Thursday, November 30, 2023

Post #24 The Doctrine of God - P2 The Attribute of Divine Perfection, Reflections And Applications


    In our last post we began to look at the Divine attribute of God's perfection here We had offered a provisional definition of God's Divine perfection, "God as the most perfect being is, in-and- of-Himself, incapable of improvement." Put another way, God is "completely complete". We noted in the last post how God's perfection can operate as a communicable attribute - something He shares with His creatures. In this post, we will explore the incommunicable side of this attribute. To remind the reader, an "incommunicable" attribute speaks of what is unique to God, unshared with His creatures.  

    The 11th century theology Thomas Aquinas devotes the fourth question of His massive work "Summa Theologiae" upon the subject of God's perfection. On three occassions Aquinas notes how God, in His perfection, "lacks nothing that is required to be God". What this means is there is no potential in God of becoming better or worse, stronger ror weaker, wiser or more ignorant. He is entirely Perfect. God does not need anything or anyone to supplement His wisdom, strength, or goodness (see Isaiah 43:10-11; Psalm 46:10-11; Romans 11:34-36; 1 Timothy 6:16). 

Nothing in all of creation is like God

    When we talk of God's perfection as an incommunicable attribute, one thing meant is this, nothing in all creation is like God. 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. 

    Tozer tells the story of a group of hikers in the foothills to view a particular mountain. Along the way they are in awe of what they are seeing. For them, that whole mountain range is most supreme. Then suddenly, one of their company screams in panic, for their little three-year old daughter has wandered off. Suddenly the company of hikers become a search party, calling out her name. The little life of a 30lb child is of near-infinite value in comparison to what comparitively is now a large mound of rocks and dirt. When they find the little girl, everything is put into perspective. That mountain scene does not compare to the girl. Multiplied to an infinite degree, not all of creation itself is even close to the perfection of Almighty God. 

    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 one speaker describe God in a lecture, 

"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".

Why all other concepts of deity are mere idols compared to the One, Perfect God

    We've defined God's perfection, and have attempted to illustrate it. How then can we appreciate it? Why does the Bible labor to show that man-made ideas of deity are products of idolatry? 

    The questions raised earlier 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. For sure, faith alloyed with reason is needed. Yet, God's revelation from the Bible must be our guide 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.

    Theologian Paul Helm describes what "perfect being theology" as starting with the assumption that God "is a being than which no greater can be conceived". By getting this fundamental thought of "what makes God, God" fixed in my mind, I can then proceed to work through what are often called "great-making properties" (that is, qualities that differentiates God from everything else). For instance, as I think upon God's omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, goodness, and wisdom, I draw from that central assumption that God alone doesn't merely contain such characteristics, but is completely complete (i.e perfect) in them. God has always had every attribute we've been discussing in this series, never acquiring them at some point. Some Scriptures that provide the basis for such "Perfect-being theology" are Genesis 22:16; Hebrews 6;13-14; 2 Samuel 7:22; Nehemiah 9:32; Jeremiah 32:18; Titus 2:13; Psalm 95:3; 96:4; 77:13; Exodus 18:11; Psalm 145:13.

     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? God is on a different scale of being - namely His own. 

    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 and the ideas of the human imagination. 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.  

    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. 

God's perfection in relationship to His other attributes
   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, Thomas Aquinas, in the section of his massive work "Summa Theologica" on the topic of Divine perfection, He comments on how God's perfection expresses how He possesses all excellencies of life and wisdom in-and-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? Three areas come to mind.

1. Worship. 

    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.”

2. My thought-life. 

    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. How I think of God is related to my worship of Him. Remember, 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. 

3. Knowing Jesus better.

    A 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.  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). 

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