Friday, April 27, 2018
God's Divine Perfection - Definitions, Reflections And Applications
Exodus 15:11 "Who is like You among the gods, O Lord? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders?"
Introduction: Why Nothing Can Ever Be Like God
As a runner, I find myself ever striving for improvement. My plans are to run a 10K race tomorrow and a half-marathon in two weeks. Racing reminds all participants that there are persons faster and better than themselves. The paradox of running is that in finding out how much better I could do, I find the drive to improve. On a spiritual level, I find myself as a Christian ever needing improvement. The biblical term for Christian growth is "sanctification" (see 1 Thessalonians 4:3). I always find other Christians that are further along in their faith or deeper in prayer than myself. On a moral, spiritual and physical level, I as a creature am being perfected. As A.W. Tozer once remarked:
"The paradox of faith is that all at once, when we think we have apprehended God, we are ever in pursuit of Him".
Anything else - whether animals, human beings, galaxies or angels - have room for improvement. There are other comparable objects and beings that are better, bigger and brighter. Our Milky Way Galaxy, for instance, is physically immense.
Astronomers tell us that on average, the Milky Way Galaxy is composed of over 100 billion stars and is 100 thousand light years across. Yet, the Andromeda Galaxy, lying some two-million light years distant, is twice as large and may contain over twice as many stars. Angels are revealed in over 400 places in the Bible. Whether good or bad, they all exists in varying ranks. They are comparable to one another.
There are always stronger angels, bigger galaxies and better runners. All objects and beings are incomplete by themselves - capable of improvement - viz. imperfect. Job 15:15 reminds us:
"Behold, He puts no trust in His holy ones, And the heavens are not pure in His sight."
Even angels, which are spiritual beings devoid of sin, possess a creaturely form of perfection that is ever possible for improvement (that is, arch-angels have a level of perfection that their angelic counterparts do not possess).
Nothing in all creation is like God. The Danish philosopher Soren Keirkegaard once used the somewhat cumbersome phrase: "infinite-qualitative distinction" to describe God's quality of life and perfection to that of His creation. In a more clearer description, A.W. Tozer compares the life and intrinsic value of a little child lost amidst mountains as qualitatively different from all the vastness of such mountains.
Clearly nothing compares to God. Isaiah raises a rhetorical question in Isaiah 40:18 that points us in the direction of considering God in terms of His Divine Perfection:
"To whom then will you liken God?
Or what likeness will you compare with Him?"
I heard author Ravi Zacharias describe God once in a lecture, which fits well within our topic of "Divine Perfection":
"God is the only being who is explained by Himself within Himself. All other entities are characterized by requiring something outside of themselves to account for their existence. God, however, is alone in being His own reason for why He exists".
Ravi Zacharias' thoughts may aid us in approaching what we mean when we speak of Divine Perfection.
Arriving At What We Mean By God's Perfection
This question raised in Isaiah 40:18 (as well as the opening text Exodus 15:11) of "who is like God?" forces us to cross a boundary that reason alone cannot cross. Faith alloyed with reason is needed to wing the precarious flight from our created realm to God in His infinite perfection. God's word and so-called considerations of God's perfection of attributes (i.e. perfect being theology) will act as navigational controls in attempting to express God's perfection.
But now what about God? Whenever we speak of God's perfection, are we talking merely of a level above the highest archangel? As to perfection itself being a scale upon which we place people, galaxies and angels - is God somehow at the highest level of that scale? Or ought we consider God's perfection in a completely different sense? Answering this question is part of the project of what we call "perfect being theology".
So what is Divine perfection? God as the most perfect being is, in and of Himself, incapable of improvement. Put another way, God is completely complete. Theologian Keith Ward describes this quality of God as "Perfect Being" as: "having the consciousness to enjoy all things beautifully good."
Isaiah 40:25 has God raising the question we observed in verse 18 of the same chapter:
“To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One."
God's perfection (i.e. His quality of being "completely-complete" or "incapable of improvement") makes all other wanna-be deities not worthy of worship. The idols of antiquity were material deities made of precious metals and stone. In the Greek and Roman Pantheons, the various deities were always subject to improvement. They each had deficits that required supplementing from their fellow deities. These schemes of religion, wherein multiple deities are worship, is called "polytheism". All forms of polytheism either collapses in on itself or requires the invention of more sub-deities by its devotees.
No concept of Divine perfection was conceived of in ancient Greece and Rome (even though such a quality was sought after and much discussed). The Apostle Paul critiques such a Graeco-Roman religious system in Acts 17:29 -
"Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man."
Is it no wonder that all other so-called deities are concluded as non-existent or human figments somehow connected to the deceptions of the kingdom of darkness (see 1 Corinthians 10:18-22).
The God of the Bible alone is Perfect. In terms of moral attributes, we call God's perfection "holiness". Holiness refers to the sum of all His moral attributes (goodness, wisdom, grace, justice, mercy, etc.,) in "perfect union" within His nature as God. Nothing can be added to nor taken away from God as holy. The prophet Micah comments on God's perfect being expressing such Divine moral qualities in Micah 7:18 -
"Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity And passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession?
He does not retain His anger forever,
Because He delights in unchanging love."
Other attributes that describe God in His infinite existence are suffused with this quality of Divine perfection. God's Divine Aseity, which refers to His self-sufficiency and independence (from the Latin a se meaning 'from oneself'), expresses His perfection of self-sufficiency, as stated in Isaiah 44:6 -
“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
‘I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me."
We could speak of other attributes. The point is that God alone is "completely complete" or "incapable of improvement" in regards to His perfection.
To summarize the great theologian Thomas Aquinas in his section of his massive work "Summa Theologica" on the topic of Divine perfection, God's perfection refers to how He possesses all excellencies of life and wisdom in an of Himself, never lacking nor in want. The sun may shine on various objects and possess the qualities of the objects upon which it sheds its light. Still, the sun exhausts its fuel and requires objects for us to appreciate its light. God on the other hand requires neither ourselves nor His creation, since His light is both inexhaustible and undiminished with or without us.
Applying Divine Perfection To Our Everyday Lives
So how can God's Divine perfection help me out in everyday life? For one thing, God's Divine perfection means He is worthy of my worship. When I preach on Sunday morning, sing songs of praise or live daily for Him - I find He alone is worthy. Revelation 4:11 demonstrates how God's perfection is cause for worship around His throne in Heaven:
“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.”
The 11th century theologian Anselm of Canterbury described God in His perfection of being as:
"the greatest conceivable being, apart from which nothing can be greater conceived".
In other words, if I could think of a greater being, then that being would be God. However, the God of the Bible is incapable of improvement. Hence, He alone is worthy of my thoughts, my time, my worship. The fact that God by definition is a being of which no other greater being can be imagined (since He possesses attributes like omniscience, omnipotence and all-goodness), then He alone is Perfect, since He is completely-complete or perfect.
One final application of Divine perfection relates to how one thinks of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Divine Person of the Son came to incarnate Himself in true humanity (see John 1:14; Philippians 2:4-11; Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 2:11-14). Touching His divinity, Christ never changes (Hebrews 1:8) and is the same yesterday, today and forever (Revelation 1:8). By way of His incarnation, we discover that Christ took unto His Person a truly human nature so that I as a human being could somehow participate, have access to and enjoy the otherwise inaccessible Divine Perfection of which He shares with the Father and Spirit as One God (see Romans 9:5; 1 Timothy 2:5; 2 Peter 1:3-4). Christ alone, as truly God and truly man, bridges by His Person the otherwise inaccessible, infinite divide between God in His infinite perfection and everything else. Truly Christ alone makes knowing God in salvation not merely a possibility, but a reality for those who by grace through faith trust in Him as Savior, Lord and Treasure (see John 14:6; Acts 4:12).