So often we're like a first grader I heard about, named Frank. His teacher gave Frank a piece of paper and said, "Draw anything you like, but you have to tell us what it is." So the little boy started drawing. Everyone else finished, but he was still shading in here and there. The teacher asked, "What are you drawing, Frank?" He quickly and proudly replied, "It's a picture of God."
The teacher didn't know what to say at first. Then she replied, "Well, honey, nobody knows what God looks like; God's a Spirit." The little boy confidently continued to color and said, "They will when I'm through."
Our great need today, even as believers, is to get to know who God is. As we plant the seeds of good theology in our hearts, we will see a dramatic effect in our worship and service as well as in our ability to tell others who God is. How do we plant a good understanding of who God is in our hearts? We'll take a practical approach.
I have found that a good way to begin or expand our knowledge of God is through His attributes. There are many other ways, but I think this is the most practical. When I first began to understand theology, I didn't put it together with its practical relationship to me. It was only so much information. I don't want to do that with you. So we'll start with the attributes of God and apply them to our worship and prayer.
What is an attribute?
When I first learned about the attributes of God, I used to think that if you took all of them and added them up, the sum total would equal God; and if any were left out, you had only a part of God. That's not accurate. The sum total of His attributes does not equal God.
Each attribute is a different glance at who God is. Each attribute is not a part of God; it is something that is true of God always. When we say, "God is love," what we are saying is, "God is always love." It's not that one part is love and one is justice. He is always love and always just. Some people zero in on one or two attributes of God—usually, that God is love. The problem is, that's all they learn about God and therefore, they miss the other glances of Him.
If we're listening to music and just listen for a certain note, a certain phrase, we miss the whole. We have to listen to all the notes in their entirety; then we will understand the piece of music and appreciate it more fully. It isn't individual notes; it's the whole composition; the harmonies and movements all blending together and complementing each other. We must likewise do that with the attributes: focus on all God is.
How we will approach the attributes? Practically, we'll endeavor to touch on each attribute and then show how it can apply right now to our lives. We can't be exhaustive in this study, but we will list some of God's attributes, and hopefully this will encourage you to learn more. First we will list His non-moral attributes and then His moral attributes.
His non-moral attributes
These are glimpses of His divine nature that do not involve moral qualities. They are not immoral attributes, but non-moral.
The first three attributes are compound words using the Latin prefix "omni," meaning "all." "Present" means "here, now," so "omnipresent" means He is present everywhere at once. No point is nearer to God than any other point. We cannot catch God and put Him into a box of our making. "He is present in every point of space with his whole being," Louis Berkhof said. We can substitute the phrase, "He is here."
"Yuri Gagarin, the first man to journey into space, commented when he returned, 'I have been in the heavens, but I didn't see God.' But God says, 'Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me?'—Isaiah 66:1." (The Complete Bible Study Tool Kit, page 256.)
God was with Gagarin when he was inside that space capsule as he left for space. God was waiting in space when Yuri got there. God was waiting in Siberia for him to return. By a grim irony, God met Yuri shortly afterwards, in a fatal road accident.
Let's view one key Scripture: Psalm 139:7-9
Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.
God is present everywhere but not manifested everywhere. He's not displayed or obvious everywhere. In other words, God is not present in the same manner in every part of the universe. He holds the planet in space, imparts life to plants, creates instinct in animals and speaks to the minds and consciences of people; but He is not manifested the same in each of those places.
Other verses that speak of His omnipresence are numerous—Jeremiah 23:23-24; 1 Kings 8:27; Isaiah 66:1; Acts 7:48; Rom. 10:6-8.
Now, how does a knowledge of God's presence affect our lives? It impacts us in three major ways. It's reassuring; it's a warning; and it represents a responsibility to us.
God's omnipresence can be a reassurance.
I don't have to worry about God leaving me. I know I can call on Him and He is near. I'm not all alone—Ps. 73:23-28. I know that my God is instantly available to respond to any need I might have and any prayer I might pray. The child who is lost, the motorist whose car goes into a skid, the patient slipping under the anesthetic, and the surgeon who operates... all may know God's nearness at the same moment. God is here!
God's omnipresence can also be a warning.
I can never hide my sins from Him, because He is everywhere—Prov. 5:21. "For a man's ways are in full view of the Lord, and He examines all his paths." We often associate the presence of God with people, feelings, and circumstances; but He is here no matter what the feeling, what the circumstance, or the people present. I can't get away from God's presence.
When Moses went to the mountain, the Israelites acted as if God had left too, as if He was gone on vacation just because He wasn't manifesting His presence. So they said, "Moses is gone, therefore God is not here. Let's build our own god." (You know the story. They collected all the gold they could find, melted it down and built a golden calf. Then they had a big party, filled with sexual immorality. God had to send Moses back down from the mountain.)
Does this happen to us? Usually after some great experience, or maybe just before God's mighty working, it seems as if God is not present. It's then that we build our own gods. I've seen it happen so often—right after a great blessing, people don't see the manifestation of His Spirit. They don't feel all the chills and thrills of His presence, and they get frustrated. They say they've lost God, or He isn't there, then they build a substitute God.
How often must God break up our puny old gods! We must understand this: He never leaves us nor forsakes us. Our names are not written in the Lamb's Book of Life in pencil; they're in His blood. Praise God He is here, whether we feel Him or not. God's presence, however, is even more distinct and vivid to those who know Him and love Him and serve Him.
God's omnipresence represents a responsibility to us.
It is an awesome responsibility, then, for us to have that view of God, because it is now our responsibility to represent that manifestation to the world. The vast majority of the world's opinion about God comes from what it sees in us. Romans 1 says people have suppressed innate knowledge of God because of their wickedness; the light has gone out, and men and women are in darkness. We, however bring that knowledge to the surface by being God's light in the world. That's our responsibility!
A few days before she became ill, my mom heard God say to her, "I will show forth my glory in your life..." What did that mean? It meant the same thing it does to all of us. We are to reflect the true God to all the world. That's what Mom did. She displayed patience, acceptance, a love, a perseverance in her illness that will always be a picture to me of what Christ calls us all to—to glorify Him. Now, knowing that God is present everywhere at once, but not manifest everywhere, causes me to also think through some of my responsibility to approach God.
When the Bible says, "Draw near to God," for example, it isn't talking about our position, but our experience. We are to draw near to Him experientially, in our love and in our obedience to His commands. Positionally God is as near to us as He can possibly be, but that doesn't mean we can't go beyond what we're experiencing, by growing in our knowledge of Him. We see this in the phrase, "God bless you." God is blessing us as much as He can. He's a good God. He doesn't withhold His blessing, but we need to broaden the base by our obedience, so He can bless us more.
How do we broaden the base so He can manifest Himself more? Loving Obedience. John 14:21 says, "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, He is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my father, and I too will love Him and manifest (show) myself to Him." If there is an area of disobedience in your life, that will restrict the manifestation of God. Obedience is a key factor in getting to know God, and it helps us to see God more clearly.
"Lord, I praise you for Your omnipresence...You are with me wherever I go. I never need to worry about Your leaving me. I also know when I call upon You for help You will be near. I praise You because not only is Your presence a comfort, it also brings conviction. I can never hide my sin from You because You are everywhere. That keeps me from trying to deceive You."
"Omni" means "all." "Science" means "knowledge." God has knowledge of all things—Is. 40:13-14. He possesses perfect knowledge and therefore has no need to learn. He never says, "Hey, I didn't know that..." He has never learned and cannot learn.
"Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed Him as His counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten Him, or instructed Him as His counselor?"
The obvious answer is, no one! Tozer wrote, "If "(God) could... at any time or in any manner, receive into His mind, knowledge that He did not possess and had not possessed from eternity, He would have been imperfect and less than himself."—A.W.Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy, p. 61. Let's try to simplify this word "omniscient," and get it reduced to a simple concept. We can substitute the phrase: "He knows it, my God knows it."
What are the key verses on God's omniscience?
Ps. 139:1-6—"O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. (Continue next page) You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. You hem me in, behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain."
Heb. 4:13—"Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account." (Also, John 21:17b; Prov. 15:3; Is. 46:10; Matt. 10:30) What do these passages mean? There are a lot of opinions. Some may ask, "Oh come on, before I even say a word He knows it?" Yes, that's true. In fact, we can say that God knows everything that has, or will, or could happen. Also, God not only knows actualities—things that actually happened—He also has knowledge of all possibilities. Matthew 11:20-24, for instance, indicates that God knew what would have happened if conditions had been different in Tyre and Sidon, if miracles had been performed in their midst.
Some of us have a God who's too small—one we think we can manipulate, lie to, substitute our rules for His laws. Some of us think He's a pushover! Some Christian organizations state very openly that they believe God does not necessarily know the future. They say, or imply, that the future plan of God—in some areas at least—is decided by spiritual men who pray to Him. As they pray (it is believed), the course of events is altered or affirmed according to their prayer. In other words, they believe God doesn't necessarily know how things are going to end up.
The good that comes out of this theology is that these folks become people who really pray. I've discovered that sometimes it doesn't really matter to God if we have our theology exact. If we are looking to Him and believe in His power to bring things to pass, He'll override our incomplete knowledge and fulfill His will.
Well, we certainly don't want to minimize prayer, nor man's responsibility, but we must not diminish God's nature. I believe prayer often gets us in touch with the heart and plan of God and alters us,our understanding and approach, rather than our prayers changing the future plans of God. The weight of responsibility we would have, to change or determine future events, would be too large for us to humbly handle.
I believe the best response is to come to the place where we leave God's knowledge of the future of all things and man's responsibility, as two sides of a coin. They are both necessary and should not be tampered with. I prefer to leave my understanding in some measure of tension, rather than try to explain away the paradox and thus diminish God's nature. I believe Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane adequately shows both perspectives. We must pray, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me," but we must recognize that God's understanding of the future has always been more complete and very accurate: "Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done"—Matt. 26:39.
How does it apply to me?
It helps me to be secure in the fact that God knows everything. That means the Father, Son and Holy Spirit know each other perfectly. There are no mixed signals in the Godhead (Matt. 11:1-27; 1 Cor. 2:11; Rom. 8:27). That also means God knows all things actually existing. Nothing will happen that will surprise Him. This includes inanimate creation (Ps. 147:4); brute creation (Matt. 6:26); men and all their work (Ps. 33:13-15; Prov. 5:21), men's thoughts and hearts (Ps. 139:1-4; Prov. 15:3), and men's burdens and wants (Ex. 3:7; Matt. 6:8,32). How should that impact our work—that of the scientist, the counselor, the archeologist, the pastor? God knows all possibilities (1 Sam. 23:11; Matt. 11:21, 23; Is. 48:18). He knows the future, all that might happen (Is. 46:9; Dan. 2:7; Matt. 24,25; Acts 15:18; Deut. 31:20; Is. 44:26-45:7; Acts 2:23; 3:18). That relates to God and what He knows. Now, how does this knowledge impact me?
No one can inform on me to God, for He knows all about me. Satan can't go to God and say, "God, do you know what old Stone is doing?" He knows it. I don't have to worry that some skeleton or fault of mine will suddenly be revealed, and then God will turn His back on me. He knows it already. Tozer says:
"No talebearer can inform on us, no enemy can make an accusation stick; no forgotten skeleton can come tumbling out of some closet to...expose our past; no unsuspected weakness in our character can come to light to turn God away from us, since He knew us utterly before we knew Him, and called us to Himself in full knowledge of everything that was against us"-A.W. Tozer, p. 63.
God knows my shortcomings (their solutions and the possibilities of my life. His will is the best of these possibilities), and still puts me where I am today. Remember, God is not horrified at our weaknesses, because He knows our frame and remembers we are dust (Ps. 103:13-14). God has chosen us and given us gifts and ministry despite our pasts and failures. What does that do for me? That helps me to relax, because I know God knows all about me. It means I don't have to worry or fret (e.g., about a mate), because He not only knows my problem, but also the solutions to my problems. This means He not only knows the solution to my problems, but also all the possibilities of my life. Think of how this impacts each of us; this is so wonderful. When I committed my present and future to God, He chose all the best possibilities of my life for me. As I walk in His light, as He is in the light, I am guaranteed that I will continue to experience the best of all these possibilities. Now, I may not like His choice, but I believe it is the best. The knowledge of God also has a sobering side for you and me.
I can't pull a fast one on God. He knows my plans and words before I do them or utter them. I can't sneak around and try to do something He doesn't see or know. Secret sin on earth is open scandal in heaven. We can't hide. This truth is a deterrent to any sinful action or impure motive. The knowledge of God also gives cause for the sinner to be honest with God and repent. He knows how flimsy our excuses are. He never excuses a man for sinful action, because He knows the real reason for it. He's not sitting on the edge of heaven saying, "What am I going to do with those people?" Robert P. Lightner writes: "No matter how much the sinner tries to get away from God and all that is holy, righteous and good, he is still under God's all-seeing eye. So it is with the saved. All the veneer of hypocrisy and superficiality is removed from the Lord's gaze. Not only does God know and see our every motive and action now, but at the judgment seat of Christ we will be judged according to the life we really lived!"—Robert P. Lightner, The First Fundamental: God, Thomas Nelson, 1973, reprinted 1978, by Baker Book House, as The God in the Bible.
"Lord, I praise you that You know everything—past, present, and future. That means for me, that my past, present and future are in Your hands. You know my shortcomings and You still have called me to a place of ministry in Your kingdom. That helps me to relax because I know You not only know my potential, but you know my problems and their solutions." Ps. 139:1-6; Heb. 4:13.
"Omni" means "all." "Potent" means "powerful." He's all-powerful, able to perform any reality He wills. Of course, God would never will to sin, so He couldn't, with all His power, sin. His will is limited by His nature. There are some things, then, He cannot do, because they are contrary to His nature. In addition, the word "omnipotent" means he can do everything in harmony with His perfection—Hab. 1:13; 2 Tim. 2:13; Tit. 1:2; Heb. 6:18; James 1:13. That helps answer a lot of dumb questions about God.
"Omnipotent" is an unclear "peanut butter" word for me to understand. Whenever I find a word that is difficult and doesn't speak to me, I've learned to substitute another word or phrase that communicates the thought more clearly to me. So let's use the phrase, "He can do it," or "My God can do it."
Often we hear people try to explain away some of the miracles of God with natural phenomena. Many, for instance, say Moses didn't cross the Red Sea; he crossed the Reed Sea, which was only five inches deep. They say a strong wind came and blew the water away and the Israelites walked across on dry land. I think that's silly, but we still have a miraculous miracle here, because this means the entire Egyptian army, including their horses drowned in just 5 inches of water!
Listen to Scriptures that speak of His omnipotence;
.Jeremiah 32:17—"Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you."
Matt. 19:26—"Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'"
Also read Is. 40:6-7; Gen. 17:1; Rev. 4:8; 19:6.
Now, knowing God can do it, how does this apply to us? I'll tell you how it applies to me.
I can dare to pray for the impossible. 1)We don't know what life or prayer is if we don't walk into the impossible with God's hand in ours. We can pray for the impossible, not the ridiculous.
When I am weary and need strength, I can pray for His strength because He can do it.
When I'm in a test with Satan, I am confident. I don't know all about Satan's power, but I know who my God is and He can do it. I major on God and minor on Satan.
"Lord, I praise you for Your Omnipotence. You can do anything according to your power. If anything needs to be done in or through me, You can do it. Lord, that gives me courage to pray for the impossible. Whatever my condition or need, Your strength and power is sufficient."
Which of these attributes do you feel speaks to your situation? Why?
In your conversations with non-Christians about God, which of the three attributes are most misunderstood? Why?
Why do you think it is important to study God's attributes?
What problems can be eliminated by an understanding of who God is?
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