An assignment for a seminary class I took was to write a one page “definition” of God. Yes, in only one page, to describe God! (Although we could have endnotes in which to share more details.) Being brief can be much more difficult than being long-winded, as you really have to focus on what matters! If anyone is interested, here is my description of God, as well as the endnotes.
God exists. A definition of God must begin with the presupposition that there is indeed a God. This is the starting point.[i] God was there in the beginning, was before all things, and created all things.[ii] God is the creator and creation itself is evidence of God’s existence.[iii]
There is only one God, and not a multitude of gods.[iv] Although our God is one, he consists of three persons. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are all God. The Trinity is a mystery which we will never be able to understand fully.[v] God has been progressively revealed to us throughout history.[vi] The God of the Old Testament (the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) became a man in the New Testament in the person of Jesus Christ. After the ascension of Jesus Christ, God in the person of the Holy Spirit came to dwell in the hearts of Christian believers. God is eternally triune.[vii]
To be a Christian is to believe that it is possible to know God.[viii] However, God can only be known as he chooses to reveal himself to us. In this aspect, we are dependent on God and must put ourselves under God.[ix] God has revealed himself through his Word, the Bible. Much of the Bible is narrative (story), and God’s actions demonstrate and reveal his attributes. God remains present and active in his world. God ultimately revealed himself to us in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. God became “flesh” and dwelt among us.[x]
It is hard for me to comprehend that the God of the universe condescended himself to live a human life among his creatures. I see in this the ultimate example of the great humility of our God.[xi] Jesus Christ was both fully God and fully man. He was two natures in one person.[xii] This is a wonder and a mystery, yet it was necessary for us and for our salvation. Because of his great love[xiii], Jesus died on the cross in order to redeem a lost and broken world. The sinless Son of God took our sin upon himself in order to provide a way of salvation for mankind.
God has many attributes or characteristics.[xiv] In Exodus 1: 6-7, God descends in a cloud on Mt. Sinai and proclaims that he is: compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and truth, forgiving of iniquity and sin, but will also not leave the guilty (or their descendents) unpunished. Considering that this is God’s own self-declaration, I think we should pay special attention to these characteristics. God is just, and the judge of all the earth.[xv] God is holy and righteous.[xvi] God is sovereign.[xvii] God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient.[xviii] God is immutable.[xix] God is eternal.[xx]
All of God’s attributes are shared by the Father, Son, and Spirit. As the “three in one”, they are unified and equal. However, each person of the Trinity can work in different ways. For example, the Father sent the Son and draws people to himself.[xxi] I am so thankful that the Father drew me to himself. The Son became the suffering servant [xxii] whose life, death, and resurrection brought salvation from sin for all who believe. I am so thankful for my salvation through Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit convicts us, guides us in the truth, and empowers us to live holy lives.[xxiii] I am so thankful for the Spirits work in my life.
God alone is worthy of our worship, adoration and allegiance. “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come…. Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created….Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”[xxiv] Come, Lord Jesus!
[i] Genesis 1:1, for example, begins with this presupposition by stating, “In the beginning God created…”. Genesis does not begin with an apologetic or debate regarding God’s existence, but already assumes that there is a God. Hebrews 11:6 likewise states that “he who comes to God must believe that He is…”.
[ii] See Genesis chapter 1. Although Genesis begins with a “formless and void” earth (Genesis 1:2), and does not account for the original creation of matter, this does not mean that God is not the creator of everything. John 1:3 clearly says that “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” Also see Colossians 1:16 which also clearly emphasizes that all things were created through God “both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible.”
[iii] Romans 1: 18 – 21 states that people are “without excuse” because creation is clear evidence of God.
[iv] See Deuteronomy 6:4, Isaiah 46:9, Ephesians 4:3-6.
[v] Although different analogies or explanations can be used to help our human minds understand this, none of the analogies are adequate or accurate. Many of the analogies/explanations only confuse the issue, and lead to heresy. There is nothing mysterious about the things we can explain.
[vi] Simply put, God has revealed himself to us over time, and not all at once. As biblical history progressed, new truths about God were revealed which expanded upon the former revelations of truth. A good example of this would be the doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinity, which was alluded to or foreshadowed in the Old Testament, was explained more fully in the New Testament. Progressive revelation climaxed in the coming of Christ. Biblical revelation is complete, although our understanding is progressive.
[vii] God has always been triune. God did not suddenly become triune in the New Testament, but was already triune before this time. See above endnote (iv) on progressive revelation.
[viii] The coming of Christ gave human beings the opportunity to know God from the inside, instead of only from the outside. When Jesus died, the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:51). Jesus became our high priest to give us access to the Father. (Hebrews 7:11-28) Everyone may now enter into the presence of the Lord.
[ix] To write a “descriptive definition of God” means that I must study and analyze God. In other realms of science, we put ourselves above the objects/s we are studying. However, this is not the case with Christian theology. We must humbly realize our proper place in relation to the God of the universe. Although it is possible to know God, we must also remember that God is the Lord of his creation. God alone is worthy of our worship, adoration, and allegiance. God’s ways are “above” ours. See Romans 11:33.
[x] One purpose of the incarnation was to reveal God to us. See John 1: 1-18, and John 14:7-11.
[xi] See Philippians 2: 1-11. Jesus “existed in the form of God”, yet he took “the form of a bond servant” and “humbled himself…to the point of death.” God’s humbleness seems to be an often neglected or overlooked attribute of God.
[xii] Some scripture references on two nature Christology are: John 1:1-18, Acts 2: 29-36, Romans 1:1-6, Philippians 2: 5-11, Colossians 2:8-10 and I Timothy 2: 3-6. The phrase “two natures in one person” came from Chalcedon in AD 451.
[xiii] See John 3:16 and I John 4:8. The later states “God is love.” Love is the very nature of God.
[xiv] A one page paper is not long enough to even come close to describing our great God’s many attributes and characteristics! In fact, I do not think it is possible to “define” God. The best we can do is to use some words to describe God, yet even this could not be exhaustive. Therefore, I will focus on a handful of attributes that stand out to me when I consider God. Two characteristics I have already mentioned are God’s love and humility, demonstrated in the life of Jesus Christ.
[xv] In God’s own self declaration in Exodus 1:6-7, I see evidence that God is just or fair. While he is gracious and slow to anger (he gives people “a chance”), he also will not let the guilty go unpunished. Respectively, God is a righteous judge. See Genesis 18:25, Psalm 96:13, Hebrews 12:23, II Timothy 4:8.
[xvi] Holiness and righteousness are related to each other, but are different. Holiness means that God is separate and distinct from all that is evil or impure. See scripture references such as Leviticus 11:44, Psalm 99:3,5,9 and Revelation 4:8. Righteousness means that God cannot violate any code of morality or law. See Psalm 11:7.
[xvii] God is in control of all things. The book of Esther in the Old Testament is a good illustration of the fact that history is within the sovereign control of God.
[xviii] Omnipotence means that God is all-powerful. The word “almighty” is used multiple times in the Bible in reference to God. Omnipresence means that God is everywhere. See Psalm 139: 7-11. Omniscience means that God knows everything. For example, Psalm 139:16 indicates that God knows everything about the course of our lives before we are even born.
[xix] Immutability means that God is consistent or unchangeable. God does not grow or develop like human beings do. See James 1:17.
[xx] God exists endlessly. One name of God in the Old Testament is El Olam, which means the Everlasting God. Also see Psalm 90:2.
[xxi] See John 6:44.
[xxiv] Revelation 4: 8, 11, and Revelation 5:12.