What is God Like?
by James M. Frye
His Natural Attributes
In this article we shall seek to increase our understanding of God. What is He like? The Bible says many things about God. Something that is true about God is often referred to as one of his attributes.
Due to the size of this subject, we will need to divide our material into two Parts. In the first, we will look at God's natural (non-moral) attributes. In the second, we will look at His moral attributes. So let's begin by looking at God's natural attributes.
1. God is Incomprehensible
The first thing we need to understand about God is that He is incomprehensible. That is, we can never fully understand Him. There are many things that we can know about God, but to understand Him completely is impossible for us.
- For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
- O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
- Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?
For us to be able to fully comprehend God, we would have to be God, for He alone fully understands all things.
2. God is Omniscient
The word omniscient means all-knowing. The Bible teaches that God knows everything.
- Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.
- For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.
1 John 3:20
God knows everything, and He is the only one who does. As a matter of fact, God never learns anything new. He has always, from all eternity past, known all things.
How is it that God is able to predict future events with absolute accuracy in the Bible? It is only because God knows the future that he is able to do this. God knows and has always known all things: past, present, and future.
3. God is Omnipotent
The word omnipotent means all-powerful. The Bible teaches that God has all power and might.
- And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.
Almighty means: having all might or power. God is all-powerful.
- But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.
- Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee:
Someone once asked the question: "Is God able to make a rock so heavy that He himself cannot lift it?". We could come up with many similar questions. Could God make a light bulb be both on and off at the same time? Could He make something white and not white at the same time? Of course not. We must remember that nonsense is still nonsense, whether we try applying it to God or to anything else.
When the Bible speaks of God being able to do all things, it means that God is able to do anything that He wills to do. There are some things that the Bible tells us God cannot do. For example, the Bible tells us God cannot lie.
- That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:
- In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;
Lying is a sin. Since God is Holy, He cannot sin. It is against His nature.
4. God is Omnipresent
The word omnipresent means ever-present. The Bible teaches that God is present everywhere at the same time.
- Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
- Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD.
5. God is Eternal
The Bible tells us that God is eternal. He has existed forever. There has never been a time when God did not exist. He has no beginning and no end.
- Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.
- The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them.
6. God is Unchangeable
Unlike man, God does not change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
- For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.
- Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
7. God is Transcendent
When we say that God is transcendent, we mean that God is above, beyond, and separate from His creation.
- For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
- In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
Notice that the last verse says that God created the heaven and the earth, not that God was the heaven and the earth. There is a false view of God today known as Pantheism. Pantheism teaches that God is all, and all is God. Those who hold to this belief think that the universe and all that is in it are a part of God.
For example, Pantheists often refer to Mother Earth or Mother Nature. Why? It is because they believe that the earth is Divine. Those in the New Age Movement hold to this belief.
8. God is Self-Sufficient
What do we mean when we say that God is self-sufficient? We mean that God is complete in and of himself. He does not need anything from any outside source to maintain either his existence or happiness.
- God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;
9. God is Immanent
Deism is another false view of God. It teaches that God created the universe, wound things up, and then left us to fend for ourselves. Deists believe that God is too High and Holy to spend time interacting with His creation. The Bible, on the other hand, is filled with accounts of God's interaction with man. It tells us that God is not only transcendent, He is also immanent. That is, God is near to and interacts with His creation.
- Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off?
- That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:
10. God is Personal
When God refers to Himself in scripture, He calls Himself "I". He is not some sort of impersonal force but is a live being. Earlier, we talked about Pantheism, the view that God is all and all is God. Pantheists often make the mistake of thinking of God in non-personal terms. They see Him as some impersonal force, Divine mind, or higher level of consciousness that may be tapped into. But this is not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is a personal being.
- And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.
- But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation.
11. God is a Spirit
- God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
The Bible tells us that God is a Spirit. This means that God does not have a physical body. But doesn't the Bible also speak of God as having hands, feet and other body parts? Yes it does, but these are anthropomorphisms. An anthropomorphism is a figure of speech that describes God in human terms. God has chosen to speak about Himself in this way so that we may better relate to Him.
There are many such passages in the Bible. For example, Exodus 15:8 says that God parted the Red Sea with the blast of his nostrils. Does this mean that God has a fifty-foot nose? Of course not.
12. God is Invisible
Since God is a Spirit, He is also invisible. God can not be seen by the human eye.
- By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.
- Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Timothy 1:17
13. God is Sovereign
When we say that God is sovereign, we mean that God is free to rule his creation as he sees fit with no outside interference.
- In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:
- And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?
- Whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places.
Since God is all powerful, no one can stay His hand, nor withhold his purpose.
In this article we have covered a number of God's attributes. You can test your understanding of God by trying to define the attributes listed below. It's a good idea to keep at it until you can define each of them without looking them up.
God is: 1. Incomprehensible
11. A Spirit
His Moral Attributes
1. God is Holy
- Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy hill; for the LORD our God is holy.
- Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.
- Thou [God] art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity...
God is holy. That is, He is separate from sin and possesses absolute moral purity.
The prophet Isaiah was given a vision of God. In the presence of God's infinite holiness, he became immediately aware of the depths of his own sinfulness.
- In the year that king Uzziah died I [Isaiah] saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain [two] he covered his face, and with twain [two] he covered his feet, and with twain [two] he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.
Now Isaiah was a good man, but next to God "all his righteousness was as filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6).
2. God is Righteous & Just
- He [God] is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.
- The LORD is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.
- And I heard another out of the altar say, Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments.
As we said in part one of this series, God cannot sin. Therefore, everything that He does is perfectly just. He cannot punish the innocent nor clear the guilty. If you are ever tempted to think that God has done something wrong, realize that He cannot. We may not understand why God allows certain things to happen, but we dare not accuse the most high God of unrighteousness.
- What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.
3. God is Merciful
- The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.
- Nevertheless for thy great mercies' sake thou didst not utterly consume them, nor forsake them; for thou art a gracious and merciful God.
God is merciful. This means that God does not always give people what they have coming to them.
- For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
God is not obligated to be merciful. He is sovereign in respect to the distribution of His mercy. He has mercy on whom He chooses to have mercy. If he decides not to be merciful to a particular person, and instead gives them their just due, He is perfectly righteous in doing so.
4. God is Gracious
- The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.
- Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful.
God is not only righteous and merciful, He is also gracious.
Righteousness is when God gives us what we deserve.
Mercy is when God doesn't give us what we deserve.
Grace is when God gives us what we don't deserve.
We see God's grace in respect to salvation.
- For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
Salvation is not something we receive because we deserve it. That is, it is not something that we have a right to. It is something that God gives us according to His grace: Something that we do not deserve and could never earn.
5. God is Good
- The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.
- Why boastest thou thyself in mischief, O mighty man? the goodness of God endureth continually.
- He loveth righteousness and judgment: the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD.
- Good and upright is the LORD: therefore will he teach sinners in the way.
God is good. That is, He is a good God. He is not bad or evil. It is His nature to be good. In many ways, God is good to both the just and the unjust alike.
- ...for he [God] maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
6. God is Loving
God is love. That is, He is the epitome of love.
- He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
1 John 4:8
I have often heard people say, "The God of the New Testament (N.T.) is a God of love, but the God of the Old Testament (O.T.) is a God of wrath". First of all, there is only one God (1 Cor. 8:4, Isa. 45:5). The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament. Secondly, in part one of this series, we saw that God does not change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He was not somehow different in the O.T. than He is in the N.T.. What we should say is, "God's love is more clearly revealed in the New Testament than in the Old Testament". The O.T. did reveal God as loving (Isa. 63:9, Zeph. 3:17, Deut. 7:7 etc.) but not as clearly as the N.T..
God loves everyone, but He has a very special love for his elect (Rom 8:28-39). He did not set His love upon them because they are lovable, but in spite of the fact that they are not.
- But God commendeth his love toward us [believers], in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
We did not choose to love God, but He first chose to love us. Then we loved Him in return.
- Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
1 John 4:10
The fact that God is loving does not set aside the fact that He is also holy and just. We stated earlier that since God is righteous, He cannot punish the innocent nor clear the guilty (Num. 14:18). God cannot just overlook sin and say "don't worry about it". Since He is a just judge, He must punish sinners. This is the reason for the cross. For God to justly forgive sinners, someone had to pay the penalty for their sins.
- For he [God the Father] hath made him [Jesus Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
2 Corinthians 5:21
7. God is True & Faithful
- But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay.
2 Corinthians 1:18
- There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
1 Corinthians 10:13
God is faithful and true. When He makes a promise you can be sure he will keep it.
- God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
Since God is true, His word (the Bible) is also true.
- Thy word [the Bible] is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.
8. God is Longsuffering
- The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.
- But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth.
God is longsuffering. Some of the newer Bible translations have changed this word to patient. But patience does not carry all of the rich meaning of the word longsuffering. Longsuffering tells us that putting up with people involves suffering for a long time.
- Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
1 Peter 3:20
This passage speaks of God's longsuffering in regard to the flood. God put up with mankind's sinful behavior for a long time (over 100 years) before sending divine judgment.
9. God is Angry & Wrathful
When we say that God is angry & wrathful, we do not mean that God goes around in a grumpy mood all the time. We mean that God is justly angry and wrathful against sin.
- For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
- God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day.
- For this gird you with sackcloth, lament and howl: for the fierce anger of the LORD is not turned back from us.
- Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.
10. God is Jealous
When we think of jealousy, we usually think of man's sinful jealously. But we need to understand that there is not only a sinful form of jealousy, but also a godly form of jealousy.
- For I [Paul] am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
2 Corinthians 11:2
God is jealous with a godly jealousy.
- For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.
What does the Bible mean when it says that God is jealous? It means that He is zealous to protect what belongs to him and will not allow another to have the honor and glory that is due him alone.
- Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you; (For the LORD thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the LORD thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth.
God is justly jealous when people become involved in idolatry, for He alone is worthy of our worship.
- For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another.
God does not like people taking the glory that is rightfully due Him.
- And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.
ConclusionIn this series we have looked at a number of God's attributes. Please keep in mind that we have not been able to cover every single attribute of God. We have, however, looked at the more important ones. We have defined an attribute of God as something that is true about Him. In the first part, What is God like, we looked at God's natural (non-moral) attributes. In the last part, we looked at God's moral attributes. Please keep in mind that we have not been able to cover every single attribute of God. It is my hope that this series has given you a better understanding of what God is like. To God alone be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
May God bless you as you do His work.Amen!
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Publisher's Note: All scripture quotations are taken from the Authorized King James Bible. Any deviations are not intentional. All underlines, bold and items within parentheses are the author's.