The Attributes of God

By James M. Rochford

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Is Studying the Nature of God Important?

The study of the attributes of God is called theology proper. In this area of theology, the student of Scripture assesses all of the biblical data regarding the different attributes or characteristics of God. We feel that this aspect of theology is very important for at least a few central reasons:

First, our view of God will have a profound effect on how we follow God. Consider if someone told you a rumor about your boss—that he had forcefully groped his young secretary at the New Year’s Eve party last year. How would that affect your ability to serve and work with that man? Surely your view of him would permeate and affect every interaction that you had with him. But what would happen if you later found out that the rumor had been completely false, and the young secretary had made it up to malign his character? The truth or falsity about his character would greatly affect the way you worked with and related to him. In the same way, our beliefs about God have a profound effect our relationship with him. Some people conceive of God as a cosmic cop in the sky; others as a doting grandfather who wants to spoil his grandchildren on Earth. Either of these false beliefs will have perilous results in the life of the believer.

Second, various influences can distort our view of God. Consider a few examples:

  • Many people get their conception of God from cinema, cartoons, or children’s Sunday school teachings. These depictions of God are immature at best, and potentially misleading at worst.
  • Others reject the love, character, and attributes of their Heavenly Father, because they are still nursing bitterness toward their earthly fathers. In his book The Faith of the Fatherless (1999), Psychologist Paul Vitz has shown that many first-generation atheists had abusive, absent, or passive fathers. This psychological discovery applies to all people, including Christians. Many Christians picture their father’s face whenever they think about God. Was your father disengaged? Absentee? Abusive? Authoritarian? We need to have our minds transformed to see God as he reveals himself in Scripture, rather than projecting our fallen fathers in his place.
  • Finally, some people think of a spiritual leader or role model when they think of God. While we are supposed to imitate the faith and character of spiritual leaders (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Heb. 6:12; 13:7), we are ultimately supposed to be “imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph. 5:1). The NT teaches that we are supposed to imitate both God and mature believers (1 Thess. 1:6), but only insofar as a person’s faith and character conforms to Jesus (1 Cor. 11:1). Since all human leaders are sinful, it’s possible that people could develop a distorted view of God by imitating people too much.

To be clear, we have no problem with cinema, cartoons, Sunday schools, fathers, or Christian leadership (!). But our knowledge of God needs to come first, whereas for many believers, it subconsciously takes second place.

Third, atheistic critics often intentionally mischaracterize God to make it easier to undermine theism. For instance, atheistic critics often refer to a “bearded deity” akin to Zeus, or a “Sky Daddy,” or even just a “superhuman” being (per Richard Dawkins).[1] Of course, as biblical Christians, we can quickly respond that we don’t believe in a God like this either! However, these characterizations often make the very concept of God to be ridiculous to believe in. Carefully constructed definitions and explanations of God’s nature are in order.

Fourth, atheistic critics of Christianity often attack the internal consistency of God’s attributes. This subject is called the coherence of theism. If the critic could point out an internal inconsistency within the nature of God, this would provide good evidence against theism. Therefore, it is important to have a deep grasp on these concepts in order to defend our faith.

(1) Omniscience

(2) Omnipotence

(3) Omnipresence

(4) Sovereignty

(5) Loving

(6) Righteous and Just

(7) Immutability

(8) Immaterial

(9) Self-existence

(10) Veracity

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