Though we could talk about God’s nature and character for thousands of pages, I’m going to limit myself to a few topics that our culture tends to get really wrong.
First off: God is a spirit. God predates both matter and energy, so God cannot be either of those things. What is spirit? Honestly, we don’t really know. I’m sure theologians and philosophers have ideas, but really we don’t know anything for sure except that it is neither matter nor energy.
I would say spirit is what God is made of except we are part spirit. But we’re also part matter. However, if the spirit is separated from the matter we continue as spirit, so whatever spirit is, it’s fundamental to identity.
What does it mean that God is spirit? First, it means God is immaterial. He has no body (despite what Mormons say). Some think this makes God less real than physical things, but, as Wayne Grudem points out, since God’s spirit predates and made the physical world, that spirit is more real than matter.
His being immaterial is part of the reason it is unlawful to create an “image” of God — he cannot be properly represented by any image, so any attempt would produce something beneath him.
“But the Bible talks about God having eyes and hands and speaking and smelling.” Yes. It also talks about him having wings. It describes him as a fire and as a wind. Many figures of speech are used to help us understand God, including anthropomorphisms like having hands.
One of those anthropomorphisms is the use of gender. God is not male or female, but God has chosen male pronouns as well as terms like Father and Son to communicate with us. Many people today want to misgender God, but had God wanted to use female pronouns, he would have done so. We need to seek to understand what he is saying about himself by the terms he uses to describe himself.
God’s being spirit means he is invisible. We cannot see spirit. Except when God wants us to. We call those events theophanies. There have been times when God has appeared visibly, though some of these may have been merely visions. On occasion God has even used some kind of physical form to communicate with people. If God can make a universe, creating a physical representation shouldn’t be that hard, but that’s not his normal mode of existence. God told Moses that no one can see him and live (Ex 33:20), so those times when people have “seen” God have been either visions or just the tiniest glimpses of the whole.
Because God is spirit, he can be everywhere (ie, “omnipresent”). Paul said God “is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:27-28).
“How can God be all around us and we not know it?” But we know other things are like that. We live awash in the earth’s magnetic field, cosmic rays, and radio signals. And we’re blissfully unaware of all of it — until an aurora reminds us of the magnetic field. God’s presence is just one more thing that surrounds us that we can’t sense. Unless he wants us to.
God pervades the universe. As Solomon said, “The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain [God]” (1Kings 8:27), but he chooses to be especially “near” some places and some people (more figures of speech). He makes himself perhaps more tangible at times, in certain places, and to some people. But he’s always there.
Believers should find God’s omnipresence both alarming and comforting. We cannot hide from God. He will always see our sin. As Jonah found out, we cannot run so far that God cannot find us. But far more importantly to most of us, we cannot wander so far God cannot find us, nor can we find ourselves in any danger where we are alone. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fire, we do not suffer alone, whether the one in the fire with us is visible or not. As David said,
Where can I go from your Spirit?God has promised, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb 13:5). We should live our lives like we believe that.
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 (Psalm 139:7-10).
For more on this, I recommend “The Character of God: ‘Communicable’ Attributes (Part 1)” in Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem.
Image credit: Aurora by Richard Droker
Part of Christianity 101