What is God like?
If an attribute is something true of God, it is also something that we can conceive as being true of Him. God, being infinite, must possess attributes about which we can know. An attribute, as we can know it, is a mental concept, an intellectual response to God’s self-revelation. It is an answer to a question, the reply God makes to our interrogation concerning himself.
What is God like? What kind of God is He? How may we expect Him to act toward us and toward all created things? Such questions are not merely academic. They touch the far-in reaches of the human spirit, and their answers affect life and character and destiny. (Knowledge of the Holy, 16)
As A.W. Tozer reminds us, God is not like anything. He is one of a kind, and there is nothing, really, to compare him to (Is. 40:25). Tozer’s play on words is helpful, but it does not really answer the question. How shall we describe God? What is true about him? What kind of God is he?
The answer to that question takes us into the study of God’s attributes.
Tozer also points out that we must be careful about the language we use here.
If we would think accurately about the attributes of God, we must learn to reject certain words that are sure to come crowding into our minds–such words as trait, characteristic, quality, words which are proper and necessary when we are considering created beings but altogether inappropriate when we are thinking about God. We must break ourselves of the habit of thinking of the Creator as we think of His creatures. It is probably impossible to think without words, but if we permit ourselves to think with the wrong words, we shall soon be entertaining erroneous thoughts; for words, which are given us for the expression of thought, have a habit of going beyond their proper bounds and determining the content of thought. (Knowledge of the Holy, 17–18)
If we speak of God’s “traits” or “characteristics” or “qualities” we might leave the impression that God consists of so many parts that are, then, more basic than God himself. And so language becomes difficult. But recalling the “simplicity” of God – that God is one in essence; there are no divisions within his nature or being; he does not consist of so many parts – we still want to understand all that he has revealed himself to be. A divine attribute is, then, something we can affirm about God to be true, some aspect of his being and character.
Various attempts have been made to classify God’s attributes, and there is good reason for this endeavor. For example, Scripture commands us to be holy because God is holy (Lev. 19:2; 1Pet. 1:16), and to love because God is loving (1Jn. 3:16; 4:7). But nowhere does Scripture command us, “Be omnipresent because God is omnipresent,” or “Be self-existent because God is self-existent.” And so most have understood that God has “communicable” and “incommunicable” attributes – attributes that he shares with his creatures and attributes that are unique to him. Others describe these as God “metaphysical” attributes (those implying an absolute distinction between God and man) and his “moral” attributes (those he has shared in some degree with us).
The classic study of the attributes of God remains that of Puritan Stephen Charnock’s The Existence and Attributes of God, and we will provide some Charnock samples for you later in the course. If you would like, you can also download the entire book here for free.
In this brief course our focus is on the incommunicable or metaphysical attributes of God. The audio sermons by David Gibson will be our guide, following Jen Wilkin’s delightful book, None Like Him: 10 Ways God is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing). We will provide supplementary resources along the way also. All this to help in our pursuit of knowing him who is incomprehensible and yet who has revealed himself to us that we may glory in knowing him.