November 5, 2022 - Character of God

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Last time we took an entire program to explore the sovereignty of God, the fact that God is ultimately in undisputed, unstoppable control of all that happens in this world. Nothing is beyond God’s control. No one can hinder God (Job 11:10). No one can foil God’s plans. God has the right to do as God chooses. God rules supreme.

The sovereignty of God is just one of the character traits of God. Today we want to take a look at: What else can we say about the character of God? What is God like? Some of God’s traits are shareable, traits that we also can possess as humans. But God has other characteristics that we cannot share, traits that belong to God alone. Let’s take a look at those non-shareable traits first. God has told us about some of these traits in his self-revelation in God’s word, and some of them we have to logically deduce from the rest of what we know about God.

One un-shareable fact about the nature of God is that God is omnipotent or all-powerful. No one is stronger than God. There is nothing God cannot do, other than contradict who he is (which is why God cannot sin, or make a rock bigger than he can lift). Genesis 18:14: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (The implied answer is No.) Job 42:2: “I know you can do all things.” Jeremiah 32:17: “Nothing is too hard for you.” Matthew 19:26: “All things are possible with God.” Luke 1:37: “For with God nothing will be impossible.” Imagine if there was anyone more powerful than God! Or imagine if God was powerless to stop harm or evil from being done to us! Can any of us say that someday we will be as all-powerful as God is now?

Included in God’s omnipotence is the fact that God can endure what no one else can endure. Classical philosophy used to say that God cannot feel pain; that was an overstatement. God feels our pain. We see it when God in the flesh weeps at the grave of Lazarus; Jesus weeps because he feels that family’s pain. The difference is that God is not wounded by our pain, or by any potential pain. God exhibits the whole range of human emotions except fear (God has no one to fear). God grieves over much of what happens in this messed up world, he endured the pain of hell on the cross, but God does not suffer. God cannot be hurt by us or by anyone.

Another characteristic of the one true God is that God is omnipresent. Satan cannot be everywhere at once, but God can be. Satan has to act through agents, but God doesn’t have to. God’s presence or reach is more than metaphor. In Jeremiah 23:24, God asks, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” Solomon says to God, “Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27) David asks God in Psalm 139, “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!” Imagine if we could escape or hide out of reach from God! Can any of us say that someday we will be omnipresent, like God is now?

God is also omniscient or all-knowing. Psalm 147:5: “Great is our Lord, and great of power; his understanding is infinite.” Romans 11:33: “O the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” In Psalm 139, David says that God knows all his ways. God can read his mind from afar off. God knows all he is going to say before a word is on his tongue.

Proverbs 15:3 says, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch over the evil and the good.” 2 Chronicles 16:9 says “The eyes of the Lord roam throughout the whole earth.” What this means is that nothing happens that escapes God’s notice, not even the fall of a single sparrow, as Jesus says. Imagine if there was much that God did not know. Imagine if we could hide the truth from God. Can any of us say that someday we will know as much as God does?

We human beings are finite. We are limited by time and space because of our material bodies. Unlike us, God is infinite and eternal. While humans and angels may be like geometric rays or lines that extend forever in one direction, God is the only one who extends forever in both directions, and we only last forever because of God’s generous gift found in John 3:16 and in Romans 6:23 (the gift of eternal life).

God has always been there. Likewise, Christ has always been there. Jesus prays in John 17:5, “And now, O Father, glorify me with the glory I had with you before the world existed.” Paul tells us in Colossians 1:17 that Christ “is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” In the same passage, Paul calls Christ the “firstborn of all creation” – that means Christ was there before anyone or anything else existed. Jesus pre-dates them all!

God has always been there, and has always been God. No verse says it better than Psalm 90:2: “From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.” Psalm 93:2 agrees: “Thy throne is established from of old; thou art from everlasting.” In Habakkuk 1:12, the prophet asks, “Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my holy one?” Notice: all 3 of these verses say, not that God is everlasting (which is also true), but that God is “from” everlasting, meaning that God has existed from before time began. All this is true, not only of God our Heavenly Father, but also of Christ, as we see in the prophecy of the Messiah in Micah 5:2, where we are told that the Messiah’s “goings-forth” (his origins) are “from of old, from everlasting” (as far back as anyone can go). Or what does Isaiah 9:6 say God’s Son will be called? “Everlasting Father.”

God is limitless. That’s why the fundamental nature of God is that God is Spirit, as Jesus says in John 4:24. God can choose to become one of us to be joined together to a material body, but God is not limited by a human body. That means that God the Father is invisible.

John 1:18 says, “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” In Colossians 1:15, Paul writes that "He (meaning Christ) is the image [literally the “icon”] of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation." The God for whom Jesus is the visible icon or image is an invisible God. Paul says that God is invisible in 1 Timothy 1:17, "Now to the King of the ages, incorruptible, invisible (a-oratō), the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever."

In 1 Timothy 6:15-16, Paul speaks of "the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the only One who has immortality, the One who dwells in inapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see." God is not invisible simply because he’s hiding out of view at the moment; Paul stresses that no one has either seen God in the past, or can see God at any time. These verses are the key to our understanding of any passage that talks about visions of God. Whatever Biblical characters saw when they speak of seeing God, they did not see flesh and blood. For more, go to our recent program “Is God a Glorified Man?” in our radio archives.

Unlike us, God is self-sufficient. God has no needs. God is not dependent on anyone else for his existence or his ability or power to act. God says to us in Psalm 50, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and the fullness thereof.” Paul tells the men at Athens in Acts 17 that God “is not served [or “worshipped”] by human hands, as if he needed anything.” As Paul asks at the end of Romans 11: Who has ever given God a gift, and thereby put God in debt to them? If God needed anything from anyone, God would cease to be God.

As we have just seen, there are all sorts of ways that we humans are not, and can never be, like God. We call them God’s non-shareable attributes. Now, let’s take a look at God’s shareable attributes, ways in which we can and often should be like God.

First, God is personal. God is not like a stone or mountain, or the sky, or the universe, a God who cannot be prayed to or talked to, like Brahman, the non-personal god of Hinduism (who is Ultimate Reality). The fact that God is personal is a central part of how we are made in the image of God. Like God, we have intelligence, feelings, the capacity to love and communicate. We get all these from somewhere. How can we explain the existence of personal beings like us, if we are just products of impersonal forces of nature, products of a universe that could care less about us?

God is our Creator. God did not merely reorganize previously existing material that God received from someone else. is the One who brought all that exists into being, the One who created it all out of nothing. The Hebrew word bara’ in Genesis 1:1 is always used with as the subject. Everything owes its existence to God; God owes his existence to no one else.

Can we create like God does? The answer is Yes and No. God invites us to bring new things into existence that did not exist before. In that sense, we are imitating God. God wants us to be creative. But we can only create out of previously existing material. We are like the guy who tells God, “I can make man out of clay also!” He grabs some dirt and starts to make clay, and God says, “No fair! Go get your own dirt!” There are points in Genesis 1 where God brings forth organisms out of the ground. But God is the only One who creates out of nothing.

God is unchangeable. In Psalm 102:25-27, the writer sings to God, “Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They shall perish, but you shall endure. They will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you shall change them, and they shall be changed. But you are the same, and your years shall have no end.” The NT repeats all these words in Hebrews 1:10-12.

“You are the same,” the psalmist says to God. That doesn’t sound like a changing God to me. Nor does Malachi 3:6, where we read, “I am the Lord, I do not change; therefore you sons of Jacob are not consumed.” Imagine if God’s character or fundamental powers were always changing. You’d never know whether God was for you or against you; you’d never know if God was able to save you from harm. We find this truth repeated in the NT: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) You ask, “How can that be? Christ had no body before he was born on earth, now he does. Isn’t that change? And his glorified, resurrected body is a huge change from what he was born with.” Yes, but these are all outward, superficial changes. At his core, Christ is the same second person of the triune God that he always was.

God is truth. Exodus 34:6 says that God is “abundant in goodness and truth.” Psalm 100:5 says that God’s truth “endures to all generations.” Jesus says to God, “Thy word is truth.” Jesus goes further and declares, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” God is truth. By contrast, the devil is the father of all lies. Hebrews 6:18 says it is impossible for God to lie. But God does allow some who do not love the truth to be deceived. The Hebrew word for truth means firmness or certainty. Facts on the ground may change, but God’s truth never changes. To be dedicated to truth, to face reality as God defines it, is the only healthy way to live.

God is good. God is the very opposite of an evil monster. Psalm 34:8 – “O taste and see that the Lord is good!” Psalm 100:5 – “For the Lord is good; his lovingkindness endures forever.” God is the source of all we can truly call good, as we learn from James 1:17: “Every good and perfect gift comes from above.” As we see in Genesis 1, everything that comes from God’s hand is good, and when creation is finished, God declares it all to be “very good.” But Jesus says, “No one is good but God alone.” That means that we humans can be morally good in only a relative sense. Compared to God, “No one does good; no, not one.” (Romans 3:12)

God is loving. Nobody can match God’s love. Nobody can out-love God. The proof that God loves even his enemies is that God took upon himself an eternity of hell on the cross for us while we were still God’s enemies. God is the champion for enduing unloving behavior. God loves his enemies. God shows kindness to those who absolutely do not deserve that kindness.

There are 2 landmark Biblical terms used to describe God’s love. In Hebrew, the #1 word is ḥesed. HÌ£esed is a combination of “love” and “loyalty.” It is the word repeated in every line of Psalm 136: “for his mercy (or “steadfast love”) endures forever.” We find it also in famous lines such as Exodus 20:6 (“showing ḥesed unto thousands of them that love me”), Psalm 100:5 (“For the Lord is good; his ḥesed is everlasting”) and Psalm 103:8 (“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in ḥesed”). HÌ£esed is a combination of love and loyalty, a love that never quits. We can’t find the right word for it in English!

HÌ£esed is much like the NT word agapÄ“, the kind of love that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13, his chapter on “charity” or “love.” AgapÄ“ is an unconditional love that gives without expecting in return, a selfless, sacrificial care that gives without expecting in return. It is the kind of love God showed in us in what Jesus did for us on the cross, the kind of love we are to show to others. Again, we can’t find the right word for it in English!

1 John 4:8 says “God is love.” Love is not God, but God personifies what love is. We don’t get to define what love is. To demand that if God is love, then God must accept every sin or must send no one to hell, is not ours to demand. God defines love in God’s word.

The flip side is that God is not a God of hate. God is not in the business of blind, arbitrary destruction. But God is, and must be, capable of hate. Who could worship or even respect a God who does not hate evil and injustice? God cannot stand evil. God is actively determined to stamp out all that creates needless pain and heartache in this world. Is that hate, or is that the very definition of love? If God loves us, then God will logically hate all the evils that would do us harm.

Why should God feel this way? The answer is because God is also holy, which means separated or set apart (specifically from sin). In Leviticus 19:2, God declares, “You shall be holy, because I am holy.” In Isaiah 6, the angels in the temple cry, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” We hear the same words repeated in Revelation 4:8. Not only is God holy or without sin, but God cannot tolerate sin. Psalm 5:4 says, “Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness, neither shall evil dwell with thee.” The prophet Habakkuk (1:13) says that God is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity.” Jesus puts the issue in different words in Matthew 5:48, where he says “Therefore be ye perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” If we want to spend eternity with a holy God, we must be perfect.

Finally, God is just. Abraham asks God, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” God is not unjust or unfair. We get the very concept of justice from God. Who put this idea in our heads? Justice makes no sense if there is nothing but an empty sky over our heads. But we must be careful not to apply our own human-centered standards of what is fair or just to God. God sets the standard by which we must measure justice, not us. We do not have the right to sit in judgment over God’s decisions. Is it fair that God should give a God-hating radical the talent to make obscene amounts of money and deny that talent to us? Is it fair that God should do like we see in Jesus’ parable of the Laborers and reward people those who worked one hour the same as those who worked all day? Here is where we must refer back to the equally true fact that God is sovereign. Such decisions of God do not have to look “fair” to us. God decides what is just.

When we say that God is no “respecter of persons” (literally, God is not a “lifter of faces”), we are saying that God doesn’t check your face first to see if you are one of his favored categories. As we saw on our last program, the Bible clearly teaches that God plays no favorites based on gender, color, national origin, economic class, or even worthiness when choosing the objects of his mercy. Why does God not choose based on our worthiness? Because none of us is worthy! That’s what makes grace what it is!

What an amazing God we have: all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent, eternal, infinite, Creator of all, invisible, unchanging, personal, good, loving, true, sovereign, holy, and just!

Because God is just, some would question whether Jesus Christ is the only way to God. Isn’t that a narrow-minded belief? How could a loving God allow anyone to be lost? Isn’t there a second chance for those who leave this life without Christ? And how is that fair, if there isn’t? We’ll talk about these questions next time on Biblical Words and World!