Because God's communicable attributes are to be imitated in our lives,2 each of these sections will include a short explanation of the way in which the attribute in question is to be imitated by us.
A. Attributes Describing God's Being 1. Spirituality. People have often wondered, what is God made of? Is he made of flesh and blood like ourselves? Certainly not. What then is the material that forms his being? Is God made of matter at all? Or is God pure energy? Or is he in some sense pure thought?
The answer of Scripture is that God is none of these. Rather, we read that "God is spirif (John 4:24). This statement is spoken by Jesus in the context of a discussion with the woman at the well in Samaria. The discussion is about the location where people should worship God, and Jesus is telling her that true worship of God does not require that one be present either in Jerusalem or in Samaria (John 4:21), for true worship has to do not with physical location but with one's inner spiritual condition. This is because "God is spirit" and this apparently signifies that God is in no way limited to a spatial location.
Thus, we should not think of God as having size or dimensions even infinite ones (see the discussion on God's omnipresence in the previous chapter). We should not think of God's existence as spirit as meaning that God is infinitely large, for example, for it is not part of God but all of God that is in every point of space (see Ps. 139:7— 10). Nor should we think that God's existence as spirit means that God is infinitely small, for no place in the universe can surround him or contain him (see 1 Kings 8:27). Thus, God's being cannot be rightly thought of in terms of space, however we may understand his existence as "spirit."
We also find that God forbids his people to think of his very being as similar to anything else in the physical creation. We read in the Ten Commandments: You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Ex. 20:4-6)
The creation language in this commandment ("heaven above, or...earth beneath, or...water under the earth") is a reminder that God's being his essential mode of existence, is different from everything that he has created. To think of his being in terms of anything else in the created universe is to misrepresent him, to limit him, to think of him as less than he really is. To make a graven (or "carved" or "sculptured") image of God as a golden calf, for example, may have been an attempt to portray God
2 2. Note that Eph. 5:1 tells us to "be imitators of God, as beloved children." See also the discussion of the fact that God created us to reflect his character in our lives, in chapter 21, pp. 440-50.
as a God who is strong and full of life (like a calf ), but to say that God was like a calf was a horribly false statement about God's knowledge, wisdom, love, mercy, omnipresence, eternity, independence, holiness, righteousness, justice, and so forth. Indeed, while we must say that God has made all creation so that each part of it reflects something of his own character, we must also now affirm that to picture God as existing in a form or mode of being that is like anything else in creation is to think of God in a horribly misleading and dishonoring way.
This is why God's jealousy is given as the reason for the prohibition against making images of him: "for I the Lord your God am a jealous God..." (Ex. 20:5). God is jealous to protect his own honor. He eagerly seeks for people to think of him as he is and to worship him for all his excellence, and he is angered when his glory is diminished or his character is falsely represented (cf. Deut. 4:23-24, where God's intense jealousy for his own honor is again given as the reason for a prohibition against making any images of him).
Thus, God does not have a physical body, nor is he made of any kind of matter like much of the rest of creation. Furthermore, God is not merely energy or thought or some other element of creation. He is also not like vapor or steam or air or space, all of which are created things: God's being is not like any of these. God's being is not even exactly like our own spirits, for these are created things that apparently are able to exist only in one place in one time.
Instead of all these ideas of God, we must say that God is spirit. Whatever this means, it is a kind of existence that is unlike anything else in creation. It is a kind of existence that is far superior to all our material existence. We might say that God is "pure being" or "the fullness or essence of being." Furthermore, this kind of existence is not less real or less desirable than our own existence. Rather, it is more real and more desirable than the material and immaterial existence of all creation. Before there was any creation, God existed as spirit. His own being is so very real that it was able to cause everything else to come into existence!
At this point we can define God's spirituality: God's spirituality means that God exists as a being that is not made of any matter, has no parts or dimensions, is unable to be perceived by our bodily senses, and is more excellent than any other kind of existence.
We may ask why God's being is this way. Why is God spirit? All that we can say is that this is the greatest, most excellent way to be! This is a form of existence far superior to anything we know. It is amazing to meditate on this fact.
These considerations make us wonder if God's spirituality should perhaps be called an "incommunicable" attribute. To do so would indeed be appropriate in some ways, since God's being is so different from ours. Nevertheless, the fact remains that God has given us spirits in which we worship him (John 4:24; 1 Cor. 14:14; Phil. 3:3), in which we are united with the Lord's spirit (1 Cor. 6:17), with which the Holy Spirit joins to bear witness to our adoption in God's family (Rom. 8:16), and in which we pass into the Lord's presence when we die (Luke 23:46; Eccl. 12:7; Heb. 12:23; cf. Phil. 1:23-24). Therefore there is clearly some communication from God to us of a spiritual nature that is something like his own nature, though certainly not in all respects. For this reason it also seems appropriate to think of God's spirituality as a communicable attribute.
2. Invisibility. Related to God's spirituality is the fact that God is invisible. Yet we also must speak of the visible ways in which God manifests himself. God's cf cf.—compare invisibility can be defined as follows: God's invisibility means that God's total essence, all of his spiritual being, will never be able to be seen by us, yet God still shows himself to us through visible, created things.
Many passages speak of the fact that God is not able to be seen. "No one has ever seen God" (John 1:18). Jesus says, "Not that any one has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father" (John 6:46). Paul gives the following words of praise: "To the King of ages, immortal, invisible the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen" (1 Tim. 1:17). He speaks of God as one "who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see" (1 Tim. 6:16). John says, "No man has ever seen God" (1 John 4:12).
We must remember that these passages were all written after events in Scripture where people saw some outward manifestation of God. For example, very early in Scripture we read, "Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend" (Ex. 33:11). Yet God told Moses, "You cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live" (Ex. 33:20). Nevertheless, God caused his glory to pass by Moses while he hid Moses in a cleft of the rock, and then God let Moses see his back after he had passed by, but said, "my face shall not be seen" (Ex. 33:21-23). This sequence of verses and others like it in the Old Testament indicate that there was a sense in which God could not be seen at all, but that there was also some outward form or manifestation of God which at least in part was able to be seen by man.
It is right, therefore, to say that although God's total essence will never be able to be seen by us, nevertheless, God still shows something of himself to us through visible, created things. This happens in a variety of ways.
If we are to think of God, we must think of him somehow. God understands this and gives us hundreds of different analogies taken from our human lives or from the creative world.3 This huge diversity of analogies from all parts of creation reminds us that we should not focus overly much on any one of these analogies. Yet if we do not focus exclusively on any one of these analogies, all of them help to reveal God to us in a somewhat "visible" way (cf. Gen. 1:27; Ps. 19:1; Rom. 1:20).
The Old Testament also records a number of theophanies. A theophany is "an appearance of God." In these theophanies God took on various visible forms to show himself to people. God appeared to Abraham (Gen. 18:1-33), Jacob (Gen. 32:28-30), the people of Israel (as a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night: Ex. 13:21-22), the elders of Israel (Ex. 24:9-11), Manoah and his wife (Judg. 13:21-22), Isaiah (Isa. 6:1), and others.
A much greater visible manifestation of God than these Old Testament theophanies was found in the person of Jesus Christ himself. He could say, "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). And John contrasts the fact that no one has ever seen God with the fact that God's only Son has made him known to us: "No one has ever seen God; the only begotten God,4 who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known" (John 1:18, author's translation). Furthermore, Jesus is "the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15), and is "the bright radiance of the glory of God" and is "the exact representation of his nature" (Heb. 1:3 author's translation). Thus, in the person of Jesus we have a unique visible manifestation of God in the
3 3. See the discussion of the names of God taken from creation in chapter 11, p. 158.
4 4. There is a textual variant at this point, but "the only begotten God" (^ovoY£v^q 9£oq) is better attested than "the only begotten Son," and this reading is not foreign to the context: see Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), pp. 113-14.
New Testament that was not available to believers who saw theophanies in the Old Testament.
But how will we see God in heaven? We will never be able to see or know all of God, for "his greatness is unsearchable" (Ps. 145:3; cf. John 6:46; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16; 1 John 4:12, which were mentioned above). And we will not be able to see—at least with our physical eyes—the spiritual being of God. Nevertheless, Scripture says that we will see God himself. Jesus says, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). We will be able to see the human nature of Jesus, of course (Rev. 1:7). But it is not clear in exactly what sense we will be able to "see" the Father and the Holy Spirit, or the divine nature of God the Son (cf. Rev. 1:4; 4:2-3, 5; 5:6). Perhaps the nature of this "seeing" will not be known to us until we reach heaven.
Although what we see will not be an exhaustive vision of God, it will be a completely true and clear and real vision of God. We shall see "face to face" (1 Cor. 13:12) and "we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2). The most remarkable description of the open, close fellowship with God that we shall experience is seen in the fact that in the heavenly city "the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face and his name shall be on their foreheads" (Rev. 22:3-4).
When we realize that God is the perfection of all that we long for or desire, that he is the summation of everything beautiful or desirable, then we realize that the greatest joy of the life to come will be that we "shall see his face." This seeing of God "face to face" has been called the beatific vision meaning "the vision that makes us blessed or happy" ("beatific" is from two Latin words, beatus "blessed," and facere "to make"). To look at God changes us and makes us like him: "We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2; cf. 2 Cor. 3:18). This vision of God will be the consummation of our knowing God and will give us full delight and joy for all eternity: "in your presence there is fulness of joy, in your right hand are pleasures for evermore" (Ps. 16:11).
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