By Dr. J. Rodman Williams
Chapters: 1 -
2 - 3 - 4
- 5 -
6 - 7 -
8 - 9 -
In these studies on the ten major concepts of Christianity, it is natural
that we should begin with God Himself. "In the beginning God"
are the first words of the Bible. Let us likewise make this our starting
For the sake of clarity we shall proceed under three heads: the reality
of God, the being of God, and finally the character
I. The Reality of God
The first article of Christian faith, according to the Apostles Creed,
is "I believe in God the Father Almighty." What reasons may
be given for this belief?
First, there is the witness of the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation
the fact of Gods existence is never questioned. The Bible purports to
be a record of the acts of God: it is not man's story so much as God's
story. Christian faith accepts the biblical witness to the reality of
God and proclaims His existence with assurance.
Could the Bible be wrong on this major point? Such is theoretically conceivable;
however, since the Bible's credibility as a faithful guide to life is
generally accepted, it is hard to imagine error on the belief that undergirds
all other teaching. In other words, if one accepts the moral and ethical
principles of the Bible as valid, the actuality of God must likewise be
admitted. His existence is presupposed in every instance as their ground
and basis, and furthermore, the teachings of the Bible cannot really be
carried out except in His wisdom and strength.
Second, there is the evidence of God in nature. The Psalmist cries,
"The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims
his handiwork" (Psalm 19:1), and the Apostle writes, "Ever since
the beginning of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power
and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things he has made"
(Romans 1:20). Gods glory and handiwork, His power and deity are unmistakably
revealed through His creation. That God is, is there for all to
behold. Only the willfully blind can deny His existence and His vast power
One may note more specifically the design, the pattern, the purpose at
work everywhere. The world is "on the move": the earth in its
development of plant, animal, and human life from one stage to another
evidences some great intelligence guiding and directing. The beauty
of sunsets, mountains and valleys, skies and trees is inexplicable if
there be no God who so creates and enjoys. The order of the universe,
the laws of light, of gravity, the fact that all is cosmos rather than
chaos, the regular movements of stars and planets, and on the earth of
days and seasons, bespeak One who creates and sustains "by the word
of his power" (Hebrews 1:3). Joseph Addison put it memorably
The spacious firmament on high,
With all the blue ethereal sky,
And spangled heavens, a shining frame,
Their great Original proclaim:
The unwearied sun, from day to day,
Does His creators power display,
And publishes to every land
The work of an almighty hand.
Third, there is the testimony of inner experience. "As a
hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God"
(Psalm 42:1). The hunger of the heart for God, the deep yearning of the
soul for fulfillment in another, points toward one who has made man for
Himself. Could there be this universal longing without a true answer?
Man hungers and thirsts physically for food and drink, and there is food
and drink to satisfy; could this be less true of the far deeper hunger
and thirst of the soul for God? The answer of Christian experience is
unmistakable: "O taste and see that the Lord is good!" (Psalm
Inner experience of desire for God is also supplemented by an assurance
of His presence. Who has not known moments of awe when some placebe it
mountainside, star-studded heaven at night, stately cathedral, or humble
roomhas seemed filled with the presence of Another? Like Jacob at Bethel
we may have cried, "How awesome is this place! This is none other
than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven" (Genesis 28:17).
Moreover, belief in God "works." Countless people testify that
until they believed in His existence, life never really seemed right;
but once having unquestionably affirmed God's reality and acted thereupon,
life has become fuller and more abundant. "For whoever would draw
near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who
seek him" (Hebrews 11:6). Such true believers, men and women of faith,
have been people of destiny, their lives often changing the course of
history. Fearing God, they feared no one else; believing in Him, they
could believe in all things. Could this belief have been an illusion,
when it made for stronger, better, wiser people?
Now let us hasten to add that none of the reasons suggested for belief
in the reality of Godthe witness of Scripture, the evidence in nature,
the testimony of inner experienceis final proof. Nor is the totaleven
if one should add many other reasons. In the last analysis, the reality
of God is based on faith. In this world we walk by faith and not by sight"now
we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face" (1 Corinthians 13:12).
But for those who so walk, who so believe, God does become ever more meaningful
in their lives.
One further word might be added: belief in God and action thereupon is
basically no different than ones procedure in relation to the objective
world. Through our physical senses we are convinced that there is a world
of people and things around us, and we act accordingly. The more we act
the more unshakable our conviction becomes that there is much else besides
ourselves. So with God. There is indirect evidence through our physical
sensesGod in natureand direct evidence through our spiritual perceptions.
When we act on this evidence, the conviction of Gods reality, as with
the world and other persons, becomes increasingly certain.
Why then are there some people who call themselves atheists? The answer
would seem to be twofold: first, there are many who willfully disbelieve
in Gods existence because of guilty consciences. They would prefer that
He didnt exist so that they would not have to face His demands.
To believe in His reality would mean a different kind of livingand that
they do not want. Hence, they prefer to delude themselves into unbelief.
Second, and perhaps more often, some do not believe because they become
so preoccupied with the things of sense that spiritual awareness tends
to die away. Little reading of the Bible and prayer, little attention
to the "glory of God" in the heavens, little heed to the hunger
of the souland making earthly substitutes for all theselead inevitably
to atrophy of soul as surely as little use of a member of the body (a
hand, a foot, an eye) leads to gradual disability. If one replaces God
with lesser devotions, He cannot become or remain real.
The concept of God begins with the whole-hearted affirmation of His reality.
II. The Being of God
In discussing the being of God, let us think of Him in the opening words
of a catechism definition: "God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and
unchangeable, in his being." Then we shall proceed with a later statement:
"There are three persons Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy
Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power
and in glory" (Westminster Shorter Catechism, partial answer
to Question 4: "What is God?").
1. A spirit"God is spirit" (John 4:24). God is not
flesh and blood; He has no body; He is by nature spirit. References in
the Bible to Gods hands, eyes, finger, etc., are accommodations to our
human condition so that His reality may be more concrete. It is hard for
us to think upon God without thinking of some tangible form; it is likewise
difficult for God to reveal Himself to us without anthropomorphic expressions
being used. The climax of this situation is realized in the Incarnation:
God actually assuming human flesh ("the Word became flesh,"
John 1:14) that He might be known more fully.
Still God is, and remains, spirit. But what does this mean? Have we any
way of comprehending such? Perhaps the best approximation to understanding
is to suggest that God is most closely akin to that which is the deepest
part of our nature: our spirit. Man is body, mind, and spiritthe latter
is that which is our deepest and truest self. Our spirit functions through
our minds and our bodies, but is to be identified with neither: it, like
God, is intangible, incorporeal.
On this level of spirit God is most truly known, for here God and man
may be in true communion"God is spirit, and those who worship him
must worship in spirit," (John 4:24). In the beautiful words of Tennyson
Speak to Him thou for He hears,
Spirit with Spirit can meet-
Closer is He than breathing.
And nearer than hands and feet.
2. InfiniteGod is unlimited, unbounded. Human beings are finite,
confined in space. With God there is no confinement, no limitation.
"Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain thee"
(1 Kings 8:27). As infinite, God is everywhere present
Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?
Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend to heaven, thou art there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!
If I take the wings of the morning
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there thy hand shall lead me,
And thy right hand shall hold me. (Psalm 139:7-10)
Hence God is both infinitely far and near: He is far beyond all His creation,
but also, as the Apostle says "He is not far from each one of us,
for in him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:27-28).
This understanding of God is important. On the one hand it avoids deism,
which thinks of God as far removed from our world affairs; on the
other, it stands against pantheism, which imagines God as in whole
or part identical with His creation. The biblical view and understanding
of God is neither deism nor pantheism, but theism, which
views God as both far beyond and very near all things: He is both transcendent
to and immanent in His total universe.
This appreciation of God provides true Christian perspective. God is
to be worshiped as one whose "ways are not our ways" and therefore
as the wholly other; but He is also one with whom
fellowship may be had, and in whose presence there is joy and strength
and fullness of life.
3. EternalGod is the great "I AM." "God said to
Moses, I AM WHO I AMsay this to the people of Israel, I AM has sent
me to you" (Exodus 3:14). God is the eternal contemporary, the everlasting
now. He is without beginning of days or end of years; He is not confined
by the time order in which we live.
Past, present, and future are all equally real to Him, for time is His
creation. Hence He knows the end from the beginning: it is all "spread
out" before Him. As one from a high perspective, such as a mountaintop,
may view far beyond what others below can see, infinitely more so God
from the vantage point of eternity. He beholds all.
This does not mean that time is meaningless to God. Rather, He both lives
in all time and beyond all time. He suffers "down among" our
yearseven in Christ being crucified at a certain point in time (which
has split all time in two: b.c. and a.d.). He also in Christ is eternally
"destined before the foundation of the world" (1 Peter 1:20).
Perhaps the greatest comfort afforded by the understanding of God as
eternal is that we may have confidence about the future. The future is
safe, for it is in the hands of one who knows it already: He knows it
and is satisfied. God is eternal, everlastingin this we may rejoice.
4. Unchangeable"I the Lord do not change" (Malachi
3:6). The Scriptures constantly affirm the unchanging nature of Godthe
rock being the symbol often used of His abiding reality.
Occasionally there are references to Gods "changing" His mind
("repenting," for example"the Lord repented of the evil
which he thought to do to his people," Exodus 32:14), but the changing
is never a fluctuation in Gods nature; it is always some different aspect
of His nature being brought to bear on mans condition. Given a certain
condition of man, God invariably acts in the same manner. For example,
God may seem to change from fearsome power to sacrificial love, but the
seeming change is utterly dependableHe always and inevitably acts in
uniform fashion. If, for example, man sins, he can expect Gods punishment;
if he repents, he can depend on Gods forgiveness; if he seeks after God,
he can count on Gods presence: God changes not.
In our world of time and flux, of coming into existence and passing
away, of building up and tearing down, it is good to know that God does
not change. He is "the Father of lights with whom there is no variation
or shadow due to change" (James 1:17).
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
Having considered that God is spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable,
let us further note that God in His inner Being is "one God in three
One GodChristian faith holds unequivocally to the belief in one
God, and one God alone. In the midst of a world that worshiped many gods,
Israel proclaimed its monotheism: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God
is one Lord" (Deuteronomy 6:4). So, for example, the words from Isaiah:
"I am the first and the last; besides me there is no god." (Isaiah
44:6). The New Testament conveys the same message"There is no God
but one" (1 Corinthians 8:4). Again, "There is one God, and
there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus"
(1 Timothy 2:5).
Many names are and may be given to God: however, He is and remains one.
In three PersonsChristian faith holds equally fast to the conviction
that "there are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son,
and the Holy Ghost." This belief in the Trinity is expressed devotionally
in the words of the hymn:
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty!
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!
Not three gods, but one God in three persons is the Christian belief.
Furthermore, by "persons" is not meant "individuals"
but personal self-distinctions (sometimes called "subsistences")
within the divine reality. There are three "persons," which
also means three modes or operations, for although the three work as oneand
are onethe Scriptures show God the Father primarily as Creator, God the
Son primarily as Redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit primarily as Sanctifier.
God therefore is not alone (though alone God!)for He is within Himself
the richness of personal relationship. "God is love"and this
love is eternally expressed in the love among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:
again, not as three individuals but as three personal realities. The highest
form of being personal on the human level is that of love in which there
is an interweaving, almost a coalescing of individuality, with resultant
richer personal significance. For example, of husband and wife it is said,
"the two shall become one" (Mark 10:8). And it is true in a
wonderful and mysterious way that, as far as the limitations of finitude
permit, they do become one, and at the same are all the richer
persons for it. They are one individual in spirit, and at the same
time are two very real persons. Of course, the human analogy is
incomplete, since husband and wife begin as two and move toward becoming
one, whereas God is, from eternity, one, and eternally expresses
the essence of the personal as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (For another
analogy of mans "trinitarian" nature in relation to God, neighbor,
and self, see the next study on "Creation").
A few other comments about belief in the Trinity:
(1) The word Trinity is never used in the Bible. However the Scriptures
do speak, at various times, of God as Father and as Son and as Holy Spirit.
Jesus Great Commission in Matthew 28:19, 20 includes the words "baptizing
them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
Hence God "in three persons"yet one Godis unmistakably biblical.
(2) Other earthly analogiesin addition to the husband-and-wife illustrationmay
help point to the mystery of three-in-oneness. For example, again on the
human level, man as man is a combination of body, mind, and spirit; yet
at the same time he is one individual. Body, mind, and spirit all have
their own "operations"yet all make up one man. Or again on
the inanimate level water, H20, is a good illustration. H20
may be either ice, liquid, or steam, depending on the temperature. It
is the same substance, but three "subsistences" that are quite
Of course, both of these analogies are only very inadequate suggestions
of what lies beyond our mortal mindsbut they may be helpful.
(3) The belief in God as Trinity has not only its scriptural foundation
but also its grounding in Christian experience. The early disciples did
not begin with this belief (as one, so to speak, "handed down from
heaven" that they must accept); rather, they gradually became convinced
that the one God was Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They knew already that
He was the Creator Father; however, through the example and words of Jesus
a fuller understanding slowly emerged. Then as time went on they came
more and more to realize that however human Jesus Christ was (and of this
they had no doubt), He could not be contained in human categories. He
did for them things which only God could do. He had to behowever paradoxical,
even contradictory, it seemedboth man and God. Likewise the Holy Spiritpromised
by the Father and sent by the Sonwho came in great power at Pentecost,
was He not also God yet in another "person"?
So for us today the Trinity is not a speculative doctrine supported by
Scripture but beyond all experience. Rather, God is one God "in three
persons" as we experience Him in creation, redemption, and new life.
III. The Character of God
The concluding words of the catechism definition of God speak of His
"wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth." These
affirmations, drawn from the Scripture, profile the character of God.
It is immediately to be noted that the general picture here is of a personal
God. God is not some blind force or energy; rather, He is personal
through and through. Those who think of God as impersonal make Him less
than man. Surely He is moreand therefore is personal to the ultimate
and final degree.
A personal God is also perfect in all the respects mentioned. He is all-wise,
all-powerful, all-holy, all-just, all-good, all-truthful. Since most of
these terms are self-explanatory, let us single out only one of them:
The holiness of God is everywhere stressed in the Bible, but especially
in the Old Testament. God is often called "the holy one" and
He constantly demonstrates the holiness of His nature.
Moses at the burning bush hearing the words, "Put off your shoes
from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground"
(Exodus 3:5); the high priest wearing on his forehead the engraving, "Holy
to the Lord" (Exodus 28:36) and being allowed to enter the Holy of
Holies of the Tabernacle only once a year; Isaiah hearing the chorus of
seraphim crying, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts" (Isaiah
6:3); Jesus calling God in heaven "Holy Father" (John 17:11)such
are typical of the scriptural witness to God as holy.
As holy, God is "a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29) against
all impurity, all iniquity. God is "of purer eyes than to behold
evil" (Habakkuk 1:13) and therefore must destroy or purge evil wherever
found. Nothing in any way unrighteous can be tolerated in His awesome
Yet holiness is not the final word about Gods nature. What is not clearly
stated in the catechism definition is finally the most important thing
of all, namely, that God is also all-love. The love of God
is everywhere stressed in the Bible, but especially in the New Testament.
This is the profoundest theme of the Bible.
From the Old Testament saying that "It is because the Lord loves
youthat the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed
you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh" (Deuteronomy
7:8), to the New Testament climax"God so loved the world that He
gave His only Son" (John 3:16), the ever recurring theme is the marvelous
love of Almighty God.
How great is that love? It is finally only to be measured by a cross
on a lonely hillamazing, beyond all imaginationHe loved mankind so much
that He died. Truly "God shows his love for us in that while we were
yet sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
God then is all-holy and all-love: He is holy loveand
as such is our Father. So did Christ speak of Him; so may we likewise
know Him forever.
In the Christian concept of God we have considered His reality, His being,
and His character. Now it is time to stop. God is not finally to be discussed
or debated or even described. He is to be worshiped and obeyed.
Chapters: 1 -
2 - 3 - 4
- 5 -
6 - 7 -
8 - 9 -
Content Copyright 2003 by J. Rodman Williams,
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