom 1:18; Rom 2:8; see WRATH; JUDGMENT).
But God is also a God of love, grace, mercy and longsuffering, and he wants to forgive repentant sinners (Psa 86:5; Psa 145:8-9; Rom 2:4; Tit 3:4; 2Pe 3:9; 1Jn 4:16; see LOVE; PATIENCE). His love is not in conflict with his righteousness. The two exist in perfect harmony. Because he loves, he acts righteously, and because his righteous demands against sin are met, his love forgives. All this is possible only because of what Jesus Christ has done on behalf of sinners (Rom 3:24; see PROPITIATION). The God who is the sinners’ judge is also the sinners’ saviour (Psa 34:18; Psa 50:1-4; 1Ti 2:3; 2Ti 4:18; Tit 3:4-7; see SALVATION).
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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary
© Don Fleming 1990, 1999, 2004
First published 1990 as Bridge Bible Directory - Reprinted 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997
First published as Bridge Bible Dictionary 1999 - First published as Bridgeway Bible Dictionary 2004
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