The Heart of It All: The Nature and Character of God
August 23, 2011
by Peter Amsterdam
The Heart of It All: The Nature and Character of God
The Living and Personal God
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(For an introduction and explanation regarding this series overall, please see The Heart of It All: Introduction.)
In this series of articles, we are looking at a number of aspects of God’s nature, being, and character. We’ll start with looking at how God is alive and God is personal, and what that means to us.
Some belief systems look at everything as being part of God, and God as being part of everything. The core of such belief systems is what is referred to as pantheism, which is the belief that we’re all part of God, or part of the “force” of the universe, or that everything is connected via nature, or that God is energy, nature, or fate—but not a personal being. Other systems, such as deism, believe that God exists, but that once He created the universe He ceased to interact with it, so there is no direct connection or relationship between God and humankind.
The Living God
Having read what the Bible says about the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—the Trinity—it’s evident that God is more than just energy or a force. Rather than having created the universe and turned away from it, He has interaction with His creation. This is seen in the Bible, beginning with the Old Testament accounts and continuing throughout the New Testament; and most notably in Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity, taking human form and living on earth, followed by the Holy Spirit dwelling in believers forever, all of which show the continued interaction between God and His creation.
God lives! While this means that He exists, it means much more than that. He interacts with humanity and especially with those who love and follow Him.
He exists for His people, ready to come to their aid and to act in their defense and to bless them for His name’s sake.
God is called “the Living God” numerous times throughout both the Old and New Testaments. He is described as alive and interactive with His people.
Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that He will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites.”
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?
The Lord is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure His indignation.
Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
We bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things (idols) to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.
You show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea.
“The Living God” is a term used to sharply contrast God to the idols that were commonly worshipped in ancient times. The Hebrew words used in reference to idols in the Old Testament are words which mean good for nothing, worthless, vain, devoid, or empty of substance. Idols are lifeless, mere images made by man, which stand in contrast to the living, interactive God. The Bible makes the difference clear by stating that idols have no breath, which expresses that they have no life.
Every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols, for his images are false, and there is no breath in them.
The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths.
They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat.
When challenging the false prophets and their idols, the prophet Isaiah stated the difference between a living God who knows all things—past, present, and future—and the idols, which know nothing.
Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless; he who chooses you is detestable.
The Living God—the Supreme Being who created the universe and all that is in it, including us—deserves our allegiance, worship, praise, and love. From God’s point of view, it’s an insult to worship lifeless, useless idols.
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods beforeMe. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.
Pay attention to all that I have said to you, and make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let it be heard on your lips.
If you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.
God Is Personal
The Living God is a personal and active being. His personhood is seen in that He has self-awareness, rational consciousness, self-determination, intelligence, emotions, knowledge, and will, all of which are necessary for personhood. We, as human beings, are personal and possess personhood. We have personhood because we are made in the image of God. The difference between human beings and all other created things on earth is that we are made in God’s image and they are not; we possess personhood and they don’t. As William Lane Craig said, Man is a person because God is personal, and that is what enables us to relate to God. God being personal and possessing personhood doesn’t mean that God is human; rather it means that we as humans share personhood with God.
God personally interacts with humankind, as can be seen throughout the Bible. He enters into relationships with people. He has made agreements or partnerships, called “covenants,” with them. He speaks to them throughout the Bible. These are personal acts.
In the Old Testament, God actively involved Himself with His people, Israel, in their times of need—such as by parting the Red Sea and the Jordan River, giving them food and water, providing them with land, and so on. He sent messengers, the prophets, who delivered His words, and He rewarded or punished people in accordance with whether they obeyed or disobeyed those messages. Throughout the Old Testament it’s plain that God was personally and actively involved with His people.
The book of Genesis shows God interacting in a personal way with His creatures in many instances, including in the creation of the world, in His actions and conversations with Adam and Eve, through His entering into personal covenants with Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He continued to show Himself as personal through His dealings with Moses and the children of Israel.
God’s Word ascribes emotions to God: love, hatred, anger, repentance, grief, compassion, indignation, abhorrence, patience, longsuffering, joy, and others. Such emotions are attributed to personhood.
When Moses asked, God spoke His name—Yahweh, I AM. Having a name and giving that name to another is a personal act. He also has titles that depict Him as personal, such as Father, Judge, Shepherd, or Husband.
Nothing showed that God is personal as clearly as His revelation of Himself in Jesus. Jesus was God walking the earth, and He was personal in every way, in every act, so much so that He personally died so that we could receive salvation.
Authors Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest state that God actively creates, sustains, covenants with His people, preserves the Messiah’s line of descent in Israel, commissions prophet after prophet, sends His Son into the world, provides the atoning sacrifices to satisfy His own righteousness, raises Christ from the dead, builds the church and judges all justly. Far from being a passive entity like a building, the God of the Bible is an active architect, builder, freedom fighter, advocate of the poor and oppressed, and empathetic counselor, a suffering servant and a triumphant deliverer.
Our God is not some faraway disinterested being. He is a God who is personal, who has a relationship with His creation. He has made Himself known to us through His Word. He has shown us some of what He’s like. He is interested in us as individuals. He has made a way for us to live with Him forever, through salvation. Through belief in Jesus, God the Son, we become God’s children, which enables us to touch Him personally, to communicate with Him, to hear His voice, to share our hearts with Him. He communes with us, abides in us, and loves us. We commune with Him, abide in Him, and love Him. We have a personal relationship with the Personal God. How incredibly wonderful!
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 frequently cited are The New International Version (NIV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), The New King James Version (NKJV), and the King James Version (KJV).
Barth, Karl. The Doctrine of the Word of God, Vol.1, Part 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, 1996.
Craig, William Lane. The Doctrine of God. Defenders Series Lecture.
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 Bruce A. Demarest. Integrative Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.
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.
 I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:16–17)
 Cottrell, Jack. What the Bible Says About God the Creator. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1996. p. 388.
 Joshua 3:10.
 Psalm 42:2.
 Jeremiah 10:10.
 Acts 14:15.
 2 Corinthians 3:3.
 Revelation 7:2.
 Jeremiah 10:14.
 Psalm 135:15–17.
 Psalm 115:5–7.
 Isaiah 41:22–24 NIV.
 Exodus 20:2–5.
 Exodus 23:13.
 Deuteronomy 8:19.
 Craig, William Lane, The Doctrine of God, Part 4. “Defenders” Lecture Series.
 See Psalms 78, 105, 106, 136.
 The Oberlin Evangelist. October 9, 1839. Professor Finney's Lectures. Lecture XVIII, Affections and Emotions of God.
 Father: I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me, says the Lord Almighty. 2 Corinthians 6:18.
Judge:The Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our king; He will save us. Isaiah 33:22.
Shepherd: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. Psalm 23:1.
Husband: Your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is His name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth He is called. Isaiah 54:5.
 Lewis, Gordon R., and Bruce A. Demarest. Integrative Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, p. 196.