God's Attributes Topical Study

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God's attributes are God's traits, such as tri-unity, holiness, and infinite love.

In Scripture

Revealed by God "God said to Moses, `I am who I am.' He said further, `Thus you shall say to the Israelites, "I am has sent me to you'" (Ex. 3:14).

A recurrent theme "The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, `The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin'" (Ex. 34:6 - 7).

God is one "Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone" (Deut. 6:4).

God's sovereignty "Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods. Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Say among the nations, `The Lord is king!' He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth" (Ps. 96:4, 6, 10, 13).

God's omnipresence "Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast" (Ps. 139:7 - 10).

God's goodness "The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made" (Ps. 145:9).

God's holiness "'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory'" (Isa. 6:3).

God's justice "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?" (Isa. 58:6).

God delights in steadfast love, justice, and righteousness "I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight" (Jer. 9:24).

God's immutability "I the Lord do not change" (Mal. 3:6).

God's love "'God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him'" (John 3:16 - 17).

God's power "'The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things'" (Acts 17:24 - 25).

Beyond human comprehension "O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 'For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?'" (Rom. 11:33 - 34).

God's tri-unity "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you" (2 Cor. 13:13).

God's initiative "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love" (Eph. 1:3 - 4).

God's grace "By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8).

The immortal, invisible King "To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever" (1 Tim. 1:17).

Infinite love "God is love" (1 John 4:8).

Points to Ponder

An unfortunate descriptor The word attributes as a descriptor for God's traits is unfortunate. It suggests that God's traits are merely what we human beings have attributed or assigned to God when in fact they are traits revealed by God's words and deeds that are then praised and discussed in Scripture. So the psalmists ponder God's greatness ("Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised" [Ps. 96:4]), or God's power ("When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers" [Ps. 8:3]), or God's omnipresence ("Where can I go from your Spirit?" [Ps. 139:7]), or God's faithful love ("Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love" [Ps. 51:1]).

The preeminence of God's power and love God's power and God's love are perhaps the two attributes the psalmists most like to praise and discuss. Sometimes they address both attributes within a few verses. God is "our refuge and strength." God is powerful to "break the bow" and "shatter the spear" and "burn the shields with fire." Remarkably, God is "the God of Jacob" (Ps. 46:1, 9, 11). Jacob was a crook. He was one of the shiftiest men in the Bible. But God saved him. God never gave up on him. God came down to Jacob, wrestled with Jacob till the dawn, and blessed this crooked, crooked man till he got straight and went to see his hairy brother Esau to give him gifts and to weep with him. And when Esau forgave him, Jacob said something that shows he had just wrestled with God. When Esau forgave him, Jacob looked at Esau and said, "Truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God" (Gen. 33:10).

Names and attributes God has many names in Scripture. But when it comes to the grace of God, one of them says it all: "the God of Jacob." So does another: "Jesus," which means "Savior."

Necessary vs. unnecessary traits Many of God's traits are "necessary." These are traits — holiness, tri-unity, omnipotence, infinite love — that God couldn't have lacked. They are part of God's essence. Other traits of God — such as being the Creator, being the Savior, and graciousness toward sinners — are just as true, but might not have been. That's because God did not have to create the world or human beings. God did it freely.

Human replicas of God's traits Because human beings have been created in God's image, we have human-sized replicas of at least some of God's attributes. Subject to distortion by sin, our traits may be only dim replicas of God's, but in a thoroughly converted human being, they are recognizable: knowledge, wisdom, justice, kindness, compassion, patience, peace, and love in its many splendors.

Sometimes controversial Some of God's traits have been controversial. If God is transcendent with respect to time, does this mean that God is outside of time altogether, or that God dwells simultaneously in past, present, and future, or that God simply knows the end from the beginning? Discussions about these things are natural for theologians and philosophers. But looked upon with the eyes of ground-level, common-sense laity, they can look like a mere indoor sport. Frederick Buechner somewhere speculates that tree frogs get with their buddies to discuss and debate our attributes. Buechner hopes that upon learning about the frogs and their debates we would be not annoyed but amused, and he hopes for the same response in God.

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.