Systematic Theology: The Character of God
Lecture Notes Chapter 12: Communicable Attributes (Part 1)
26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all,
27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God
How is God like us in his being and in mental and moral attributes?
Explanation and Scriptural Basis
In the two previous weeks we have spent our time discussing the incommunicable attributes of God which can essentially be described as those characteristics that God possesses but does not “share” with His creation. Now, we begin our crossing over into what is known as the communicable attributes of God which describe those characteristics that God “shares more” with creation versus His incommunicable attributes. However, it must be remembered that at some level even the communicable attributes of God are not applicable to humanity given the nature of who God is.
In this chapter, we will see five major categories each filled with wonderful truths describing God’s communicable attributes. We will study the following:
A. Attributes Describing God’s Being: Spirituality and Invisibility.
B. Mental Attributes: Knowledge (or Omniscience), Wisdom, and Truthfulness (and Faithfulness).
C. Moral Attributes: Goodness, Love, mercy (Grace, Patience), Holiness, Peace (or Order), Righteousness (or Justice), Jealousy, and Wrath.
D. Attributes of Purpose: Will, Freedom, and Omnipotence (or Power, and Sovereignty).
E. “Summary” Attributes: Perfection, Blessedness, Beauty, and Glory.
A. Attributes Describing God’s Being
People have often wondered how to speak of God, with an emphasis on the question of what God is made of. Is He made of flesh and blood like humans? Is God made of matter at all? Or is God pure energy? Or is He in some sense pure thought? The answer, however, must be sought within the boundaries of an authoritative source—the Bible. We read in the Gospel of John that:
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24).
Jesus makes this claim in the midst of conversation with the woman at the well in Samaria concerning the location where people should worship God. Jesus tells the woman that true worship of God does not require that one be present either in Jerusalem or in Samaria (John 4:21), for true worship has to do with one’s spiritual condition rather than physical location. This is because God is spirit and it signifies that God is in no way limited to a spatial location.
Thus, we should not think of God as having size or dimensions, even infinite ones. We should not think of God’s existence as spirit as meaning that God is infinitely large, for example, for it is not part of God but all of God that is in every point of space (Psalm 139:7-10). Nor should we think of God as being infinitely small, because there is no place in the universe that can contain Him (1 Kings 8:27).
Also, we find that God forbids His people to think of His very being as similar to anything else in the physical creation:
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous god, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:4-6).
The language in the commandment is a reminder that God’s being, His essential mode of existence, is different from everything that He has created. To think of His being in terms of anything else in the created universe is to misrepresent Him, to limit Him, to think of Him less than he really is (cf., Exodus 32—Calf).
Furthermore, God is not merely energy or thought or some other element of creation. He is not like vapor or steam or air or space, all of which are created things. In fact, God’s being is not even exactly like our own spirits, for they are created things that apparently are able to exist only in one place at one time.
Therefore, we may define God’s spirituality as the, “means that God exists as a being that is not made of any matter, has no parts or dimensions, is unable to be perceived by our bodily sense, and is more excellent than any other kind of existence.”
The facts remain, however, that God has given us spirits by which we worship him (1 Corinthians 14:14; Philippians 3:3), in which we are united with the Lord’s spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17), with which the Holy Spirit joins to bear witness to our adoption in God’s family (Romans 8:16), and in which we pass into the Lord’s presence when we die (Luke 23:46).
Directly related to God’s spirituality is the fact that God is invisible. God’s invisibility can be described by stating that, “God’s total essence, all of his spiritual being, will never be able to be seen by us, yet God still shows himself to us through visible, created things.” Many Scriptural passages speak to this:
No one has ever seen God (John 1:18a).
Not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father (John 6:46).
The King of kings and Lord of lords, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen (1 Timothy 6:15b-16).
However, we must remember that many of these passages were written after events and Scripture where people saw some outward manifestation of God. For example:
And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen” (Exodus 33:21-23).
And so, Scripture seems to indicate that there is a sense in which God could not be seen at all, but that there was also some outward form or manifestation of God which men could see. Therefore, we may conclude that although God’s total essence will never be able to be seen by us, God nevertheless shows something of Himself to us through visible, created things; and this in a variety of ways.
The final question for our study concerns the nature of God’s visibility in heaven; will we be able to see God in heaven? On one hand, we will never be able to see or know all of God, for, “His greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3). And we will not be able to see—at least with our physical eyes—the spiritual being of God. Nevertheless, Scripture says that we will see God Himself:
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8).
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen (Revelation 1:7).
While we may not be able to see an exhaustive vision of God, our seeing of Him will be completely true, clear, and real. We will see “face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12) and, “We shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
The most remarkable truth, however, is that what we shall experience is seen in the fact that in the heavenly city, “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads (Revelation 22:3-4).”
Thus, the vision of God will be the consummation of our knowing God and will give us full delight and joy for all eternity: “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).