“IN THE BEGINNING GOD...”
The basis and beginning of all religion is God. “In the beginning God...” are the opening words of Scripture.
But immediately we have questions. Who is God?—or what? How can we know He exists? What of His relationship with men?
In this section we will study:
• Who Is God?
The World’s Concepts of God
The One True God
• What Is His Name?
• Evidence of God’s Existence — Secular Evidence — Biblical Evidence
• The Nature of God
• The Character of God
• God and Us
WHO IS GOD?
The World’s Concepts of God
One of the most prevalent beliefs in the world today is that God does not exist. Each year thousands of youth join the ranks of no faith, feeling there is no solid basis for belief in God . Part of this is due to the general undermining of faith in some of our schools and colleges by professors who have no faith. Another reason is the utter lack of a solid foundation of evidence by those who profess to believe.
The belief that there is no God at all is probably the most difficult to support, because to claim there is no God is to claim that man knows all there is to know. And what honest scientist, scholar, inventor, or technician would make such a claim today?
It is impossible to prove that God does not exist—for the very fact that a negative is impossible to prove. Someone has made the following comparison:
Let the circle represent all knowledge. Let the shaded area represent the portion of knowledge known by the professing atheist. If the shaded area is all the atheist knows (no one knows even this large a percentage of all knowledge!), isn’t it ridiculous to deny that God could exist in the other part of the universe of knowledge not known to this atheist? We are reminded of the words of Psalm 14:1, “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God’.”
Agnosticism has some resemblance to atheism, though it is not so extreme. The agnostic says, There may be a God but He is unknown and unknowable.
Agnosticism is based on relativity, the theory that all truth is relative to certain situations. In other words, what is truth at one time may be error another time. Therefore, since all truth is relative, it is all uncertain; hence unknowable. And since God is the God of truth, He too must be relative to existing conditions and thus uncertain and unknowable.
Numerous philosophers and educators embrace agnosticism, perhaps because they have sought to find proof of God within the realm of their own uninstructed minds.
From the extreme of atheism we swing to polytheism, the belief in many gods. All early religions were polytheistic, that is, they believed in many gods.
Long before men knew God the Creator, they worshiped. To explain powerful forces in their world over which they had no control, the primitive people imagined divine spirits. In the elements and forces of nature they saw a soul or mysterious living power—a sun that brought heat and light; terrifying storms of thunder, lightning, and wind, that destroyed; a moon that waxed and waned; the sky, the earth, trees, rocks, rivers, forests, fire—any power beyond their control they venerated. All these became their gods.
Nor were gods limited to these. There is hardly an animal, from the jungle snake to the Hindu elephant, that has not at some time some where been worshiped as a god.
Will Durant in his Story of Civilization tells us that the idea of a human god was a “late step in a long development; it was slowly differentiated, through many stages, out of the conception of an ocean or multitude of spirits surrounding and inhabiting everything ....
“In primitive theology there is no sharp or generic distinction between gods and men; to the early Greeks, for example, their gods were ancestors, and their ancestors, gods. A further development came when certain men and women who had been especially distinguished were singled out for certain deification; so the greater kings became gods.”
Out of the confused belief in this incredible number of gods grew the belief that God cannot be identified. In time this led to the assertion that God exists––as manifested in the material universe and in man. God is everything, they assert. He is the universe, the earth, the animals, the plants––and also man.
Many believe also in a doctrine called reincarnation, that life runs in cycles of rebirth. If you are good in one life you will be reborn into another life and be better. If you are not good, it will be worse for you in the next life.
Under this philosophy, those who are lame, deformed, sickly or unfortunate are suffering from sins they committed in the previous life. The caste system of India is painful evidence of this belief.
Humanism is a division of pantheism. Man is supreme in the creation. Advocates of humanism say, No higher power can save us. We must save ourselves. “To see God, see the best in man.”
Unitarianism is another concept with a wide following, numbering among its members such names as Emerson and Holmes in the literary field and statesmen such as Adams and Taft. Unitarianism, briefly defined, is this: The Bible is the product of human reason. There is no divine inspiration. The existence of God is not a matter of revelation, but a conclusion of reason. Since reason is their supreme guide, the Bible is a source of knowledge only insofar as it coincides with reason. There is no authority for faith and conduct above reason.
• Other Concepts
In the 19th and 20th centuries many new concepts have arisen. One of these which has gained a considerable following is that of Christian Science. Christian Science says, “God is a principle of all harmonious mind action. Therefore all is mind. Therefore mind alone is real, and matter is not real; we only think it is. Think differently and the disease will disappear. These wrong ideas we must destroy by simply disbelieving them, and then evil, whether as sin or disease, will disappear and all will be well.”
The One True God
When the time was right, when man had developed his mental powers sufficiently to comprehend the laws of God and obey them, the true God made Himself manifest. He revealed Himself first to Adam, then to Cain and Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and eventually to Moses. Here was an entirely different God than man had previously known. Instead of a force of nature or an inanimate image entirely lacking in power, here was a living being whose power and work was unmistakable, who could create or destroy. He could control the forces of nature at will, and could predict future events with accuracy. Above all, He could furnish the human race with a complete outline of His plan for their salvation and life free from the imperfections and limitations of mortal existence.
This is the God of the Bible.
• Old Testament Concept
The revelation made to Abraham (Gen. 12) marked a clear stage in the advance of man’s knowledge of God, and similar steps forward were made in the days of Moses. The God who spoke to Moses from the burning bush was not an unknown Deity; He was the angel, the representative of the “God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” (Ex. 3:6); He was also “the Lord God of the Hebrews” (Ex. 3:18); even His name was previously known (Ex. 3:15).
The nation of Israel, when God first appeared to them, was an idolatrous and superstitious people. Much discipline was required to civilize them and to make them to understand that God demanded their undivided allegiance.
From the beginning the Hebrew concept of God was simple and concrete, not metaphysical, not an abstraction from the powers of nature. The God of Israel was personal, spiritual, sole and supreme, of an unapproachably lofty ethical character. Personality, implying a living Being who thought, felt, and willed and who possessed all the characteristics of personal life, is a distinctive feature of the God of the Old Testament. But this Being was invisible to mortal eye and beyond all mortal perceptions. God is proclaimed from the outset as sole and supreme. The ground of all other commandments is, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3). Other gods had but a relative existence, if they were thought of as existing at all, they possessed neither might nor right in comparison with Him who was the Creator and Sustainer of all.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the God of the Old Testament is the emphasis on His moral character, the fact that He is unique not in power only but in wisdom, righteousness, goodness and truth. It was the work of the prophets from Amos onwards to teach these attributes of God. The prophets taught the unity and supremacy of God in relation to the whole world as well as to Israel, and pressed home the doctrine of His holiness as had never been done before.
One title applied to God is singularly representative of His supremacy: “Lord of hosts.” This title of “Lord of hosts,” used frequently in the time of the prophets, suggests His lordship over untold numbers of beings both in this world and throughout the universes.
• New Testament Concept
The conception of God in the New Testament rests entirely upon the Old Testament. Jesus Christ and His disciples believed the Old Testament Scriptures. He is the one who is supreme, living, personal, spiritual, holy, righteous and merciful. His power and knowledge are all-sufficient.
However, the God of the New Testament is in a sense different from the God of the Old. Though He had not changed, certain new emphases appear in the New Testament. The fundamental and central idea about God in the New Testament is His Fatherhood. This idea was not new, for according to the Psalmist, He deals with His people as a father with his child (Ps. 103:13). Even His chastisements are as a man chasteneth his son (Deut. 8:5).
In the teaching of Jesus, God is pre-eminently the Father. “My Father is greater than I…Whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you…Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that your Son also may glorify You” (John 14:28, 16:23, 17:1). “Father” was His customary term for the Supreme Being––who was, in a very real sense His Father, for Jesus was “conceived of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20).
Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Our Father.” It is a loving, wholesome, exalted and spiritual relationship involving responsibility on both sides. We often say “God” where Jesus would have said “the Father.” The essential nature of God and His relation to men is best described by the relation of a father to his children, though God is Father in an infinitely higher and more perfect degree than any man.
What Is His Name?
“God” is a word common in one form or another to all languages. The ancient Greeks had their theos; the Hebrews, el; the Romans, deus; the Germans, Goth. Our English word “God” is derived from the German “Goth.” The word was originally neuter and generally used in the plural form, being applied to the numerous inanimate or human deities worshiped at that time. Upon the conversion of the German peoples to Christianity, the term was elevated to the Christian sense. And today, when we think of God, we think of the one, All-powerful, Supreme Creator.
• Yahweh and Yashua?
Some religious persons today lay great stress upon the name and the pronunciation of the name used to address the Almighty God. They feel that God intended that men forever address God as “Yahweh” and Christ as “Yashua.”
Direct Scripture support for this viewpoint is lacking, and scholars even differ on the exact spelling of the Hebrew words which have been translated “God” in the Old Testament. Furthermore, we have no way of knowing exactly how the Hebrew people pronounced His name or whether, as some claim, they considered it too holy to pronounce at all. How, then, can God hold us accountable for the manner in which we vocalize His name?
We know that God demands our utmost in respect and reverence, and even the best languages of this world must seem crude to a Being whose existence and knowledge are so vast. God is a Being who searches “the heart,” who tests “the mind,” who rewards every man “according to his ways” (Jer. 17:10). With Him, not words but “actions” are weighed (1 Sam. 2:3).
EVIDENCE OF GOD’S EXISTENCE
• Secular Evidence
We claim to worship God. But what God? What do we know about Him? How can we be sure that He exists beyond the mortal imagination?
These questions have challenged men down through the ages. But affirmative evidence on the subject abounds.
Evidence #1: The Very Existence of Life
Of his own power, man is incapable of creating even the smallest living thing. He cannot create himself. A being greater than himself created him.
No life exists without a creator. Life must have come by a higher power. Only God can give life.
What about the explanations of evolution? Evolutionists theorize that all plant and animal life developed gradually from simpler forms of life into the complex species existing today. But even evolution begins with something already living, or else it must profess belief in spontaneous generation, i.e., that life springs automatically from non-life.
Evidence #2: Cause
The vastness and perfection of the visible creation attest to the existence of a Creator.
Everything in our world today was caused by someone. A house does not just evolve into existence by the natural movement of bricks, mortar and boards. Every house has a builder, every building had a designer, every product a manufacturer.
Can we not apply the same reasoning to the creation all around us? That is why we read in the Bible, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.” (Ps. 19:1). The precision with which our solar system operates defies description. And our solar system is only one of a vast number of many such systems in our Milky Way galaxy. Even our galaxy is only one of numberless galaxies which form a part of the limitless expanse of universes beyond.
God Himself challenged Job to prove His nonexistence:
“Can you bind the cluster of the Pleiades, or loose the belt of Orion? Can you bring out Mazzaroth in its season? Or can you guide the Great Bear with its cubs? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?...Does the hawk fly by your wisdom, and spread its wings toward the south? Does the eagle mount up at your command, and make its nest on high?...Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it...Then I will also confess to you that your own right hand can save you” (Job 38:31-33; 39:26-27; 40:2, 14).
As Jeremiah attests, “But the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King...He has made the earth by His power, He has established the world by His wisdom, and has stretched out the heavens at His discretion “ (Jer. 10:10, 12).
Evidence #3: Design
Design is evidence of a Designer. Our complex universe, the intricate design of the human body, the order of the animal creation––one animal that swims, another that flies, another that walks––all are proof of a great Designer. In the words of one writer: “The total interdependency of all life forces––the tremendous design within this universe shows a common Beginner, one main Architect, one great Designer with an over-all framework of a plan of creation into which all life forms fit.”
Here are a few basic facts:
The moon, the nearest object to our earth, about one quarter of a million miles away, is moving over 2000 miles per hour, making an elliptical circle around our earth about every 28 days. The diameter of this circle is about 500,000 miles.
At the same time, our earth is revolving on its axis every 24 hours, and is also traveling at the speed of 64,800 miles per hour in its yearly elliptical orbit around the sun.
The sun, some 93 million miles from our earth, is the center of our small solar system and is itself a rotating body, spinning at a speed of 43,000 miles per hour. Each of the nine planets belonging to this system measure their year by the time required to complete one revolution around the sun, ranging from the 88 days required by Mercury, and the 365 days required by Earth, to the outermost planet Pluto which takes 248 of our years to circle the sun just once!
About 6000 stars are visible to the naked eye, and all these are in perpetual motion. Most of these are what is called our local Milky Way galaxy. We speak of our “local” Milky Way system, but it is so vast that it requires 100,000 years for light (traveling at the rate of 186,300 miles per second) to travel from one side to the other, and there are estimated to be more than 100 billion galaxies beyond the Milky Way.
Evidence #4: The Existence of Intelligence
The existence of intelligence is evidence of a superior intellect––that is, God. Men have will power, thought power, a mind that can reason, relate and reflect. How could this be, without an Omniscient Creator, God?
Evidence #5: The Laws of Reproduction and Growth
Every one of the more than 1,300,000 different species of plants and animals as well as the hundreds of different varieties within each species, lives and reproduces its own kind. Laws set in operation by an All-wise Creator govern the living world.
Again, what about evolution? Isn’t it difficult to believe that the many and varied species extant on earth came about by chance mutations? Isn’t it more logical to believe that they were created?
Man has been able to breed and develop new varieties through selectiveness, but he is not able to produce a new species.
We are reminded that the Wise Man said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” God, the Omnipotent Creator, made these many species in the beginning and set in motion laws by which they might live and reproduce their kind.
• Biblical Evidence
Evidence #1: The Very Existence of the Bible
The Bible is composed of sixty-six different books by at least thirty-six different authors, who wrote in three languages, on three continents, and over a period of 1500 years––and all promoted one hope, one God, one plan of salvation! It was written from every human standpoint and by men from all walks of life, yet it is one harmonious work from beginning to end. Only an Omniscient God whose presence spanned those wide centuries could accomplish this. The very first words of the Bible: “In the beginning God...” show that it is His Book and His Words. (We shall cover this subject of the Bible more completely later.)
The entire Bible witnesses to the existence of God. It is the expression of His mind, the enacting of His will, the record of His acts, the picture of His ideals. “No one is holy as the Lord: for there is none besides You, nor is there any rock like our God.” (1 Sam. 2:2).
The entire activity of the Bible centers on God and what He is doing on this planet.
Evidence #2: Fulfilled Prophecy
Many Bible prophecies have spanned several centuries. For example, Daniel foretold the birth of Christ nearly 500 years in advance. The flood was foretold 120 years in advance; the departing of the children of Israel from Egypt was foretold some 500 years before they left––even before they went down into Egypt. The prophecy of the rise and fall of four world empires was foretold when only the first of them was in existence. These prophecies, and scores of others, came to pass exactly as foretold. And their fulfillment is recorded in secular history. Only an All-wise, All-knowing God could recount such an accomplishment!
THE NATURE OF GOD
What is God like? Is He a spirit, an apparition, a principle, a personality, or a person? Such questions have been in the minds of men for centuries. And the answers have been as varied as the questions, it is difficult for finite man with his limited understanding to visualize an infinite God––eternal, unchanging, unsearchable, all-powerful, all-knowing, invisible to human eyes.
• God Is a Real Being
Throughout the Bible God is the “living God” in contrast to the idols of wood and of stone. He can know and do all things, while the idols can know nothing and do nothing. Baal may be away on a journey or asleep (1 Kings 18:27), but God never sleeps (Ps. 121:4).
The God of the Bible is a real being, not an abstract idea or a principle. Christ was made in the “express image of His [Father’s] person” (Heb. 1:3). He is a living, active, forceful, radiant personality whom the angels––who are also real beings––can meet and know and worship, and before whom they bow in reverence and praise. To Him belongs all authority and power. He has no equal; He demands that none be worshiped except Him. He is the One, Supreme, Divine Being.
An idea popular in theology is that God is a spirit. This concept is based on John 4:24: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” He is a spirit––not immaterial, but a being of eternal existence as opposed to a being of flesh, which is mortal, corruptible. Not that God is a phantom, an apparition, a principle, a personality but rather a real person. The main thought of the verse is that the highest part of man’s nature should be attuned to God, who is spirit, and that His worship must be based upon the reality of the God whom man approaches in devotion. If we would worship Him, we must lift our thought to His level. God is spirit, and we must worship Him in that same spirit and in truth.
The word “spirit” can also be defined as “teacher,” as 1 John 4:1 reveals: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” God is the great Teacher. “Good and upright is the Lord; Therefore He teaches sinners in the way.” (Ps. 25:8).
“God is a Spirit,” is one of the three Johannine affirmations about the Divine nature, others being “God is light,” and “God is love” (John 4:24; 1 John 1:5; 4:8). Moore, in his work Judaism, warns us against a possible confusion of thought: “The principle that God cannot be seen in any natural object nor imaged by man’s hands in any likeness is frequently called a doctrine of the ‘spirituality’ of God. If ‘spirit’ were taken in the Biblical sense, there would be no other objection to the phrase than its abstractness; but in modern use spirit is the contrary of matter, and ‘spiritual’ is equivalent to ‘immaterial.’ In this sense the spirituality of God is a philosophical theory derived from the Greeks, not a doctrine of Judaism in Biblical times or thereafter.”
The Hastings’ Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics describes the “Spirit of God” as “vital in the religion of Israel, not indistinct from God. The Spirit of God is God Himself, breathing, living, active, energizing in the world––’God at work.’ The Spirit is personal because God is personal; personal distinctions within the Deity find no place in the Old Testament. As breath is the principle of human life and the source of human energy, so God possesses life in Himself, and He is the spring of all life in the universe.”
• God Is ONE (not three)
Probably the most widely accepted concept of God is that of a triune God––or Trinity––the unity of three “persons”––the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit––in one eternal God, all co-existent and co-equal. But the Scriptures make very clear that there is only one God. The doctrine of a triune God came from the pagans and not from the Scriptures; this subject will be discussed more fully in a future lesson.
• God Is Infinite
The dictionary defines infinity as “having no boundaries or limits; extending without ending, all-embracing, absolute, perfect, limitless, boundless, measureless, numberless, countless, eternal.” Our mortal, finite minds cannot comprehend such vastness. Limited as we are by time, space and circumstance, our mortal, finite minds cannot comprehend such vastness. “Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite.” declared the Psalmist (147:5). And Solomon, in his prayer at the dedication of the temple, exclaimed: “Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27).
Not only is God infinite in understanding, but He is also eternal in duration. The Almighty does not count time according to the measures of mortal man. He is not limited to threescore and ten years or possibly a few more, but “a thousand years in [His] sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night.” (Ps. 90:4). “From everlasting to everlasting, You are God”(v.2).
To Jeremiah, He was the “true God,...the living God, and the everlasting King,” or, as given in the margin, “King of eternity” (Jer. 10:10). Abraham called on “the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God” (Gen. 21:33). To Moses He was the only God and to Moses He said: “I live for ever” (Deut. 32:39-40).
The patriarch Job recognized God’s infinity: “Behold, God is great, and we do not know Him; Nor can the number of His years be discovered.” (Job 36:26). Isaiah speaks of God as “the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isa. 57:15).
The book of Revelation contains a number of statements concerning the eternity of God. These are the words of His glorified Son: “You are righteous, O Lord, the One who is and who was and who is to be” (Rev. 16:5). The wording here covers the whole scope of the enduring nature of the Creator: “Who is, who was, and who is to be.”
• God Is Unsearchable
We might define “unsearchable” as beyond the power of man’s mind to understand. Realizing God’s greatness, Paul was caused to exclaim: “Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33). No doubt Paul was familiar with the frequent exclamations of the prophets.
David declared, “His greatness is unsearchable” (Ps. 145:3); again, “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and You are exalted as head over all” (1 Chron. 29:11). Solomon also recognized the greatness of God: “And the temple which I build will be great, for our God is greater than all gods” (2 Chron. 2:5).
Job also realized God’s ability when he said, “Who does great things, and unsearchable, marvelous things without number” (Job 5:9). And Isaiah extolled God’s superiority with the words: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable” (Isa. 40:28).
• God Is Omnipotent
The dictionary defines “omnipotent” as “Almighty; not limited in authority or power.” Almighty is defined as “able to do all things.” The angel said to Abraham: “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14). And Jesus said of His heavenly Father: “With God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26b)?. Jeremiah recognized His omnipotence when he said, “There is nothing too hard for You” (Jer. 32:17). Job admitted to God: “I know that You can do everything” (Job 42:2). Daniel, who was given “skill and understanding” by God Himself left us his testimony: “All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan. 4:35).
Because God is not showing His power and authority today it is easy to think He will never again take a hand in earth’s affairs. But His Word speaks to the contrary. “God is not a man, that He should lie;…Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Num. 23:19). The Psalmist, speaking of the deliverance of the Israelites, said: “Nevertheless He saved them for His name’s sake, that He might make His mighty power known.” (Ps. 106:8). The time is coming when He shall again make Himself known. “The Lord also will roar from Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem; The heavens and earth will shake; But the Lord will be a shelter for His people” (Joel 3:16). “The Lord gives voice before His army, for His camp is very great; For strong is the One who executes His word. For the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; Who can endure it?” (Joel 2:11). Truly, as David said, “power belongs to God.”
• God Is Omniscient
Omniscient is defined as “knowing all things; all-knowing,” and omniscience as “Infinite knowledge, extensive knowledge.” Both definitions would apply equally as well to the Almighty God. Concerning tomorrow, man guesses; God knows. Through the prophet Isaiah He declares: “Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure,’” (46:9-10).
By His omniscience He can prophesy and bring it to pass. Early in His dealings with humankind He laid down the rules for discerning between false and true prophecy: “How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’—when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously” (Deut. 18:21-22).
The Almighty makes no mistakes; He never has to apologize for a wrong guess. His forecasting of the future is based on more than the experience of the past and the law of averages. His forecasts are founded on His knowledge of all things, past, present and future. Eternity lies before Him like a vast panorama. All things are known to Him.
• God Is Ever-present
The “everywhereness” of God is another attribute “hard to be understood” by finite minds. There is no place where man can hide from God, for “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good “ (Prov. 15:3). David recognized this same omnipresence: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell [sheol, the grave], behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me” (Ps. 139:7-10).
Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, God asks: “Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I shall not see him?” says the Lord; “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the Lord?” (Jer. 23:24). It is not that God is omnipresent in the sense that He can be physically everywhere at the same time, but the sphere of His influence is as broad as the universe: His elaborate system of communication––His angelic ministers (Heb. 1:14)––keeps Him in touch with every part of His creation at all times.
• God Is Unchanging
Man vacillates, but God says, “I am the Lord, I do not change” (Mal. 3:6). “Of old thou didst lay the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They may perish, but thou wilt endure; all of them may wear out like a garment; thou mayest change them like clothing and they will change; but thou art always the same, and thy years have no end” (Ps. 102:25-27, American).
The apostles were teaching the unchangeableness of God. The apostle James taught that with God “there is no variation or shadow of turning” (Jas. 1:17). God commanded the Israelites, “For I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44). And centuries later the apostle Peter quoted the same unchanging truth: “because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet. 1:16). God’s law was still the same, as Peter again affirmed, quoting the prophet Isaiah (40:8): “The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Pet. 1:24-25).
• God Is Invisible to Mortal Eyes
The angel said to Moses, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live” (Ex. 33:20). No mortal eye can behold the glory of God or of any member of His glorified family. The apostle Paul addressed his prayer to “the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise” (1 Tim. 1:17), and again he spoke of God “whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16). The apostle John also recorded that “No one has seen God at any time” (1 John 4:12).
But though God is invisible to man in this age, it will not always be so. The promise of Jesus is: “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). And the writer of Hebrews confirms the promise: “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).
THE CHARACTER OF GOD
Though God is silent at the present time, we have in the Bible the record of His open dealings with mankind during previous ages. From this record let us identify some of the moral attributes of the God we serve.
• God Is Holy
Uppermost among the moral attributes of God’s Divine nature is His holiness. “I dwell in the high and holy place,” said He through His prophet Isaiah (57:15). Holiness, as used in the Hebrew text, has the meaning of “separation,” or “setting apart.” Holiness is therefore “a general term to indicate sanctity, or separation from all that is sinful, or impure, or morally imperfect.” It is “moral wholeness” (Unger’s Bible Dictionary).
Isaiah in vision saw the angels of God extolling Him as “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His Glory” (Isa. 6:3). Moses and the children of Israel rejoiced in the glory of His holiness: “Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Ex. 15:11). God’s holiness distinguished Him from the gods of the heathen nations.
Hannah, mother of Samuel, prayed: “No one is holy like the Lord, for there is none besides You, nor is there any rock like our God.” (1 Sam. 2:2).
• God Is Righteous
Righteousness is a quality of being and doing that which God calls right; it is complete freedom from moral evil; it is absolute moral perfection. This is an attribute belonging to God. According to the Sacred Record, His acts are righteous (Judges 5:11). He is “righteous in all His ways, Gracious in all His works” (Ps. 145:17).
And God desires this same quality in His earthly children. “For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness; His countenance beholds the upright” (Ps. 11:7). “But the blameless in their ways are His delight” (Prov. 11:20b).
• God Is Perfect
Perfection is another quality belonging singularly to God in all respects. He is said to be perfect in knowledge (Job 37:16). “His work is perfect” (Deut. 32:4). His law is perfect (Ps. 19:7). Perfection actually includes both holiness and righteousness. It carries the idea of completeness, nothing over and nothing short.
God asks His people to develop the moral aspects of this perfection that are within their capability. “For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103:14), and He does not expect them to be physically perfect or holy in the same sense that an infinite God is perfect and holy. There is a vast difference between His capabilities and ours. But to be morally perfect is within the power of mortals, as Jesus commanded in these words: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). His holiness must be our standard: “you shall be holy; for I am holy.” “Let us go on to perfection,” said the writer to the Hebrews, “that we may be partakers of His holiness…without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 6:1; 12:10, 14). We are invited to share in God’s moral perfection now that we may be able to share in God’s physical perfection through all eternity.
God’s righteousness is not a virtue human beings possess by nature; it is something they must seek for. In the words of Jesus: “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). “Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us” (Deut. 6:25). “He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 John 3:7).
• God Is Love
No attribute of the Almighty is more pronounced than His love. His graciousness, His compassion, His mercy, His forgiveness, His long-suffering toward His earthly children are all summed up in this one term: love.
“God is love,” and where no love is, there can be no knowledge of God (1 John 4:8-16).
The love of God toward mankind may be divided into two categories: His love toward all His human creation, and His special love for His own. There is a vast difference between the two.
God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). He does not withhold His abundance even from the unthankful and unworthy.
But His genuine love that upholds, blesses and eternally saves is reserved for those who qualify according to His standard. It is not free and unmerited. God is the everlasting Father in whom “the whole family in heaven and earth is named” (Eph. 3:14-15). The term “Father” expresses the most intimate relationship of love, fellowship and care. His love is visible in His fatherly concern for the welfare of His children. “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him” (Ps. 103:13). “I love those who love me,” says the voice of Wisdom speaking for God (Prov. 8:17). He suffers when His children suffer (Isa. 63:9). He offers them help in trouble (Isa. 41:10, 13; Ps. 46:1), and makes bountiful provision for all their needs.
• God Is Merciful
Mercy is defined as “compassion where severity is expected or deserved.” God has manifested this quality toward His human family for nearly six thousand years. “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:10). If He had, our race would have been cut off long before we had opportunity to live. Indeed, in the words of Jeremiah, “Through the LORD’S mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness…Though He causes grief, Yet He will show compassion According to the multitude of His mercies” (Lam. 3:22-23, 32). God is also described as “full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy.”
Numerous incidents could be cited where God was more merciful than any human would have been. In the days of Noah, God saw that the people were very wicked; yet He gave them 120 years to repent while Noah constructed an ark for the saving of all who would be saved.
Through God’s mercy Moses was sent to deliver Israel. Often during the days of the Judges He allowed the people to be overrun by an oppressor because of their sins; yet, when they called upon Him, He raised up a deliverer to rescue them. Deborah and Barak were called upon to deliver Israel from the king of Canaan who had “harshly oppressed” them twenty years. Another time, Gideon was sent to deliver Israel from the Midianites. Jephthah was chosen to lead an army against the Ammonites. In each instance, mention is made of Israel’s sin against the Almighty and His compassion on them in saving them.
God showed mercy on Joseph in Egypt (Gen. 39:21). He was with David as he fled from the angry King Saul (1 Sam. 18:14). He showed His mercy to loyal Hebrew captives in Babylon, such as Ezekiel and Daniel. He showed mercy to Israel in returning them to their homeland after the Captivity. And we should not fail to mention His mercy to us in these last days, giving us His knowledge and the time and opportunity we need to prepare for eternal life.
• God Is Forgiving
But there are conditions for this forgiveness. They are described in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” “Humble themselves,…pray…seek,...turn,” and then God will hear and forgive.
God’s forgiveness is all inclusive. When God forgives, He also forgets. In the words of Ezekiel, “None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him: because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live” (Ezek. 18:20-22; 33:14-16).
God demonstrated this quality of forgiveness many times in His dealings with the Children of Israel, as He provided deliverance for them after they had forsaken Him. Nehemiah reviewed God’s goodness and mercy toward them (Neh. 9:11-31). The Psalmist recounted how they provoked God in the wilderness and forgot the many wonders He had done before them. “But He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, And did not destroy them. Yes, many a time He turned His anger away, And did not stir up all His wrath” (Ps. 78:38).
The apostle Paul was deeply grateful for the divine forgiveness he received. “By the grace of God,” he wrote, “I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). He who had openly persecuted the church of God and actively opposed the cause was given all the benefits and privileges of an apostle. Indeed, after his conversion he became the greatest of the apostles. How abundant is God’s forgiveness! (1 Cor. 15:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:16).
The apostle Peter was more than once found in transgression by his Master. But at Pentecost, he stands as a leader among the apostles. His sin had been forgiven.
We are exhorted to forgive one another as God has forgiven us (Eph. 4:32). Our forgiving one another is the basis from which God will forgive us. This principle is one of the prime components of the Lord’s prayer (Matt. 6:14-15).
• God Is Just
God’s justice is perfect justice. This fact is proclaimed emphatically in both the Old and New Testaments. God is righteous in His judgments (Ps. 119:160). He is the righteous Judge (2 Tim. 4:8). The sentence He pronounces, the rewards He bestows, the penalties He inflicts, are all righteous. Each individual will be judged upon his own merits (Ezek. 14:14). “The law of the Lord is perfect...The statutes of the Lord are right...the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” (Ps. 19:7-9). “He shall judge the world in righteousness, And He shall administer judgment for the peoples in uprightness” (Ps. 9:8). “He shall judge the peoples righteously” (Ps. 96:10b). God is a just God. “Righteousness and justice “ are the habitation of His throne; “mercy and truth” shall go before His face (Ps. 89:14).
God’s judgments are unsearchable and His ways past finding out (Rom. 11:33). His thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are His ways our ways (Isa. 55:8). Thus it is not for us to question the judgments of God. In reading the history of the children of Israel, we are apt to think that the penalties meted out for disobedience were unjust. But we must remember that a just and merciful God cannot act unjustly. Once He has spoken, His law is unchanging. “God is not a man, that he should break his word, Nor a human being that he should change his mind. When he has said something, will he not do it? When he has asserted something, will he not make it good?” (Num. 23:19 American Translation). His greatest injustice would be in not fulfilling His promise––for good or evil.
God revealed just how unchanging His law is in the case of Uzzah. When He gave the law concerning the tabernacle and its appurtenances, He said: “They shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die” (Num. 4:15). King David and his men were returning the ark of God to Jerusalem on a cart drawn by oxen. When the oxen jostled the ark, Uzzah put forth his hand to steady it and was struck down by the Almighty. Why such severity? God was reminding the people that although it had been 450 years since the law was given, it was still in effect. “My covenant I will not break, Nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips” (Ps. 89:34).
Many times in history God’s judgments were executed swiftly and immediately. Dathan and Abiram and all of their followers were destroyed because they challenged the authority of God’s appointed leader (Numbers 16). Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, died before the Lord because they failed to respect God’s holiness (Lev. 10:1-2). Achan and all his family were cut off for coveting what God had forbidden (Josh. 7:19-20). The prophets of Baal and the prophets of the groves were slain before the Lord because of their idol worship (1 Kings 18). Ananias and Sapphira conspired together and lied unto God––and lost their lives as the penalty (Acts 5:1-11). Herod the Tetrarch was struck down by the angel of the Lord because he “did not give glory to God” (Acts 12:23).
But God never cut off one righteous man or woman. He stands by His own principle: “The innocent and the righteous slay thou not.” He cuts off only the wicked and those whom He knows will never reform, for “true and righteous are his judgments” (Rev. 19:2).
Although many times in the past God executed judgment at the time of the offense, today He is silent. But His greater judgments are yet future. At the great Battle of Armageddon evil will be conquered and brought under control. And at the close of the thousand-year reign of Christ and the saints, when the die-hards who have kept evil in their hearts will attempt to thwart God’s purpose and gather together a great throng to compass the camp of the saints, fire will come down from God and they will be destroyed in an instant. But justice will be shown. Then, as always before, the fathers shall “not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin” (Deut. 24:16). That was the provision made by God and it still stands. God is absolutely truthful; He cannot lie (Tit. 1:2; Rom. 3:4).
God’s justice and judgment apply not only to the punishment of the wicked but also to the reward of the righteous. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). Christ received His authority from the Father; hence to appear before Christ is to appear before God. Every laborer will be rewarded according to his works––whether they be good or bad. The reward or punishment will be just.
• God Is Provident
The patriarchs and prophets understood God’s providence. When asked concerning the sacrifice, Abraham answered: “God will provide” (Gen. 22:8). Moses’ farewell contained the comforting promise: “The eternal God is your refuge, And underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut. 33:27). And this providence was proved in forty years wandering in the wilderness during which they lacked nothing; neither their clothes nor their shoes wore out. The three Hebrew children knew that their God was able to deliver them from the fiery furnace (Dan. 3:17). His angel fed Elijah in the wilderness (1 Kings 19:5). He drove out the Assyrians from their camp that the prophecy of Elisha might be fulfilled: “Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria.” (2 Kings 7:1). It happened, just as the Prophet had said.
And in the New Testament times, especially in the life of His Son, God’s providence was demonstrated. Whenever He was needed most, He was there. His promise to Moses still stood: “My presence shall go with you.”
Jesus’ birth was announced by the angels of God, and the angels provided the necessary warnings that as the child He might escape death at the hands of the wicked Herod. When He was baptized by John the Baptist, His Father was watching over Him and voiced His pleasure in His beloved Son saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). After His temptation in the wilderness it is stated simply: “Angels came and ministered to him” (Matt. 4:11). When He prayed in the garden just before His crucifixion, God sent His angel to strengthen Him (Luke 22:43). And after His death, they came and removed the stone from the tomb and released Him from death (Matt. 28).
The apostle Paul reported being strengthened by the angel of God on board a vessel doomed to shipwreck. Peter was twice released from prison by the hand of God’s angel. Paul and Silas were also delivered by the angel (Acts 5:19; 12:7-8).
God’s providence has also been shown in protecting His Word through the ages, even through one of the darkest periods of history, to preserve it for those who would come after. And in our day we have the promise of His angel, although unseen by human eyes, to guard and keep every God-fearer: “The angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear Him, And delivers them” (Ps. 34:7). As His providence was conditional in olden days, so it is today. “The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth” (Ps. 145:18). He will protect those that fear Him, those that call upon Him in truth.
• God Is the Preserver of All Men
God gives this life. He sends the sunshine and the showers on the just and on the unjust. As the Prophet declared, if God should take away our breath, “all flesh” would “perish together” (Job 34:14-15). And as Paul also reminded his audience at Mars Hill, Athens, God “gives to all life, breath” (Acts 17:25). He gives to all this temporal, mortal life as a free gift, and if men choose to obey Him He has promised them eternal salvation. Hence, God is the “preserver” of all men, and the “Saviour...of those who believe.”
• God Is Perfect in Knowledge
With the infinite knowledge, He has the power of true and right discernment known as wisdom. It has been said that “wisdom is knowledge applied.” Knowledge would be valueless without discernment to apply it. God’s wisdom and knowledge are so superior that they are incomprehensible to man. As Paul exclaimed: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! ‘For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor? Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him?’ For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever.” (Rom. 11:33-36).
• God Is A Jealous God
God is jealous, but not in the same sense that a human being is jealous. He is jealous in that He demands our whole allegiance and has an uncompromising claim on our devotion. He will not tolerate the worship of any other God (Ex. 34:14). “I am the LORD, that is My name; And My glory I will not give to another, Nor My praise to carved images” (Isa. 42:8). He will permit no rivals. He stated His law unequivocally when He spoke from the mount: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image... you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God...” (Ex. 20:4-5).
The context of the Second Commandment implies that the wording is figurative. We cannot conceive of God’s being jealous in the sense that erring humans are jealous. Paul contrasted human jealousy and godly jealousy when he declared that he himself was jealous over the members of the church at Corinth with “godly jealousy” (2 Cor. 11:2). Jehovah, pictured as Israel’s husband in the book of Hosea, will not tolerate the giving to another of the reverence due to Him, whether that “other” be a god, or an image of a god, or any interest held by a human being that supersedes devotion to the true God.
GOD AND US
What does all this information about God mean in terms of our lives today? What is the benefit in knowing of Him, His ways, His being, His plans?
Exactly this: that God has extended to us the invitation to be part of His family. He has offered to accept us in a working, covenant relationship, so that we may share His eternal blessings.
What is this relationship with God?
The Covenant Relationship
Very early in His workings with men, God made an offer to those who would obey Him and accepted these into a working relationship. “Israel is My son, My firstborn” (Ex. 4:22). “I will be your God, and you shall be My people”––if. It was not unconditional. Always there was a condition to be fulfilled on the human side.
For many years God worked with the Israelite nation, offering them the same opportunity. “Obey, and live; disobey and die.” Blessings always accompanied obedience; curses followed disobedience.
The same basic plan was continued in New Testament times, but with the advent of Christ the ideal of a father-son relationship was added. No longer was God working with a single nation as He had been for years. Those who were serving God thought of themselves as potential sons and daughters of the heavenly parent, much as Christ was the son of God.
Frequently the New Testament writers spoke of God as “Father.” The apostle Paul invokes the Father of all fatherhoods: “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named” (Eph. 3:14-15). How vast His family, encompassing heaven and earth!
The thought of God as perfect parent––faithful in love and care, generous and thoughtful, interested in all we do, training us in goodness guiding us into all virtue, supporting us in developing maturity, integrity, and uprightness––is the strength of the Christian’s possibilities. It is what Jesus meant when He said, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God” (John 20:17).
Claiming God as our Father implies several responsibilities on our part. The first is that of recognizing His authority in our lives. It is the Father’s prerogative to command; ours, as children, to obey. Jesus Himself said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me” (John 4:34). “I have come…not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38).
God’s fatherhood also implies belonging. Our sole allegiance must be to Him; He will permit no rivals for our affection. Again quoting the words of Jesus, “I honor my Father.”
Another aspect is complete obedience. “This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:3). Every adopted son must be obedient.
This fatherhood of God is highly selective. It does not belong to all by virtue of their birth into the world. It is a gift bestowed upon those who are adopted into His family. To the apostles and others of New Testament times who were familiar with Roman law, the thought was especially meaningful. An adult who wanted an heir and had no children would select and adopt a son––not at infancy but at maturity––who met his qualifications. In like manner God has promised to adopt as heirs those who are “led by the Spirit of God.” As we read in Romans 8,
“For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together...because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:13-17, 21).
God “sent forth His Son...that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4). The apostle John expresses the same thought: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God...when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:1-3).
Adoption into God’s family, becoming a permanent part of His eternal family, is the highest privilege He could extend to us. No temporary honor is this but an honor that will last as long as eternity.
Do we realize what this means. It is our task to share the Father’s character-likeness, if we would qualify as His son and heir. It is our challenge to follow the example of Jesus, who said, “I always do those things that please Him” (John 8:29).
All through the New Testament, God was recognized and addressed as “Father.” Jesus spoke almost entirely of God as “Father,” which He was in a very real and meaningful way. It was “my Father’s kingdom,” and “my Father’s business,” and “Father, Lord of heaven and earth,” and “my heavenly Father.”
Almost without exception the apostle Paul opens his epistles with direct references to “God our Father” (see 1 Cor. 1:3; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1, 2 Thess. 1:2). “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3).
Paul was not alone. We read in the book of James: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights...)” (Jas. 1:17).
And Peter: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3).
And John: “Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love” (2 John 3).
Should we not appreciate this high calling and so conduct ourselves as under His all-seeing eye, that when the time is right He will open to us His rich storehouse of goodness and adopt us as His own sons and daughters, to live, and live, and live!
Can You Answer These?
1. List what you believe to be the five most convincing proofs of the existence of God.
2. What is the difference between “polytheism” and “monotheism”?
3. What is the basic weakness of the theory of evolution?
4. Will men ever see God? Has any man ever seen God face to face?
5. What do we mean when we say that God is “omnipotent”? “infinite”? “eternal”?
6. List ten outstanding attributes of God.
7. Briefly summarize God’s relationship to us.
(If you need assistance in answering these questions, refer to your Bible and the pages of this lesson.)
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