Rather than reading the Bible through the eyes of modern secularism, this provocative six-part course teaches you to read the Bible through its own eyes—as a record of God’s dealing with the human race. When you read it at this level, you will discover reasons to worship God in areas of life you probably never before associated with “religion.”
© Charles A. Clough 1995
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 2: Buried Truths of Origins
Chapter 2: Creation: Buried Truth of Who God is
Lesson 8 – Who and What God is:
Incommunicable Attributes of God;
Communicable Attributes of God–Part 1
16 Nov 1995
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
Tonight’s lesson is very critical. In tonight’s lesson we’re going to get into the practical tools that will greatly strengthen your Christian walk. These are the tools that set you up spiritually and strengthen you. We’ve been 6 or 7 lessons getting here. Let me review why we’ve taken 6 or 7 lessons to get here. Whenever we look at Scripture, think about it, pray about it, apply it by faith in our lives, we have to do so in such a way that we don’t undermine the very Scripture we’re trying to live by. I mentioned several times how, when Christians present the case for Christianity, or they argue for the existence of God or some such thing, we have a tendency to shoot ourselves in the foot by the way we go about it.
The last 100 years Christians have had to learn the hard way about the world system, the unbelief that is out there, that constantly seduces us, constantly tries to get our eyes on everything else but Jesus Christ and the authority of Scripture. So we have tried to immunize you as we’ve worked our way up to this point. We’re still talking about Genesis 1 and 2, creation, still talking about the same event, but we tried to show you that there aren’t 100 answers to the question, there are only two answers and we go back to the diagram we passed out last time, the fact that there is either the creation with the Creator/creature distinction, or the Continuity of Being idea, that we have no God, and that what we talk about is simply all of reality, existing by itself, we can talk about God and man in the same language, the word has the same meaning when it refers to God and the same meaning when it refers to man.
One more time, what we’re trying to do here, because of the nature of the lesson tonight, we get into the attributes of God, and we don’t want to give you the idea that the attributes of God are some impersonal (Q)ualities that are just there, that these attributes stand each by themselves, some sort of a descriptor that can apply to God and man in the same way. The attributes of God aren’t that. The attributes of God are truly attributes of the Creator, not attributes of anything else. There are similarities between certain (q)ualities in us and (Q)ualities in God—similarities but not identities. So we always want to make the Creator/creature distinction clear. If there’s one thing we’ve learned the last 100–200 years of church history, it’s we’d better make this clear.
We mentioned last week the fact that if you don’t, you’re going to get shot down, someone sometime is going to way is going to say the Creator/creature distinction really isn’t that profound, for example, you can say that the idea of three and the idea one, i.e. the idea of number, applies to God in exactly the same way as it applies to the creature, and once we do that we can say that three isn’t one, one isn’t three, so the doctrine of the Trinity of the Bible is wrong, it’s logically wrong. This is what Jehovah’s Witnesses do all the time. This is what Islam does. This is what the Mormons do. This is what every pseudo-biblical group of people do. They wind up trying to undermine the Christian faith by starting their argument in the wrong place, by smearing the Creator/creature distinction, everything is just a Continuity of Being, and not making the proper distinction.
What we have tried to do is, in your minds, get it very clear that when we talk of any (Q)uality, whether it’s love, space, time, whatever it is, that that (Q)uality, when it applies to God, applies to His character in a different way than it does when it’s applied to the creature. There are similarities, obviously or we couldn’t talk about them. But they’re not identical.
Let me also introduce an idea that some talk about. You may hear the word anthropomorphism; it’s used by certain theologians. Let’s take the (Q)uality of knowledge. God has an attribute of omniscience. Down here we have an attribute of knowledge. People like to say the truth to God and the truth to man are identical, or knowledge to God and knowledge to man are identical. In other words, both God and man share under this same common quality. The problem with that is that the moment you do you have automatically made God part of the creation, you haven’t separated them enough. And what they try to say is that the knowledge of God is a projection in our understanding of our knowledge, so we have this idea of what knowledge means to us and we king of project it onto the character of God. The word for that is anthropomorphism, i.e. that the quality that is ascribed to God is a form that is analogous to man. That’s true, but it’ll give you a false lead if you don’t turn it around and reverse it immediately. If you just leave it at this point, then someone can say, then what you’re saying is that you don’t really know God, what you’re saying is that man’s mind is just projecting a knowledge that we have on to God, and that cuts you off from knowing God. What you have to do immediately is get this two-way conversation going, so I coined another word, just a gimmick to make this work, a “theomorphism,” i.e., that God has so structured our minds because we’re made in His image, that out of the stuff we call knowledge is a form of His. So it works both ways, if you just try it one way you kill, you destroy genuine revelation that God made.
God can reveal Himself truly to us because He made us in His image. We are “theomorphisms” of Him. That’s what the word “image” means, that if God were to project Himself down to a finite level, a finite dimension, He would look like us, that’s why we have the form we do. Traditionally what happens is the Christian theologians say the image of God only applies to the immaterial part of man. It applies to both. We don’t want to be Mormons about this, they say the Father has a body, the Son has a body, the Holy Spirit has something, and we all kind of share the same thing. That’s not what we’re saying. We’re saying there’s a correspondence, a deep and profound correspondence between not only our immaterial soul, but the way we are physically designed. There is some way this corresponds to the character of God, so that when God says “the arm of salvation” shall save you, it’s not a nonsense term, it means in His power, in His omnipotence, in His very being, that when He says I exercise My strength, that is a very similar thing to what we do when we exercise our strength. He’s built us that way, otherwise we couldn’t talk together, we couldn’t carry on a historic conversation with the God of the universe if that were not the case, if we weren’t theomorphic. This is the basis for understanding God, and this is the basis for knowing Him. And this is also the refutation of the people who say God couldn’t reveal Himself, etc.
Turn to page 26, a delightful little except from C. S. Lewis. Those of you who are young parents, may I suggest a book series for your children that is exquisite, delightful, and you’ll have hours of fun, C.S. Lewis’s series, The Chronicles of Narnia. You’ll see Christian doctrine embedded in these stories. C.S. Lewis was a master at doing this, and when asked why he did this, he had a simple answer as to why he wrote children’s stories. He says because adults are too defensive, I write in the children’s story to come around and hit with what looks like an entertaining story. I find that adults love them because they look upon them as children’s stories so they let their defenses down and they suck it up, and once they’ve sucked it up, all of a sudden they realize, whoops, there’s some heavy Christian doctrine in these things.
The God figure, the Christ figure of all of the Narnia Chronicles is a great lion, called Aslan. He has these neat conversations and this is one of my favorite ones from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. A little girl, Lucy, hears from the animals in Narnia that there’s this big powerful lion coming. And the lion is going to change the land because the land is a land of winter without Christmas; the land has been cursed by a witch. And the only hope the people have in this land is a visit from Aslan. So Aslan is going to come and make things better. But the more she hears about all these animals looking forward to the coming of Aslan, the more kind of spooky she gets because of the way they talk about Him. So that’s why I say when Lucy became aware she might meet the Christ figure, she worriedly asked Mr. Beaver whether he was safe. This is a classic C.S. Lewis-ism. “Safe, said Mr. Beaver, who said anything about safe?” Of course he isn’t safe, but he’s good and he’s the king.
In those three sentences Lewis did a phenomenal thing. Let’s diagram what he’s doing, just so we catch it. Lewis is dealing with exactly what we’re dealing with. What he is trying to do is to say that you cannot have a situation of God, man, in this case Aslan, and Mr. Beaver and Lucy, you can’t have them sharing some understanding so that once man understands this, whatever it is, it boxes God in and we’ve got God under control. God is never brought under our control, never! That’s what Lewis is protecting. Aslan is not safe. What would Lucy mean by safe? It means that he’s on a leash, I can kind of walk up to him and just in case he bites, there’s a restraint on Aslan, and what the Beaver is saying is no, sorry Lucy, there are no restraints on God, so He is not safe. All idols are safe, but the God of the Scripture is never “safe” because we have no control over His power, we have no way to contravene His sovereign decrees, and we have no higher court of appeal of right and wrong other than His character. He is not a safe God. So our security rests not in a safety net that we construct.
Your security as a believer doesn’t depend on some great knowledge that we have that prevents God from doing something unpredictable. What does your security depend on in a relationship with God? It depends upon His goodness, His graciousness and His love, and His omnipotence, all rolled together but it certainly does not depend upon Him fitting into a little box that we have created so that we can heave a sigh of relief and know that at least here we’re protected. There is no place that we’re ever protected from God. The protection comes because of who and what He is. The protection does not come because of some external constraint upon God. That’s the point. Aslan is not safe, but he is good.
We want to deal with some of the specific attributes of God and I want to take you to the exercise at the end of the lesson, page 29. Before we do this I’m going to make a point. We’re going to take a passage of Scripture, any passage of Scripture, it says certain things about God. What we’re going to do is look and ask questions of that text of Scripture, and see how many attributes of God we can find embedded in that text of Scripture. In other words, how much does that text of Scripture tell us about the nature of our Creator? We’re going to look for these characteristics. These are not the only characteristics of God, these are only a sample. If you want to really see characteristics that people have thought about over the ages, there is a two volume set, written in the 19th century and all it deals with is the attributes of God. So there’s plenty more than just these, these are just scratching the surface.
On page 26 we’re going to start with the incommunicable attributes of God. This is a theologian’s label, I’m using it because we’re trying to separate, some of these attributes are harder to comprehend than others because they’re less similar to us. The attributes of God that are not too similar to us are called incommunicable. The attributes that are more similar, or most similar, to us are called communicable. Keep that distinction in mind. I’ve listed four of these incommunicable attributes of God and we’ll go through these four.
The first one is omnipresence. Turn to Psalm 139:7. When we look at these passages, don’t just look at the attribute but look at the context or the circumstances in which God revealed this aspect about Himself. Why do you suppose that’s necessary? Think about just that little observation. Whenever you look for an attribute of God look at the circumstances the person was in when God revealed this aspect about Himself. Question: Why do you suppose that method of learning is important? Because it clues us as to when in our lives that attribute will be important to us. So it makes it easy to apply the truth in our personal lives, as we walk by faith, when we see that we are in the same kind of situation that the Biblical people were in when God showed them this part of His character. We won’t have time to go through all these verses, I just put them down, there’s plenty more, but these are a sample.
Psalm 139:7, “Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence?  If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there.  If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,  Even there Thy hand will lead me, And Thy right hand will lay hold of me.” How do you suppose you could contemporize that to the 20th century; think in terms of Star Trek or something? Anyone have a suggestion how you could universalize Psalm 139 a little more. If I go on a rocket trip into the next galaxy, is God the same? Is God holy there as much as He is here? Yes. So the omnipresence of God means that He is holy at every point. That’s hard to describe. How can God be holy at every point, He’s not half here and half there, He’s all here and He’s all there. He is infinitely present at every point. We don’t get samples of part of His character.
We said that every one of these (Q)ualities, if you turn to page 27, every one of these attributes is mirrors or is the anchor for something in our lives that are parallel to that. We can locate ourselves in space by our imagination. Surely everyone in this room can, in your own head, visualize, maybe in your childhood, you can go back in time, and you can relocate yourself. You can have that power of imagination to alter your location mentally to yourself. God can instantly be everywhere, He always is everywhere. So our thing is a very impotent, weak, partial revelation of His omnipresence.
Another area of thinking about this is space, space is three dimensional, it’s not four dimensional unless you want to get into modern cosmology. It’s interesting God has a triune nature also, so has space, so has time, time is triunity, space is triunity; those are not just accidents. In space we have a finite version of God. Geometry is a study of spaces and volumes, and ultimately geometry is derivative of the omnipresence of God. It’s not the other way around, it’s not that God says gee, I’m something utterly different and so the nearest thing you creatures know about Me is your idea of space, so we’ll make an illustration of My character from space. It’s more powerful than that. It’s rather that God has created space as a finite analogue to His own omnipresence.
God was everywhere present before the universe came into existence. That’s why in one sense you can argue that it wasn’t creation of nothing, it was creation by God. So omnipresence is something, and you can tell from Psalm 139, just look at the context, it’s a source of tremendous comfort. No matter where you are, you can never be separated from God, spatially. What does separate us from God? Not space. What separates us from God is our relationship to Him. When we’re angry, or when He’s angry at us and we’re not on speaking terms, if we’re non-Christian we haven’t trusted in Jesus Christ and aren’t born again we don’t have a relationship based on righteousness with Him. That separates us from God. So what separates is ethical, not physical. You don’t separate yourself from God by taking a trip, even though you say I want to get away from something, “I want to get away from it, get me out of here …” Because we need a relief, get me out of here. When you think about it, we can’t get out of the universe, we just go from one place to the other, we’re still in the universe, and God is still omnipresent. So He’s as much here as He is anywhere else.
The second attribute, omnipotence. Let’s take an example of omnipotence that’s from the New Testament, Ephesians 3:20. I like to use the Old Testament because nobody uses it. The trouble with the New Testament sometimes is we’re too familiar with it and it doesn’t smack us across the head because we’ve looked at it so many times we don’t come freshly to the text. This is a classic use of God’s omnipotence. Paul is showing us, because He knows God is a God who is all powerful, that makes Paul deal with his life and his circumstances a certain way. Here’s an example of it. He’s praying, and he says “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us,  to Him be the glory,” etc. There are complications there because the omnipotence is dealing with the indwelling Holy Spirit, we’ll get into that. All we’re looking at in verse 20 right now is what it says, “He is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we could ever ask or think.” That is omnipotence.
Let’s think about how omnipotence is made in some analogy with something around us. Omnipotence is the archetype of energy. What we call energy is a finite version of God’s omnipotence. In science you learn there’s such a thing as a conservation of energy, energy is neither created nor destroyed, it changes form, the first law of thermodynamics. But God’s energy is not limited. It’s like our concept of energy, yet it’s also different. Here’s another way of putting it. God doesn’t get tired, no fatigue. God does not have fatigue, because He is boundlessly energetic. When do we want to rely on that? When we’re tired, to know that our God, who promises to help us, to sustain us, to nourish us, doesn’t get tired. So when we’re exhausted, to be able to cast ourselves at His feet and say thank you God, that You don’t get tired, that You are energetic, that You are always brim full of energy. Not that we’re going to be, but He is. The important point is that because He is, now He is able to do beyond anything we ask or think. He is able to carry out His promises.
Look at it this way, if He weren’t omnipotent, could we trust Him? Would you dare trust a finite god? Now, because He may love you, but if He’s finite He’s like those gods we encountered in Enuma Elish. What was the problem in Enuma Elish? You had a counsel of gods, the big god knocked off all the other gods, but you never could be sure that tomorrow another god wouldn’t arise and knock him off. All you’ve got is just a series of bullies. And a bully is only good until he meets one bigger than himself. So that’s why the gods of the ancient world were never really trustworthy. Corollary to this, no one in the ancient world developed a concept of history outside of Israel. You can talk about Herodotus, but there’s an answer to that we’ll get later. But before the Greeks there was no one who developed any idea of history. Why do you suppose that was so? Because there was no program to history, because there was no lord of history, who would write a pathway that we could study and say oh, that’s where history is going. So God is omnipotent, He is omnipresent; many of these verses go along with this.
The third attribute, very important for studying the things of creation, is immutability. Turn to Malachi 3. Here again the rule, when you study the attributes of God in a text of Scripture, look at the context, ALWAYS. What were the circumstances that were going on there? Why did God reveal this attribute and not another kind of attribute? What was it about the circumstances that to be blessed, to be benefited by this act of revelation, the believers were given this side of the character of God rather than that side? Why in this situation would he reveal Himself this way? The attribute of immutability means God is perfectly stable. Notice what I did not say. I did not say that God is like a Greek statue that never moves. I did not say that God has this sort of Eastern religious nirvana undisturbed motive, He never gets emotional. I didn’t say any of that, because the Bible doesn’t say that. If you define immutability the wrong way you’ve got a problem with the Scripture. Why? Because you can look at texts like Genesis 6, God says I repent that I ever made man. What are you going to do with that one, He’s changing His mind. So you can’t define it as the fact that God doesn’t respond to history, vigorously, emotionally, in anger. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re not talking about static, a static God, we’re talking about God who is dynamic, involved, emotional, but His character is stable. And when He says He’s going to do something that He really means He is going to do, He does it.
Here in Malachi is an example. He’s talking about the coming of Christ, about the judgments that are going to accompany this, then He concludes in Malachi 3:6, “For,” every time you see “for” understand it’s because there’s a reason, there’s a rational why this is going to happen, “For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, you aren’t consumed.” If God had a changeable character, His promises could be null and voided, because tomorrow He might not want to fulfill them. So the promises of God depend upon His omnipresence, He’s got to apply them at every point in the universe; omnipotence, He has the energy to carry them out; His immutability that He will never, ever change, and He can be relied upon.
Just to show you why you have to be careful with this attribute that you don’t get a fuzzy and wrong view of God’s character, turn to Exodus 32:12. Here’s an example, one of those places in the Old Testament where God repents. It doesn’t mean He’s not immutable. Look at the context, verse 11, “Then Moses entreated the LORD his God,” and God is ticked off right at this point. God is angry here. Notice what he has just got through in Genesis 32:10 saying, “let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them, and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.” Here’s one of the great acts of history, Moses, standing there… if you’ve seen Cecil B. DeMille’s attempt to super naturalize the giving of the Law, you see Charlton Heston duck and the fire swooshes, etc. Think about what you’d do if you were in this situation; you have this awesome God who’s talking to you, and He booms down to you, “I’ve seen this people, I am angry, get out of My way, I’m going to let them have it.” Can you imagine the audacity to stand up to this fiery God and say no? That’s Moses. This is a fantastic chapter of history.
Moses argues with Him, and he says in verse 11, “Then Moses entreated the LORD his God, and said, O LORD, why doth Thine anger burn against Thy people whom Thou hast brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?  “Why should the Egyptians speak,” now Moses is constructing an argument in his prayer. Moses didn’t say, Lord, whatever You want to do. That’s not the kind of prayer that you see here, there’s bargaining that’s going on. That’s why people say Jews make good business people because they’ve bargained with God for so many centuries, they can easily bargain with anybody else. Here Moses is bargaining with God, and he’s saying God, there’s a reason why You shouldn’t do this, Your honor. This is really clever. He says if you go ahead and do what you’re threatening to do, what about Your glory. What are the Egyptians going to say? Look at the end of verse 12, “Turn from Thy burning anger and change Your mind,” or repent “about doing harm to Thy people.” Verse 13, “Remember Abraham, Isaac and Israel,” he remembers the covenant, and so in verse 14, “So the LORD repented,” or “the Lord changed His mind.”
When you start talking about God’s immutability, you’ve got to allow for these passages. So however you talk about immutability you’re not erasing the fact that He interacts with history. What you have here is one awesome revelation of prayer. We glibly say, and we have to be careful, so careful about this because there’s such a fine razor edge about this point. You often hear “in prayer God doesn’t change but man does change,” and that’s true 99% of the time, but what do you do about a prayer like this? Is it just theater in Genesis 32:14, or was God affected by the petition that Moses prayed for? It seems to me the only honest way of reading the text is that God is affected, deeply and profoundly by the words that He hears from Moses. Can you imagine someone in Islam doing this, with Allah? You see, the biblical God is different, profoundly different. And this is effective prayer, this is one magnificent passage.
Let’s return to immutability; how is immutability different from what we call natural law, because one of the things we struggle with, interpretation of creation, etc. is we’re down here and we have what we call constants. We brought this up in one of our first lessons, I wrote a linear equation on the board, and I said that you can’t have any equation, any mathematical relationship unless you have constants. And those are the two constants in the first degree equation. You’ve got to have something constant. You can’t have a measurement without something constant. If I measure motion I’ve got to have a marker to measure the motion against. If I measure what a meter is I’ve got to calibrate my instruments so that tomorrow a meter doesn’t change. I have to have constants in order to have knowledge. This is going to be critical, I’m looking forward to something here, because this is something most people don’t ever give a dime’s worth of attention to and it’s the easy answer to why the Scriptures are saying what they’re saying about creation. What we know in our everyday experience is that we can’t have knowledge without a constant, so we build this edifice up, in science we offer mathematical models, we can’t have science today without having some form of mathematical modeling, it’s just implicit in the whole operation. But the mathematical modeling presupposes a constancy. Engineers and scientists work on this all the time, programming computers, doing all kinds of things, working a miracle analysis, all kinds of hairy ways of solving differential equations, and not once do they ever give a dime’s worth of attention to the most obvious fact of what they are doing, they are relying on constants.
The problem that Scripture presents finite man with is this, that your constants will sometimes be interrupted, and oooohhh you can’t have that; that blows away the basis of all human knowledge. Think about it, one of the most fundamental equations of all time is the equation for gravity. It’s
F = ma, Force equals mass times acceleration, or Force equals mass times acceleration of gravity. That’s the equation, there’s the constant. What happened to “G” when Peter wanted to go out and walk on the water? Where’s “G?” The Lord tells Peter to step off, and Peter’s had a lot of acquaintance with “G” because all the time he’s been growing up he’s been out on that lake, that’s where his business was. It’s interesting, Jesus asked people who were native to the lake to walk on the water, He didn’t ask some landlocked guy to do it; He asked people who were fishermen to do it, the people most familiar with the Sea of Galilee. Those were the people He asked to walk on it. At that point you have a real problem. Feel the tension. All your life your knowledge structure has been built on these constants, then along comes the Lord and He says Come here, I’m going to tell you to do something that cuts across every one of your constants. Have you got the guts to follow me or not? Oops. Think about the transaction that happens at this point.
Visualize Peter, he’s got all this experience, here’s all of his constants, there’s One who calls him to step, step out of that boat. At the point that Peter takes a step, where has he relocated his constant? At that point there’s been a crucial transaction happen. What has he shifted? He has shifted to trusting the Lord as more constant than his constants. At that point a critical transaction occurred that is elementary particle of faith, that there’s a giving away of finite baggage, and all of a sudden you cast yourself into the hands of God. That’s what that’s all about, it’s to break down the confidence of finite man and his own finite production, and transfer his faith onto the character of God. That’s what promises are in Scripture, and it’s a tremendous transaction. As long as you believe that as an autonomous being that a constant must be under your control, you will never, ever step out of the boat. You cannot step out of that boat without trusting the immutability of God as being more constant than your constants, that He is more stable than your elements of stability, that He is the archetype of really true stability. That’s immutability! Notice something else, it’s personal. It’s not some sort of a constant in the physical sense, it’s a constant of character.
Let’s go to the last of the incommunicable attributes on page 27, the attribute of eternality. What do we mean by God being eternal? Look at it this way. If the creation of the universe happened at a point, and we can diagram the start, there’s our diagram again, there’s the creation, then God dwells in eternity. Eternity is the archetype and source of what we call time. We can only live one minute at a time, or one second at a time, an instant of time. We can only experience eternity chunk by chunk by chunk, because we are creatures of time. But the time that we experience is a creature analogue to His eternality. Again, the power of your own imagination because God has made you in His image, and there are certain things deep in your heart that correspond to His character. In your imagination can’t you remember things that have gone on in your childhood? Ever run across particularly the sense of smell, because for some reason smell is more related to memory than some of our other senses, and you walk in and you smell a smell that you haven’t smelled since your childhood. All of a sudden you smell that smell and it suddenly brings back memories. And it’s like you’re there, you remember distinctly being there, it’s almost like you’re having a vision of being there, or in a dream of being at another place in time. God dwells simultaneously in all points of time.
Go to John 8:56. Here’s one of those mystery passages, where Jesus shows forth His deity. People always say “Jesus never called Himself God.” What do they do with this one? Verse 56, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad.  The Jews therefore said to Him, You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” By the way, scholars have pointed out verse 57 tells you a little bit about what Jesus looked like, because you notice that He wasn’t anywhere near 50; Jesus at this time was probably a little over 30. And if they’re saying not yet 50 it suggests that He was aging under the stress of His ministry, stress against sin, not stress against His sin, stress against the world. But notice, they claim look, you’re only 50 years old, so here’s your chunk of time Jesus, 50, and then He comes out with this one in verse 58, look at the verb tenses, look carefully, observe carefully here, John is loaded with these goodies. “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born,” He didn’t say I was, He says “I AM.” Abraham was born 2,000 years before Christ, and what Jesus says is Abraham saw His day and I exist in His day, I AM. Jesus is unbound by the past, present and future. Strange—this is part of the mystery. We said when we went into these attributes that every one of them is ultimately incomprehensible. We have analogies but we can’t say that we know exactly what eternity is because we’re creatures of time; we’re not creatures of eternity, but in some way God is ever present. Let’s take comfort in this, the quality of time that we know is analogous to His eternity.
Let’s go to page 28 at the top, there’s a little thing here that might help someday when you’re rushed. Who hasn’t had the experience of being forced to make a decision where you felt you were being rushed to make this decision, didn’t have enough time to do it right, I’m pushed by circumstances, I’ve got to choose. You feel like you’ve been forced to do something quick. I hate that feeling, and I’m sure most of you do too; you hate this idea of having to choose when you’ve got no other choice, you have to make a choice. The thing to think about here is that if you are the Creator and you could dwell in eternity, you would have all eternity to do that microsecond of the decision. In other words, if you dwell outside of time you wouldn’t be trapped by time into rushing from moment to moment. God speaks from that vantage point. That’s why when He promises us things, trust Him, when He argues that this is right and this is wrong He does so with full knowledge of those hasty rapid moments where we jam and compress moving from one instant of time to the other. He is free of that, and He speaks out of that eternal dwelling place. That’s why the Bible says He dwells in eternity. He’s not rushed.
Let’s go to the communicable attributes. We’ll take 2 more and finish the rest of them next week. The one that probably has given more people more trouble over the history of the church than anything else is sovereignty. I’d like to read what I put there on page 28, paragraph 5. “The attribute of sovereignty means that God personally wills His own nature within the Trinity.” Now remember each one of these attributes can also be looked at independently of the universe, in other words, here’s God, here’s the creation down here. We’ve already studied that He’s omnipotent, that He’s omnipresent, that He’s immutable, He’s eternal and now we are looking at the fact that He’s sovereign. But these attributes have to be exercised, and are exercisable without the universe. Think about this. All the attributes of God have to be exercisable without having the universe around, otherwise they’re not eternal to His character, and otherwise He’s dependent on the universe to show His attributes, which is obviously wrong.
This is why we’re going to get to the attribute of love; Allah is a problem in Islamic theology. Muslim theology has classically had one area of tremendous weakness, they can’t seem to ever reconcile Allah and his power of sovereignty and omnipotence with love, and why they have that problem is real because Allah has no object for his love before he creates, so in some sense a solitary god is dependent upon something outside of himself as an object for his love. The Trinity is not that way. The Trinity has the object of the love inside of themselves because the Father forever loved the Son, the Son forever loved the father, the Father forever loved the Holy Spirit, etc. They had a perfect closed circle; they didn’t need the universe around. That’s not true of a solitary god. That’s one of those features of the Christian faith that we always feel like we have to apologize for because we believe somehow God is three and God is one. It’s precisely those features that make our faith true. It’s precisely the denial of those features that get you in trouble. So here when we’re talking about God as sovereign, it doesn’t just mean that He is sovereign over the universe, it means that He always willed what He willed from eternity, He willed “His own nature within the Trinity. His self-will is at once necessary (because of His nature) and free” because of it is “undetermined by anything outside of Himself.” So please notice that sentence. His self-will is at once necessary and it is free; it is necessary because He is a willing God, He is a God who exercises sovereignty. That’s part of His nature. He wouldn’t be God if He wasn’t sovereign. But He’s also free, because it’s not determined by anything outside of Himself.
Why is that important? Let me go back; this is why I spent 5-6 weeks getting here. Remember in Enuma Elish, we went through that whole thing and I made a big deal about the counsel of the gods. I said look at those gods, they’re knocking each other off, etc. and then I mentioned there was a strange part in the text about the tablets of destiny, and in those myths, the gods in order to be the top guy in the block he had to find the tablets of destiny, and the god who had the tablets of destiny was the guy that was leading. Then later the Greeks come along and develop the concept of faith, and I kept saying be careful, watch it here, because the pagan mind, because it doesn’t have a sovereign God, has got to come up with something to replace it. So what does this pagan mind and the fleshly mind come up with to replace sovereignty? It replaces it with either fate or chance. Those are both concepts, they look opposite but they’re all sovereignty substitutes. And they have to be there. We’ll see that when we get into idolatry.
The attributes we’re going over are not options. The grossest unbeliever relies on these attributes, in rebellion and he relocates them, but he has them. You can’t have knowledge without immutability, you’ve got to have energy, you’ve got to have space, and in sovereignty you have to have choice. Let me show you one of the hard passages of Scripture, Proverbs 16:4. You could spend a lifetime just looking at one of these attributes but they ultimately all are incomprehensible. That’s why the Bible says “My ways are not your ways, neither are your thoughts My thoughts” [Isaiah 55:8]. In Proverbs 16:4 notice this, its unavoidable, it’s a frank confession, and however we deal with the problem of evil which is coming up when we deal with the event of the fall. “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil.” It doesn’t mince words; the Bible never compromises this point. Is God, in the sense that He created the universe; the universe has a big flaw in it, has a guy called Satan in it, is that just an accident, or is the universe here by design? It’s here by design. God creates problems, yes, I know that, every Christian knows that. But you don’t solve the problem by denying it. However we deal with it we have to deal with it not so as to destroy the sovereignty of God over all things, He worked all things after the counsel of His will. We have to protect human responsibility but we can’t do like some people have tried to do, make man and God together as a sort of team that rule history. History is not run by a committee, it’s run by the Lord.
What, in our everyday experience, corresponds to sovereignty? When we choose. In the last point in the paragraph I wrote: “Our experience of causation in everyday processes around us is something like his sovereignty except that His ‘causation’ is personal, not some impersonal process.” In other words, we think of chemical processes, physical processes, those are nice but they don’t approximate too well His sovereignty because they’re not personal. “Our experience of authoritatively convincing someone else to do something probably is closer to His (Q)uality of sovereignty.” But caution, “His sovereignty is not identical to the kind of “necessity” we observe in creature cause-effect. It cannot be modeled by a notion of physical law, of a robotic system, or by any other determinism. Impersonal determinism is the only way the pagan mind can picture total control because it excludes in principle an Infinite-Personal Creator,” in other words, when people seek to imagine in their heads, how does this work out, they always want to invent a machine to do it, because it’s only the machine where you can see total control. We don’t know what it is to be a person in total control, because we’re not in total control. So our images are lacking at this point, all we have is the Word of God that says that “I work all things after the counsel of My will.” And it may be a grand chess game, and there may be move, a counter move, a counter to the counter move, a counter to the counter to the counter move, all that goes on in history, but in the end God’s will shall prevail. That’s the kind of God we have with whom we have to deal.
We’ll come to the attribute of holiness the next time. Let’s conclude by taking a Psalm, s pick a Psalm at random, say Psalm 16, here’s a way to do that exercise. I really encourage you to do that, because of just the training experience in looking for this in Scripture. This is a way you can have of feeding yourself from the text. Psalm 16:1, “Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in Thee.  I said to the LORD, Thou art my LORD, I have no good besides Thee.  As for the saints who are in the earth, they are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.  The sorrows of those who have bartered for another God will be multiplied,” etc. Look at the passage, see what you can spot, observe for yourself, what things does that tell you about God? Can you see any of His attributes? If there’s not one stated, there’s one implied; sometimes God’s attributes are stated clearly and others you have to look for. If you said “preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in Thee,” can’t you see there a couple attributes there that he’s relying on? When he says “preserve me, O God,” would it do any good for him to make that prayer to a God that was less than omnipotent? Isn’t omnipotence, that God is able to do that, assumed by that prayer request? So isn’t his prayer grounded on a faith in the omnipotence of God? “For I take refuge in Thee” … You are my Lord,” the word “Lord” speaks of a master and a sovereign, God is in control of the circumstances.
This is just a device to help squeeze out the truth from the text of Scripture when you read it. There are hundreds of ways of studying the Bible, but this is just one way, and basically it’s a way that you can develop to deal with circumstances in living, because if you can see what the Bible tells us about our God and just remember some of these attributes, you could really go into any situation in life and reflect upon just one or two of these attributes to calm your soul down, calm down your spirit, to relax in the middle of a situation, and just to be able to get your spiritual focus in gear to just think about what do I know about my God in this situation.
Next week we’ll continue with that and you should have the handout which follows which is the handout on idolatry because we’re going to show what idolatry is. We always have a tendency to get into that, which is denial of these attributes, or relocating them.
Question asked: Clough replies: The question is how is our knowledge a subset of God’s knowledge, a very important question, and it’s that question that lies at the heart of a lot of apologetic difficulties, also lies at the whole problem of modern science and the Christian faith. I’d like to handle that under omniscience.
Question asked: Clough replies: What we’re talking about is that anthropomorphic line or the theomorphic line, the reason we use anthropomorphic is simply because in experience we will become conscious of certain things by the way our lives are lived because as creatures God made us to live our lives in certain ways so we have certain experiences, and then these experiences we think about, meditate and reflect on and actually they become revelations of God’s character. That’s why I say the main one is the theomorphism because if those experiences aren’t designed into history, then they’re not going to reveal God. It’s just that psychologically we become aware of God because of our experiences with this, our experiences with that. We become experienced with God’s omnipotence only when we get experience with our lack of it, our fatigue, our tiredness sets it off often times, we start thinking in terms of energy, etc. so we progress that way. But one is analogous to the other, and that’s probably the safest way of saying it.
When we talk about the attributes of God I can’t emphasize enough, please be careful not to absolutize these attributes into qualities that are distinct from God. We are always, when we talk about sovereignty, when we talk about omnipotence, when we talk about omnipresence, discipline yourself to use these as adjectives and not nouns because maybe that’s a safer way of dealing with it, because if you think of it as an adjective, an adjective has to modify a noun, so that if you say sovereign, you think of the sovereign One because the word sovereign is the adjective and it has to modify a noun, and it kind of protects your mind against the abstracting these qualities and making them like they’re some sort of a … you know, this is a little H2O over here, this is an ACL over here, we combine them we get God. That’s not what we want to do. These are not qualities that can be abstracted away from God, they are personal qualities. They’re not ideals. That’s where the philosophy of idealism is wrong because it has idealized these qualities. The first thing you get in college usually in the anatomies class, you always have to read through Plato, and the first thing you know you get into the middle of Plato’s Republic and now we’re talking about the quality of the Good, capital G. Hold it, there is no quality of the Good, there’s only a good God who’s the Creator of all from which we get our derivative idea of good. Plato, in his dialogues at one point, there’s a very famous exchange that goes on, it goes somewhat like this: Plato asks the question is something good because God says it is or God does it, or is God because He adheres to the idea of goodness. And of course Plato argued that something is good because the gods and men both submit to this abstract quality.
Of course that’s exactly opposite to the Christian answer. That’s not true at all, that the human idea of good is just our thoughts and meditations about the universe has been made by a good God. It goes the other way around. So our answer is something is good because God does it, God wills it, that’s what makes it good, and that is terribly offensive, that is VERY offensive, deeply offensive to the autonomous intellect, because the autonomous intellect, being auto-nomos, self-law, nomos=law, it wants to generate law itself, it doesn’t want to be told anything, it wants to make the law, so when I say that all good that exists is just by the reflection of the goodness of God, suddenly that makes everything derivative, and we don’t like being derivatives, we want to be the primaries, and God won’t let us be primaries. We will always be derivatives. This is powerful stuff here because these attributes encompass every area of life.
When we get done with the attributes there are no other qualities that you can refer to, everything that you can think of by way of a descriptor, any adjective is a label for a derivative of God’s character, or a rejection of it after the fall. So these are critical items in God, but most of all they’re useful to quiet your soul in a time of crisis, just going back to a safe haven to get away from all the noise, confusion, chaos, to just kind of come down and just concentrate, God is sovereign, He works all things after the counsel of His will. Then you have all these noises in your soul. Have you ever had the experience of going to prayer and realizing how noisy your head is? We’ve all had that. Sometimes our heads are so noisy that we literally can’t concentrate on God more than 3 ½ seconds, and another thought zips in, then we concentrate for 5 more seconds, another thought comes in, where is all this stuff coming from that’s going on in here. And to concentrate on the attributes, I find, it is helpful to me, to just calm down the soul noise that’s going on by focusing on these characteristics of our God. So they’re items of worship too.
Question asked: Clough replies: We won’t be getting into theodicy or dealing with evil and defending God’s character at this point because we are in creation, but it’s a setup for it, when we get there. What you see, when God Himself defends Himself, like the Job passage we went through, God comes to Job and Job’s got the problem, this guy got creamed and isn’t it striking that God doesn’t offer an argument in His defense, ultimately what He does is He keeps probing for question after question after question after question until Job finally is just taken in by the character of God. Why does God do that? We don’t know, but all I can preface it by saying is that this is again a place where you have to ultimately go back to trusting His character. One of the things I hope, as we go through this course more and more, is to convince all of you that the Bible has a very rational structure to it, every piece counts, every piece falls together, there are not pieces of the Bible against other pieces of the Bible, sort of a heterogeneous mass of marbles. The Bible fits very well together, and one of the central core truths of the Christian faith over against Islam or over against some other religions, is that in Christianity what does God do that He doesn’t do in any other religion?
What is the central feature of the Christian faith that is absent in Judaism, in Islam, it is absent in all the Eastern religions, they don’t have a Creator anyway, but even in these pseudo Biblical religions God never incarnates Himself and comes into contact Himself with evil, not the way God incarnates Himself in Jesus Christ and takes sin upon Himself at the cross. This protects us if we question, you know, something horrible happens in our lives, innately we know God’s sovereign. Why do men curse God? Think about it, people who have been in horrible things, a child dies a horrible death, or a birth defect, or something happens, a tragedy, and what do people rail against? They don’t rail against Baal, they curse God.
If you think about it, if you didn’t believe God’s sovereign, why would you curse Him. The very act of cursing is a confession that I really do believe. The problem is that I don’t like what He did. So the problem isn’t really the sovereignty of God here, it’s the justice of God, why is there not justice, how do you reconcile this with love, and that goes back to the fact what evidences in history do I have that God loves me? I have the most titanic act, the most magnificent revelation that He loves me in the cross of Jesus Christ. So when I try to reason it through and say gee, I wonder what He did in eternity past when He set this whole thing up, He ordained all this to come to pass with all the suffering, with those heartaches, but think of it, He also ordained Himself to take the heat. That was part of it.
So you see you can’t take creation here, Jesus here, the cross here, and separate them, they all stand or fall together, as a system, the Christian system. There is a system to the Scripture, not because we have made the system, because God’s mind is a rational systematic mind. So the characteristics of the system come out. It’s one of the most strengthening things about the faith we have in Jesus Christ, is that everywhere you push it it’s got balance to it. If you get too heavy on the sovereignty of God, you’ve got the attributes of love and Christ’s suffering over here. If you overemphasize the suffering of Christ over here it becomes a cosmic accident and you want to balance it because here’s the Mighty Creator Sovereign who designed it. So all this fits together, it’s one of the great signals to us, the great evidences of the truthfulness of the Christian faith.
The attribute of sovereignty is mimicked by something that happens in everybody’s newspaper, or when you go to the grocery store and you see all the magazines and the horoscopes. Why do people get this passionate interest in what sign were you born under? Why do people want that? Why do they call a 900 number to find out what their little horoscope of the day is? It’s because they want a plan, some reason in all this, the chunks and marbles of life got to have a pattern to them, so they revert to looking for a pattern, and they’re looking for a sovereign. Now the same person that was object to you and me, oh well, I can’t believe in sovereignty and have human responsibility at the same time… really? Do you read horoscopes? Yeah. And horoscopes tell you what’s going to happen? Yeah. But then you respond to the horoscope, don’t you? Well yeah. Why do you respond if the horoscope is right and it tells you what’s going to happen, just lie on your back, let it happen. See, the same thing happens there. So the sovereignty and free will discussion carries over to everybody, it’s not just the Christian that has a problem, everybody has a problem, so stop bugging me because I’m a Christian and I’ve got the problem, you’ve got it too.
Ok, well think on these things and as we go further into the attributes of God, next time I will try to go through those. If you will though, look at that exercise, I can’t encourage you enough of just trying it for yourself. And the second exercise is “list four bad circumstances you have faced, write out how knowing and trusting attribute x, y, or z would have made a difference in those circumstances.” That’s just a little discipline, just an elementary simple exercise to grab hold of the power of what we’re talking about here. This is very powerful material, very powerful because it’s the backbone of how God reveals Himself.