Thursday, July 30, 2020

God is Our Maker

“Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3).
We touched briefly on how God made the universe and everything in it, but that’s a topic that we need to dig down on a bit. There are a few things we need to make sure everyone is clear on.

One: God created everything out of nothing (Heb 11:3). God did not create out of some pre-existent material. Nor did he make the universe out of himself (as in pantheism). Why is this important? Wayne Grudem sums it up: “Creation is distinct from yet always dependent on God.”1 We cannot lose sight of either of those truths.

Two: God created everything that it might glorify him. Everything was made for him (Col 1:16), for his glory (Ps 19:1, Rev 4:11), and so that we may marvel at his grace (Eph 2:7). He loves us; he wants to know us and us to know him, but he created us primarily, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it, that we might “glorify God and enjoy him forever.” We need to remember that we’re here for his benefit, not the other way around.

Three: God created everything “very good” (Gen 1:31). Matter is not dirty or unworthy or intrinsically evil. Pleasure is not wrong. “Believing that the physical nature is evil has led some, including Christians, to shun the human body and any type of physical satisfaction. Spirit [they believe], being more divine, is the proper realm of the good and the godly. ... But the doctrine of creation affirms that God has made all that is and has made it good. It is therefore redeemable.”2 Instead of asceticism, we should enjoy God’s good creation with thankfulness (Ecc 8:15).

Four: It excludes dualism. Since God made everything, there is nothing in all of creation that is God’s equal. While there is evil in the world, good and evil are not equally matched, in a struggle for control. God is God, and good will triumph over evil.

What does this mean for us? It has a major bearing on moral issues.

First, it means that God owns us. We are his personal property. He has the right to do with his property as he wishes. That includes the imposition of rules — ie, moral laws. He has the right to say “Thou shalt not.”

Second, it means God knows what’s best for us. God’s rules are not arbitrary.

fuel gauge
They are based in his nature (love is preferred over hate, holiness over immorality) and in how he designed us. He knows how he intended everything to work and what happens when we don’t follow that design. When your car’s manufacturer tells you to use unleaded gas or diesel, they’re not trying to ruin the fun of experimentation. They’re telling you if you put the wrong fuel in your car it won’t run. The maker knows how the engine was designed, what it needs to run properly. In the same way, God knows how he designed sex to work. He knows that greed and covetousness are toxic. He knows he made us interdependent and wants us to take care of each other. And he knows how badly things can go when we don’t follow his rules. God’s holiness is repelled by our sin; God’s love wants better for us than the messes we make for ourselves. So he gave us rules.

Third, it means we must share what we have. “Because God made everything, God owns everything. If everything created owes its existence to God, then nothing created truly belongs to another created thing.”3 Everything we possess came from and ultimately belongs to God. Not only did he create us interdependent, not only is greed toxic, not only does he want us to mimic his love, but we have no right to be selfish with what he has given us. Refusing to share what you have been given is childish and ungrateful.

Fourth, it directs our focus to God rather than creation. “Worshiping the creation rather than the Creator does not cause us to protect life or steward creation. It causes us to devalue life and consume creation. This is because all worship of the creation is actually a veiled form of self-worship. Consider abortion, human trafficking, domestic violence, and child abuse as daily evidences of our disordered worship of people. Rather than treating people as image-bearers, we treat them as consumable and expendable, only holding value insofar as they feed our desires.”3 But when we enjoy God’s good creation with thankfulness to the Creator, everything is kept in its proper place.

So go live like people who know they belong to the all-wise Maker of heaven and earth. Follow God’s law, not out of fear of punishment, but because you know it comes from a loving God.

For more on this topic, I recommend “God’s Originating Work: Creation” in Introducing Christian Doctrine by Millard Erickson.

1 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology
2 Millard Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine
3 Jen Wilkin, None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That's a Good Thing)

Image credit: ifranz

Part of Christianity 101

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

God is Triune

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28.19-20).
The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the distinctive doctrines of Christianity and so is a primary issue, a non-negotiable. The word “trinity” never appears in the Bible. The term was coined to explain the facts we see in scripture:
Shield of the Trinity
  1. There is one God. (eg, Is 45:5)
  2. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.*
  3. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are three distinct individuals. (eg, 2Cor 13:14)
The way the ancients explained this phenomenon is that there is one God, one divine nature, but there are three persons who share in that nature, making up the Godhead. Though this doctrine wasn’t completely formulated until the 4th Century, Christians recognized the three above truths from the very beginning.+ The doctrine of the Trinity can be mind-bending; I believe that’s a sign that it’s true: humans wouldn’t come up with this idea on their own.

Is it contradictory to say that we have one God and three Gods? Yes — that’s why we don’t say that. We have one God eternally existing in three persons. As Sproul explains, “The historic formula is that God is one in essence and three in person; He is one in one way and three in another way.”1 God is one “what” and three “whos”. This is a paradox, but it is not a contradiction. If we said God is one “what” and three “whats” or one “who” and three “whos,” that would be contradictory. So we have to be precise about our language, but if a Christian misspeaks, that does not make the doctrine wrong &mash; just the Christian.

People frequently ask why we have to insist on such a confusing doctrine. First and foremost, it is the truth God has revealed. If we teach something else, we’re lying about God. Second, it’s a solution, not a problem. It solves at least two problems.

1. God is eternal and unchanging, and God is love. How can God be love if he has no one to love? He would either have to change, to become loving once he had creatures to love, or he would have had to create in order to fulfill his nature to love. But the doctrine of the Trinity tells us that God existed eternally as three persons who loved each other and were completely fulfilled in that love.

And in that love, the members of the Trinity seek to glorify each other. The Father glorifies the Son, the Son glorifies the Father, the Spirit glorifies both of them and they him. There is no jealousy, self-promotion, or fear of being diminished, only “look at how wonderful this one that I love is.”

2. The whole doctrine of the atonement falls apart without the Trinity. If God creates a being to sacrifice in the place of another being, how is that just? People sometimes use an analogy for the atonement of a judge who finds a defendant guilty then pays the fine for him. That’s justice and mercy. But if he finds the defendant guilty and then makes the bailiff pay his fine, that’s not just.

Many people today level the charge of “cosmic child abuse” at the atonement because they don’t understand what it means that the Son is God. The Father did not single out another creature to pay for our sins. The God who was offended voluntarily gave himself as the sacrifice to appease his own justice. It was not “child abuse” but self-sacrifice.

The third reason we must insist on this doctrine is that the alternatives are not just mistakes but heresies, “damnable errors” — meaning these are things that cost people their souls — because once the trinity is lost, the gospel breaks down. The early church fought against modalism (which says that God is one person who reveals himself in different ways at different points in history), Arianism (which says that the Son is not God but a lesser, created being), and adoptionism (which says that Jesus was a human who became the Christ) because those battles were worth fighting. We have to stand strong for the truths they fought so hard for.

What does the doctrine of the Trinity mean to us?

First, it means that God the Father always was and will be Father. “Since God is, before all things, a Father, and not primarily Creator or Ruler, all his ways are beautifully fatherly. It is not that this God ‘does’ being Father as a day job, only to kick back in the evenings as plain old ‘God.’ It is not that he has a nice blob of fatherly icing on top. He is Father. All the way down. Thus all that he does he does as Father. That is who he is. He creates as a Father and he rules as a Father; and that means the way he rules over creation is most unlike the way any other God would rule over creation.”2

Second, it is a model for us. “Because God in himself has both unity and diversity, it is not surprising that unity and diversity are also reflected in the human relationships he has established.”(Grudem) This applies to marriage, the family, and the Church. We should look to the Trinity as a model of humble love that seeks to elevate those with whom we are in relationship and value our unity in diversity.

Finally, it seals for us the truth that God did not need us, but he does want us. His love was complete, and yet he chose to create us and love us. “This is what the doctrine of the Trinity helps us learn with greater precision: that God is love. The triune God is a love that is infinitely high above you, eternally preceding you, and welcoming you in.”3

To go deeper on this topic, I recommend The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything by Fred Sanders.

1 RC Sproul, Everyone's a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology
2 Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith
3 Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything

* The deity of the Son and the Holy Spirit will be addressed later.
+ See, for example, Irenaeus, Against Heresies I:X:1; Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians X; The Epistle to Diognetus VII

Part of Christianity 101

Sunday, July 19, 2020

God is Just

giant gavel

“He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deut 32:4).

The only thing finite about God is his patience. His holiness, wisdom, and power are without bounds. His love never ends. But the day comes when he says to the sinner, "That's quite enough." And then it's time for justice. God is just.

Tony Evans says, “Justice is the equitable and impartial application of God’s moral law in society.” It’s applying the same rules fairly to everyone.

When speaking about God, this means that God will do what is right, that he wants to see right done by others, and he will make it right when they don’t.

What is “right?” Whatever conforms to God’s character. God will always act consistent with his character, and he expects us to do the same. He wants us to treat people the way they ought to be treated. And when we do not, we can expect consequences.

After idolatry, the thing ancient Israel was chiefly punished for was mistreating the weak. They were supposed to protect the poor and the alien, the widow and the orphan. Instead they made the poor poorer and defrauded the widow. Instead of treating everyone as equal before the law, they showed favoritism to the rich
 (eg, Amos 2:6-8). And God brought the punishment for this down on the entire nation. That was justice.

It is good that God is just. God promises that he will make everything right for us. That means for every time someone has wronged you, justice will be done. Have you been robbed? Have you been maligned? Have you been hurt? Justice will be done.

But that also means every time we have wronged someone else, justice will be done.

That’s kind of a scary notion, but we wouldn’t want God to be any other way. Would we want God to wink at sin? If what you do to someone else isn’t that big a deal, then what if God doesn’t think what someone did to you is that big a deal? If God weren’t just, he wouldn’t be holy, and he wouldn’t be loving. His purity requires a hatred of sin. His love requires wanting his people to be holy and wanting them all to be treated rightly.

When God’s holiness is stirred into action against sin, we call it “wrath.” The justice of God is inseparable from his wrath because injustice requires recompense. And that’s what we want. We want to know that people who mistreat children are punished. We want a world in which people who steal from the poor are repaid for their heartlessness. And God promises, whether in this life or the next, he will make it right.

God’s justice would be terrifying if it weren’t for his holiness and love. And we shouldn’t think of these as different aspects of God’s character that war against each other, things he must keep in balance. Theologians refer to the “simplicity” or “unity” of God. This means neither God nor his character is made of parts. There is one divine nature. When we see it from this angle, we call it love; from that angle, we call it justice. But God is always simply God. So we don’t have to worry that one day God’s justice will outweigh his love or vice versa. God will always act with a holy love and a loving justice.

But what about mercy? God is full of mercy. For the believer, justice has been served. Christ has received the justice our sins deserve. Though we may be chastened in this life to make us more like Christ, we don’t have to fear God’s eternal justice.

To the unbeliever, God is patient “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief” (2Pet 3:9-10). God gives people chance after chance, but, as CS Lewis put it,1 the day will come when in his knowledge he says there’s simply no point in continuing.

So how do we respond to God’s justice?

First, rejoice in it. God will make every wrong done to you right — whether it’s through the justice of the cross or through justice to the offender.

Second, rejoice in the cross, that we do not have to fear God’s justice. As Jen Wilkin says, “God is not only faithful to forgive our sins, but also just. Because Christ was punished in our place, God would be unjust to punish us for a sin that has already received its recompense. How precious, then, does the spilled blood and broken body of Christ become in our estimation?”2

Third, live like people who serve a just God. “Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear” (1Pet 1:17). So “act justly and ... love mercy and ... walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Next, leave room for God’s justice. “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom 12:19). Vengeance is God’s job, not yours. Your job is to imitate the grace shown to you in Christ Jesus.

Finally, warn people. “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others” (2Cor 5:11). People need to know that God “has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

For more on this topic, see “The Wrath of God” in Theology You Can Count On by Tony Evans

1 The Problem of Pain
2 In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character

Image credit: Gavel sculpture, Friscocali

Part of Christianity 101

Thursday, July 16, 2020

God is love

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1John 4:8).

With God's holiness in mind, we now look at God's love. God loves people. God especially loves his people. That means God especially loves you.

How does God love everyone? He shows common grace by giving good things to all human beings. He “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 5:45).

Beyond that, he went to great lengths to save rebellious human beings from the consequences of their sin. “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:7-8, emphasis added). Stop and think about that for a while. God became human so he could die for his rebellious creatures. That’s a special love, more that we can really understand.

But how does he love you? About his redeemed people, God says he wants to “rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph 3:17). Jesus says, “even the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matt 10:30). Not counted; numbered. He knows which hair is number 4,317. His knowledge of you is that of someone who loves you deeply. Psalm 23 is universally loved because it’s a picture of God’s care for his people. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” God's desire is to give good things to his people.

We’ll go deeper into this later, but God did not just save us from our sins for the sake of saving us from hell. He saved us so that he could adopt us, making us his very own dearly loved children (cf, Eph 3:3-10). His love for you is more intense, more powerful than anything human beings are capable of.

But if we treat God as if love is all he is, we err. Jen Wilkin says, “[I]t is possible for us to love the love of God too much. We do this when we emphasize the love of God at the expense of his other attributes. Sin can cause us to love a version of God that is not accurate. This is the basic definition of idolatry.”

We cannot think of God’s love as separate from his holiness. In his self-description, God calls himself “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished...” (Ex 34:6-7).

This is why God cannot, in his love, simply overlook everyone’s sins: God is holy holy holy. His “eyes are too pure to look on evil; [he] cannot tolerate wrongdoing” (Hab 1:13). Our treason stands between us and God.

God’s holy love requires justice, and that’s why Christ went to the cross. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).

We have to understand, Christ died on the cross, not to just forgive us, but to fix us. This is because, while he loves us as we are, he is not content for us to remain that way. I can’t say it better than CS Lewis did in The Problem of Pain:

“When Christianity says that God loves man, it means that God loves man: not that He has some ‘disinterested’ … concern for our welfare, but that, in awful and surprising truth, we are the objects of His love. You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the ‘lord of terrible aspect’, is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes. ...

“Man does not exist for his own sake. ‘Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created’ [Rev 4:11]. We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased’. To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable… What we would here and now call our ‘happiness’ is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy.”
God loves us, but it is a love that wants to make us holy. And he is willing to go to such great lengths to make us into what he always intended us to be.

So how should we respond to this?

Obviously the first thing God’s love should make us do is to love him back. But just like in a marriage, what God wants is not a love that is merely words. He wants a love that is expressed in action. “If you love me, you will keep my commands” (John 14:15). Obedience is God’s love language, so love him with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.

The second thing God’s love should make us do is imitate it. “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). God wants us to love our enemy, love our neighbor, and, most of all, love our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). God’s will is that love should be the mark of his people.

"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God" (Eph 3:17-19).

For more on this topic, I recommend “God Most Loving” in Jen Wilkin’s In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character

Part of Christianity 101

Monday, July 13, 2020

God is holy

Volcanic storm

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3).

When God comes to visit, people don’t break out the good china; they hide behind the sofa.

When God came to speak with Israel at Mount Sinai, this is what happened:

On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. (Ex 19:16-18)
How did the people respond?

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” (Ex 20:18-19)
That’s basically how everyone reacts to God’s presence. Ezekiel fell facedown. Isaiah cried out in fear. John fainted.

Why is the presence of God so fearsome? Shouldn’t it be wonderful? Shouldn’t we feel as if we’ve been embraced in a warm hug? Shouldn’t we be overcome with love?

If we think that way, it’s because we’ve misunderstood something important about God. If you asked people what the defining characteristic of God is, most would say love. I believe God would say holiness is his defining trait.

“Holy” is a difficult word to explain. It’s primary meaning apparently is to be set apart. An object would be “holy” if it were set apart for special use, such as in temple worship. But when referring to people and to God, there is an aspect that speaks to moral purity.

When applied to God, all of this is turned up to the Nth degree. God is so apart as to be transcendent. He is the pre-existent, self-existent one. His nature and perspective, not to mention his intelligence and power, are incalculable orders of magnitude beyond ours. As Sproul says, “He is above and beyond anything in the universe.” He would be incomprehensibly alien to us except that he has deigned to give us manageable glimpses of himself.

Likewise his moral purity is absolute. Sin is ultimately deviation from God’s character, so sin cannot taint him. It’s a metaphysical impossibility.

If I had to boil it down, I would say that holiness is the Godness of God.

Why is this his “defining characteristic” though? To answer that, we have to look at a feature of the Hebrew language. Repetition is the way the Bible writers emphasize things. Where we would use an adjective or italics, they use repetition. A deep pit is called a pit pit. What we call the “most holy” place in the temple was literally called the holy holy place.

God is holy holy holy (Is 6:3, Rev 4:8).

Why is that significant? In The Holiness of God, RC Sproul explains:

“Only once in sacred Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree. ... The Bible never says that God is love, love, love; or mercy, mercy, mercy; or wrath, wrath, wrath; or justice, justice, justice. It does say that He is holy, holy, holy, that the whole earth is full of His glory.”

When God’s holiness shines forth, he shines like a million suns. The holy angels cover their eyes. When humans get a glimpse of it, they react like Isaiah: “Doom! It’s Doomsday! I’m as good as dead!” (Is 6:5 MSG). His perfect holiness makes us see how imperfect we are.

Jen Wilkins says, “The gods of Egypt and Canaan, of Greece and Rome, among their other limitations, made no claims of possessing utter purity of character. The chronicles of their exploits read more like a reality TV show than a sacred text, compelling the devout to gaze voyeuristically on their lurid antics. But the God of Israel possesses a holiness so blinding that no one can look on him and live.”

So God’s holiness is the foundation for understanding and relating to him. We cannot give that place to any other of his attributes. “God deserves our worship for both his love and his justice. But his love and his justice are imbued with and defined by his holiness—he does not merely love; he loves out of utter purity of character. He does not merely act justly; he acts justly out of utter purity of character. ... When we apprehend his holiness, we are changed by the revelation. The knowledge of God and the knowledge of self always go hand in hand.”1

When confronted by the holiness of God, we cannot help but see our sin and how far short of God’s glory we fall. This is important because we will never respond appropriately to God until we see just how far we are from him. Only when we see that can we be amazed by his grace.

So how should we respond to the holiness of God? First, humility — before God and toward other people. Recognizing how far God's holiness is beyond you is the first step to having a right relationship with him. And realize that being prideful about your perceived holiness is as silly as a mountain being prideful because it's closest to the moon.

Second, love him for it. Even though the holiness of God can be a little terrifying, it's also wonderful. God's moral purity means that he will always do what is right. Unlike those fictitious Greek and Roman gods, we don't have to worry about a God who's petty, dishonest, or covetous — human foibles aren't just beneath God; they're totally alien to him. We can trust his character because his character alone is utterly unimpeachable.

Third, God tells us to respond to his holiness by imitating it: “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet 1:16).

Followers of Christ will never be holy in this life; we will struggle with our sin nature as long as we live. Even in the next life, though we will be morally pure, we will never achieve God’s level of holiness, so what does he want from us?

He wants us to be “sanctified” or “set apart” for purity. We are to live in this world as citizens of his Kingdom. We are to “hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Rom 12:9). “For this is the will of God, your sanctification. ... For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thess. 4:3, 7).

As believers, we’re not trying to avoid his wrath but to please him. “The Christian’s primary motive for holy living is ... the impulse to show his love and gratitude to his adopting God by identifying himself with the Father’s will for him.”2

Jen Wilkins says, “Growing in holiness means growing in our hatred of sin. But reflecting the character of God involves more than just casting off the garment of our old ways. It entails putting on the garment of our new inheritance.”1 And that last is the key. The message of the New Testament is, in Christ, you are holy, so act like it.

Or to put it simply: Be who you are in Christ.

Our response to our holy holy holy God should be to worship him in awe and wonder that someone like him has shown such mercy to us and to strive to live lives that honor the grace we have received.

So many authors have written wonderful material on the holiness of God, but the one “must read” is RC Sproul’s The Holiness of God.

1 Jen Wilkin, In His Image: 10 Way God Calls Us to Reflect His Character
2 JI Packer, Knowing God

Image credits: Volcanic storm, Mike Tungate
Full moon, NASA

Part of Christianity 101

Monday, July 6, 2020

God is

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14).
God did not begin. God is.

This is expressed in the name God gave Moses, “I AM.” From it, comes the name YHWH (probably pronounced Yahweh). God uses or is given many names in Scripture, but this is the name God most seems to call “my name.” It is usually rendered in English Bibles as “the LORD” (as opposed to “Lord” which simply means sovereign or king) for historical reasons, but whenever you see it, remember that this is God’s self-designation and a statement of his nature.

It tells us that God is eternal. We already saw that something has to be eternal, uncaused, and that it has to be personal, powerful, and intelligent — so, God. Physics tells us that not just space but also time began, so God predates time. Before there was time, God simply is. So he created time, but it does not affect him. He is, however, aware of it. Millard Erickson tells us,

“The fact that God is not bound by time does not mean he is not conscious of the succession of points of time. He is aware that events occur in a particular order. Yet he is equally aware of all points of that order simultaneously. This transcendence over time has been likened to a person who sits on a tall building while he watches a parade. He sees all parts of the parade at the different points on the route rather than only what is going past him at the moment.”1
Because God is timeless, he is unchanging. This is good news for us. God does not have moods. His character will not change. God does not reconsider his plans; his promises will not change. We can be confident that the promises he made 2000 years ago are still valid today and will be forever. God does not break his word because he does not change. We can trust him completely.

If God cannot change, he cannot learn. And if he sees all time at once, then he cannot be surprised by anything. God is all-knowing. One of my favorite passages in Scripture is during Moses’ call by God. He does not want to be God’s spokesman; he doesn’t think he can. God wants him and is angry with his doubt and fear. But he allows Moses to speak through his brother Aaron who is “already on his way to meet you” (Ex 4:14). God is not pleased by our sin, but he is never surprised by it. We can take comfort in the fact that our failures will never derail his plans.

Finally, God’s eternality, his self-existence, means that he is totally self-sufficient. This means he cannot be manipulated, nor can he be tempted. He does not lack anything, so there is nothing to tempt or persuade him.

This also means God does not need us. He did not create humans (or angels) because he was lonely. The Trinity was totally complete in their perfect love and companionship. God created us because he wanted us, but he certainly did not need us. He does not need our love, our faith, or our worship. God is complete in himself. As Jen Wilkin put it, “God has never and will never declare his need for us. It is for us to say, ‘I need thee every hour.’ It is for him to say, ‘I AM.’”

We should be glad we have a God who is not so weak as to need us. That makes his desire for us so much grander. Because he wants us, he will take care of us. I love the Tenth Avenue North song “Control.” Part of the chorus says,

God You don't need me
But somehow You want me
Oh how You love me
Somehow that frees me
To open my hands up
And give You control2
We should be willing to give up control to the God who steers galaxies and loves us deeply.

How do we respond to the God who is? I’ll let Jen Wilkin answer:

“Only God is self-sufficient. Only God has no needs. You have them, and so does your neighbor. Be quick to praise God for how unlike you he is in this. Be quick to confess to him your tendency to trust your own resources rather than acknowledge him as your provider. Be quick to confess your needs to him and ask him to meet them. Not only that, but be quick to ask for help from others, and to receive it graciously when it is given. Be quick to offer to meet the needs of others before they have a chance to ask, including those outside the family of God.”

For more on this topic, I recommend Jen Wilkins’ None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That's a Good Thing)

1) “The Greatness of God” in Introducing Christian Doctrine
2) “Control” written by Jason Ingram and Matthew Bronleewe

Part of Christianity 101