The Heart of It All: The Nature and Character of God
June 26, 2012
by Peter Amsterdam
The Heart of It All: The Nature and Character of God
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(For an introduction and explanation regarding this series overall, please see The Heart of It All: Introduction.)
When looking at God’s nature and character, we can see that God has many attributes, and these attributes are who He is. It’s not as if God is partly righteous and partly merciful, or that sometimes He’s patient and at other times He’s wrathful. God’s attributes are God’s essence. He’s not divided into parts. He is all of His attributes all of the time. What He is determines what He does, and His actions are based on His essence. He is infinitely whole and perfect in each of His attributes, and these perfect attributes are in complete harmony one with another. Everything God does is consistent with all of His attributes.
God’s Attributes: Equal and Consistent
There are times in Scripture when some attribute of God is emphasized more than another. Certainly God’s holiness, justice, and wrath are more prominently displayed in the Old Testament, though His love, mercy, patience, omniscience, and power are clearly evident as well. Love and grace are in the forefront throughout the New Testament, but there is no hiding the wrath that it also contains.
The God of the Old Testament and the New Testament is the same God—infinitely just, holy, loving, and merciful in both time periods, and all that He did is completely consistent with all of His attributes. Old Testament believers lived within the covenant that God made with Israel, in which the law, given through Moses, was predominant. New Testament believers live under a new covenant since the death and resurrection of Jesus and the giving of the Holy Spirit to believers. They are different covenants with the same God, and while certain aspects of God’s nature may have been emphasized in Scripture at different times, this doesn’t negate the other parts of His nature.
Both the old and new covenants, and God’s actions in both eras, were based on the fullness of God’s Being. Holiness, righteousness, love, mercy, grace, patience, wrath, aseity, eternity, immutability, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and all of God’s attributes are woven throughout both Testaments because God’s actions are based on God’s Being; and His Being, the essence of who God is, is found in His attributes.
There are some theologians who have argued that love is the most important, or dominant, attribute of God, and that all others are based on God’s love. Others have argued that His holiness, righteousness, or some other attribute is the most important part of God’s Being. These positions are not held by the majority of theologians. The implication of one attribute being more important or dominant leads to the possibility that some of God’s actions could be inconsistent with His divine nature.—That He would possibly set aside one attribute in favor of another, and would act contrary to one of His attributes. This would then mean that God could change in His nature, that He could act in an unrighteous manner, and could be unloving or unholy, which as we see from Scripture is not possible.
While the Bible specifically tells us that God is love, it doesn’t state that God is only love. Scripture also specifically states that God is spirit, is light, and is a consuming fire. Again, it does not state that God is only any of these things.
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.
God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.
Our God is a consuming fire.
When God told Moses about Himself, He said He was merciful, gracious, patient, loving, faithful, forgiving, just, and righteous.
The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.”
God’s being is a unity of all of His attributes. None are separate from another, or more important than another. They all make up the essence of God.
Learning, Understanding, Worshipping
Learning about God’s nature and character helps us to have a better understanding of God. It is of course not possible to know all there is about God, but we can know what He has revealed about Himself through Scripture. What He has revealed shows that He is worthy of all honor, respect, praise, and worship. He is the awesome God of Scripture.
Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
Let them praise Your great and awesome name! Holy is He! The King in His might loves justice. You have established equity; You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. Exalt the Lord our God; worship at His footstool! Holy is He!
O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep His commandments.
He sent redemption to His people; He has commanded His covenant forever. Holy and awesome is His name!
God’s Personal Care, and our Faith in Him
The Creator of all things, who has the power to speak creation into being, who knows all there is to know, who is from everlasting to everlasting, who is infinite in all of His Being, is not some faraway entity who pays no attention to the world and all that is in it. The opposite is true. God is personal. God being personal means that He enters relationships with us. He loves and interacts with us. He listens to us, cares for us, and answers our prayers. He entered our world and died for us so that we can live with Him forever.
He is concerned about His creatures, humans in particular. He made them in His image, He has entered into covenants with them, and He establishes relationships with them. He loves them and cares about them, does good for them, and finds pleasure in them. Though His image-bearing creations sinned by turning away from His will, God didn’t abandon them and cast them out. His self-giving love made a way for humans to be forgiven for their sins and to become reconciled to Him. Jesus suffered and died specifically for our sins. The personal, merciful, loving, and gracious God, in an act of deep love for those He created, brought forth the plan of redemption.
God’s holiness, righteousness, justice, and constancy are those attributes that give a foundation for our faith and trust in God. He is unchanging, the Rock, the strong tower in which we are safe. He is infinitely holy, so we can know that He will never do anything toward us which is unholy. He is infinitely righteous and just, so we can know He will always treat us fairly. Because He is constant in His nature and character, we know He will always act lovingly toward us, and will always be merciful and patient.
His omniscience and omnipotence help to engender faith that what God has said in His Word will happen, as He has the power to make it happen. When we pray for ourselves or others, when we lay hands on the sick, when we ask Him for anything, we can pray in faith, knowing that the all-powerful One can do all things which are according to His will and purpose.
Being aware of the unity of His attributes, the harmony between them, can help us to have a more trusting attitude when we can’t make sense of some of what happens in the world around us. Knowing that God is holy and just, that He hates evil, and that He will judge those who do evil, but that He is also patient, can help us to know that the injustice in the world will be dealt with, that vengeance belongs to God. When we consider His attributes in balance, it helps to guide us in our lives, decisions, and interactions with others. We too should hate evil, sin, and injustice, but we should also be loving, kind, merciful, and patient with others.
Knowing that God is uncreated Spirit, that His Being is unique and different from all other being, that He made all things, knows all things, and can do all things, can help us to accept that there are some things about God that are beyond our knowledge and understanding. We don’t know all His thoughts and ways, and we can’t always have answers to every question we have about Him. We can, however, know that because God is true to His nature, we can trust that He will act in accordance with His nature. Even if we may not understand everything about Him or why He does what He does, He has revealed to us His essence, His nature and character, His attributes, His power and abilities, and we know that these are what God is and always will be. Knowing this can help us have faith to trust in Him, even if we don’t have complete understanding of Him or His actions.
Knowing more about God’s nature and character, about His awesomeness, can and should cause us to love, praise, and worship Him. He’s the One who created the universe, who made the beautiful world in which we live. He loves and cares about us, so much so that He wants us to live with Him for eternity—which He has made possible through His ultimate love gift, the free gift of salvation.
God is wonderful! He loves us so deeply. He cares about every person. He cares about you personally. It’s a wonderful thing to know that He has made it possible for us to be with Him for eternity and that He has commissioned us to help others to learn about Him, His love, and the wonderful salvation that is available to all.
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).
General bibliography for all “Nature and Character of God” articles
Barth, Karl. The Doctrine of God, Vol. 2, Parts 1 and 2.Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010.
Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996.
Cottrell, Jack. What the Bible Says About God the Creator. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1983.
Craig, William Lane. The Doctrine of Christ, Defenders Series Lectures.
Garrett, Jr., James Leo. Systematic Theology, Biblical, Historical, and Evangelical, Vol. 1. N. Richland Hills: BIBAL Press, 2000.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000.
Lewis, Gordon R., and Demarest, Bruce A. Integrative Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.
Miley, John. Systematic Theology. New York: Hunt and Eaton, 1892.
Milne, Bruce. Know the Truth, A Handbook of Christian Belief. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009.
Mueller, John Theodore. Christian Dogmatics, A Handbook of Doctrinal Theology for Pastors, Teachers, and Laymen. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934.
Ott, Ludwig. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1960.
Packer, J. I. The Attributes of God 1 and 2. Lecture Series.
Williams, J. Rodman. Renewal Theology, Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.