“Great is the Lord,” David once wrote; “his greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3). There are certain characteristics of God that we share with Him. We call these “communicable” attributes, and they include things like love, holiness, wisdom, etc. While we don’t manifest these character traits to the infinite degree as God, we nevertheless can display something of God’s moral character, His love, His wisdom.
But there are other characteristics that are unique to God Himself. We call these “incommunicable” attributes, and they include things that center around God’s essential greatness. What this means is that while we may have no trouble seeing God’s love in ourselves or others, we can’t possibly place ourselves in David’s Psalm without it seeming…well, silly. “Great am I…My greatness is unsearchable.” Sure, we may have days when we think it, but we’re a far cry from God’s greatness.
This week our aim is to explore at least some of God’s unique, incommunicable attributes. God is wholly different from you and I—and that’s a good thing.
In her book on God’s unique attributes, Jen Wilkin points out that the difference between ourselves and God is obvious from the day we’re born. Every time a new mother has a baby, everyone wants to know the details: length, weight, eye color, you name it. And the measuring doesn’t stop there. Every day of our lives from birth to death we are measured, evaluated, judged. So ingrained is this in us that we probably do it without thinking. Grades. Salary. Brand of smart phone or automobile. The number of social media followers we have, the number of “likes” we receive on Instagram, the numbers on our bathroom scale—all of these can be a source of measurement, and all of these can lead to feelings of either pride or self-reproach. God isn’t like this. God is beyond measure. We see this in two distinct ways:
- GOD IS SIMPLE
First, God is “simple.” Simple? Isn’t this the same God who invented particle physics? “Simple” means that God is self-sufficient; He is self-sustaining. He needs nothing to exist; He is perfect in Himself.
We see this from the Bible’s opening pages:
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
The creation story affirms that there is an essential difference between Creator and His creation. God exists independently of the created world, a point that Paul repeats in front of a panel of skeptics in the city of Athens:
24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. (Acts 17:24-25)
What this means is that God isn’t what we would call “high maintenance.” We’ve all seen couples where one partner is high maintenance. We usually blame the woman for her chronic need to re-apply makeup or for her massive collection of shoes. But really men can be just as high-maintenance, with their expressed need for their “man-cave” with their deer heads positioned just right. Every single one of us depends on everything else in creation to be happy—even to survive. You’re only here because your parents created you.
God isn’t like that. He needs nothing. Jesus even affirmed that “as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son also to have life in Himself” (John 5:26). Everything in modern science today tells us that creation comes first, then life begins. God’s story tells us that life has always existed, and creation springs up as an extension of the life that has always been in God.
You may have wondered from time to time: Who created God? But divine simplicity tells us that no one created God; no one had to. Like an artist at his canvas, God paints His character across the fabric of the universe—but He always remains separate from the painting.
- GOD IS ETERNAL
Secondly, God’s simplicity naturally means that God is eternal. Why are these ideas connected? Because if God is independent of His creation, He is likewise independent of time. What is time? Time is a sequence of events: one rotation of the earth gets called a “day;” one trip around the sun gets called a “year.” But if God is self-sufficient, He is unaffected by these events and these changes. He is outside of time, and therefore can’t be measured the same way.
This seems positively mind-boggling. As much as we might appreciate the explanatory power of science, I for one am thankful that these truths are recorded in the more-universal language of poetry:
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
4 For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night. (Psalm 90:2-4)
Again, God is not limited by time in the same way that we are. This same truth is repeated in the text of Isaiah:
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable. (Isaiah 40:28)
God is eternal because God cannot be measured by time.
Now, this might provoke a question: What was God doing before the world was created? Well, that’s simple—yet unfathomable(!). There was no “before.” Where there is no time, there can be no “before.” Time came into existence only when God spoke the universe into being. If we insist on asking about God’s activity “prior” to that, we can only speak of God’s self-sufficient community of persons (Father, Son, and Spirit) existing in perfect, timeless harmony
WHY IT MATTERS
Why does any of this matter? Because all of us are changed and affected by circumstance. All it really takes is for our car to break down and we feel like life is in shambles. God is immeasurable; He is beyond limits. I can’t trust my car to keep running, I can’t trust my career not to end, I can’t trust my spouse or my friends to always keep me happy. I can trust that the God of the universe, the God of interstellar space and the Higgs Boson, is immeasurable and beyond my wildest dreams. He never changes. He never fails.