Attributes of God Study Notes

Author: Terry Westley
Last updated: May 22, 2024
Copyright ©2024 Terry Westley

What Is God Like?

“What is God like?” If by that question we mean “What is God like in Himself?” there is no answer. If we mean “What has God disclosed about Himself that the reverent reason can comprehend?” there is, I believe, an answer both full and satisfying. For while the name of God is secret and His essential nature incomprehensible, He in condescending love has by revelation declared certain things to be true of Himself. These we call His attributes.

Tozer, A. W. The Knowledge of the Holy. Grapevine India, 2022. Ch 2

This is a work in progress. It will never be finished, for God is infinite. We intend to catalog and study as many attributes of God as he discloses to us in nature, in the Holy Scriptures, but especially in Jesus Christ, who is the “exact imprint of his [God’s] nature.”

We dare to do this because “for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Words About God’s Attributes

It really is important to say a few words about definitions, and specifically definitions about words that are not used in the Bible. Providence is not a word in the English Bible. In that sense, it is like the words Bible, biblical, Trinity, discipleship, evangelism, exposition, counseling, ethics, politics, charismatics.

None of those words is in the Bible, which shows that the reality that words point to is more important than the words themselves, even though the words are precious and indispensable — and in this case with the Bible, inspired and God-given. They are God’s inspired words, but they are pointing to reality. And that reality may be so woven into the Scriptures that it’s helpful to have a word that pulls the threads of reality together — a word that may not be in the Bible itself.

Piper, John. “Are God’s Providence and God’s Sovereignty the Same?,” October 2019.

The fundamental principle of interpretation of all writings, sacred or profane, is that words are to be understood in their historical sense; that is, in the sense in which it can be historically proved that they were used by their authors and intended to be understood by those to whom they were addressed. The object of language is the communication of thought. Unless words are taken in the sense in which those who employ them know they will be understood, they fail of their design. The sacred writings being the words of God to man, we are bound to take them in the sense in which those to whom they were originally addressed must inevitably have taken them. What is the meaning of the word “spirit?” or rather, What is the usus loquendi of the Hebrew and Greek words to which our word “spirit” corresponds? In answering this question, we learn what our Lord meant when he said God is a Spirit.

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology. Henderson Publishers, 2001. Vol I, Part I, Ch V, §4

Other Difficulties

Another difficulty with using words to describe God’s attributes is whether to use the noun or adjective form of a word. God is merciful and He is mercy. Since God is Love (for example), the attributes are who he is, his essence, not a part of him.

We choose words that are comfortable and customary when we say “God is _____.” We can say that God is loving, but we more often say “God is Love.” His attributes are his essence, not descriptive.

In addition to the use of words, there is also a danger in studying God’s attributes one by one as we are doing here. His knowledge is infinite. “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.” (Ps 147:5) His love is infinite. “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (1 Chron 16:34) He is mercifuly holy and graciously holy and infinitely gracious. We cannot fully comprehend this but we’ll have all eternity to learn more and glorify more and enjoy more!

Finally, let us beware of Charles Hodges’s warning in Systematic Theology, Vol I, Ch V:

In attempting to explain the relation in which the attributes of God stand to his essence and to each other, there are two extremes to be avoided. First, we must not represent God as a composite being, composed of different elements; and, secondly, we must not confound the attributes, making them all mean the same thing, which is equivalent to denying them all together.

Terry Westley, 2024, Buffalo, NY

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