God has the attribute of self-existence or what is called aseity (ah-SAY-ity). This comes from two Latin root words that mean “from” (a) and “self” (se). Thus, aseity literally means “from himself” (aseite). This does not mean that God is self-caused, but that he is uncaused. God possesses “the ground of His existence in Himself,” and he “exists in and of Himself, independent of anything else.” Consequently, God “does not need us or the rest of creation for anything, yet we and the rest of creation can glorify him and bring him joy.”
Some passages speak directly to God’s self-existence. Jesus said, “Just as the Father has life in Himself (en heautō), even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself (en heautō)” (Jn. 5:26). In the immediate context of this statement, Jesus refers to both the Father and the Son having the ability to give life to the dead. This is life that they possess in themselves.
God is the Creator who needs nothing from humans. Thus, Paul states, “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:24-25). Since God has no needs, you and I depend on him for our very existence. Paul continues, “In Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28).
God’s name implies his self-existence. When Moses encountered God at the burning bush, Moses asked God to tell him his name. God replied, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Ex. 3:14 NIV). Essentially, this name communicates that “God’s existence and character are determined by himself alone and are not dependent on anyone or anything else.” In effect, God is saying, “I am the only who always is.”
We can also develop a solid basis for God’s self-existence by studying the correlation of three central biblical teachings: (1) God existed before creation and is independent of creation, (2) God sustains the existence of every created thing, and (3) God is immortal.
(1) God existed before creation and is independent of creation
The Bible opens with the words, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). This, of course, refers to “the beginning of time itself” and an “absolute beginning point in time.” Elsewhere, the psalmist writes, “Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God” (Ps. 90:2).
God declares, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come” (Rev. 1:8). This is a rhetorical device that states the “polar opposites in order to highlight everything between the opposites.” For instance, at his wedding, a man will promise to love his wife in “sickness and in health.” Of course, everything in between is also implied. By calling himself the “Alpha and the Omega,” God is stating that he has existed from the beginning of creation and all the way to the end. He is the “the first and the last” of creation (Rev. 1:17; 22:13; Isa. 41:4; 44:6; 48:12).
(2) God sustains the existence of every created thing
God created “all things.” John writes, “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (Jn. 1:3). Without God, literally “nothing” would exist beside him. God’s creation extends to both the material universe as well as all of spiritual reality. Paul writes, “In him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16 NIV). Finally, in Revelation, we read, “You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created” (Rev. 4:11). All of creation owes its existence to God.
But God is not only the Creator of the universe; he is also the Sustainer of the universe. It is because of Jesus that “all things hold together” (Col. 1:17), and he “upholds all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3). That is, if Jesus chose to relax his grip on the existence of reality, the universe would fly apart.
(3) God is immortal
Repeatedly, Scripture calls God the “living God” (Mt. 16:16; Acts 14:15; 2 Cor. 3:3, etc.). Paul states that God is “incorruptible” (Rom. 1:23), “immortal” (1 Tim. 1:17), and indeed, God “alone possesses immortality” (1 Tim. 6:16). God “lives forever” (Isa. 57:15). This means that God will never cease to exist.
If God is self-existent, then how can we “please” him?
As a self-existent being, God doesn’t need us. Yet, repeatedly, we are told that we are able to “please God” (1 Thess. 4:1) and “please Him in all respects” (Col. 1:10). How can God be pleased with us if he doesn’t need us? Because of our position in Christ, God doesn’t love us any more or less. But how can we please God if he’s always well-pleased with us?
In response, when we speak of “pleasing God,” this doesn’t mean that we’re beginning from a position of God being displeased with us. We are “in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6), and we are always “beloved children” (Eph. 5:1). This is the highest status that we could ever ask for or even imagine.
Our position “in Christ” never changes. In this objective sense, we are always pleasing to God. However, in our condition, we can choose to please God by following him and trusting him. We deny the doctrine of the impassibility of God, where God is so immutable that he cannot feel emotions. Paul writes, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit” (Eph. 4:30). This, of course, means that God is grieved for our sake—not for his own. That is, God is grieved when we forfeit the happiness, joy, and eternal rewards for a life of bitterness, anger, and other sins (Eph. 4:31).
Perhaps an imperfect analogy might help. My sons can never do anything that will cause them to cease being my sons. That is a permanent reality. I will always love my sons—no matter what they do. Indeed, some parents say that rebellious children often grasp their hearts more because the parents labor in love and prayer over such children.
That being said, it would be utterly odd to say that my unconditional love precludes me from being affected by the actions of my sons. When my kids show love to their mother, for example, I can find this very emotionally moving. But this doesn’t make me love them more or less. It only changes emotional states in my heart. To bring this full circle, God’s love is permanent and unchanging. Yet, he allows himself to feel. And our actions affect the heart of God.
God genuinely delights in us (Isa. 62:3-5; Zeph. 3:17-18). Grudem writes, “God does not need us for anything, yet it is the amazing fact of our existence that he chooses to delight in us and to allow us to bring joy to his heart. This is the basis for personal significance in the lives of all God’s people: to be significant to God is to be significant in the most ultimate sense. No greater personal significance can be imagined.”
If God is self-existent, why does God get jealous of humans who reject 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 (Ex. 20:5). How can God condemn us for something he himself does?
To begin, not all jealousy is bad. Paul writes, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy” (2 Cor. 11:2).
Second, God is jealous for our sake—not his own. Since God is the greatest conceivable good, we only bring harm to ourselves and others when we place anything else at the center of our lives. If a homeowner saved his goldfish rather than his newborn baby in a house fire, we could see that something was wrong with his moral priorities. It’s easy to see that the baby possesses infinitely more value than the fish. God, of course, is the greatest conceivable good, so placing anything else at the center of our lives will ultimately lead to self-destruction.
Third, if God was apathetic about our rejection of him, that wouldn’t be loving. Our love for finite things over God ultimately results in destruction, damage, and despair. What would it mean if God sat idly by as he watched us choose those things? 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.”
Fourth, since God is the greatest conceivable good, it wouldn’t be humble for God to pretend that he isn’t. Again, 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!)”
In conclusion, God is the only being in existence who is worthy of worship. Devoting our love and adoration toward anything else is at the heart of the human condition (Lk. 10:27). Stott writes, “The essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives that belong to God alone; God accepts penalties that belong to man alone.”
Doesn’t God need a cause for his existence?
Modern atheists often argue that God must need a cause for his existence. After all, “if everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause.” Indeed, we often hear the question, “Who caused God?” Yet, this is a particularly weak criticism for a number of reasons.
For one, this commits a definitional error. By definition, God is an uncreated and uncaused Being. As a necessary being, it is a logical contradiction for God to not exist. This isn’t evidence for the existence of God. Rather, by definition, “if God is as he is described in Scripture, he must exist.”
Therefore, the 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. Thus, asking “Who created God?” is the same as asking “Who created the uncreated Creator?” When we understand the definition of God, we realize that this question is nonsensical.
Second, until recently, atheists never had a problem affirming the concept of self-existence. In a famous debate in 1948, a Christian philosopher asked atheist Bertrand Russell why the universe existed. Russell famously replied, “I should say that the universe is just there, and that’s all.” The assertion that the universe was “just there” seemed perfectly plausible for atheists at the time.
Today, however, cosmologists state that the universe had a space-time beginning. This demonstrates that the universe isn’t self-existent, and it requires a transcendent cause. After the discovery of the Big Bang, all of a sudden, the concept of self-existence seems incoherent. This is special pleading at its worst.
Third, something (or someone) needs to possess the attribute of self-existence; otherwise, nothing would exist. To illustrate, 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 would be willing to give you the money.
But there’s just one problem: The bank doesn’t have the 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 ask a third bank for the money (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 empty bank vaults will never get you your money. We cannot borrow money from a bank that possesses no money.
In the same way, something in reality needs to possess self-existence. We can capture the logic of this concept in this way:
(1) Either the universe is self-existent, or something beyond the universe is self-existent.
(2) The universe is not self-existent.
(3) Therefore, something beyond the universe is self-existent.
Since the universe is not self-existent (it began to exist at the Big Bang), it makes good sense to affirm that something beyond the universe has the attribute of self-existence. Therefore, far from being an argument against the coherence of theism, this objection actually demonstrates a strong argument in favor of theism.
If “all things” came into being through God (Jn. 1:3), then what about abstract objects? (e.g. numbers, sets, and laws of logic)
Does the number 3 exist? What about the laws of logic? What about an endless string of natural numbers, mathematical sets, and other properties? Here’s the dilemma:
(1) If you say that abstract objects don’t exist, then this seems incoherent. How could we affirm that the laws of logic do not exist without breaking the law of non-contradiction? Moreover, even before creation, God existed with one nature in three persons. Doesn’t this mean that the number 1 and the number 3 have existed for eternity?
(2) On the other hand, if you say that abstract objects do exist, then this means that you affirm an infinite amount of eternal, uncreated, and necessary things. God didn’t create these abstract objects. Rather, they were uncaused and coeternal with God, existing by necessity for all of eternity.
This is the challenge of Platonism. Craig and Moreland explain this difficulty when they write,
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 infinities, so that God is utterly dwarfed by their unimaginable multitude. God finds himself amid uncreated, infinite realms of beings that exist just as necessarily and independently as he. The dependence of physical creation on God for its existence becomes an infinitesimal triviality in comparison with the existence of the infinitude of beings that exist independent of him.
Consequently, this objection creates difficulties for the repeated teaching of Scripture that God created “all things.” John writes that “all things came into being through Him” (Jn. 1:3; cf. Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:3; Rev. 4:11). How do Christian philosophers respond to this objection? Two views are often espoused:
VIEW #1: Modified Platonism
Some Christian philosophers hold to a view called modified Platonism. This view states that abstract objects like numbers, sets, and laws of logic were timelessly created by God. Under this view, these things “are not created by God at any time but rather are timelessly created by him.” That is, “God is not temporally prior to the existence of such objects, but he is causally or explanatorily prior to their existence.” However, there are two critiques of this view:
Critique #1: If these abstract objects exist necessarily, they are indeed independent of God’s will. In other words, God was forced to create reality with these abstract objects. Of course, advocates of this view would retort that these abstract objects don’t coerce God to do anything. Indeed, theologians have long held 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. That being said, advocates of this view argue that these properties are identical with properties that exist within God’s essential nature. Thus, these properties are not separate from God’s nature; they are an essential part of it.
VIEW #2: Conceptualism
Other Christian philosophers propose a view called conceptualism. This view holds that these abstract objects are merely divine concepts that have their existence in the mind of God. Hence, abstract objects like numbers, sets, or laws of logic “do not exist independent of God nor even outside of God but only within his mind.” Under this view, the abstract objects in our world are necessary expressions of the thoughts of God. However, there are two critiques of this perspective as well:
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 comprehend and to communicate. Frankly, this discussion is beyond our paygrade! Even Moreland and Craig conclude, “There are extremely difficult and unresolved issues here, and we can look forward to further discussion of these questions on the part of Christian philosophers. For now, we can agree that God is uniquely self-existent, and abstract objects, if they exist at all, should be thought of as in some way grounded in God.”
We hope that this short explanation will help the reader at least understand the challenge of Platonism, and these explanations will help frame the discussion. For more on this topic, see William Lane Craig, God and Abstract Objects (2017).
If God wasn’t self-existent, what implications would this have for our lives?
If God wasn’t self-existent, we would feel like God needed a relationship with us. Did God create you out of cosmic loneliness or existential dread? Did he need a companion in the infinite solitude of his eternal existence? Not at all. God was doing perfectly fine before creation, and he could’ve existed in that harmonious state for eternity. It was only out of an abundance of love that he chose to create you.
Some people are needier than others, but let’s face it: Everyone you’ve ever met has needs (including you!). We are broken selves who are trying to meet our needs from other broken selves. Yet, God isn’t this way. There’s no bottom to his reservoir of infinite love. He has a superabundance of love, life, and security. He has the ability to just give and give and give some more. You need to increasingly learn to depend upon the One who depends upon no one.
This also means that God doesn’t want to take anything from you that worth anything. After all, why would he want anything that you possess? He’s already fully satisfied within himself. This means that if God asks you to give something over to him, it’s only because it’s for your benefit—not his. Because God is self-existent, you never need to worry about outgiving God!
If God wasn’t self-existent, we would feel like God needed us to accomplish his plan and purposes. Perhaps you wouldn’t say this out loud, but you might act as though God needs you to play your part in reaching the world for Christ. Very easily, you could find yourself acting like the plans and purposes of God will succeed or fail based on the efficacy of your efforts.
This sort of thinking is out of touch with reality. God isn’t dependent on you; you are dependent on him. Human agency matters, but only because God has chosen to work through you—not because he needs you. God is not “served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:25).
God could surely do a better job accomplishing his purposes himself, or he could choose to send an angel to spread his message of love and forgiveness to the world. Indeed, someday, God will do exactly this. John writes, “I saw another angel flying through the sky, carrying the eternal Good News to proclaim to the people who belong to this world—to every nation, tribe, language, and people” (Rev. 14:6 NLT). This should shatter your delusions of grandeur regarding how much God needs you in his plans and purposes. You have no job security! He could replace you whenever he chooses.
Instead, serving God is a great privilege that is extended to us. This is why Paul writes that it is an act of “mercy” for humans to have a “ministry” for God (2 Cor. 4:1).
If God wasn’t self-existent, we would boast about the work we accomplished for God. After all, if God needed us, then we would have a good reason to boast. God would be in our debt. We could emphasize just how much our sacrifices for God really mattered, and how much he owes us.
Yet, when you understand the self-existence of God, you see how ludicrous this is. Like a little child drawing a picture for his father, you can bring happiness to God when you trust him and serve him (1 Cor. 7:32; Col. 1:10; 1 Thess. 4:1; Heb. 11:6; 13:16). Yet, you are only serving God with the resources that he ultimately gave you in the first place.
Thus, when David brought sacrifices to God, he prayed loudly, “Who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You” (1 Chron. 29:14). Elsewhere, God says, “If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is Mine, and all it contains” (Ps. 50:12). Geisler writes, “We can give back to Him only what He has given us.” Giving our lives to God is equivalent to giving a grain of sand to the owner of a beach!
If God wasn’t self-existent, we would worry that God could go away or even die. Everyone in your life will be torn away from you at death. Either you will live long enough to see them die, or they will live long enough to see you die. Yet, God will never die, and not even death itself will separate you from him (Jn. 14:1-3). Thus, Paul writes, “Whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him” (1 Thess. 5:10). Everything in life is contingent on circumstances—except God. Erickson writes, “There is one sure thing, and that is that there is a God and there always will be.”
 Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology (Arlington, TX: Bastion Books, 2021), 439.
 L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 58.
 Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology (Arlington, TX: Bastion Books, 2021), 435.
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 160.
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 164.
 Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology (Arlington, TX: Bastion Books, 2021), 435.
 Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), p.14.
 Vern Poythress, Interpreting Eden (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), p.144.
 G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 199.
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 163.
 Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011), 35.
 Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011), 28.
 John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2021), p.159.
 Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967), 6-7.
 Dawkins writes, “These arguments… make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress.” Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 101.
 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology., 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998), 298.
 Bertrand Russell, “A Debate on the Argument from Contingency,” in Louis Pojman, Philosophy: The Quest for Truth (New York: Oxford UP, 2002), 56.
 J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (2nd ed., Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017), 1054.
 J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 504.
 J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 505.
 J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (2nd ed., Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017), 1056.
 Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology (Arlington, TX: Bastion Books, 2021), 608.
 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology., 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998), 298.