The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. –Acts 17:24-25
All that is in God is God. . . . He is the lone worthy object of all our worship and gratitude. All things look ultimately to Him for their being, but He looks to none. –Stephen Charnock
I am half-way through my annual summer book study that I have facilitated now for ten years. This year our group is walking through A.W. Tozer’s classic study entitled The Knowledge of the Holy. In this work Tozer tackles some of the attributes of God, helping the reader consider and ponder upon the infinite greatness of our God. And there is a reason to do so, Tozer claims, stating that “the low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us… low views of God destroy the gospel for all those who hold them.” I agree with Tozer.
What we think about and believe when we consider God and who he has revealed himself to be is the most important thing about us. Although we, as finite (created) human beings, cannot plumb the depths of the infinite (uncreated) God, we can know things about him. In fact, he directly invites us to learn (and thus know) things about him in his word (Jer. 29:13; Acts 17:27). This is what Tozer is helping us to do in his book, and what those who are gathering together early on Tuesday mornings this month are hoping to attain.
In last Sunday’s message from 1 John 4:7-12 we considered the apostle John’s words: “God is love.” As I tried to expound upon that truth I was careful to remind us that, although love is one of God’s attributes, it is not the summation of who God is, nor does his love trump all other attributes that serve as an expression of who God is. Some still left confused, however. That may be because the text of Scripture under review is not easy to understand in full, or because I did not explain it well, or both. My point in that portion of the message was to remind us that God is what John says he is - he is love. Love comes from God. Love is not a part of God - love is God. It is one of many attributes by which we come to understand God’s being, inasmuch as finite beings can do so.
God is love. God is also light, and Spirit, and a consuming fire. The Scriptures tell us all four truths explicitly. We extrapolate from Scripture that God is also simple. Not simple as in “easy to grasp” or “slow-witted,” but simple as in “the opposite of compound.” In other words, God is not the sum total of parts. He is not the accumulation of all his attributes. I am the sum total of my parts, and so are you. I was created, as were you. If someone tells you that “Jym is nice” (which I hope people would say about me), they do not mean, “when you think of ‘nice’ that is Jym. Jym is the essence of nice. We know what nice means because we know Jym.” God is love, John tells us, and this is a profound reality. We know what love is because God is love. But God does not consist of love, nor does love define God’s totality. God is love, and God is holy, and just, and omniscient, and omnipresent, etc. He is these things, but he does not consist of these things, he simply is (Ex. 3:14).
Some were confused with my explanation of John’s statement, feeling that I implied that love is God’s true nature, while his wrath, justice, mercy, etc. are mere attributes. Nothing could be further from the truth. If I stated this reality in such a way that implied this misunderstanding, then I spoke poorly. Here’s how one theologian states it correctly (albeit deeply): “If God is composed of parts, like a body, or composed of genus (class) and differentiae (attributes of different species belonging to the same genus), substance and accidents, matter and form, potentiality and actuality, essence and existence, then his perfection, oneness, independence, and immutability cannot be maintained (Herman Bavinck - Reformed Dogmatics 2:176). In other words, God is not made up of different parts, or personality traits, or passed experiences, or concepts of self-worth (or anything else), like we are. He ISGod. He has never grown, or changed, or learned a single thing- he has always been the only perfect God.
God’s simplicity safeguards us against ranking certain attributes of his in some sort of pecking order. We cannot (and must not) take God’s attributes and attach them to him like a piece of baggage… “this is God, and God really loves a lot and like no other.” No, God IS love - it is what he is. God IS light - it is what he is, and so on.
Why does this matter? Why write an article about it? Because we should want to know God as God is, not as we assume he must be because it makes more sense to us. I tried to do that last Sunday and largely failed (not in total, I trust, but in expressing this truth plainly). So here’s my second whack at it. I hope I did better the second time around, and I hope we can all continue to grow in both our knowledge of, and love for, God.
Grace and peace,