The Attributes of God

By James M. Rochford

Download a free lecture on this subject HERE.

My friend’s parents divorced when she was twelve. The judge sent her to live with her mother, and throughout adolescence, her mother told her that her father was the reason for the divorce: He was abusive, unfaithful, and had a notorious drinking problem. For years, my friend silently blamed her dad for ripping the family apart.

But there was just one problem with all of this: None of it was true! It wasn’t until adulthood that the truth came to light. The girl’s mother had an undiagnosed mental health disorder, and she had invented this entire narrative about her ex-husband.

Just think how these lies affected this young woman’s life. It’s true that she had never seen her dad get drunk. But what do you think she felt when her dad ordered a beer with dinner? How do you think she reacted when her dad got angry—even if she never witnessed him losing his temper? Suffice it to say, these distorted and deceitful claims poisoned how she related to her father, and years of her relationship were lost forever.

Now, apply all of this to our views of God. If distorted views about our human father can have severe consequences, how might warped views of our Heavenly Father affect us? We agree with the words of one theologian when he wrote, “What you think of God is the most important thing about you.”[1]

The Importance of Theology Proper

Theology proper is the study of God and his attributes—that is, the qualities or characteristics that make up his nature.[2] So much is at stake in this discussion that we need to get this right. If we misrepresent God’s character, it will be like snow tumbling from a mountain top and creating an avalanche. The result will be a cascading effect on everything else in our lives. Even notorious atheist Richard Dawkins agrees when he stated that “the question of whether there exists a supernatural creator, a God, is one of the most important that we have to answer.”[3]

If we build our lives and worldview on a cracked theological foundation, it’s only a matter of time before problems will arise (Mt. 7:24-27). Consider several reasons why the study of God demands our attention.

First, our beliefs about God will make a direct impact on our view of our own dignity and value as human beings. If there is no God, then humans are merely animated biological scrap in a mechanistic universe. In a universe without God, humans are reduced to complex organic machines. Like any other complex organic species, humans would be doomed to die, and life would carry no ultimate meaning, value, or purpose. As one atheistic philosopher states, “Human life has no more meaning than the life of slime mould.”[4]

Are we more complex than other life forms? Yes, of course. But are we more valuable? Not at all. How can a combination of chemicals and juices result in dignity and value? Truly, if God is dead, then human value dies with him. Even a leading atheistic ethics professor at Princeton writes, “The life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.”[5]

Second, our beliefs about God have a profound effect on how we trust God and relate to him. Some people conceive of God as a Cosmic Cop who is hellbent on seeing them locked up and convicted of their various crimes. Others view God as the source of everything wrong in the world. For instance, God always seems to get the blame from insurance companies when a flood or fire destroys someone’s home. In fact, they call these events “acts of God.”

Third, our earthly father can influence our view of God. Sigmund Freud thought he knew how belief in God originated. He held that Christians invented God as a cosmic father figure to help deal with guilt, fear, and insecurity. However, psychologist Paul Vitz found just the opposite. In his book The Faith of the Fatherless (1999), Vitz argued that Christians aren’t the ones projecting a cosmic father figure, but atheists are rejecting a cosmic father figure. Indeed, Vitz documented that almost all of the most famous first-generation atheists since the Enlightenment had abusive, absent, or passive fathers.

What about you? Was your father absentee? Abusive? Authoritarian? Apathetic? Are you certain that this hasn’t mutated your view of God? Of course, Vitz didn’t use his research to prove or disprove the existence of God, but his findings demonstrated just how badly we need a renovation of the mind when thinking about God. If the true God doesn’t fill our minds, then god-substitutes will fill the void.

Fourth, culture can influence our view of God. It’s amazing how many smart, educated, and successful people take their conception of God from stand-up comedians, movies, cartoons, or children’s Sunday school teachings.

One grown man shared that he had his mind all made up about God. To him, the question of God was an open-and-shut case, and he had it all figured out. When asked when he had conclusively decided all of this, he said that he came to these conclusions at the age of 13 as he was listening to a teaching at his church youth group! Think about that: This grown man was allowing a 13-year-old version of himself control his views about the most important question of all-time. The rest of us are on a spiritual journey, but not him. At age 13, he had it all figured out.

Where did you develop your views about God? When you think about God, do you think of jokes that you heard from a standup comedian, or the images from movies or cartoons? Do you picture the face of a spiritual leader, or the lessons you learned from a children’s Sunday school teaching?

To be clear, we have no problem with comedians, cartoons, Christian leaders, or modern movies. But is this honestly where we’re forming our core beliefs about God? A faith like that needs to be deconstructed because it’s built on a shaky foundation. This is precisely why we need to have our minds “transformed” to see God as he really is (Rom. 12:2).

Fifth, critics of Christianity often intentionally mischaracterize God to make it easier to undermine theism. For instance, atheistic critics characterize God as a “bearded deity,” a “Sky Daddy,” or even just a “superhuman.”[6] Others refer to God as the “big guy in the sky.” Of course, these bizarre depictions of God have more in common with deities likes Zeus than with the God of the Bible. However, these caricatures often make the very concept of God to appear ridiculous, and many lose their faith in a god that the Bible never affirmed in the first place.

Sixth, if the concept of God is illogical, then this would be excellent evidence that God doesn’t exist. This is why critics of Christianity often attack the internal consistency of God’s attributes. Critics often state,

“The Trinity is illogical. Is the Father God? Is the Son God? Is the Spirit God? Then that means there are three Gods—not one.”

“Can God create a stone so big that even he cannot lift it?”

“If God is sovereign, why does he command us to pray?”

This subject is called the coherence of theism. It deals with the internal consistency of God’s nature and attributes. While there is nothing internally inconsistent about the concept of God, followers of Christ can be easily duped if they do not form a deep grasp on this subject in order to defend our faith.

Finally, the study of God is our highest aspiration and greatest longing. One theologian wrote, “The study of the true God and His attributes is the most important endeavor a finite mind can entertain.”[7] Indeed, we will be studying this subject for all of eternity as finite creatures who will continuously explore the inexhaustible nature of the infinite Creator.

The Attributes of God

Self-existence 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.”

Omnipotence The term omnipotence comes from two Latin root words that mean “all” (omnis) and “powerful” (potens or potentis). God has unlimited power, but he is only constrained by his own moral and logical nature (Heb. 6:18; Titus 1:2; 2 Tim. 2:13; Jas. 1:13).

Omniscience The term omniscience comes from two Latin root words that mean “all” (omnis) and “knowing” (scientia). God knows all true propositions—whether past, present, or future.

Omnipresence The term omnipresence comes from two Latin root words that mean “all” (omnis) and “present” (praesens). God is (1) aware of every aspect in existence, and he is (2) able to act in all locations in existence.

Sovereignty God possesses unlimited authority to act in any way that he chooses with regard to his creation—contingent only on his own nature.

Immaterial God is not a physical being composed of material parts. He is an infinite, unembodied mind.

Immutability The term immutability comes from two Latin root words that mean “not” (in) and “changing” (mutabilis). If something “mutates,” it changes. Thus, to be immutable means to never change. God is “constant and unchangeable in his character” or “unchangeable in His nature.”

Veracity The attribute of veracity (Latin veracitas) means that God tells the truth and cannot lie.

Timelessness and Eternality God has always existed, and he always will. God existed in a timeless state without creation, and he took on temporal events since creation.

Transcendence and Immanence The term transcendence comes from two Latin root words that mean “beyond” (trans) and “to climb” (scandere). This means that “God is separate from and independent of nature and humanity.” The term immanence comes from a Latin root word that means “to dwell” (immanens or manere). This refers to “God’s presence and activity within nature, human nature, and history.”

Righteous and Just God is perfectly righteous, and the highest good (summum bonum). He always does what is right. Because he is morally flawless, this results in justice for those who morally violate him or others.

Loving The term omnibenevolent comes from two Latin root words that mean “all” (omnis) and “good” (benevolentia).

Theological Further Reading

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994).

Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology., 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998), “Part Three: What is God Like?”

A.W. Tozer, The Attributes of God (Volume 1): A Journey into the Father’s Heart (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2007).

A.W. Tozer, The Attributes of God (Volume 2): Deeper into the Father’s Heart (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2007).

A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (Zeeland, MI: Reformed Church Publications, 2015).

Much overlap occurs between this two-volume set and The Knowledge of the Holy. We would suggest reading the two-volume set, but all three books are worth reading.

Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938).

Philosophical Further Reading

Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology (Arlington, TX: Bastion Books, 2021).

Geisler had formal training in philosophy at the doctoral level. This gives valuable insight into the attributes of God. At the same time, Geisler had a very strong command of the Scriptures and devotional to the Scriptures. This makes his systematic theology valuable both philosophically and theologically. It should be noted that we disagree with Geisler’s Thomistic views of “divine simplicity.”

John Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001).

J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (2nd ed., Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017), “Chapters 27 and 28: The Coherence of Theism.”

Craig devoted years to studying the philosophical coherence of theism. This is a good intermediate introduction to the philosophical difficulties that face this subject. The focus is “Philosophical Foundations,” rather than theology. That being understood, this is an excellent treatment of the current philosophical attacks against the coherence of theism.

Charles Taliaferro and Elsa J. Marty, Contending with Christianity’s Critics: Answering New Atheists & Other Objectors (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2009), “Chapter 13: The Coherence of Theism.”

[1] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (Zeeland, MI: Reformed Church Publications, 2015), 1.

[2] Berkhof sees some difficulty referring to God’s attributes because it is “apt to create the impression that something is added to the divine Being.” L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), p.52. Consequently, older theologians referred to the “properties” of God—what is “proper” to him. Others referred to the “perfections” of God. The problem with these latter terms is that some of God’s attributes are communicable, which make them not “proper” to God. Thus, if we nuance the term “attributes” to mean that these aren’t qualities added to God (but necessarily within God), the difficulty of using this term goes away. Hodge melds terms when he writes, “The perfections of God, therefore, are attributes, without which He would cease to be God.” Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 369.

[3] Richard Dawkins interview with David Van Biema “God vs. Science.” Time Magazine. Sunday, November 05, 2006.

[4] John Gray, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007), 33.

[5] Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 1st ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 122-23.

[6] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 31, 106.

[7] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology (Arlington, TX: Bastion Books, 2021), 415.