People have sometimes thought that God created human beings because he was lonely and needed fellowship with other persons. If this were true, it would certainly mean that God is not completely independent of creation. It would mean that God would need to create persons in order to be completely happy or completely fulfilled in his personal existence.
— Wayne Grudem
Grudem’s observation offers a penetrating look into how many Christians think about God. But is this what Scripture teaches? What implications would such a view have for worship? And how would such a view affect our salvation?
We must begin by asking if God needs us to exist or to be fulfilled and happy. The God of the Bible is one who does not need us at all. In theological language, this is the doctrine of divine aseity, literally meaning “from-himself-ness.” God is a-se. He exists independent of the world, as one who is self-sufficient and self-existent. In his book The Doctrine of God (see pp. 603-608), John Frame helpfully outlines seven characteristics of aseity.
- As Lord, God owns all things. God is “possessor of heaven and earth” (Gen. 14:19). Indeed, the “earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Ps. 24:1).
- Everything possessed by creatures comes from God. The Lord made heaven and earth and every good and perfect gift is from his hand (Gen. 1-2, Exod. 20:11, Neh. 9:6, Ps. 146:5-6; Ja. 1:17).
- When we give something back to God, we give him only what he has first given to us. We are God’s stewards and will be held accountable for whether or not we have used what he has given to us for his glory (Luke 12:42; 16:1-8). Since the church belongs to God, pastors will be held accountable for their pastoral care (Titus 1:7).
- When we give something back to God, he is not obligated to recompense us. When we do what we were told to do, we, as unworthy servants, have only done our duty (Luke 17:10).
- God owes nothing to any creature. Notice how God answers Job: “Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me” (Job 41:11). Or consider Paul who writes, “‘Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?’ for from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen” (Rom. 11:35-36).
- God has no needs. Psalm 50 is powerful in this regard: “I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it” (Ps. 50:10-12).
- God is by nature a se. As Paul says to the Athenian philosophers in the Areopagus, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24-25).
Implications for Our Worship
Now that we have seen that aseity is affirmed in Scripture, what implications does it have for the God we worship? What implications does it have for our salvation?
In Psalm 50 and Isaiah 40 we learn that God is not like the pagan gods of the surrounding nations. These gods are fashioned by man (Isa. 40:19-20). Using much satire, Isaiah explains that the same wood used by man to keep himself warm and cook his food by fire he also uses to form a god so that he can bow down to it in worship, praying “Save me; you are my god” (Isa. 44:15-17). This is not a God who saves but a God you must save. “In this way,” Frame writes, “the Lord mocks worship in which the god is dependent on the worshiper, in which the worshiper meets the god’s needs” (Doctrine of God, 606).
In contrast, Paul describes the Lord in Acts 17:24-30 not as a creature but as the Creator. Paul is emphatic: God is not worshiped by us “as if he needed anything.” True, biblical worship is due to God not because he needs us, but because we need him. As Frame observes, it is the case that God is worshiped by men’s hands, “but the hands are raised in praise and thanksgiving, not to supply the needs of God” (Doctrine of God, 606). Consider the words of the 24 elders who fall down before the throne of God, worshiping him, casting their crowns before him saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11).
If God is not independent of us, he is not worthy, qualified, or able to save us let alone to receive worship and praise. If God is not a se, then he is weak and pathetic. He may be a God like us, but he is not a God better than us. He may be a God in our world, but he is not a God distinct from our world. And all of this relates to the gospel for, as Michael Horton says, “If God were not free from creation, we might pray for him, but not to him” (The Christian Faith, 235). It is precisely because God is free from creation that he is able to enter into creation in order to save lost sinners (Eph. 1:7-8).
There are two dangers that need to be avoided in this discussion. First, one could conclude that we do not matter to God if he does not need us. Second, one could also conclude that God is not relational if he is independent of us. But both of these conclusions would be wrong. While God does not need us and is in no way obligated to enter into a relationship with us, he created us in his image and made us to have fellowship with him (Gen. 1-2). We matter because God determined that we would be meaningful.
Even when sin ruined and destroyed our fellowship and access to him (Gen. 3), he voluntarily entered into a saving covenant relationship with us, though he was in no way obligated to save us. He has every right to condemn us for all eternity (Matt. 25:41). “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5). The gospel depends on a God who does not depend on you. What this means for us, as believers, is nothing short of amazing: While God does not need us, he has given us the privilege of serving him. We would not have it any other way.