The Heart of It All: The Nature and Character of God

May 8, 2012

by Peter Amsterdam

God’s Self-Existence—His Aseity

Audio length: 12:37

Download Audio (11.5MB)

(You may need to right-click the above links and select "Save Link As" or "Save Target As" to download videos and audios to your computer.)

(For an introduction and explanation regarding this series overall, please see The Heart of It All: Introduction.)

The first verse of the Bible, along with others, teaches that before the creation of the heavens and the earth, God existed.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.[1]

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God.[2]

Everything that exists within the universe, as well as all heavenly beings, was created by God. Before the universe was created, God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—existed as the Trinity. Each played a role in the creation.[3]

Praise Him, all His angels; praise Him, all His hosts! Praise Him, sun and moon, praise Him, all you shining stars! Praise Him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord! For He commanded and they were created.[4]

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.[5]

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.[6]

The fact that God created the universe and all that is in it means that everything that exists owes its existence to God. Not only does it owe its coming into being to God, but also its present and future existence.

For us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.[7][8]

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power.[9]

By Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.[10]

“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.”[11]

God Necessary, Creation Contingent

All that exists depends on God’s sustaining power. All created things are contingent, meaning that they do not exist in and of themselves, but rather their existence depends upon some other being.

It wasn’t necessary for all of creation to exist; it was possible for it to not exist. God could have chosen not to create the universe. Had that been the case, God would still have existed, since He existed before He created it. Thus God exists necessarily, which means His existence depends on nothing other than Himself; while all of creation exists contingently, as it needs God in order to exist.

As a non-contingent being, God’s being does not depend on anything else. No one created God. He is self-existent. He has always been and will always be. He is completely independent and self-sufficient.

Theologian Jack Cottrell expressed it this way:

He is not dependent on anything for His origin or continued existence. As opposed to a contingent existence, which the creation has, His existence is necessary, He exists necessarily, it’s impossible for Him not to exist.[12]

William Lane Craig explains:

God alone exists necessarily through Himself; everything else exists contingently in dependence upon God. So within the realm of reality, within the realm of being, there is a radical dichotomy between necessary being and contingent being, and necessary being belongs to God alone; everything else has merely contingent being. Therefore it is not true that if God is a being that He is just one among others, because He is radically different than all the other beings that exist. They are all contingent beings; they have existence from another, namely from God. They are radically dependent in their being upon another, whereas God and God alone exists necessarily and through His own self.[13]

In God’s self-revelation to Moses, when Moses asked His name, God said:

“I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”[14]

I AM WHO I AM implies that His existence is not determined by or dependent upon anything else.

Theologian Wayne Grudem states:

This means that God’s being has always been and will be exactly what it is. God is not dependent upon any part of creation for His existence or His nature. Without creation, God would still be infinitely loving, infinitely just, eternal, omniscient, Trinitarian and so forth.[15]

The church fathers said God’s existence was a se, Latin for from oneself or by itself. The term in English is aseity. Other similar terms are immortal, independent, indestructible, and self-sufficient. God’s aseity means His existence does not depend on anything outside of Himselfthat He has life in Himself and is the source of all life.

As the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son also to have life in Himself.[16]

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 … for “In Him we live and move and have our being.”[17]

With You is the fountain of life; in Your light do we see light.[18]

The Infinity of God

The self-existent God is different from all other life, as all other life depends on Him and He depends on no one. His mode of existence is different from everything and everyone else. God is unique in His aseity; all other things exist ab alio (through another).[19] He is infinite in His being; everything else is finite. Being infinite means He is not limited by anything outside of Himself.

Louis Berkhof explains it this way:

The infinity of God is that perfection of God by which He is free from all limitations. In ascribing it to God we deny that there are or can be any limitations to the divine Being or attributes. It implies that He is in no way limited by the universe, by this time-space world, or confined to the universe.[20]

J. Rodman Williams says:

With God there is no confinement, no limitation. He transcends everything in His creation.[21]

The following verses express, in different ways, God’s infinity:

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable.[22]

Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; His understanding is beyond measure.[23]

Will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You; how much less this house that I have built![24]

Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? It is higher than heaven—what can you do? Deeper than Sheol—what can you know? Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea. If He passes through and imprisons and summons the court, who can turn Him back?[25]

God’s infinity can be further understood in learning about His omniscience (unlimited knowledge), omnipotence (unlimited power and sovereignty), omnipresence (transcending of space), eternality (transcending of time), and immutability (unchangeableness)—all of which are covered in subsequent articles.

While God is infinite in His being, He has placed some limitations on Himself through His own choosing. When He created angels and humans with free will, capable of choosing to do good or evil, He limited Himself to allow them to make choices which even result in things that He doesn’t desire to happen. Such limitations don’t impinge on God’s infinity, because He has freely placed these limitations on Himself.

Jack Cottrell wrote:

God is not limited by nature, but by choice. He did not have to create at all, nor did the creation have to include free-will beings. (Creation is a free act.) Since it’s a matter of God’s own choice, and since there are no limitations imposed on God from without, the fact of creation does not in any way contradict the essential infinity of God; it is in no way an infringement upon His complete sovereignty over what He has made. Self-limitation is consistent with infinity: indeed, the fact that God is free to limit Himself as He chooses is the supreme indication of His infinity.[26]

God’s infinity means that everything God is, He is infinitely. He is infinitely loving, merciful, gracious, holy, wise, powerful, knowledgeable, etc. There are no limits to His being, which is why He is called the Supreme Being.

God’s Independence and Freedom

As the self-existent Creator of the universe, there is no higher power or being than God. God is free to do as He wills. He has complete self-determination. He answers to no authority other than Himself. There is no hindrance to Him. No limits are placed on Him. Nothing can hinder God from doing His will. Nothing outside of Himself constrains Him.

Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases.[27]

All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?” [28]

Who gave Him charge over the earth, and who laid on Him the whole world? If He should set His heart to it and gather to Himself His spirit and His breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.[29]

Who has first given to Me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.[30]

“Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid?” For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.[31]

While God is the giver of life, is infinite, and has ultimate freedom, authority, and power, all that He does is consistent with His divine nature and character. Because He is holy, loving, righteous, just, merciful, patient, and gracious, all that He does is holy, loving, righteous, just, merciful, patient, gracious. God does not act contrary to His nature. Knowing this helps give us faith to trust Him completely.


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Other versions cited are The New International Version (NIV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), The New Revised Standard Version (NRS), The New King James Version (NKJV), and the King James Version (KJV).

[1] Genesis 1:1.

[2] Psalm 90:2.

[3] For more on the Trinity and Creation, see the article: The Heart of It All: The Trinity, Part 1; in particular the section on “Concept of the Trinity in the Old Testament.”

[4] Psalm 148:2–5.

[5] John 1:1–3.

[6] Genesis 1:2.

[7] 1 Corinthians 8:6.

[8] In discussing the attributes of God’s nature and character, it’s important to remind ourselves that what is said about God is true of each of the Persons of the Trinity, since each is God—three Persons in one God. Much of what has been revealed about God’s nature, character, and attributes is taken from Old Testament scripture. The Old Testament, generally speaking, spoke of God as one person, not as three persons, since the concept of God being tri-personal wasn’t fully revealed until New Testament times. Thus one can get the impression from Old Testament descriptions of the nature and character of God that it is only referring to God the Father, when in fact it refers to the nature and character of all the persons of the Trinity. (Excerpt from “The Heart of It All: The Nature and Character of God: Overview”)

[9] Hebrews 1:3.

[10] Colossians 1:16–17.

[11] Revelation 4:11.

[12]Jack Cottrell, What the Bible Says About God the Creator (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1983), 247.

[13] William Lane Craig, The Doctrine of God 1, Defenders Series Lecture.

[14] Exodus 3:14.

[15] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 162.

[16] John 5:26.

[17] Acts 17:24–25, 28.

[18] Psalm 36:9.

[19] J. P. Moreland, William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Intervarsity Press, 2003), 504.

[20] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 59.

[21] J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology, Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), Volume 1, p. 55.

[22] Psalm 145:3.

[23] Psalm 147:5.

[24] 1 Kings 8:27.

[25] Job 11:7–10.

[26] Jack Cottrell, What the Bible Says About God the Creator (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1983), 243–44.

[27] Psalm 115:3.

[28] Daniel 4:35.

[29] Job 34:13–15.

[30] Job 41:11.

[31] Romans 11:35–36.