Acts 17:24-26 "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; 26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation."
Today's post will expound a Christian understanding of God's Divine essence or being. The thoughts below represent a portion of a talk I'll be presenting at a local community college that features a panel composed of other participants from other religions. Although the talk is far from comprehensive, it is hoped that what is described below brings glory to God and expounds clearly what Biblical Christianity has to say about God. As a final note: in the course of the post, I'll mention areas of difference that Christianity's concept of God has with other major religions (i.e. Judaism, Islam and Hinduism).
How do Christians understand the Divine being of God? He is P.U.R.E
God is the focus of the 66 books of the Bible (which contains 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books). A person can know God but never hope to comprehend Him. As a Christian, I am committed to the view of God called "Christian theism", which contends that God is the greatest conceivable being, of which no greater can be conceived, and that this God is decisively revealed by Jesus.
I'll explain the Christian understanding of God's divine being with the acrostic P.U.R.E. to aid in clarity on this subject.
1. First, God is Personal.
When I talk about God's divine being, the letter "p" designates that God is personal. The most frequently mentioned title or name of God in the Old Testament (5766 times) is that of Jehovah (also pronounced "Yahweh"), which translated means: "I am Who I am". A name tells us about the character of the one who bears it. God's most intimate name, "Jehovah", was revealed to people (like Moses) to express how the Biblical God is non-dependent on anything for His existence and personally invested in the affairs of His people who trust in Him by faith.
The Hebrew Old Testament also used another designation to clue us in on God as personal, namely "Father", found nearly ten times with reference to His covenant with the Jewish nation.
When we come to the New Testament, the Old Testament designation "Father" is shown personal by Jesus and His followers over 100 times.
The New Testament clues us in on further revelation of God as Personal by telling us something about Jesus Himself. The Old Testament hints at God having some-sort of plurality of personhood expressing His being (Psalm 2:7; Proverbs 30:4). Jesus, as a true man, was not just a man. The writers of the New Testament used the phrase: "Jesus is LORD". The implicit plurality of personhood as expressing Divine being in the Old Testament is made explicit by Jesus' life, death and resurrection. This second Person, the Son, came to reveal who God is to us by also becoming man for us. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 8:6 -
"yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him."
As we study further how personal God is, we discover in the second verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:2, that God is also identified as yet another Divine Person, the Holy Spirit. Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit in John 14:17 -
"I will send you another comforter and he shall not only abide with you but be in you."
The biblical revelation of Deity as One "what" (God), that is three "Whos" (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), is what Christians call "The Trinity". The revelation of God as "Trinity" is unique to Christianity, and thus denied by religions such as Judaism, Islam and Hinduism.
So we have seen already that God is personal. Now let's note secondly that God is a unity. Christians confess that God is one in being (i.e. "monotheism"). For example, we confess together with Judaism its central text, the Great Shema, as found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 -
“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might."
Jesus identified this text in answer to a question about what constitutes the greatest command in Matthew 22:37.
When Christians talk about Divine monotheism, they affirm oneness of being that is expressed in a three-fold personhood. Some may think that this is a contradictory idea. However, for something to be a logical contradiction, we have to have two completely different ideas coexisting in the same relationship and in the same way (such as a "married bachelor" or "square circle"). We don't see that with the Christian understanding of God. God is one "what" (i.e. God) and three "whos" (Father, Son and Spirit). Thus, the Trinity escapes from the charge of being a logical contradiction.
As we continue in the Christian explanation of God's being, we have considered how God is personal as Father, Son and Spirit and unified in being. We now turn to the letter "r" of our acrostic in identifying God as "Redeemer". The idea of redemption, when applied to God, speaks of how He went to great lengths to purchase salvation and have it applied to anyone who will respond to Him in faith. Isaiah 43:11 states: “I, even I, am the Lord, and there is no savior besides Me." The New Testament states in John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes on him will not perish but have everlasting life". Islam and Hinduism may contain rituals and moral imperatives, however, with respect to their concepts of deity, there is no developed idea of deity being a redeemer.
We have so far considered that God is personal, unified in being, and the Redeemer. Our final letter "e" represents God as eternal. When we say that God is eternal, we are talking about how He is timeless with respect to the world and unlimited in His life and attributes. There was a point in which the world did not exist. In contrast, God has always existed without beginning. Some of the qualities or attributes that Christians employ in describing God's eternity are He being all-knowing, or omniscient; all-powerful or omnipotent; everywhere present or omnipresent and all-good or omni-benevolent. There are many other such traits that Christians use to highlight the Biblical teaching of God's eternity.
Christians assert the need for God's eternity by seeing all of life and its responsibilities and relationships in light of Him. I echo the words of C.S. Lewis - "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."
In today's post we briefly considered how Christians understand the Divine being of God. God is p.u.r.e, that is:
The above four points rely upon the Biblical revelation of God as a Trinity of Persons sharing in the same, undivided, Divine essence (i.e. deity). The doctrine of the Trinity leads us to the profound personal expression of God by way of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Christian asserts that God is one God - hence the second point of God being unified with respect to His deity. The third point of redeemer captures God's chief role in how He relates to His creation. As redeemer, the Second Person of the Trinity came into history as God with us (i.e. "Immanuel", see Matthew 1:23) to experience and partake in true humanity as man for us (i.e. what is called "incarnation", 1 Timothy 2:5). The incarnation of the Redeemer meant the Son could live, die rise and ascend has the historical Jesus who also is the Christ of Christian faith. All true Christians look forward to Jesus' second coming, at which He will resolve history's evils and usher in His Kingdom. Lastly, we spoke of God as "eternal", referencing those attributes which are proper to deity: omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence and so forth. Divine eternity speaks of that quality of life unique to God which is independent of creation and which makes Him worthy of worship.