“GOD” IS A GENERAL TERM that takes on many meanings in many different cultural contexts. Various pantheistic religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and New Age cults, define “god” as an impersonal force that is in some way equated to an eternal universe. The idea of a pantheistic God is in direct conflict with the idea of a theistic God. The monotheistic religions of the world (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) view God as personal and separate from His creation. The ethical approach of this text is based on a monotheistic or theistic concept of God—a God who is absolute in His nature, resulting in absolute moral ideas. It is not the purpose of this text to prove that theism is true or that Christianity is superior to the other theistic religions. One would need to study theology or apologetics to establish these ideas. From this point it will be assumed that theism, and in particular, biblical Christianity, is true.1
Various terms related to God will be used throughout this text. It is important to know the attributes of God if one is to understand the ethical approach of the biblical Christian. The theistic God’s attributes can be divided into two categories—those that relate to His infinite nature and those that relate to His moral nature. God’s infinite attributes are aspects of His nature or essence. His moral attributes relate to His morality. These attributes collectively define who the theistic God is. There is likely much more to His nature than what has been revealed to us. This is just an introduction to what we know through reason and the sacred writings of the Bible.
Eternality. Isaiah 57:15 teaches that God dwells in a higher realm known as eternity. “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place.’” The eternal realm is beyond time and space. Time had a beginning. Eternity gave birth to time. Eternity is the infinite abode of God. Humans can only speculate about this aspect of reality. Some see eternity as a higher dimension beyond time. God is not limited in His nature and is therefore not limited to time. He can view all of history simultaneously.
Transcendence. This term simply means that God is beyond this universe. This is in contrast to the pantheistic view that God is the universe. God created the universe apart from Himself; He is not subject to its physical laws but in control of them. Immanence. God is not only beyond this universe, He is also present within it.
Omnipotence. God is all-powerful. He is sovereign over His creation and has the power to act within it and control what happens.
Omniscience. God is all-knowing. There is nothing that happens that surprises God. Since He sees all of history simultaneously, He knows all things. He not only knows everything that has happened or will happen, but He is aware of every possible event. He knows every possible outcome of every possible choice or event.
Omnipresence. God is everywhere present in the universe.
Immutability. God cannot change. He cannot change anything about His nature. For example, He cannot cease to be eternal; He cannot cease to exist.
Love. The Bible often repeats the idea that God is love or that God loves. He loves His creation. In particular, He loves human beings.
Holiness. God is morally perfect. He is wholly incapable of sinning in thought or action. Evil is a privation of something good. God is morally complete and therefore perfectly holy.
Truth. God cannot lie. He always acts truthfully, speaks honestly, and thinks and acts consistently with Himself.
Mercy. God does not always give us what we deserve. The writers of the Bible often prayed for mercy in spite of their sin. Mercy is related to forgiveness.
Grace. God gives to people positive blessings that they do not necessarily deserve.
Justice. God will always do what is right. He will reward goodness and judge sin.
Of the above moral attributes, love, truth, justice, and holiness can be thought of as something God is. Mercy and grace are actions that God does in accordance with who He is. It could be said that the last four attributes are in some way logically based on love and holiness. For example, God extends mercy and grace because of His love and compassion. These attributes coexist harmoniously without conflict.
Even though God is infinite, He cannot do everything. He can do only what is possible, and some things are not possible. Some people are offended with the idea that God cannot do everything. Perhaps they have sung a few too many verses of the children’s song “God can do anything, anything, anything . . . but sin.” Consider the fact that God cannot make a square circle. Before you say, “He could if He wanted to,” bear in mind that this is a logical impossibility.
The fact that God is infinite in His nature does not imply that He can do anything. Here is a partial list of things that God cannot do:
1. God cannot sin (such as break an unconditional promise). To say that God could sin would limit or conflict with His holiness. God is complete in His holiness. The ability to sin would mean that His holiness is not complete. Therefore God cannot sin, or even be tempted with sin (James 1:13).
2. God cannot change His essence or act against His nature (such as cease to exist). God’s nature is perfect. Therefore He has no need to change. Even the possibility of change would indicate a less than infinite nature. Malachi 3:6 states that God does not change.
3. God cannot do that which is logically impossible. To say that God could make a square circle or a rock so big that He could not pick it up is logically impossible. God cannot do that which is logically impossible. (Sometimes human “logic” is not correct; therefore, God could do that which would seem to oppose logic, but in actuality, God is being logical. It is the human who is mistaken.)
These limitations should not make us think less of God. They should bring comfort and security in knowing that He can be trusted. Though humans cannot grasp the mind of God, He can be understood rationally to the extent that He has revealed Himself to humanity.
The theistic God is eternal, powerful, infinite, holy, and loving. He exists independently from His creation. His essence or nature cannot be changed; it is absolute. If there is a moral code of ethics that stems from God’s nature, it would also be absolute. God is limited only by those things that are logically impossible or those things that would be in conflict with His nature, such as sinning or ceasing to exist.
1. Do the attributes of God listed in this chapter bring feelings of inspiration or of fear?
2. Is it a new concept for you to consider God as having limitations?
3. Circle the following attributes or characteristics that are related to God’s infinite nature, not His activity:
Eternality Justice Love
Holiness Mercy Immanence
Omniscience Transcendence Truth
Immutability Omnipotence Grace