What is God Like?

My first day of high school World History, I nervously took my seat in the back of the classroom.  I’d heard the rumors.  Mr. L was the hardest teacher in the school.  My expectation was that I would work harder in this class than I had ever worked before.

That expectation was met.

He had a gruff tone.  He didn’t smile.  His no-nonsense approach to teaching meant that not a second would be wasted on such trivialities as an unprepared student failing to have their notebook out with a pencil in hand, ready to begin taking notes as soon as the bell signaled class had started.

What is God Like?  A Look at His Attributes

Despite those qualities (or perhaps because of them), I soon grew to love Mr. L’s class more than any class I’d ever taken.  The lack of a smile wasn’t his fault.  He’d had a stroke.  His gruff tone, I learned, didn’t mean he was mean (though he was strict).  His no-nonsense approach suited me just fine, after I became so interested in what he was teaching, that I had little patience for anyone who might waste class time. 

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Mr. L. seemed to know everything there was to know about World History.  When he assigned a big research project one day, and told us, if we plagiarized even one sentence in our report, he would know, I believed him.  He said he’d read any book that we might ever use, that he had a photographic memory and that he’d be able to find the exact passage in any book, of anything we’d copied. 

I believed that he was smart enough to recognize and remember where an exact passage could be found in any history book.  To this day, I’m still not sure if he was kidding about that. 

He is the smartest person I’ve ever met.  I remained nervous around him for the entire time he was my teacher, because I had such respect for him, and I truly wanted to meet his high standards.   A good word from him about my work meant far more to me than it did coming from anyone else.

Mr. L became, in my mind, became the definition of wisdom and knowledge.  He was almost “god-like” to me in that respect.

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I knew that Mr. L never even came close to God in wisdom, but as humans made in the image of God, terms describing personal characteristics such as wisdom, goodness, righteousness, love, etc., are terms whose meaning we understand through our experience of these qualities in other human beings.

Wayne Grudem says, in Systematic Theology,

…in one sense of another, all of creation reveals something about God to us, and that the higher creation, especially man who is made in God’s image, reveals him more fully.
— Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology
What is God Like?  A Look at His Attributes

When we talk about what God is like, describing his characteristics, we must show caution not to let our experiences with other humans color our perception of God wrongly.  Every one of God’s attributes must be understood in light of what Scripture tells us about God.  For example, when the Scriptures say that God is love, we might have an idea of what, “love” is, based on our experiences with other people, but God alone, as revealed in Scripture, is the ultimate standard love.

Before we go any farther in discussing God’s character, I want to share one more quote from Wayne Grudem, who said,

It must be remembered that though all that Scripture tells us about God is true, it is not exhaustive. Scripture does not tell us everything about God’s character.
— Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology

There are two major categories that we can use when classifying the attributes of God:  incommunicable and communicable. 

Incommunicable means, those attributes that God does not share.

Communicable means those attributes of God shared with us.

For instance, God’s eternity would be an incommunicable attribute.  God has no beginning or end.  We will live for eternity, either separated from or with God, but we all have a beginning. 

The incommunicable attributes are the hardest to understand because they are the parts of God’s character least familiar to our experience.

An example of a communicable attribute would be wisdom.  We can all be wise, but can never be as infinitely wise as God.

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We will never be able to describe or understand all of God’s character but the following 25 characteristics are generally agreed upon as attributes of God (as revealed through Scripture):

Incommunicable Attributes of God

1.Independence

2.Unchangeableness

3.Eternity

4.Omnipresence

5.Unity.

Communicable Attributes of God

6.Spirituality

7.Invisibility

8.Knowledge

9.Wisdom

10.Truthfulness (and Faithfulness)

11.Goodness

12.Love

13.Mercy (Grace, Patience)

14.Holiness

15.Peace (or Order)

16.Omnipotence (or Power, and Sovereignty)

17.Perfection

18.Blessedness

19.Beauty

20.Glory

As a resource, I have made some printable images for you (just right click on each image, save, and print) listing God's attributes along with brief definitions.

attributes of God
attributes of God 2
attributes of God, 3
attributes of God, 4

We can look at these attributes of God and worship him for who he is.  The more we study God’s character through Scripture, the more clearly we will be able to see God’s glory reflected everywhere in creation. 

We can also remember that all of the communicable attributes of God are to be imitated by us. When Jesus entered the world he showed us the Father through the way he lived, died, and rose again.  We follow his example and look to him as the ultimate standard in these areas.

Some Scriptures to reflect on:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” Isaiah 6:3
“Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 9:23-24
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

 

Wrapping This Up:

@@God’s character is revealed to us throughout all of creation and Scripture.@@   The earth is full of his glory.  He wants us to know him. 

The language of the Scriptures uses qualities that we can relate to through our experiences with other humans.  While we can use these experiences to get an idea of the meaning behind these qualities, we should be careful to study Scripture for a more accurate picture of who God is. 

 

A Prayer:

Father, Your character is perfect and glorious.  Thank you for revealing yourself to us through Scripture and through your creation.  As we seek to know you more, please guide us to worship you in spirit and truth.  We want to be pleasing to you so we ask for strength as we seek to imitate you.  Amen
What God is Like

Join us as we take a clear and practical look at some of the most basic and essential tenants of the Christian life – the doctrines of the faith.  

Each week, we will highlight and explain a core doctrine. Then, we will pose the question, “Why does this matter to you and me?” 

You can catch all of this year’s “Delight in Doctrine” posts by clicking HERE.  

For the purposes of the study, our main texts will be first, the Bible, of course, and Wayne Grudem’s classic, Systematic Theology:  An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.   

It is our prayer that by the end of 2017, we will all find more delight in understanding what we believe and why we believe it.  

“…YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” LUKE 10:27 (ESV)

Note…Amazon affiliate links are used throughout this post.  If you click on a link and buy a book, I receive a small portion of the proceeds at no additional cost to you.  Thank you!