In this lesson, we are going to be kicking off our new study of BB1: Theology on Ichthys by starting to discuss the Essence of God. We’ll talk about how God is being (Exodus 3:14-15), as well as exactly what essence means as a concept.
(Derived from https://ichthys.com/1Theo.htm)
The essence of God is being. He is the Great I AM
The essence of something is what it really is. “Essence” and “being” are precise synonyms.
God tells us who He is in Exodus 3:14-15.
If you’ve ever thought about the question “Well, if the universe exists because God made it, then why does God exist? Did something or someone likewise make God?” then the answer is no—God exists simply because God is being.
Unbelievers scoff at that logic, but it is what the Bible says.
The resplendence of God: light and glory
Loosely speaking, light captures the sense that God is sublime and unapproachable (compare squinting at the sun, being blinded by it), while glory represents the side that shines forth visibly to mankind.
God’s glory is most directly revealed to mankind through His Son, Jesus Christ. As Hebrews 1:1-3 makes clear.
Essence, nature, character… ???
If you’ve ever been confused about what the difference between nature and essence is (and we may as well throw form and substance in the mix as well), you are in good company. Philosophers have been arguing about these things for a very long time (compare Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Kant, and others).
Arguments usually seem to hinge on how “inherent” something is to an object. For example, a triangle must have three sides, otherwise it is no longer a triangle. Things that are “essential” (compare the word essence!) are things without which the object is not whatever we are saying it is.
Compare this link: https://chrismlegg.com/2018/06/19/what-do-essence-and-nature-mean-a-simple-explanation/
So, on our topic, must God be infinite and perfect in character to be God? Are these essential characteristics of God?
It is my opinion that wandering too far in this direction rapidly leads one to theosophy (in the negative sense). God is infinite and perfect in character. So what were we arguing about again?
If someone were to whine that I am question-dodging and not defining terms, I would say that God’s nature deals with His infinite abilities, God’s character deals with His moral perfection, and both are fundamental parts of who He is as God.
This lesson, we are going to be talking about God’s infinite nature, and what that means in terms of His abilities.
(Derived from https://ichthys.com/1Theo.htm)
Key point: God’s nature is infinite. Infinite.
God’s infinity – infinity in every way and according to any conceivable true standard – is a clarifying concept, illuminating His abilities.
God is Spiritual
God’s being transcends the physical universe. He is not limited or bounded by material issues or concerns. God is not subject to matter in any way. God is not made of matter – God created matter and employs it however He desires.
God is Eternal
God’s being transcends time. He is not limited or bounded by temporal issues or concerns. God is not subject to time in any way. God is not constrained by time – God created time and employs it however He desires.
God is Immeasurable (in a spatial sense)
God’s being transcends space. He is not limited or bounded by spatial issues or concerns. God is not subject to space in any way. God is not confined by space – God created space and employs it however He desires.
God is Unique
Uniqueness comes from God’s infinite nature. No one else in the universe can reasonably be compared to Him. He is absolutely unique within His own creation, and therefore the one Person to whom all honor is due.
From the standpoint of His transcendence of the physical universe, He is unique by virtue of His spirituality, eternity and immeasurability. From the standpoint of His supremacy within the physical universe, He is unique by virtue of His omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence.
God is Omnipotent
God is all-powerful, irrespective of matter. He can effect anything He desires in the material realm, and nothing can transpire apart from His will. Therefore there is no deed, nor was there ever, nor will there ever be which God is unable to do, small or great.
You may have come across something like “So, could God create a rock so big even He couldn’t lift it?” This is (supposedly) pitting two aspects of omnipotence against each other: God’s ability to create anything He wishes ex nihilo, and God’s strength.
People argue that the two superlatives mandated by omnipotence contradict each other. Supposedly, if God cannot create an object too heavy for Him to lift, he is not omnipotent, because an omnipotent creature would be able to create anything. And likewise, if there would exist some object that God could create but was unable to lift, then He also would not be omnipotent, because an omnipotent creature would be able to lift everything. “See!”, they say, “either way, He cannot do something; therefore, He is not omnipotent!”
We can let people who wish to not believe on account such an argument go on their merry way. We needn’t take them up on the debate. For it is obvious that God can both create whatsoever He wishes, and also manipulate His creation in whatever ways He wishes. The idea of a material object He cannot create is definitionally impossible, and so too a material object He cannot manipulate. Put differently, there is no such thing as an object He could create but not lift, or an object He could lift but not create. So the entire objection is circular by assuming such a thing can exist to begin with. That is, they’ve already put God in a box from the very beginning, and then only proceed to smugly knock down nothing but a straw man.
My counsel would be to avoid all such nonsense. God can do “it”, whatever “it” may be. Always. We follow אֵל שַׁדַּי, El Shaddai, God Almighty, He who was, and is, and is to come—He who holds the strings of the universe in His hands, and can create or annihilate galaxies in the blink of an eye. And we’d better fear that power and majesty as we ought, to keep our lives in perspective. We are tiny compared to the vastness of the Earth, much less our solar system, much less our galaxy, much less the universe. But God is even bigger (infinitely bigger), and could snuff them all out in the blink of an eye if He decided to. That is the kind of power in view when we speak of God being omnipotent. Not that He will actually snuff out the universe on a whim, but that it would be nothing for Him to do so, since He is in complete control of matter, time, and space… and things only exist because He causes them to exist.
God is Omniscient
God is all-knowing, irrespective of time. He can effect anything He desires in the temporal realm. Therefore God knows, always has known and always will know everything, the end from the beginning. As the Everlasting One (Ps.90:2; 90:4), His knowledge of every event that ever has or will or even could occur within His creation is comprehensive and absolute.
The “could occur” bit is important. God’s knowledge of all possible hypotheticals is sometimes discussed in terms of so-called “Molinism” and “middle knowledge”. I prefer to discuss it independent from all the baggage there, however.
Here’s an example: if the Bible says that God will never test us past what we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13), then that implies He knows what we would and would not be able to bear. He wouldn’t be able to perfectly test us to refine our faith unless He knew all information like this.
Same deal with perfectly disciplining us, and plenty of other matters besides. Put simply, God’s perfect foreordination of all things logically requires that He know everything about all potential paths in the mind-bogglingly complex decision tree that spans the history of the entire universe. It has always puzzled me why people would ever think to argue against such a notion, but alas, some people do for some reason. Perhaps it is because such a belief requires one to appreciate how truly “big” and unlike us (with our very finite perspective) God really is?
For now, you should mostly ignore the fact that some people have again put God in a box in their minds, and content yourself with the sure confidence that God knows everything—absolutely everything, inclusive of our free-will decisions before we even make them—and is so infinitely wise as to have perfectly mapped out all of creature history before the universe was even created. There is a Perfect Divine Plan being worked out around us, and God knows very well what He is doing, rest assured.
God is Omnipresent
God is ever-present, irrespective of space. He can effect anything He desires in the spatial realm (Job 26:7). Therefore God has the ability, has always had and always will have, to be anywhere and everywhere, local and universal.
Of particular note is that this means God sees all. Nobody can sneak anything past God, and on that Great Day of Days, all will be revealed. It also means it is completely futile to try to run away from God. Like Jonah, we will find that no matter where we go, God and His purposes for us will always be there too.
This lesson, we are going to be talking about God’s perfect character, and what that means in terms of His motives.
(Derived from https://ichthys.com/1Theo.htm)
God is perfect in His character, irreproachable and blameless in every possible way.
Matthew 5:48 | NIV11
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:48 | NIrV
So be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
When firmly grasped, God’s perfection – perfection in every way and according to any conceivable true standard – is a clarifying concept, illuminating His motives. God’s perfect character will never be less than the highest, the best and the purest that the human mind can comprehend.
God is Good
God’s character is good (Hebrew tov: טוב); it is the antithesis of evil. So how does goodness respond to sinful man? In His goodness, God always has our best interests at heart. Therefore His desire for us to be free from evil and devoted to good is genuine. Even though we are sinful and by nature unworthy of His blessing, in His goodness God has nevertheless found a gracious way to redeem us from sin without compromising His character, namely, by giving us the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.
God is Holy
God’s character is holy (Hebrew qadosh: קדוש); it is completely separate from evil. So how does holiness respond to sinful man? In His holiness, God can never compromise His perfect standards for any reason. Therefore His commitment to condemning evil and rewarding good is inviolable. But even though we are sinful and by nature deserving of His judgment, in His holiness God has nevertheless found a merciful way to justify us in spite of our sin without violating His character, namely, by judging His Son, Jesus Christ in our place.
God is Faithful and True
God’s character is faithful and true (Hebrew: omen, emeth: אמת ,אמון); it is actively opposed to evil. So how do truth and faithfulness respond to sinful man? In His faithfulness and truth, God is entirely reliable and trustworthy in all that He promises to us and does for us. Therefore His veracity and dependability in offering us a way through Jesus Christ to escape the evil of death and embrace the good of eternal life are beyond reproach. So even though we are sinful and by nature objects of His wrath, in His faithfulness and truth God has nevertheless found a way to make peace between Himself and us and to remove the enmity between Himself and us, caused by our sins, without corrupting His character, namely, by reconciling us to Himself through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ.
God is Sovereign
Sovereignty comes from God’s perfect character. No one else has a legitimate right to rule over the universe. He is the absolute sovereign within His own creation, and therefore the one Person to whom all honor is due. Sovereignty thus speaks to God’s moral authority and right to order the universe however He chooses.
From the standpoint of His transcendence of the moral universe, He is sovereign by virtue of His goodness, holiness and truth (essential qualities independent of His creation). From the standpoint of His supremacy within the moral universe, He is sovereign by virtue of His love, justice, and life (qualities applying to His creation which correspond to goodness, holiness and truth).
Only God is qualified to be the ultimate judge of the morally accountable creatures He has created, and thus to hold them responsible for their actions. As de facto ruler of the universe (through His perfect nature) and de jure ruler of the universe (through His perfect character):
God possesses the sovereign authority to demonstrate love to His sinful creatures out of His own goodness
Not ignoring their sins, as evil suggests He should, but paying for them Himself by the death on the cross of His Son, Jesus Christ, in their place (redemption). We call the result of this act of His sovereignty grace (Hebrew chen: חן; Greek charis: χάρις ).
God possesses the sovereign authority to administer justice to His sinful creatures out of His holiness
Not abandoning them to their sins, as evil suggests He must, but forgiving them Himself on the basis of the death on the cross of His Son, Jesus Christ, in their place (justification). We call the result of this act of His sovereignty mercy (Hebrew chesed: חסד; Greek eleos: ἔλεος).
God possesses the sovereign authority to give life to His sinful creatures out of His truth and faithfulness
Not allowing them to die in their sins, as evil suggests He will, but reconciling them to Himself through the death on the cross of His Son, Jesus Christ, in their place (reconciliation). We call the result of this act of His sovereignty peace (Hebrew shalom: שלום; Greek eirene: εἰρήνη).
Summary: God’s sovereignty in action
||Manifesting in creation as
||Action God takes
||God’s sovereign attitude towards us
||Paying for sin
||Reconciling sinful man to Himself
In this, God’s full plan for saving sinful man, absolutely everything relies upon the cross, the blood of Jesus Christ. One particularly memorable way I have heard it described is that “God’s Mercy and Justice intersect in the cross.”
God is Love
Having love for His creatures, is a natural consequence of God’s goodness. Out of the intrinsic goodness of His character, God loves us with a perfect love, desiring to help us in our sinful state. However, He does not overlook His holiness and justice in the process and forgive our sin without consequence (as evil suggests He should). Therefore God had to find a way to reach out to us in love without compromising His character, and did so through the gift and sacrifice of His only Son on our behalf. Grace is the biblical name for God’s policy of lovingly redeeming us from our sins through Jesus Christ. We accept and receive God’s gracious offer of love and redemption by accepting and receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior.
God is Just
Demanding justice for His creatures is a natural consequence of God’s holiness. Out of the intrinsic holiness of His character, God must deal with us in perfect justice, righteously condemning us in our sinful state. However, He does not overlook His goodness and love in the process and abandon us to our sins (as evil suggests He will). For God found a way to treat us as righteous without compromising His character, and did so through the gift and sacrifice of His only Son on our behalf. Mercy is the biblical name for God’s policy of justly forgiving us on the basis of the death of Jesus Christ. We accept and receive God’s merciful offer of justification by accepting and receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior.
God is Life
Saving the lives of His creatures is a natural consequence of God’s truth and faithfulness. Out of the intrinsic veracity and trustworthiness of His character, God honors His gracious and merciful promise to restore us to Himself and thereby to eternal life, delivering us from the condemnation of death accruing to us in our sinful state. In doing so, however, He has not failed to resolve the competing demands of His goodness and love on the one hand, with those of His holiness and justice on the other (as evil suggests He must). For God has found a way in accordance with His character to eliminate the wall of sin and consequent wrath which separates us from Him, and has done so through the gift and sacrifice of His only Son on our behalf (He died that we might have life). Peace is the biblical name for God’s life-giving policy of reconciling us to Himself on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ. We accept and receive God’s offer of life, peace and reconciliation by accepting and receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior.
In this lesson, we are going to be summarizing what we’ve done in the last several lessons, sort of pulling it all together. This will then conclude our discussion of the Essence of God: both His infinite nature, and His perfect character.
(Derived from https://ichthys.com/1Theo.htm)
God’s goodness overflows with love, providing grace for sinful Man:
though evil says a loving God can’t condemn,
He did condemn His Son that we might live,
redeeming us in love with the blood of Christ.
God’s holiness overflows in justice, offering mercy to sinful Man:
though evil says a just God can’t forgive,
He did forgive us, by condemning His own Son,
making us righteous through the blood of Christ.
God’s faithfulness and truth overflow in life, producing peace with God for sinful Man:
though evil says that a God of integrity can’t restore us,
He did make peace between us through His Son,
reconciling us to Himself and granting us eternal life on the basis of the blood of Christ.
In picture form