ACST 15. The Immortal One

Clearly, some of God’s attributes are exclusive to him alone. No one can fathom a universe containing more than one immeasurable and immutable being. Advent Christians would argue that the attribute of immortality is also exclusive to God alone – at least this side of the resurrection. We agree with the apostle Paul when he says that God “alone has immortality” (1 Timothy 6:16), and take that statement at face value.

While many of our arguments tend to address the issue of the nature of man, it is actually this fact about God which we are most anxious to defend. We feel that to claim that anyone else has this attribute is to rob God of something that the Bible claims is exclusively his. One might argue that anyone’s concept of the nature of man, while important, is hardly important enough to make a distinctive doctrine. But the nature of God was one of the first theological issues ever to be deemed important enough to create controversy in the early church. Surely the modern church cannot afford to be indifferent on this issue.

Athanasia

The Greek word for immortality that is used in 1 Tim. 6:16 is a good starting point. In the Bible, this word is never used as an attribute of anyone else but God this side of the resurrection at Christ’s second coming. The verse itself lists a number of exclusive attributes of God, namely, 1) his immortality; 2) his existence in inapproachable light; 3) his invisibility due to that exclusive existence; 4) his deserving everlasting honor and eternal dominion. Paul made concessions on neither of these points. The reader has every right to assume that Paul was referring to a God who met all of these qualifications, and that no one else did.

Yet as it pertains to that first attribute, it has come to be popular and “orthodox” to make all kinds of concessions. Matthew Henry, for example, says that God “only is immortal in himself, and has immortality as he is the fountain of it, for the immortality of angels and spirits derived from him.”1 So the hypothetical “box” in which we might put all immortal beings is actually not exclusive at all. It contains not only God, but all of those sentient creatures created by him, both human and angelic. Perhaps we should be grateful that cats and dogs did not make the grade.

Lately evangelical scholars see the dilemma in accepting what Paul said about God in 1 Tim. 6:16. Their conclusions, however, are ultimately the same as Matthew Henry’s. Peterson, for example, states the “orthodox” position quite well in his recent debate with Fudge. He said that “Plato held to the soul’s natural or inherent immortality. By contrast, evangelical Christians hold that God alone is inherently immortal (1 Tim. 6:16) and that he confers immortality to all human beings.”2 But once the “and that he confers” is added to the equation, the dilemma begins. 1 Tim. 6:16 says nothing about God conferring his exclusive attribute to all human beings. Either that attribute is exclusive or it is not. Advent Christians see no clear contrast between the view of Plato and that of our brother evangelicals who hold Peterson’s view.

The onus is ours, however, as Advent Christians, to back up this bold claim that God’s immortality is exclusive. Ours is the minority position. That is why a study of the terms used in the Bible to imply immortality is helpful. The study shows that the concept of immortality does not apply to angels and human beings by default. This adds justification for our being obstinate enough to hold to the exclusive immortality of God in spite of its being an unpopular doctrine.

The noun Athanasia only appears three times in the canonical Bible. It makes no appearance in the entire Old Testament. Besides 1 Tim. 6:16, it only appears in 1 Corinthians 15:53-54.

For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

The ESV translators, normally sticklers to word-for-word accuracy, betray their theological bias here by supplying the word body twice in verse 53, even though there is no Greek equivalent in the original. Paul actually agrees with what he stated in 1 Tim. 6:16. Since God alone is immortal, something will have to change in order for human beings, who are perishable and mortal, to become immortal. That change will take place at the resurrection.

There is no indication in the text itself that human mortality pertains only to our bodies. That is a concept that is assumed by the proponents of natural or inherent immortality, and denied by Advent Christians, who propose that immortality is only potential. 1 Cor. 15 and 1 Tim. 6:16 both serve as evidence for the potential immortality position. While 1 Cor. 15 shows that immortality (athanasia) is not currently a present possession (even for the saved), 1 Tim. 6:16 identifies the one being who is the exception to that rule, and presently has athanasia.

The Apocrypha provides seven more instances of the term. While we cannot rely on the Apocrypha as a standard for proof of a doctrine, we can consult it in order to establish how certain terms were used, which is a reflection of their understood meaning. Were we, for example, to find numerous references to athansia as a natural human attribute it might show that intertestamental Jews viewed humans as naturally immortal beings.

4 Maccabees 8-18 contains an account describing the torture of seven young men and their mother by the Tyrant (Antiochus IV). Instances of the term athanasia occur in two places. In 4 Maccabees 14:4-5 the writer says that “none of the seven youths proved coward or shrank from death, but all of them, as though running the course toward immortality, hastened to death by torture” (RSV). From this we can infer that intertestamental Jews did have the concept of immortality, but saw it as something to be earned through diligent faithfulness to God. It was certainly not an attribute taken for granted as the natural possession of all human beings.

The second occurance of athanasia refers to the mother, who, “as though having a mind like adamant and giving rebirth for immortality to the whole number of her sons, she implored them and urged them on to death for the sake of religion” (4 Maccabees 16:13). The mother is pictured as encouraging her sons to stay true to their faith in God with such zeal that it is like she was giving birth to them all over again, this time for immortality instead of mortality (as it was in the first instance of her giving birth to them). Again, there is no innate, inherent immortality described here. Immortality is something to be gained by a martyr’s death for the seven sons. Their mother, who gave them natural birth, did not in so doing impart to them immortality.

All the other instances of the term athanasia occur in The Wisdom of Solomon.

Notice this revealing statement about the destiny of the righteous:

Wisdom 3:1-4 RSV

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no
torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they
seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an
affliction, and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace. For though in the sight of men they
were punished, their hope is full of immortality.

As in 4 Maccabees, athanasia is seen as potential for humans, because the righteous will be resurrected, but athanasia is not an inherent attribute.

Wisdom 4:1-7 RSV
… in the memory of virtue is immortality, because it is known
both by God and by men. When it is present, men imitate it, and
they long for it when it has gone; and throughout all time it marches
crowned in triumph, victor in the contest for prizes that are undefiled.
But the prolific brood of the ungodly will be of no use, and none of their illegitimate seedlings will strike a deep root or take a firm hold. For
even if they put forth boughs for a while, standing insecurely they will
be shaken by the wind, and by the violence of the winds they will be
uprooted. The branches will be broken off before they come to maturity,
and their fruit will be useless, not ripe enough to eat, and good for
nothing. For children born of unlawful unions are witnesses of evil
against their parents when God examines them. But the righteous man,
though he die early, will be at rest.

Here is no denial of the reality of death, but a glimpse beyond it, to a resurrected virtuous person, known both by God and by men. The ungodly, though they might produce a prolific brood, will be uprooted. Notice, again, that there is no mention of athanasia as a common trait held by all humans. A resurrection unto immortality is only the hope of the righteous.

Wisdom 8:13-17 RSV
Because of {wisdom} I shall have immortality, and leave an everlasting remembrance to those who come after me. I shall govern peoples, and
nations will be subject to me; dread monarchs will be afraid of me when
they hear of me; among the people I shall show myself capable, and courageous in war. When I enter my house, I shall find rest with her, for companionship with her has no bitterness, and life with her has no pain,
but gladness and joy. When I considered these things inwardly, and
thought upon them in my mind, that in kinship with wisdom there is immortality…

Wisdom, as defined by the wisdom literature of the Bible and related works like The Wisdom of Solomon is the ability to make correct moral choices which lead to God’s favor. In the Bible, those correct moral choices usually led to a long healthy life, but by the time The Wisdom of Solomon was written, one’s eternal destiny was also seen as a consequence of living wisely. It is the route to eventual athanasia. It is a narrow path that does not include everyone on the planet. It is not innate, nor is the immortality it produces.

Wisdom 15:1-3 RSV
But thou, our God, art kind and true, patient, and ruling all things
in mercy. For even if we sin we are thine, knowing thy power; but
we will not sin, because we know that we are accounted thine. For
to know thee is complete righteousness, and to know thy power is
the root of immortality.

In the New Testament we found that athanasia was an exclusive attribute of God, but a hope for humanity. In this final reference to athanasia in the Apocrypha, we see a relationship with God as the only means of obtaining to that hope.

Athanatos

In the Apocrypha, there are a few instances of the corresponding adjective that we would translate immortal as well. Although this word does not appear in the New Testament, it is helpful to see how it was used.

It is said of Eleazar that “in no way did he turn the rudder of religion until he sailed into the haven of immortal victory” (4 Maccabees 7:3). The most that can be inferred from this metaphorical statement is that Eleazar is counted among those who finished the course of faith, and awaits a resurrection unto immortality. It does not imply that Eleazar was already immortal by nature.

It is said of the aforementioned seven young men that “just as the hands and feet are moved in harmony with the guidance of the mind, so those holy youths, as though moved by an immortal spirit of devotion, agreed to go to death for its sake” (4 Maccabees 14:6). All this implies about these youths is that although their devotion was undying, they were not. You cannot prove that people are immortal from a passage that records their deaths.

Later, the author of 4 Maccabees does state that these “sons of Abraham with their victorious mother are gathered together into the chorus of the fathers, and have received pure and immortal souls from God” (4 Maccabees 18:23). There is a hint of some kind of rewarded state here, but perhaps the reward is merely the certainty of a resurrection unto immortality. At any rate, 1 Corinthians 15 states that the resurrection is when the reward will be realized. If some intertestamental Jews imagined a conscious intermediate state, they were mistaken.

One use of athanatos is found which draws a distinction between God’s righteousness (which is said to be immortal) and secular man’s covenant with death.
Wisdom 1:12-16 (RSV)

Do not invite death by the error of your life, nor bring on destruction
by the works of your hands; because God did not make death, and he
does not delight in the death of the living. For he created all things
that they might exist, and the generative forces of the world are
wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them; and the
dominion of Hades is not on earth. For righteousness is immortal.
But ungodly men by their words and deeds summoned death;
considering him a friend, they pined away, and they made a covenant
with him, because they are fit to belong to his party.

Here again, there is no mention of a man, or even a part of man, which is immortal by nature. In fact, immortality belongs to the righteous One. Human beings are mortal.

Athanatos is also found in The Wisdom of Sirach:

For we cannot have everything, human beings are not immortal. What is brighter than the sun? And yet it fades. Flesh and blood think of nothing but evil. He surveys the armies of the lofty sky, and all of us are only dust and ashes (Sirach 17:30-32 New Jerusalem Bible).

Here is perhaps the clearest expression of human mortality in the Apocrypha. It says that men do not have the attribute that Paul said only God has. He will always last, but we are “dust and ashes.” The statement is in perfect agreement with the New Testament.

Afthartos

Another adjective – sometimes translated “immortal” in versions of the New Testament – emphasizes the unfailing, imperishable, or incorruptible nature of the noun it modifies. If this adjective were found applied to beings other than God, it would serve as evidence that the NT authors assumed that these beings possessed immortality.

In Romans 1:23 Paul explained that idolatrous humanity “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” Notice that only God is placed in the “beings having immortality” box. Man and animals are comfortably placed in the “all others” box.

In 1 Tim. 1:17 Paul ascribes “honor and glory for ever and ever” “unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God.” If the term immortal applies to all other created beings (or at least the higher ones: angels and humans) one wonders why Paul would bother mentioning the attribute. But if the attribute is exclusive to God alone (as Paul later states in chapter 6), his mentioning it here makes perfect sense.

Some might argue that the term “immortal” is appropriate to describe men’s spirits or souls, but not their bodies. As such it might be appropriate to speak of God being immortal in an absolute sense. He has no body to corrupt or perish. This logic only applies if the principles of Platonic anthropology are true. Plato argued that the soul of man is immortal because it is simple, and cannot be divided into composite parts. The notion of human immortality is the result of combining this principle from pagan philosophy with biblical theology. One question Advent Christians ask is “can the Bible be left alone to answer the question of human mortality, or must we borrow from pagan theology to do it?”

All other references to afthartos3 in the New Testament use the term to describe the hope of believers after the resurrection, or some kind of character trait that is imperishable in the sense that it does not fade away with time. There is not one single use of the term applied to human nature itself, body or soul. If this attribute is such an essential part of human identity, one would expect this adjective to be used repeatedly throughout the New Testament in reference to human nature itself.

God’s Identity

Often when God is identified in the Bible, this exclusive attribute is part of his title, identifying him as different from all other beings. He is the Living God.4 He is the eternal God.5 He is the immortal God.6 He is the everlasting God.7 His name and attributes endure forever.8

By contrast, humans are God’s creatures. As such they are dying.9 They are mortal.10 They are perishable.11 They fade away like the color on a leaf.12 They return to the dust from which they were made.13

The Spirit World

Just as the Bible is silent as to the supposed immortality of humanity, it also fails to express what many take for granted as regards the nature of angelic beings in the spirit world. There is no biblical record of the death of any angelic being in the Bible. That fact, however, merely proves that none of these beings have died. It does not prove that none of these beings can die. Those who assume that angels and demons are immortal are not taking careful consideration of two facts: 1) only God is immortal (as is shown by the texts above), 2) longevity is not the same thing as immortality.

A being can live for a billion years and not be immortal. God sets the time-table for the longevity of all his creatures. Some angels created thousands of years ago will apparently never die. They are the “elect angels” who will accompany redeemed humanity into the next age. Although they will never die, they are not – by virtue of this fact – immortal. Their lives are in God’s hands.

Some angels – created at the same time as those “elect angels” – fell from their state of protection by following Satan when he rebelled against God. From that moment when they rebelled their fate was settled. They would join the devil in the lake of fire, where they would face eternal death. Although God had placed them on the divine council, they will die like men (Psalm 82:1,6-7). They have a date with destiny. Their lives will end. From the standpoint of eternity, it makes absolutely no difference that that date has not come yet. They are mortal and they know it. They dread that time of torment and death that awaits them (Mat. 8:29).

Some Fortunate Humans Who Will Not Die

There are some human beings who will also live what seems an inordinate amount of time. Enoch and Elijah were both apparently translated into time itself, so that their next conscious moment will be their reappearance on earth – probably at the return of Christ. Remember, however, that this fact does make them immortal. Each of them is still entirely dependent upon God for their next breath.

Likewise, there will be a multitude of believers who are alive at Christ’s second coming who will be immediately translated, transformed and glorified without ever going through death. Oh, that you and I would be among them! But even that great event does not overrule the principle that God’s immortality is exclusive. These believers will receive their immortality from the only one who is qualified to give it.

We Cannot Recant

The texts which our brothers use to claim immortality for humans and angelic beings can be dealt with without destroying God’s exclusive immortality.
These texts will be treated later in this book. However, the issue of God’s exclusive immortality is one on which Advent Christians are simply not prepared to concede. We feel that to do so would be to rob God of one of his exclusive attributes.

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1 Matthew Henry – The Matthew Henry Commentary on the Bible (1 Tim. 6:16).

2 Robert A Peterson, in Two Views of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Dialogue. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 88.

3 1 Cor. 9:25; 15:52; 1 Pet. 1:4, 23; 3:4.

4 Deut. 5:26; Josh. 3:10; 1 Sam. 17:26, 36; 2 Kgs 19:4, 16; Psa. 42:2; 84:2; Isa. 37:4, 17; Jer. 10:10; 23:36; Dan. 6:20, 26; Hos. 1:10; Matt. 16:16; 26:63; Acts 14:15; Rom. 9:26; 2 Cor. 3:3; 6:16; 1 Tim. 3:15; 4:10; Heb. 3:12; 9:14; 10:31; 12:22; Rev. 7:2.

5 Deut. 33:27; Rom. 16:26.

6 Rom. 1:23.

7 Gen. 21:33; Isa. 40:28.

8 1 Chr. 16:34, 41; 2 Chr. 5:13; 7:3, 6; 20:21; Ezra 3:11; Psa. 100:5; 106:1; 107:1; 111:3, 10; 112:3, 9; 117:2; 118:1ff, 29; 119:160; 135:13; 136:1ff; 138:8; Eccl. 3:14; Jer. 33:11; 2 Cor. 9:9.

9 Gen. 35:18; 2 Chr. 16:13; 24:22; Job 24:12; Luke 8:42; John 11:37; Heb. 11:21.

10 Job 4:17; Rom. 1:23; 6:12; 8:11; 1 Cor. 15:53f; 2 Cor. 4:11; 5:4; Heb. 7:8.

11 1 Cor. 15:42, 50, 53f; 1 Pet. 1:23.

12 Psa. 37:2; Isa. 64:6; Jam. 1:11.

13 Gen. 3:19; Job 10:9; 34:15; Psa. 90:3; Eccl. 3:20.

ACST 14. The Immutable One

James said that with God “there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). He was drawing attention to another attribute of God: immutability. When we affirm that God is immutable, we are affirming (positively) that he is consistent; he acts and responds the same way that he always has. James made this affirmation about God to dissuade his readers from thinking that God was bringing trials upon them to do evil. Instead, he wanted them to realize that temptations come from within us, but remaining steadfast (imitating God’s immutability) will lead to “the crown of life” (James 1:12).

Although God acts and moves through history, making his mark upon the lives of all his creatures, he still remains transcendent. His essential nature and attributes do not change. By his grace he changes us, but we do not change him. If he were changeable, it would mean destruction for God’s people (Mal. 3:6). But he is consistent with himself. He can be trusted when no one else can.

It was this consistent nature that set God apart from all the other gods of the ancients. For the Canaanite, for example, a sure harvest this season might cost an extra goat from his flocks this season, or it might cost the life of his child. His gods were fickle; he could not depend on them. For the Israelite, what God wants is clear: it is codified in the law of Moses for everyone to know. It was not left to the whim of the latest shaman to reinterpret. This fact was mean to bring stability into the Israelite’s life.

This stability came with a price. Since God cannot be changed, neither can he be manipulated. He cannot be bought off by a bigger offering, or enticed by a louder chant. He does not respond to magic words, or magic charms. He is in control, and remains in control. He does nor relinquish that control to even those who have faith in him. He remains omnipotent. The ancient Canaanite could never accept such a God.

The modern world is filled with people who have the same disposition. They do not mind religion as long as they get to set the standards. They want a God that they can trust to be good when they want good done, but who looks the other way when they do evil to others. They are happy to sing about God the savior, but want nothing to do with God, the judge. They want a god who can tell them that they are the fairest of them all, and that everyone else is too.

The God of the Bible offers salvation and judgment. He can save believers precisely because it is his judgment from which we need salvation. His attributes are consistent, which is another difference between him and his creatures.
One distinction between man’s attributes and God’s attributes is that, whereas man has characteristics added or subtracted from Him, God does not. A man can be joyful as a child and sorrowful as an adult. A man can be faithful as an employee and unfaithful as a husband. God, on the other hand, never loses or gains any attribute of His person.1

This consistency serves as a rock of refuge for believers. As we face the difficulties associated with living life this side of eternity, we are assured that the rules of the game do not change. Life is determined not by blind chance, but by an immutable Person.

Although this attribute of God is encouraging, it also suggests some questions that the thinking Christian should consider. Even if they pose no serious problem to our faith, dealing with them may help us to answer objections from nonbelievers, who might question the reality of God. There are three such questions:
1) If God is unchanging, how can he affect history?

Some have suggested that God’s transcendence means that, although he exists, he chooses not to have an impact upon the world that he created. Since he does not change, he limits the affect his presence might have on the cosmos by remaining at a distance, and simply observing. This view reverses the import of transcendence, since it emphasizes the unchanging nature of creation, rather than the creator. It is popular among those who resist the concept of miracles, because their worldview can get along without them.

Immutability speaks to the power of God, and does not limit his ability to affect his creation. It suggests that God interacts with the universe, but that, in the final analysis, that interaction does not alter anything he does or anything that he is. He can affect the course of history, or the course of my life, or yours, because he is sovereign over all things. If he chooses to have mercy on a sinner, it is because he is compassionate and merciful by nature – the transaction has not changed his essential nature. If he chooses to raise up one nation and put down another, he is acting within the parameters of his omnipotence. He never encounters a situation that forces him to act outside his nature.

His nature, however, is one of consistent intervention. The world is what it is because he keeps stepping into the mix and muddying his hands, so to speak. What appears to some to be a well-oiled simple machine that requires little maintenance, is actually a complex group of inter-acting systems that require constant tweaking and intervention.

2) If God is unchanging, why offer salvation to all?

If some see a problem with an unchanging God who changes history, others see a problem with an unchanging God who changes personal destiny. They suggest that it is unfair for God to offer salvation to all when he knows who will respond to that offer, and who will not. He therefore knows that some (indeed many) will never take advantage of his grace, will never repent and display faith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Yet he insists on proclaiming “whoever will” even though he knows only the elect will.

For those who see a disconnect here, one way to resolve the problem is for God to make a divine exception to his own nature: he must limit his sovereignty in the area of personal salvation. This will enable anyone who desires to be saved to accept Christ. W. E. Best sees this as an application of deism in the realm of soteriology.2 It seeks to solve the sovereignty/free will debate by assuming that God makes the concession to human sovereignty in just this one particular area.

Yet, when we look at what the Bible says about salvation, we see that God has not abdicated his role in this process. He does more than just set up an option, sit back and wish as people get close, then fall away. He sends his Holy Spirit and causes people to be born again into his kingdom (John 3:3,5). It is an intervention. It is another one of those maintenance miracles that God does so often, we are tempted to think of them as normal.

We live in a world in which God is active, and constantly seeking the lost, and transforming them by the power of his Holy Spirit. This is the kind of God we have. It is not a God who is at the mercy of his creatures. He is immutable. He does not surrender his attributes even to accomplish what he wants.

3) If God is unchanging, is there hope for those who have not heard the gospel?

A third challenge, related to the second, is the notion that God would be unfair to provide only one chance for people to respond to his grace. There are some who see history as a series of dispensations, in which God acts differently, and expects different things from those who belong to him. To some, believing that God is changing helps to soften the impact of a world who largely neglects him. There is always the possibility that God has a “plan b” that will include those who are not responding well to this plan.

The problem is that such thinking has (once again) reduced God to an observer, when the Bible implies that he is the prime mover. For the sake of a “wider hope” the view requires that we reject the present hope. Our present (and only) hope is in the grace of God, who sovereignly brings the lost to himself through his Son. The fact that he is immutable should lead us to use all our resources to bring the dying world to Christ, because only he is the answer. When the next age dawns, it will be Christ’s age. The changes we will see will not reflect a change in who God is. Instead, they will reflect a more clear revelation of the immutable God we worship today.
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1 Jeremy Cagle, Just The Simple Truth: The Attributes of God. (www.justthesimpletruth.com/pdfs/03-theattributesofGod.pdf).

2 W. E. Best, The Impeccable Christ. (Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Publishers, Inc., 1971), 69.

ACST 13. The Immeasurable One

If someone asked you to describe an automobile, it should not be too hard to do. You need merely describe it using common traits of autos, like make, model, chassis type, color, engine type, transmission type, or even the VIN number. We define things based on their similarity or dissimilarity with other things.

We define people the same way. We may say a man is tall, which means that in comparison to other people, his height is greater than the average height. Age, height, hair color, weight, race, regional accent, and general build are often traits that are used to describe or define persons in order to identify them. These categories are useful because people have these differences that make it easy to compare them with other people.

But what if there were a person who was so unique that he could not be compared with any other person on the planet? What if there were a person who could not be described by age, because he always existed, and always will? What if there were a person who had no corporeal expression, so that his height, weight, and appearance could not normally be seen or heard? Such is the case with the God of the Bible. All the normal means of expression and measurement do not apply to Him.

In fact, one of the traditional ways for theologians to describe God has been to use negative statements. In other words, God is described by pointing out who and what he is not. He is immeasurable, immutable, and immortal. Or, to put it in one word: He is infinite. Scientists sometimes speak of space as being infinite, but only because they lack the means of measuring its immensity. The evidence from scripture reveals that God is infinite by nature. Even if it were possible to measure the vastness of space, God’s measurements would still be outside and beyond it.
For explanation purposes, we theologians sometimes convert these negative statements into positive ones. In doing so, we sacrifice accuracy, but we do so in order to express our faith in the One we are trying to define. The positive definitions of God’s being that result from this conversion are that God is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent.

omnipresent

To say that God is omnipresent is to ascribe all the space in the universe to Him. It “means both that God is not a finite object in space and time besides other objects, and that no finite object, space, or time can exclude God.”1 It is, of course, not possible for human beings to verify that statement scientifically. Not only it it impossible for us to verify God’s presence in any particular space, it is also impossible for the human race to be everywhere if we could observe him. We are defined by our limits, and that prevents us from accurately describing one whose presence is unlimited.

We depend, then, on the evidence of God’s creation and the special revelation of the Bible to affirm this faith statement about God. Since God created everything that exists in all space, it is not unreasonable to assume that he also exists in all that space. One of the differences between the Christian faith and that of the animists is that our God is not limited geographically. We see Him as beyond creation, because he brought all creation into being, and providentially rules over it.

The biblical evidence for this faith statement is abundant. Psalm 139 laments that God is inescapable, but eventually concedes the fact, and seeks God’s scrutiny and guidance. In Jeremiah 23:23-24 God asks, “Am I a God at hand, … and not a God afar off? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? … Do I not fill heaven and earth?” Here we find a helpful distinction: while some people are aware of the existence of a lot of places, even if they have never been there, God is actually present everywhere at the same time. His omnipresence is not just an extension of his omniscience.

This can be true about God because he is not limited to a corporeal nature. Jesus made this clear when he told the Samaritan woman that “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). It is not just that God lacks a body, but that he lacks the need for a body, since his essence is not defined as ours is. Human beings have spirits, which need bodies to animate, and without which they cannot function. God’s is spirit, and his “body” is the universe.

The implications of God’s omnipresence are awesome. We can be assured of his conscious presence when we gather in his name regardless of the size of the gathering – even if it’s just two or three people (Matt. 18:20; Luke 24:36). Even if we do not feel that presence, it is there. Even if we do not worship as others expect us to, we have not prevented God’s presence. We cannot. There is no place in the universe that is truly God-forsaken, thus we can be assured that he is always with us (Josh. 1:5; Isaiah 41:10; Matt. 28:20). God listens to the prayers of his people no matter where they are. His “calling zone” is not limited (Jer. 29:12-14; Matt. 6:6) because his presence is not limited.

omniscient

God’s awareness is just as extensive as his presence. He knows all things, even the future, just as well as the past. When Christians, Jews and Muslims affirm that God is omniscient, we are saying that he does not have limits to his capacity and consciousness that his creatures have. The attribute of omniscience “describes God’s infinite mind in terms of the intuitive, simultaneous and perfect knowledge of all that can ever be the object of knowledge. It relates to the eternal cognizance of the actual and to the possible and the contingent.”2

Human beings, for example, are capable of learning and growing in awareness, but are limited by factors such as brain capacity, availability of data, and functionality. God has no such limits. He has a complete grasp of everything that is happening now, and an equally complete memory of everything that happened last year on this date, and next year, and next millennium.

Once again theologians are left with the necessity of using approximate and negative language to describe this attribute of God, because there is no other being equal to God when it comes to knowledge. We do not say that God is omniscient because there is a pool of omniscient beings with which he can be compared. It is just as much a statement of our own limits as it is of God’s lack of limits. So we are forced to prove this assertion the same way we proved the assertion of God’s omnipresence. We appeal to God’s revelation of himself in his word.

The Bible reveals that “the LORD is a God of knowledge” (1 Sam. 2:3). He is “perfect in knowledge” (Job 37:16). “He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. … his understanding is beyond measure.” (Psalm 147:4-5). He announces the hidden things that we have not known (Isaiah 48:6). He “knows what is in the darkness” (Daniel 2:22).

God challenges his rivals to prove their omniscience by revealing the future or explaining the past (Isaiah 41:21-23). He laughs at the absurdity of putting one’s trust in a mute idol who cannot prove that it is even conscious, while God can prove that he is aware of all things. He challenges his people to remember that he has predicted the things that are now, showing that he alone deserves allegiance (Isaiah 48:3-5).

The concept of omniscience is baffling to human beings, and always has been. As the psalmist says, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6). It is far easier to deal with a lesser deity, who does not know all things, so can be tricked into complying to my will by a well-placed insincere prayer, or a charm or ritual to which he must comply, so that I get what I want. But that is not the way God works. He sees both the deed and the motive. He hears both the words and the thoughts behind them.

Since God’s awareness is unlimited, our approach to him must be an open one. we dare not hide who we are with flowery words, or empty praise, like the Pharisee did in Jesus’ story:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14 ESV)

Jesus used this story to teach the kind of attitude we should have as God’s creatures. As we humble ourselves, we assess correctly our position in God’s universe, but when we exalt ourselves (even when we do it with left-handed complements to God as the Pharisee did) we are being dishonest. This dishonesty about ourselves tilts the scale so badly that it reflects upon our view of God. We end up telling God “what a lucky God you are to have me on your side.”

The God of the Bible sees through that hypocrisy and self-delusion. He knows the real score because he knows all things. It is his nature to know the whole truth, while his creatures know only in part (1 Cor. 13:9,12).


omnipotent

Believers are also drawn to extremes when attempting to describe God’s power. His ability is unmeasurable, infinite. He is omnipotent. Since everything that is was created by him, it stands to reason that there are no limits to his power.

‘Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who has made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you (Jeremiah 32:17 ESV).

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy- the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:34-37 ESV).

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:24-26 ESV).

With God there is nothing that is harder or easier. The only things he cannot do are the things he will not do, that is, things that are against his nature. His “will is never exercised except in perfect harmony with all the other attributes of (his) great and glorious being.”3 He cannot sin, lie, self-destruct, or do anything that would result in his not being who he is. He himself is a constant.

The Name of God

Perhaps this is the reason that he introduced himself to his estranged people in such a peculiar way:

“Moses said to God, “If I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is his name?’–what should I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM that I AM.” And he said, “You must say this to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” God also said to Moses, “You must say this to the Israelites, ‘The LORD–the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob–has sent me to you. This is my name forever, and this is my memorial from generation to generation.’” (Exodus 3:13-15 NET).

With a confusing mix of Egyptian gods as a background, the Israelites who were enslaved in Egypt needed proof that the God who promised to deliver them was different. God’s covenant name – Yahveh4 – accentuates that difference. It screams “I am the One who has always existed and always will. It speaks of One who is not bound to the limits that all other beings are, One who is infinite, unmeasurable.

I believe it was this same name that Jesus referred to when he commanded his disciples to make more disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). The three persons of the trinity are equally infinite, each part of the same Godhead, thus they all share the same name. It is this unmeasurable nature that makes God unique. All other gods have a beginning (as spirits originally intended to serve Yahveh). All other gods have limited knowledge and power. Our God is the “I AM,” who has no limits, and no peers.

1 Owen C. Thomas, Ellen K. Woodra, Introduction To Theology. (New York: Church Publishing, Inc., 2002), 103.

2 Allan Coppedge, Portraits of God. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 132.

3 Martyn Loyd-Jones, Great Doctrines of the Bible. (Wheaton, IL: Good News Publishers, 2003), 67.

4 The name Yahveh is believed by many to derive from an ancient form (hvh) of the common verb “to be,” (hyh ) although Beitzel argues that the etymological presupposition is not proven, and the name may have been used in Exodus 3 as an example of paronomasia (See Barry J. Beizel, “Exodus 3:14 and the Divine Name: a Case of Biblical Paronomasia,” Trinity Journal 1 NS (1980) 5-20).