The Heart of It All: The Nature and Character of God
August 16, 2011
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.)
In the “Trinity” section of this series, we explored the three Persons of the triune God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We reviewed the nature of the Trinity—one God in three Persons. In the “Incarnation” section we studied how God the Son—Jesus—became incarnate, lived and died, and rose again, and made our salvation possible.
In this section—“The Nature and Character of God”—we will look at what God has told humanity about Himself, through His creation and through His Word—the Bible. Studying God’s nature and character gives us greater understanding of who God is, what kind of being He is, what He’s like, and affirms our faith as to why we can trust Him, and why we love, praise, and obey Him. Knowing about God’s nature and character helps us to gain a greater comprehension of His essence—at least as much as we, as finite creatures, can comprehend the infinite Creator.
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.
God the Creator
A good starting point for discussing God’s being—His properties, characteristics, attributes, those things which make God God—is the creation of the universe. Our knowledge of God is based on the fact that God created all things: time, the universe, the physical world, all matter, all living things, as well as the spiritual world and its inhabitants. He then revealed Himself to humankind in a general way through His creation (known as general revelation), as well as more specifically through the Bible (known as special revelation).
The Bible teaches that God created the universe ex nihilo, Latin for out of nothing. Before the universe existed, before time existed, before matter existed, God eternally existed. Anything and everything else that exists, whether physical or spiritual, was created by Him.
There is a great deal of discussion and debate surrounding the creation of the universe, the creation of the world, and the creation of living things. This includes the controversy about how life on earth originated and how human beings came into existence. This topic is much studied and discussed within the scientific community, and is debated by atheists and Christians alike, and many Christian theologians, apologists, philosophers, and scientists have varying views based on their interpretation of Scripture and/or the way they believe the creation account in the book of Genesis should be read and understood. Numerous books and studies have been published on this topic and it’s one I hope to cover more in depth in the future.
While this current series of articles will not deal with creation issues, it is standard Christian doctrine that God always existed, and that God created the universe and all that is in it out of nothing. This basic statement does not address how or when God created the universe, the world, and all living things, both physical and spiritual; only that He did.
Following are a few verses that speak about God creating the world.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host. For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm.
For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In His hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are His also. The sea is His, for He made it, and His hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
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.
You are the Lord, You alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and You preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships You.
I made the earth and created man on it; it was My hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host.
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.
The key to the Christian understanding of God is rooted in the biblical teaching that He is the Creator of all things, as well as understanding His role as Creator and our role as beings who were created by God. In today’s world, thinking of ourselves as creatures—created beings—is often unpopular and is even offensive to some. But if God created all things, then everything is a creation of God, and we are therefore creatures. When we explore what we can know about the nature of God more in depth, it will become clearer why this Creator/creature distinction is important.
Our Knowledge of God Is Incomplete
In learning about God’s nature, essence, character, and attributes, we should understand from the beginning that we can never know all there is to know about God. We are finite beings, and we are limited in knowledge. God is an infinite being, He is unlimited in knowledge, and the gap between the two can never be bridged. Christian doctrine teaches that God is incomprehensible, meaning that He is “unable to be fully understood.” This doesn’t mean that God can’t be understood at all; it simply means that He can’t be fully or exhaustively understood.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; His understanding is beyond measure.
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom.
Great is our Lord and mighty in power; His understanding has no limit.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.
Behold, these are but the outskirts of His ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of Him! But the thunder of His power who can understand?
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.
God thunders wondrously with His voice; He does great things that we cannot comprehend.
Even though we won’t ever be able to comprehend all there is to know about God, we can know things about Him that He has revealed to us. Some we know in general terms, through the world around us—His creation. Others we learn more specifically, through the primary vehicle by which He has revealed Himself to humankind—the Bible. Within its pages are things which God has told humanity about Himself, and what He has said about Himself is true. He hasn’t told us everything about Himself, though, so no one can fully understand all there is to know about Him. Much of what He has shown us is mysterious and thus difficult to fully comprehend.
Author and lecturer J. I. Packer says:
A mystery in theology is a divine fact of which you can say that it is with perfect confidence because the Bible tells you so, but you cannot begin to perceive how it is, how it can be.
Some things about God are mysterious in that manner, but what He has said through His creation and through His Word are in any case the things that He has revealed about Himself to humanity. These revelations tell us a great deal about Him, and what we learn through these causes us to love, praise, and trust Him.
While God has revealed Himself to humankind through both general and special revelation, and it’s through His Word that we have come to understand His gift of salvation, as Christians we can build on our understanding of Him and His ways through the personal relationship we have with Him. The Holy Spirit dwells within us. We know Jesus and as such we know the Father. Because we love Jesus, we are loved by the Father, and Jesus manifests Himself to us. While the Bible has revealed God to us, salvation has made us His children, which brings with it the opportunity to know Him personally.
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.
Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know Me, Philip? Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.”
If you knew Me, you would know My Father also.
Whoever has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.
To all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.
Some aspects of God’s nature, being, and character are things that we, as humans created in God’s image, have as well in a limited sense; others we don’t. For example, we can also be holy, merciful, and righteous, and we can be loving and kind—all things that God is. However, God is infinitely holy, merciful, and loving. He not only has these attributes, He is these attributes, without any limitations. Because we were created in His image, we can have a modicum of these qualities, but God has them immeasurably. Many theologians state that what God does, He is. He doesn’t just love; He is love. He isn’t just righteous; He is righteousness, wisdom, mercy, etc.
As we study more about God’s nature and character, my prayer is that it will impart a deeper awareness of our infinitely wonderful God.
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.
 CONFESSIO BELGICA— The Belgic Confession. A.D. 1561. Revised 1619
BY WHAT MEANS GOD IS MADE KNOWN UNTO US.
We know him by two means: first, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to contemplate the invisible things of God, namely, his eternal power and Godhead, as the Apostle Paul saith (Romans 1:20). All which things are sufficient to convince men, and leave them without excuse.
Secondly, he makes himself more clearly and fully known to us by his holy and divine Word; that is to say, as far as is necessary for us to know in this life, to his glory and our salvation.
 From the Statement of Faith of The Family International
We believe in one God, who is the all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present, eternal Being that created and sustains the universe and everything in it. The Bible teaches us that “God is a spirit” (John 4:24) and “God is love” (1 John 4:8). We believe that He loves and cares for each person with an eternal, unending love, and seeks to bring every man, woman, and child into a personal relationship with Him.
God exists eternally in the Trinity of three distinguishable but inseparable Persons: God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
- Isaiah 43:10–11; John 4:24, 14:23; 1 John 4:19, 5:7; Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Revelation 4:11
 Genesis 1:1.
 Psalm 33:6, 9.
 Psalm 95:3–6.
 John 1:1–3.
 Nehemiah 9:6.
 Isaiah 45:12.
 Revelation 4:11.
 Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000. p.150.
 Psalm 147:5.
 Romans 11:33 NAU.
 Psalm 145:3 NIV.
 Psalm 147:5 NIV.
 Isaiah 55:9.
 Job 26:14.
 Job 11:7–9.
 Job 37:5.
 Packer, J. I. The Attributes of God, part 2, Lecture 11, Transcendence and Character.
 John 14:16–17.
 John 14:8–9.
 John 8:19.
 John 14:21.
 John 1:12.