9. Self-existence

By James M. Rochford

God is a self-existent being. This is sometimes referred to as his aseity.[1] The ground of God’s existence is himself. He is uncaused and exists by necessity of his own being (see God’s name YHWH which means “I am.”). This attribute also means God does not need his creation. He meets all his own needs (Ex. 3:14; Jn. 8:58; Is. 40:28; Acts 17:25). Several passages teach this attribute of God:

(Rev. 4:11) Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.

(Jn. 1:3) All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.

(Is. 40:17-23; 28a) All the nations are as nothing before Him, They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless. 18To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him? 19As for the idol, a craftsman casts it, A goldsmith plates it with gold, And a silversmith fashions chains of silver. 20He who is too impoverished for such an offering Selects a tree that does not rot; He seeks out for himself a skillful craftsman To prepare an idol that will not totter. 21Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? 22It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. 23He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.

(Neh. 9:6) You alone are the LORD. You have made the heavens, The heaven of heavens with all their host, The earth and all that is on it, The seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them And the heavenly host bows down before You.

(Rom. 11:36) For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

(Ps. 90:2) Before the mountains were born Or You gave birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.

(Ex. 3:14) God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

If God is self-existent, then why does he demand glory and worship from finite creatures? Why does he get jealous of humans abandoning him?

The Bible condemns jealousy (Jas. 3:14; 1 Cor. 3:3; Gal. 5:19-21), but it states that God is a jealous God. How can God condemn us for something he does himself? Is this just rank hypocrisy?

Not all jealousy is bad. Paul writes, “For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy” (2 Cor. 11:2). Since God is the greatest conceivable good, it is wrong for us to love other things above him. It would be similar to a house fire, where a homeowner saved his pet goldfish over his newborn baby! We need to keep our loves in their proper order. Moreover, since God knows that our love of other things over him could be ultimately damaging, it is good for him to desire our love. Paul Copan writes,

A wife who doesn’t get jealous and angry when another woman is flirting with her husband isn’t really all that committed to the marriage relationship. A marriage without the potential for jealousy when an intruder threatens isn’t much of a marriage. Outrage, pain, anguish—these are the appropriate responses to such a deep violation.[2]

Since God is the ultimate good, he rightfully deserves worship and praise, as philosopher Paul Copan writes,

For Yo-Yo Ma to claim that he ‘really can’t play the cello all that well’ or for Landon Donovan to say he ‘can’t really play soccer’ would be equally out of touch with reality—a false humility. (What’s more, these kinds of statements are usually a backdoor attempt to get attention!)[3]

Actually, in the Bible, God isn’t the one commanding us to praise him. Typically, fellow creatures are spontaneously calling on one another to do so –to recognize God’s greatness.[4]

Finally, in regards to God being glorified, we have to point to Jesus’ definition of glorification. In the gospel of John, we learn that God received glory by being stripped naked, beaten, and nailed to a Roman Cross (Jn. 12:23-24; 13:31-32). Thus when we think about the glory of God, we need to get our definitions in order.

Doesn’t God need a cause for his existence?

Other critics of Christianity have argued that God needs a cause for his existence. Agnostic Bertrand Russell writes, “If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause.”[5] Mills[6] and Dawkins[7] have argued this, as well.

And yet this is a weak objection, because it commits a definitional error. That is, by definition, God is an uncreated and uncaused Being. This question, “Who created God?” is the same as asking, “Why doesn’t a triangle have five sides?” or “Why is a bachelor unmarried?” These things are true by definition. To draw this out, imagine if someone asked: “Who created the uncreated Creator?” When we understand the definition of God, we realize that this question is nonsensical.

Moreover, in 1948, during a debate on the BBC radio, a Christian philosopher asked Bertrand Russell why the universe existed. Russell famously replied, “I should say that the universe is just there, and that’s all.”[8] This “just there” argument was strong enough for atheists back then; they believed the universe existed by necessity. But now, atheists don’t seem to understand how Christians can claim that God is “just there” by necessity in the same way.

In the end, something (or someone) needs to have the attribute of self-existence (or necessary existence); otherwise, nothing would exist. For example, imagine if you needed a loan from a bank. Monday morning, you walk into the bank and ask for $100,000 in cash. Assuming your credit is good, the bank is willing to give you the money. And yet there’s just one problem: they don’t have this much money in their vault. So, in order to give you the loan, your bank decides to borrow the money from a neighboring bank. However, the neighboring bank doesn’t have the cash, either. So, they have to borrow the money from a third bank. But unfortunately for you, the third bank doesn’t have the money either, so they have to borrow from a fourth bank (and so on and so forth).

Now, think about it: if there isn’t a bank with cash in its vault, will you ever get your money? Don’t count on it. An endless string of I.O.U.s won’t work. You need an independently wealthy bank, rather than a chain of dependent banks, which have no money in and of themselves. In the same way, something in reality needs to be self-existent. Either the universe has self-existence, or something beyond the universe does. Otherwise, nothing would exist. Since the universe is not self-existent (it began to exist at the Big Bang), it is logical to assume that something beyond the universe has the attribute of self-existence.

If “all things” come into being through God (Jn. 1:3), then what about abstract objects (e.g. numbers, sets, and laws of logic)?

Craig and Moreland explain the problem in this way:

There is no cause of the existence of such entities; they each exist independent of one another and of God. It is this feature of Platonism, more than any other, that has troubled many Christian theists. Not only is there an infinite number of such objects (there is an infinite number of natural numbers alone), but there are higher and higher orders of infinities of such objects, infinities of infinites, so that God is utterly dwarfed by their unimaginable multitude.[9]

That is, if God has certain properties in himself (apart from creation), then this would mean that these properties exist alongside God—eternally in the past. For instance, if there were three persons in the Trinity from all eternity, then the number three must have existed for all eternity. This would mean that numbers were coeternal with God. But how would this fit with John’s statement that “all things came into being through Him” (Jn. 1:3)? The other alternative is to deny that numbers, sets, and laws of logic exist, but clearly these do exist. Christian philosophers have answered this problem in two different ways:

VIEW #1: Modified Platonism

Modified Platonism states that these numbers, sets, or laws of logic are timelessly created by God. Craig and Moreland write that under this view, “They are not created by God at any time but rather are timelessly created by him. God is not temporally prior to the existence of such objects, but he is causally or explanatorily prior to their existence.”[10] However, there are two issues with modified Platonism:

Critique #1: If these abstract objects exist necessarily, they are independent of God’s will. In other words, under this view, God was forced to create reality with these abstract objects. But the advocate of this view would retort that these abstract objects do not coerce God to do anything. Instead, these would be logical contradictions to violate. Theologians already note that God is bound by certain logical or mathematical laws (e.g. God cannot create a world in which 2 + 2 = 5). Therefore, they don’t really feel that these abstract objects truly control God’s will.

Critique #2: In order to create certain properties, God must have these properties to begin with. But if God needs to have the property in himself first, then the property must exist for him to have it. But advocates of this view argue that these properties are identical with God himself. These properties are not separate from God’s nature; they are an essential part of his nature.

VIEW #2: Conceptualism

Augustine was the first to propose conceptualism. This view holds that these abstract objects are really divine ideas—only having existence in the mind of God. Craig and Moreland explain, “Thus they do not exist independent of God nor even outside of God but only within his mind.”[11] Under this view, the abstract objects in our world are necessary expressions of the thoughts of God.

Critique #1: This view confuses concepts with objects. God’s conception of these abstract objects is not identical to the object itself.

Critique #2: In order to create certain properties, God must have these properties to begin with. If the divine mind contains these abstract objects, then he would need them in his mind before he could have them.

These two views (modified Platonism and Augustinian conceptualism) are very difficult to understand, and we look forward to others’ research in this area. We hope that this short explanation will help the reader understand the different views—even if it doesn’t resolve the issue firmly.



[1] Pronounced Ah-SAY-ity. From the Latin: a meaning ‘from’ and se meaning ‘self.” Literally “from himself.”

[2] Copan, Paul. Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011. 35.

[3] Copan, Paul. Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011. 28.

[4] Copan, Paul. Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011. 31.

[5] Russell, Bertrand, and Paul Edwards. Why I Am Not a Christian: and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967. 6-7.

[6] Mills writes, “If God created the universe, then who created God?” Mills, David, and Dorion Sagan. Atheist Universe: the Thinking Person’s Answer to Christian Fundamentalism. Berkeley, Ca.: Ulysses, 2006. 83.

[7] Dawkins writes, “These arguments… make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress.” Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. 101.

[8] Russell, Bertrand. “A Debate on the Argument from Contingency” Pojman, Louis P. Philosophy: the Quest for Truth. New York: Oxford UP, 2002. 56.

[9] Moreland, James Porter, and William Lane. Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity. 2003. 504.

[10] Moreland, James Porter, and William Lane. Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity. 2003. 504.

[11] Moreland, James Porter, and William Lane. Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity. 2003. 505.