“In The Beginning GOD . . .”
In order to adequately know himself, man must know God. To know himself, man must know of his own origin. (“How is it that I am here?”)
To know how one is here, he must know of his origin. Was he created or did he evolve from some non-human thing? A proper analysis of and valid reasoning concerning one’s own body, mind, and spirit (including his conscience) will result in the conclusion that he (man) was created by the infinite Being (God).
To know why he is here, man must know God and His Will. In order to know what to do with his own life (how to be saved, how to live as a saved person), man must know God (John 17:3) and His will. In order to know of his eternal destiny, man must know God (Matthew 25:46; Mark 9:43-50; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Matthew 7:13-27; et al.). This study is about knowing God.
MAN CANNOT KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT GOD—BUT HE CAN KNOW WHAT HE MUST DO TO BE SAVED
The Bible teaches that men can know that God does exist (Romans 1:18-32; Acts 14:17; Psalm 19:1-5; 14:1) and that man can know that God has certain attributes (John 17:3; 3:16; Deuteronomy 29:29). But the fact that man can know much about God does not mean that man can fully comprehend everything about every attribute of God which he can apprehend (Job 5:8; 9:10; 11:7; 37:5, 23; Psalm 139:6; 145:3; 1 Corinthians 2:10-11). But it is a very serious error (one which denies crucial truth) to hold that we can neither know that God does exist nor that He possesses certain attributes.
This means that man can learn (come to know, cf. Luke 6:46; John 8:32) what God’s word (the Bible) plainly teaches about Him. It is—obviously—altogether fitting that the very first sentence of the Bible should refer to God and His work of creation (Genesis 1:1; cf: John 1:1-3).
It is my responsibility in this essay to discuss God—that is, the attributes of God—and not creation as such.
What God says of Himself and of His will for man is true; God does not lie (Hebrews 6:18). And, what He says of Himself is stated in language which men can understand. His language is never defective (John 17:21; 2 Samuel 7:28). God always says what He means and always stands behind what He says (1 Samuel 15:29).
In the space allotted for this essay I must, then, strive to tell you at least something of what the Bible teaches about God. How shall I go about such a momentous task? Various theologians have very complicated ways of approaching that task. I do not, however, think that a complicated approach is what will be best for our purposes here. Thus, in what follows I will simply take up one attribute of God after another (not necessarily in any particular order) and briefly discuss each in turn.
THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD
1. Self-existent. Everything which was created was created by God through the Word (John 1:1-3). God Himself was not created. Thus, God does not exist contingently (that is, in contrast to us human beings, for example, He does not depend upon anyone or anything else for His own existence). God exists necessarily. It is not possible that He should not exist, Of Himself, God said, “I am that I am” (Exodus 3:14). He is the one whose very essence it is to exist. If God had not existed, then nothing would have existed.
2. Infinite. To that God is infinite is to say that God (in contrast to finite beings, such as humans) is unlimited (or absolute) in all of His attributes. Thus, to affirm, as I certainly do, that God is infinite, is to affirm that God is infinite in all His attributes. To be less than infinite in even one attribute, is to be less than God. Thus, He is infinite in power, in goodness and love, in knowledge and wisdom, and in justice. Further, being infinite in His nature, He cannot change in quality. This is clear for the following reasons: If He changed for the better, this would mean that prior to the change He was less good than after the change and so was less than infinite in the matter in which the change occurred. If He changed for the worse, this would mean that after the change He was less good than before the change and became less than infinite. Obviously, neither of these will do if God is infinite. Since this is the case, and since God is infinite in purity, if men are to be like God, they must be like God in spiritual and/or moral purity.
3. Omniscient. To say of God that He is omniscient is to say both that God knows everything which is subject to being known and that He is infinitely wise in dealing with what He knows (Job 24:l, 23; 28:10; 34:21-25; 36:4-5; 37:16; 42:2; Psalm 33:13-15; 44:21; 94:9-11; 103:14; 104:24; 139:1-24; 147:4-5; Proverbs 3:19-20; 5:21; 15:3, 11; Isaiah 29:15; 40:27-28; 41:4; 42:9; 46:10; 48:5-6; Jeremiah 23:24; 51:15; Ezekiel 11:5; Matthew 6:4-8; 6:18; Acts 2:23; 15:8, 18; Romans 11:33; 1 Corinthians 2:7, 9-11; et al).
Thus, by affirming that God is omniscient, I maintain that God knows whatever is possible to know. He knows perfectly the past, the present, and (what to man, at least) is the future. God knew—before He created Adam and Eve—that they would fall into sin. This is known from the fact that the plan of God to save man is an eternal one (Ephesians 3:10-11) and from the fact that Christ was known as a lamb slain before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:17-20; Titus 1:1-3; Ephesians 3:10-11). Knowing that man would so fall, desiring (because of His perfect love and mercy) to save man from the just consequences of his own sins, and knowing that man would need an environment in which to develop moral and spiritual character (and so to come back to God, away from whom he had gone in his fall into sin), and having the knowledge of the environment needed by man (as his “vale of soul-making”), God created the world (which is the purpose which as good as any possible world for the purpose which God had in creating it) in which catastrophic events (such as earthquakes, tornadoes, disease, one animal eating another, one man killing another) occur. God knew how to create a world which would provide for man an environment which was (is) as good as any possible for the purpose of enabling man to be truly free and to have an environment in which he could best develop morally and spiritually (Warren 23-24).
The Bible clearly teaches that God in His infinite knowledge, wisdom (and love) created man, created the world as a “vale of soul-making” for him, and planned man’s life on Earth to be a probationary period which ends at the moment of his physical death (thus attaching vital significance not only to the world as the “vale of soul-making” but also to man’s life in that world as the only time in which he can make the decision to turn to God in love, devotion and obedience) (24).
4. “Omnijust.” By the word “omnijust” (used in description of God), I mean to say that the Bible teaches that God is infinite (perfect) in love and goodness and, thus, will always do what is right (that is, that He will always act in harmony with His own nature). Thus, it must be noted that while God is full of love for the sinner, He hates (has just, righteous and awful resentment against) the sins which men commit. Both of these attributes (love of the sinner and hatred of the sin) have crucial places in the total character of God, and it is simply outrageous for any one to think that there is antagonism between the two of them. In fact, it is outrageous for one to think that there is antagonism between any of the attributes of God (cf. 24).
Further, it must be emphasized that no one who sees antagonism between God’s love of the sinner and His hatred of sin really understands either God or sin (cf. 24; John 3:16; Romans 5:8-9).
The Bible teaches that God demands of man that he be like Him in moral character (1 Peter 2:21-25). God Himself is the ultimate, absolute good, and His will (as set out in the Scriptures) reﬂects that perfect (ultimate) goodness. This point entails the view that He enforces (in the sense that He will not merely overlook either man’s lack of love or man’s disobedience) the law which He had imposed, in harmony with His own perfect nature (Nehemiah 1:5; cf. Daniel 9:4).
To be just is to recognize and enforce this necessity. Since God is holy (perfectly good and just), He can fail to demand purity and to punish sin only by failing to be holy. And, to fail to be holy is to fail to be God. As perfectly good and loving, God intends only what is good for man. As perfectly just and righteous, He insists on what is fitting. To say that man is under obligation to do what God’s law imposed upon him is also to say that God must demand that performance and must impose penalty when that demand is not met. To impose the proper penalty is the proper reaction of God’s righteousness and justice (legislative and retributive holiness). No attribute of God can cancel out (or annul) another. His perfect integrity demands that He cannot lie; He cannot deny Himself. His perfect holiness requires that He cannot view sin in a complacent fashion. His perfect justice requires that He cannot forgive the sinner without an atonement. According to plain Bible teaching this atonement is found in Jesus Christ, the Son of God (1 John 2:1; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 9:11-10:4).
I must make it clear, however, that to say that God inflicts or imposes proper penalties upon the sinner, is not to say that He is ever motivated by passionate selfish anger or caprice. Rather, the penalties which God imposes express the revulsion of His nature against all sin. With God all judgment is righteous; divine justice requires it for its own satisfaction. God is never guilty of either an improper love or an improper hatred; He loves what ought to be loved, and He hates what ought to be hated, as dictated by His own nature. If God lacked hatred for evil, He would lack real love for good. Only one thing could be worse than committing evil (sin): approval of or failure to hate and oppose evil. When the skeptic describes his own revulsion against the “evil” which he at least thinks he sees in the world, he should recognize that such is only a very small reflection of God’s perfect hatred of every sin and of the revulsion of His perfect justice against every impurity and moral failure of His creatures.
Having created man as a free moral agent, God (as infinitely just) has the obligation of imposing proper penalties when men misuse the freedom which He has given them. To do less than this would be to be less than God.
In connection with the discussion in regard to the justice, holiness, and wrath of God, it must be noted that the Bible teaches that God is a “great and terrible God” (Deuteronomy 11:26-28). (Through Moses, God said to Israel, “I set before you this day a blessing and a curse . . .” (Romans 1:18; Acts 17:30-31; Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:6; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; 2:10-12; Matthew 25:4; Leviticus 10:1-2; 1 Chronicles 15:1-15; Genesis 6-9, Note 7:19-23; Deuteronomy 7:21; 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:6). To the Romans, Paul said, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hinder the truth in unrighteousness . . .” (Matthew 7:13-27; Hebrews 5:8-9). In the Bible God warns that He will save only those who obey His will and that He will eternally punish those who die in impenitence of their disobedience (Matthew 10:34; Luke 12:51; Revelation 1:16; cf. 2:12; Hebrews 4:12; Ephesians 6:17).
Many men—in fact it must be said, most men—do not want God to be as He is. The Jews were ashamed of and rejected the very idea of a crucified Messiah. Many men reject the idea of the Christ with a sword (Matthew 25:46; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). With the same basic reaction, men reject the God who is not only loving, merciful, longsuffering, and gracious but who is also the God of wrath—the God who cannot and will not (because of the very nature of sin and because of His own nature) tolerate sin. God will punish the impenitent wicked (2 Timothy 4:1-5).
The doctrine, currently preached by some, that preachers should preach only in a “positive” way (not condemning any false doctrine or evil practice is simply not in harmony with plain Bible preaching). The apostle Paul taught that we should both “reprove” and “rebuke” as well as “exhort” (Jude 3). Jude taught that we must “contend earnestly for the faith” (Acts 9:22). Paul “confounded the Jews” by “proving that Jesus was the Christ” (Matthew 25:46; Mark 9:43-44; cf. Revelation 20:10-15; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). Jesus regularly put before His auditors exhortations for them to carefully consider not only the wonderous glories of the eternal life in Heaven but also to be warned by and fearful of the terrible fate which is eternal punishment in Hell (Hebrews 11:17; 10:26-31; 12:28-29; Jude 22-23).
It is right for men—in the light of the wrath of God—to be moved by godly fear to obey Him (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13). No man can be truly wise who does not understand the righteousness of God and His wrath against sin. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (2 Corinthians 5:10-11). To fail to fear God is to thereby fall into sin. Paul said, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men . . .” (Romans 15:4). When Adam and Eve sinned, they were cast out of the garden of Eden.
The Old Testament (from which men living today are to learn in principle) is filled with accounts of how God poured out His wrath on those who obeyed Him. Perhaps as great a mistake as any one can make is to decide either that God does not exist or that, if He does exist, the Bible is not His word or that, if the Bible is His word, He really does not mean what He says in it. But God is not a liar (Hebrews 6:18; Titus 1:1:2; 1 Samuel 15:29), and, thus, He means all that He says. He will punish the wicked.
5. Omnipotent. To say (as I certainly do, because the Bible teaches such, cf, Warren 24-25) that God is omnipotent is not to say (as atheists such as J. L. Mackie do) that “there are no limits to what an omnipotent Being can do” (cf. Hebrews 6:18; Titus 1:2; 1 Samuel 15:29).
By affirming that God is omnipotent, I mean to affirm the truthfulness of the following propositions: (1) so far as power is concerned, God (being infinite [without limit] in power) can accomplish whatever is subject to power and (2) God will do only that which is in harmony with the absolute perfection of His nature. In denying the view that there are no limits to what an omnipotent Being can do, I mean to affirm that there are some things which simply cannot be done; that is, some things simply are not subject to power—not even by infinite power! (cf. Warren 26).
God is infinite in power, but power meaningfully relates only to what can be done—that is, to what is possible of accomplishment. It does not relate to what is not possible of accomplishment. It is absurd to speak of any power (even infinite power) doing that which simply cannot be done. God can do whatever is possible to be done, but He will do only what is in harmony with His own nature. For example, triangles have three—and only three—sides. Rather than saying that God cannot make a four-sided triangle, one would more accurately (or perhaps, more meaningfully) say (in the light of the fact that the word “triangle” means a three-sided figure and cannot refer to any four-sided figure) that the making of a four-sided triangle simply is not subject to accomplishment—not even by infinite power! So, when a detractor says, “Since God cannot make a four-sided figure, it follows that He is deficient (or limited) in power and therefore is not omnipotent,” he thereby implies that the making of four-sided triangles is something which God could do if only He had more power than He now has. It is clear that the relevant propositions do not imply the conclusion which the detractors claim.
In the same way, it is absurd to say, “If God is omnipotent, then He can make a ball which is at one and the same time both white all over and black all over.” To affirm this proposition is to affirm a logical contradiction. It is to affirm an absurdity. Such a proposition does not really say anything at all. So, rather than saying that God cannot do such things (with the accompanying implication that He is deficient in power, so that, if only He had more power, He could do it), one should say that such simply cannot be done—that such a task is simply not subject to power, not even to infinite power.
Thus, the fact that men can think of logical absurdities (which, of course, cannot be accomplished) must not be regarded as a blow against the truth that God is infinite in power.
By way of a summary of this brief discussion of the omnipotence of God (cf. Warren 27), let it be emphasized that it is not a denial of the omnipotence of God that the creation of a free moral agent who is guaranteed against the committing of even one sin is simply not subject to accomplishment by any power—not even by infinite power (cf. 27-29)..
6. Omnibenevolent. In describing God as being omnibenevolent, I mean to say that He is infinite (perfect) in goodness, in mercy, and in grace. Due to lack of space, I shall concentrate here on the goodness of God.
To say that God is perfect in goodness is to say that He never plans or does anything which is not in harmony with His own perfect nature. It is to say that God loves all good and hates all evil (although, as I have said above), He loves the person who commits the sin (cf. Warren 30).
His perfect justice, balancing with His perfect love, prevents His ultimately saving those who finally reject His love (that is, those who refuse to obey His will and, thus, fail to receive the remission of their sins by the blood of Christ). It is clear that if God were all love and mercy (to the exclusion of any consideration of justice and/or righteousness), then He would be unjust. But to be unjust is not to be God. To affirm that an unjust being is God would be like saying that water in a certain cup is really ice—only it is simply unfrozen ice (cf. Warren 30-31)!
God is impartial (cf. Acts 10:34-35). He loves all men (John 3:16). In spite of the fact that all men have sinned, God proved His love for all by the sending of His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for sinners (while they were sinners!) (Romans 5:8-9). No matter how grievously a man has sinned, if he will repent and obey the gospel, God will save him by the blood of Christ (Romans 5:20-21; 5:8-9; Ephesians 1:7).
Men come to love God because they learn that God first loved them (1 John 4:19). If a man truly loves, God, then he will obey Him (John 14:15, 21).
7. Omnipresent. God is not limited as to place; He is everywhere. God is simply not contained within bounds of either time or space. The Psalmist made clear wherever one may be or go—whether it be in heaven, in Sheol, in the deepest depths of the sea, in the deepest darkness of the night, and so on—God will be there (Psalm 139). Paul implied this same truth (cf. Acts 17:24-27). The prophet Jeremiah made clear that there is no place where a man can hide from God and that God fills Heaven and Earth (Jeremiah 23:23-24).
8. Immutable. Men often say something like this, “God will judge men through Christ. God is loving and merciful. All men who are saved eternally will be saved by the grace of God. Since God is loving, merciful, and gracious, for all I know, in the Judgment God may save some people whom the Bible teaches will be lost. After all, I am not the Judge—God is!”
On a purely superficial basis, the above words tend to make the speaker of those words appear to be humble, kind, merciful, and especially loving of God. But the truth of the matter is, those words do the following: (1) they reject the word of God and (2) in rejecting the word of God, they reject God.
Why is this the case? It is the case for the following reasons: (1) they deny a basic attribute of God; namely, His immutability; (2) they brand God’s word as being unreliable, and (3) they imply that God is a liar.
Let it be noted that the Bible teaches that God is immutable—He does not change.
The Bible declares absolutely that God does not lie (Hebrews 6:18; Titus 1:2; 1 Samuel 15:29). His counsel (His word) will stand (Proverbs 19:21). God will not tell men that if they do thus and so they will be saved (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Revelation 2:19; 2 Peter 1:5-11), and then—at the Judgment—damn those who have obeyed Him to everlasting Hell. God will not warn men that if they do thus and so (or do not do this or that) that they will be cast into Hell (Revelation 20:10-15; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9), but then at the Judgment say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joys of thy Lord,” to those who have not heeded His warnings.
It is actually a rejection of God to say that He will not do what He says He will do. For a man to say such is, in effect, to call God a liar. At the Judgment, God will do what He says in His word, that He will do (Hebrews 5:8-9; Mark 9:43-49; Matthew 7:13-17).
Thus God, in His immutability will not save unbelievers, He will not save the unbaptized, He will not save those who are not members of the one church for which Jesus died, and He will not save those who are not faithful as members of the church (Hebrews 11:6; John 8:24; Luke 13:3-6; Acts 17:30-31; Matthew 10:32-33; Romans 10:9-10; John 3:5; Mark 16:15-16; Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Timothy 2:10; Romans 6:3-5; Galatians 3:26-27; Revelation 2:10; Hebrews 5:8-9; Matthew 7:13-27; Revelation 20:10-15).
9. Creator. God is the self-existent, eternal one. He was neither caused by something other than Himself to come into existence nor did He cause Himself to come into existence. Both of these views are foolish to the point of absurdity. Every existent—except God—had a cause. But it was never the case that God did not exist. He is not contingent. He exists necessarily.
But God—through the Word—created everything other than Himself (John 1:1-3; Genesis 1:1-31; 2:1-25; 5:2-3; Exodus 20:11; 1 Samuel 2:8; 2 Kings 19:15; Nehemiah 9:6; Job 9:8; 38:4-38; Isaiah 45:12, 18; Mark 10:6; Acts 4:24; 14:15; 17:24-26; Hebrews 1:1-2; 2:10; 3:4; 11:3; Revelation 4:11; Proverbs 20:12; Psalm 94:9; Ecclesiastes 12:1; Revelation 10:6). The passages of Scripture which were just referred to make clear that God, by the power of His word (and through the Word, John 1:1-3) is the creator of the physical universe (the Earth, the Sun, the Moon, the stars), human beings, all animals, and, in fact, all that exists other than Himself. The theory of evolution is false. The doctrine of creation—as taught in the Bible—is true.
10. Ruler. God is the ruler of the universe. All authority inherently resides in God as the Creator. He has given all authority in Haven and on Earth to Jesus Christ, His Son (with the exception of Himself, cf. Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Corinthians 15:27-28). Sending the Holy Spirit to guide the apostles into all the truth, He delegated authority to the Holy Spirit and, in turn, to the apostles (John 14:25; 16:13-15). Giving power (through the Holy Spirit) to lay hands on other men to impart to those men miraculous gifts (including the gift of prophecy, so that some men [called “prophets” who were not apostles, could write books of the New Testament, as did the apostles, cf. Ephesians 3:5; Acts 8:17).
God rules the world through His Son through the Holy Spirit through His word. That word (the gospel of Christ, the law of Christ, the faith) is addressed to all men (Mark 16:15-16; Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:45-49) and, thus, all men are amenable to it. Thus, all who obey that word will be saved (Hebrews 5:8-9; Matthew 7:21-27), and all who do not obey it will be lost (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; 2 John 9-11).
Men reject this great truth (1) when they ascribe to themselves the right (authority) to invent a plan of salvation which is not the plan taught in the New Testament, (2) when they invent a “church” (denomination) which obviously is not and cannot be (since it was invented by mere men) the church for which Jesus died (Acts 20:28), (3) when they invent ways of living which the Bible condemns (Galatians 5:19-21; cf. Galatians 5:22-23; 2 Peter 1:5-11; Philippians 1:20-27; Romans 12:1-2, et al.), or (4) when they invent ways of worship which the Bible does not authorize (2 John 9-11; cf. 1 John 4:1). Only that which is authorized by the law of Christ is acceptable to God (Colossians 3:17; 2 John 9-11; cf. Leviticus 10:1-2; Genesis 6-9; 1 Chronicles 15:1-5; Romans 15:4). To be pleasing to God, one must recognize that He is Ruler!
11. Father. How thankful all of us ought to be that God is willing to be our spiritual Father (Matthew 7:7-11; Matthew 5:45). Knowing that our own fleshly fathers loved and cared for us and that we (who are fathers) have loved and cared for our own sons and daughters, we ought to trust in God with deep, abiding faith—knowing that He will keep on taking care of us by providing us with the things which we truly do need. We must therefore, truly trust in Him as our Father with confidence that—if we acknowledge Him in all our ways—He will “direct our paths (Proverbs 3:5-6; Matthew 6:9-15; 6:19-34; 1 Peter 5:7; Matthew 5:43-48; et al.).
1. Space has failed us the opportunity of dealing with other important things which God’s word teaches us about Him (for example, more needs to be said about His holiness, His righteousness, His grace, His love, His glory, His providence, His accessibility, His longsuffering, and so on).
2. But, in closing, may I remind all of us that we are not under the authority of some “god” whom we human beings have invented. We are under the God who gave us the Bible (His word!). And we also remember that none of us can “create” his own Bible. Many people think that—as long as a person is sincere and zealous in religious matters—God will accept the composite of our interpretations and inventions as “the Bible” by which He will judge us. But such is not the case. Neither sincerity nor zeal is a substitute for God’s truth. All men living today will be judged by His word, the gospel (Study carefully the conversion of Saul of Tarsus; Acts 9:1-20; 22:1-16; 26:1-23; cf. 2 Timothy 2:10; Romans 6:3-5; Galatians 3:26-67).
May God help us all to know Him better and better with each passing day—may He help us to keep on growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).
Dr. Warren originally prepared this material (edited here for online publishing) for a homiletic commentary on the Book of Genesis, which he co-edited, in the same year (1985) as a panel discussion occurred for which he was invited to critique. The panel discussion was between four atheists and four theists. This critique was published by the Warren Center under the title The God Question. and is available through the WCAC bookstore.
Warren, Thomas B. Have Atheists Proved There Is No God? Parkersburg: Warren Apologetics, 2018.