Characteristics of God

By Tim Isbell, February 2018, revised February 2019 to include sections 3 & 4.

The Bible helps us understand God, and how to relate to him. But it’s a monumental task to distill the Bible’s 66 chapters into a concise list of God’s characteristics.

Fortunately, “systematic theologians” do this for us. My go-to source for such a list is Millard Erikson’s Christian Theology, which describes God’s characteristics in two chapters (37 pages). That’s still too complex for me, so I simplified Erickson’s material to Sections 1 and 2 of this web page. 

In 2018 I discovered two additional views on God's characteristics and added them as Sections 3 and 4. 

Blessings, Tim 



The Greatness of God

Spirituality. God is not composed of matter or physical material. He does not have the limitations of a human body.

Personality. God is an individual being with self-consciousness, will, the capacity to feel, make choices, and he is capable of reciprocal relationships with other personal and social beings.

Life. God is alive. The scriptures teach that when people ask who God is, God responds, “I am.” The continuance of God’s existence does not depend on anything outside of himself.

Infinity. Not only is God unlimited, but he is also unlimitable. He is aware of what is happening, has happened, and will happen. But he cannot do anything whatsoever; he can only do those things which are proper objects of his power. Thus, God cannot do the logically absurd or contradictory. He cannot act contrary to his nature.

Constancy. God’s core nature does not change, even over vast expanses of time.


The Goodness of God

Moral purity

Holiness. God is unique and separate from all of creation and embodies absolute purity or goodness. His perfection is the standard for our moral character and the motivation for religious practice. The entire moral code flows from God’s holiness.

Righteousness. God exhibits righteousness in his moral purity and in applying his holiness to relationships with all other beings - including us. Further, God’s law is an accurate expression of his nature and as perfect as he is. He acts in accord with the law that he established.

Justice. God administers his kingdom consistent with his law, to which he requires us to conform. He is like a judge who as a private individual adheres to the law of society, and in his official capacity administers that same law to others. This makes clear the fact that sin has definite consequences.

Integrity

Genuineness. God is real, not fabricated or constructed like all other claimants to deity. God does more than just embody the qualities of greatness and goodness; he is those attributes.

Veracity. God represents things as they are. This means more than just that God never lies - it says he cannot lie. And God expects veracity from his followers.

Faithfulness. If God’s genuineness is a matter of being true and his veracity is telling the truth, then his faithfulness means that he proves true. God keeps all his promises. He will never commit himself to something where he is incapable.

Loving

Benevolence. God has a genuine concern for the welfare of those whom he loves. He unselfishly seeks their ultimate welfare, having an unselfish interest in them for their sake. He loves women and men mainly on the basis of their likeness of himself, which he placed within them.

Grace. God deals with his people not according to their merit or worthiness or what they deserve, but according to their need. In other words, he deals with us on the basis of his goodness. This is different from benevolence, which is the idea that God does not seek his good, but rather that of others. It is possible for God to love unselfishly, with a concern for others, but still to insist that we do something to earn the favors received. Grace, however, means that God supplies us with undeserved favors. 

Mercy is his tenderness of heart and compassion toward the needy - whether or not they offend him. If grace contemplates humans as sinful, guilty, and condemned, mercy sees humans as miserable and needy. 

Persistence. God withholds judgment and continues to offer salvation and grace over long periods of time. God’s story shows that he is relentless in pursuit of a relationship with his people.

------


In 2018, I expanded my understanding of God's characteristics to include the following two items: 

The Glory of God

Christians understand God as trinitarian, meaning there is one God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit. The three persons of the Trinity never show up alone. Where one is involved, all are involved. God is not one like a tree is one, but rather like a forest is one, or like a chorus of notes in a song is one, or like a family is one.

God’s glory shows itself more in the perfect loving unity among the three persons of the Trinity than it shows up in the three persons individually. Nothing reflects God’s true identity more than the oneness of God's being within the Trinity. This is why it is theologically accurate to say, “God is love.”

So, when Genesis says, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like ourselves,” we get a hint of the human community embedded deep in each person's DNA. God created both Adam and Eve to live together, soon followed by their offspring. Make no mistake, a community is at the center of God’s nature, and it is at the center of human culture.  Community is not a human invention, it is God's creation in which we are placed to flourish. 


The Beauty/Elegance of God

The history of Christian thought includes seeing God in terms of Three Transcendentals: true, good, and beautiful. These "transcend" the physical and empirical; it is similar to “metaphysical.” Categories 1 and 2 above focus primarily on the true and the good, Category 3 begins to express the third transcendental. My first exposure to this thinking was from a lecture by Bryan Stone, a Boston University professor. 

I’m an engineer by temperament and training, so one way I notice beauty is in the elegance of design. Sometimes I stare at a beautiful sunset disappearing into the ocean or over the mountain above our townhouse and just gasp to myself (or to Robin, my wife), “Wow! How does God do that? I have participated in many electronic designs, some of which are built on an elegant concept. But none even remotely compare with the elegance and beauty of God’s physical creation.”

I react similarly when I see the immense dynamic range of the creation, from the grand scale things mentioned above to nanotechnology to the water cycle to the elegance embedded in human biology and so on. And is so many cases, God created things that are able to heal themselves from injury or damage!

Further, I’m struck by the beauty from the heart of a Creator who invites a part of his design, us volitional humans, to join him in the creation process.

While writing Beyond Conversion 1, I was struck by how intractable the problem of sin is for humans to deal with on our own. The best we seem to do is in trying to construct constitutions and laws, which only begin to deal with surface-level sin. But as I began to see the nuances underneath God’s redemptive loop, I was struck by the beauty and elegance of God’s design for redemption and the amazing way it develops hearts that beat like Jesus’ heart. God’s good news is as beautiful as it gets!

So, especially as I grow older I'm seeing much more clearly the intrinsic beauty of God.


Blessings,

Tim



For news from this site, including notifications of new content, please subscribe to the RSS or email feeds or email feeds.

Comments