Theology proper: my definition of God in general, as well as distinct characteristics of God as revealed through scripture.
God in General–A Supreme, Ultimate Being.
God, in a general sense, can be defined first as an ultimate, supreme reality. In other words, God has infinite and limitless capability. That notion itself is one that humans cannot fully comprehend, but it does imply certain attributes. Though the following attributes can be inferred simply from the logical extrapolation of this definition, I will also provide biblical references to reinforce each conclusion, and I will use the Bible as my source to narrow my definition of God later. I will be referring to God with masculine pronouns throughout, with my rationale for such included in a later section.
From the definition of God as a supreme being comes the conclusion that God, by definition, exists. Few would argue that non-existence is superior to existence. Likewise, existing and living is superior to existing and not living. Therefore, we can refer to God as a “being,” a living existence.
Israel’s sacred name for God, YAHWEH, refers to existence and is closely tied to God’s revelation of Himself to Moses. When Moses asked God for a name, he received the following reply:
I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you. God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you. (Exodus 3:14-15, NLT)
Another implication of God’s ultimate supremacy is that He is infinite, having no beginning or end. A non-temporal being, existing separately from the construct of spacetime, is not subject to temporal concepts such as “origin.” God has no “origin,” He is infinite. His existence extends beyond the beginning and end of everything else. (Revelation 1:8, Psalm 90:4, 2 Peter 3:8)
God’s supremacy also applies to power and authority. His sovereignty is ultimate; no other being is above God in that regard, and His sovereign will determines the reality of every outcome in the universe. (Colossians 1:17; Psalm 97:9, 29:10; 1 Chronicles 29:11-12; Proverbs 16:33)
The word “omnipotence” is often used to refer to the limitless nature of God’s power. However, the purest definition of that word creates logical fallacies. Logic itself proceeds from the nature of God [see section on God as creator] and is simply a method that humans use to understand creation. Thereby we observe logical rules such as the law of non-contradiction as proceeding from and applying to God as well as to His creation. God is omnipotent in the sense that His power is the ultimate power, infinite and unlimited by any external force. (Jeremiah 32:27, Psalm 135:6, Luke 1:37, Isaiah 45:7, Job 42:2) However, the logical law of non-contradiction restricts us from entertaining paradoxical questions such as “Can God create a rock bigger than He can lift?”
Similarly, “omniscience” is often used to describe God’s limitless and comprehensive knowledge. There is nothing unknown to God. (Psalm 147:5, Hebrews 4:13, Proverbs 15:3) Some will point out a paradoxical problem this implies regarding the role of decisions and free will in creation. I will discuss the anthropological aspect of this elsewhere, but from a theological perspective, the problem can be dismissed simply by remembering that God is not constrained to any perspectives provided by the scope of time.
God in the Bible
God has revealed Himself in more detail than simply the characteristics inferred from the general definition of an ultimate, supreme being. Through the revelation of scripture, we can learn several more important truths about God.
God is Creator
Out of God’s existence, He spoke into existence every other reality in the universe. (Genesis 1:1, Psalm 33:6) All creation (that is, matter, energy, and what we refer to as spacetime itself) was created by God. (Colossians 1:16-17, Psalm 90:2, John 1:3, Isaiah 45:7) Knowing God as creator helps shape our understanding of creation. Namely, we see that creation reveals its creator, (Psalm 19:1, 8:3; Romans 1:20) and we ascertain concepts such as love, truth, goodness, and beauty within God’s creation because they are aspects of God’s very nature.
God is Knowable
God talked with humans after creating them (Genesis 2:16-17) and manifested a physical presence among them. (Genesis 3:8-13) It is thereby evident that although His supremacy is not fully comprehensible, (Isaiah 55:8-9) God is still knowable to an extent by humans. God’s continued communication with humans is a consistent theme throughout the rest of scripture, and scripture itself is a bridge that helps humans reconnect with their creator.
God is Holy
One of the most defining attributes we can know about God is His holiness. “Holiness” refers to God’s unique, unblemished, pure perfection. The word itself means “unique” or “set apart” so describing God as holy means there is none other like Him. Descriptions of God’s glory, especially in the context of worship, often involve the declaration of God’s holiness. (Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 4:8, Psalm 29:1-2)
Though only God can be truly described as perfectly holy, (1 Samuel 2:2, Exodus 15:11, Romans 3:23) He wants everyone and everything to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16, Ephesians 1:4, 2 Timothy 1:9) and cannot tolerate the existence of unholiness in His presence. I visualize the “intolerance” of God’s holiness like the pure burning heat of the sun, which is so intense it consumes and purges anything unlike itself which gets too near its presence. Similar imagery is found in Malachi 4:1. (Side note: God provided the ultimate solution to this problem through Christ, which is the subject of soteriology, addressed very briefly in the last section of this essay).
God is Triune
God’s plurality can be described as a community of love, which is a template all His creation is meant to reflect on every level.
God refers to Himself as a plurality (Genesis 1:26, 3:22) and a title frequently used for God in the Old Testament is Elohim, which grammatically (though not always literally) is a plural noun. The Old Testament has many such allusions to the trinity, but it is in the New Testament where God is revealed as three distinct persons, composing one cohesive Godhead. Those persons are known as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 3:16-17, 28:19; Romans 14:17-18; Luke 3:21-22; 1 Peter 1:1-2) Despite the distinct plurality of the Trinity, scripture is clear that God is a singular being. (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 44:6, 45:5-6, 18; John 10:30)
God is Benevolent and Loving
Not only is God knowable, but He also loves humans, wants to help them, and wants them to know Him. (Deuteronomy 7:9; Jeremiah 29:11-13; Isaiah 41:10; Psalm 46:10, 86:15; 1 John 4:16-21; John 3:16) Though humans adulterated their relationship with God (Genesis 3), distancing themselves from His holiness, the rest of the Bible’s narrative reveals God’s plan and process of restoring their relationship with Him, ultimately revealed and fulfilled through Christ. (John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:9; Romans 5:8; Mark 10:45; 1 John 4:10; Ephesians 2:4-5; Titus 3:4-7)
God is Masculine/Male
From page one of the Bible, masculine pronounces are used to refer to God. Some have argued against the accuracy of such pronouns, but it reflects God’s self-revelation to humans. Two of the members of the triune Godhead are explicitly male, Father and Son. The Father and Spirit are not described as physical entities, so would not have male or female distinguishing physical features. However, when God did manifest physically as a human, He chose to do so as a man. Jesus often referenced or spoke to God the “Father” (John 14:9-11 just to provide one example), but never “mother” and always using male pronouns. Jesus’s words are consistent with and verify the various metaphors and pronouns throughout the Bible which refer to God as masculine.
Does this mean that women do not reflect the image of God, or that God does not have attributes typically attributed to females? By no means! God made all humans, both male and female, in the likeness of Himself, and exhibits nurturing qualities such as kindness, patience, and gentleness, which some may designate as “maternal.” However, He clearly wishes to be thought of as male and referred to by male pronouns, and to do otherwise is disrespectful at the least.
In summary, God exists infinitely without origin, as the ultimate, supreme, sovereign, all-powerful and all-knowing being who created everything else that is. We as His creation can know Him and know that He is holy, triune, male, and benevolent. I believe that in light of all this, the most important thing we can know about God is best summarized by John 3:16:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.