Doctrine 1. The Nature, Names and Attributes of God

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)

Every philosophy, past, present or future has had a source and centre piece to make sense of everything. For Secular Humanists the centre piece is the idea that man is here for himself and that he is the chief end of all things. For Buddhists it is Buddha. For Evolutionists it is this power of blind chance. The centre piece and source of Christianity is God. God is the chief end of all things and it is for him that all things exist, “for from him and through him and to him are all things” (Rom 11:36). God is the one who has given you the eyes to read this sentence and the breath to keep you going (around 19,000 per day!). In fact he pumps your heart each one of the 42,075,904 times that it beats each year!! God must be talked about first because of this and also because Theology is the study of God (as stated in the introduction to this series).
When we define things we always try to get to an understanding by saying as little as possible about it but we can’t do this with God. For example, if I defined a chair I might say it is a seat for a person, saying as little as possible. The problem when it comes to God is that we will none of us understand God. If we could then He wouldn’t be infinite and therefore not God. Instead when we speak about God we’ve got to say as much as possible about him. I can’t do this in this article so would really recommend that you check out the recommended reading at the bottom. There are lots of things that I would love to talk about but can’t, so I am going to address three things: 1. His nature 2. His names 3. His Attributes

1.For this discussion we have to start off assuming the existence of God. The question is not: ‘does God exist?’ but rather: ‘given that God does exist, what is his nature?’. God is Trinity. This means that He is one God in three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. God does not have three different characters by having three different person rather he is one essence and three persons. We will discuss this in greater depth next week.
God’s nature is many, many things. If I filled up all the books of this world with an attempt to exhaustively describe God’s nature it would be no more than that: an attempt. Impossible. God is: Good, generous, just, loving, merciful, kind, relational, angry, jealous, incomprehensible, infinite, perfect, holy, pure, upright, unmoving, complete, unchanging, glorious, extravagant, mighty, wise, beautiful, dangerous… …

2. God’s names are a description of His character. Scripture also speaks of the name (singular) of God (Exo 20:7). In these places, God’s name stands for the whole of His character and being. God is His name. This is why He says to Moses “I am who I am”. His name is also, however, His self-revelation and so also has to be accommodated to our very limited understanding. Though the names of God are of divine choosing they are still borrowed from human language, anthropomorphic, and show God’s condescending to our level to show us Himself. God’s names are firstly those in which He describes Himself as three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Sadly, there is not time to go through all of the things that God says about himself but I would highly recommend checking out Bavinck’s Doctrine of the Knowledge of God and the chapter on God’s names.

3. Attributes- classical reformed division. God’s attributes are what He is and how He acts, everything about Him that we know that inform us about Him. Classic reformed tradition has split the attributes into a. Communicable and b. Incommunicable. God’s communicable attributes are those attributes which we can understand by seeing and example of it in creation. These include things like: power, goodness, mercy and righteousness. God’s incommunicable attributes are those attributes which cannot be paralleled in creation. This includes such things as simplicity immensity. Berkhof does point out that this distinction does fall down because parallels can be found for even God’s incommunicable attributes. Out of all of God’s attributes, however, is the only one which is repeated 3 times: His holiness. God’s holiness is not only his moral purity but that he is totally other, totally different from anything and anyone else, incomparable and incomprehensible.

There is so much to be said about this and already I have written too much. So let me leave you with some questions to think about and to comment on below. If you have any questions about anything above please do feel free to comment and ask.

-Do you regularly practise studying God and his attributes? Why or why not? Should we?

-Is it merely book knowledge to talk about God and his attributes or does it actually have pastoral/ Christian living implications?

-What primary ways can we apply this knowledge of God in our own lives?


Recommended reading:

Louis Berkhof Systematic Theology (relevant chapters)
John Calvin Institutes of the Christian Religion (chapters 1-3)
Herman Bavinck The Doctrine of God (Especially chapter 3)

Article by Thomas van den Broek

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