Theology Proper: Who Is God?

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, January 11, 2021 1 comments

by Katie Erickson

Last week, I wrote about why studying theology is important for all followers of Christ. As we begin digging deeper into the various areas of theology, the first one will investigate is known as theology proper: the study of God and who He is.

One thing that is very important is to realize that God cannot be fully described or understood by our finite human minds. He is the infinite God, and as His creation, there is no way we can completely comprehend Him in our fallen and sinful state in this world. Our human minds are unable to understand that which is larger than us, and God is much, much larger than even our greatest understanding. We may try to define God, but it’s not us who defines Him but rather He reveals Himself to us.

But, God has revealed a lot about Himself to us through both general and special revelation. General revelation is what we can know about God through nature and the creation He has given us (see Romans 1:20). While general revelation can tell us some about who God is, there are no specific saving truths communicated through it; that’s why we also need special revelation. Special revelation is God’s Word as revealed in the person of Jesus, the written form of the Old and New Testaments, and through preaching, teaching, and study. Special revelation tells us specific truths about God’s character and our relationship with Him.

God’s nature can best be described through His attributes, which are categorized into immanent and transcendent. Immanent attributes are ones that we can know through our reason and reading of God’s Word. Those generally include love, faithfulness, mercy, justice, wisdom, and goodness. Transcendent attributes are ones that can only be accepted on revelation since they are outside the scope of our full understanding. Those generally include self-sufficiency, eternality, omnipresence (all-present), omnipotence (all-powerful), omniscience (all-knowing), immutability (changeability), and impassibility (ability to suffer). You can read about some of those attributes at their links or in this blog series by my fellow author Charlie Wolcott.

We often try to define God in human terms, but God is definitely not a human. He’s not a created being as we are, so He does not have the same attributes as we do. We can only get a dim glimpse, at best, of who God is based on what He has revealed to us. Augustine of Hippo is attributed as saying, “If it is understandable, it’s not God.”

God can also be defined as Trinity - three distinct persons yet one God - though that is also a difficult concept for us humans to fully understand. Each person (the Father, the Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit) has its own function, but none of their functions can happen without the other persons and their internal relationship to one another. We see some of this interaction somewhat explained in the following verses, all of which are Jesus speaking:

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)
“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father —the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me.” (John 15:26)
“No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (John 16:27)

There are many analogies for the Trinity, but all of them break down at some point. One is an egg; the yolk, white, and shell are 3 distinct parts, but all make up one egg. Another is juggling with 3 balls; each ball is unique, and the whole of juggling can’t happen without one of them. But both of these analogies break apart in that the pieces of each can be separated, while God cannot be separated. Another analogy, used by Augustine, is a psychological one of mind, emotion, and knowledge; they are 3 distinct aspects of a human personality, and all are present to make up a human.

If all of this sounds confusing, it is. Even the great theologian Martin Luther struggled with describing the Trinity. He once wrote:
“To be sure, a threeness does exist in the Godhead, but this threeness exists in the Persons of the one Godhead. Not three Gods, not three Lords, not three Creators, but one God, one Lord, one Creator, or, as we are wont to say: One divine Essence and yet three distinct Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. I call this Being a Threeness, for threefoldness sounds strange. I cannot give this Being a fitting name.”

There is so much more that could be written about who God is, and a lot of theologians have spent many hours and many big words discussing and arguing over nuances of God’s character based on what God has revealed to us. There are a variety of beliefs that exist in the Christian world about specific characteristics of God where the Scriptures are not clear, but the most important aspect to remember is that God is God and we are not. We can never fully understand who He is, but we can be thankful for His general and special revelation to us and the ways He does reveal His character to us.

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Bill said...

Your points about the Trinity brought the Athanasian Creed to mind!