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What is God Like?
By Gary F. Zeolla
The title of this article is an important question every person needs to ask. It will be answered by looking at what the Bible has to say about various aspects of the nature of God.(1)
God: An Active, Personal Spirit
The Mormon church teaches, "God possesses a body of flesh and bone, as man... He has arms, hands, body, legs and feet. "(2) Jehovah's Witnesses teach, "[God] does not have a material body, he has a spiritual one... God is a real person who lives at a certain place in heaven. "(3)
Are either of these views correct? Does God have a physical or spiritual body? Is He bound to one particular place in space? To answer these questions, we need to check the final authority on the subject, God, and see what He has revealed about Himself in the Word of God, the Bible.
Jesus said, "God is spirit..." (John 4:24). This was in answer to a question about which of two places to worship (John 4:20). The point of the answer was that there was no one correct place to worship God since He was not localized to being at one place at a time. Elsewhere, Jesus said, "...a spirit does not have flesh and bones... (Luke 24:39). Hence, if God is spirit, how can He have "flesh and bones" as Joseph Smith taught?
Mormons will appeal to Old Testament passages that speak of God's arms, hands, feet, etc. (Exodus 15:16; 33:32; Isaiah 60:13; etc.). Since man is created in God's image (Genesis 1:26), they reason that God must look like us.
Problem is, the Bible also talks about the wings of God (Ruth 2:12; Psalm 17:8; 36:37). I have yet to see a man with wings! The purpose of this type of language is to teach about an attribute of God. In the case of wings, the security He gives to those who trust in Him is being indicated (see Matt 23:37). Arms refers to His power, eyes to His omniscience, feet to His omnipresence.
The last point needs elaboration. If God has a body, either physical or spiritual, then He could be measured by height, length and/or depth calculations. After Solomon finished building the temple, he prayed, "...heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain thee, how much less this house I have built!" (1 Kings 8:27). That's one tall man! Jeremiah reiterated the same idea when God said through him, "do not I fill the heavens and the earth?" (23:24).(4)
Paul brings the same concept of God into the New Testament when he writes, "one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all" (Eph 4:6).
If God had a body, He would be visible. However, Paul proclaims, "Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God..." (1 Tim 1:17). Job states, "Were He to pass by me, I would not see Him." (9:11).
All of this is not to say that God is an impersonal force as the New Age Movement teaches. The Bible presents God as speaking (Gen 1:3), acting (Exodus 7-10), experiencing emotions (Psalm 33:11) and wisdom (Job 12:13). He also creates (Gen 1:1), teaches (Psalm 25:4) and loves (Exodus 34:6). These are personal attributes. It is in these attributes that the Bible speaks about man being created in God's image.
The conclusion, therefore, is that God is an invisible, infinite, active, personal Spirit. He is not localized by a body, neither material nor spiritual.
God's Many-Splendored Character
Jesus taught that, "the Father has life in Himself..." (John 5:26). This means that God is self-existent. He is not dependent on anyone or anything else to sustain His being (Acts 17:25). This is in contrast to human beings. Paul preached, "for in Him we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28).
Being self-existent, God is eternal; He had no beginning. (Isaiah 43:13; Psalm 90:2). This differs from men and women whose bodies and spirits He created (Gen 2:7; Zech 12:1).
In other ways, God Is intrinsically different from us. He is omniscient; thus, He cannot be taught anything (Job 21:22; 40:7). He knows all things past, present and future (Isaiah 46:9f). This is in contrast to the false gods that people create for themselves (Isaiah 41:21 -23).
Also, God is unchanging as opposed to us who do change (Num. 23:19). Hence, His promises will never fail; He can be trusted always (Isaiah 14:27).
When God ordains something to come to pass, it does (Isaiah 14:27). This is because He is Almighty (Gen 17:1) and "with God, all things are possible" (Matt 19:26). This is unlike our plans which can be thwarted (Psalm 33:11).
God is perfectly holy (Rev 4:11). Hence, men and women who are fallen, cannot stand in His presence without first being justified (Isaiah 6:1-7).
In line with His holiness, God detests all forms of evil and evil persons (Hos 9:15; Prov 15:8f, 26; 28:9; Psalm 5:4-6). Therefore, His wrath must fall on all sinners (Heb 10:31; 12:29). Since all are sinners (Rom 3:23), we all stand condemned before the Holy One (Rom 2:5).
However, God is love (1John 4:8) and desires fellowship with us (Isaiah 45:22). He sent His Son to die and bear His wrath against our sins (Rom 5:8; John 3:16). This acceptance by God is appropriated by faith in Jesus' death and resurrection (Rom 4:25-5:1; 10:9f).
God's Unity Includes Three Persons
To establish whether the Bible teaches that God is triune in nature is rather straightforward. First, it must be shown that there is only one God or Lord.(5)
Second, it must be demonstrated that there are three distinct Persons who all are by nature God. If both propositions are true, then, the only conclusion is that somehow God is three in one.
To establish there is only one God is very easy. There are hundreds of verses that teach this. Deut 6:4; Isaiah 43:l0f; 44:6,8; 45:5f,18,21f are a few notable examples.
That the Father is God is usually beyond dispute (Isaiah 63:16, 64:8; Phil 2:11; Jude 1). Dispute begins with the person of Jesus Christ.
The Deity of Jesus can be established in several ways. First, there are a dozen references in the Bible where Jesus is explicitly called God or ascribed Deity (Isaiah 9:6; John 1:1,18; 5:18; 20:28; Acts 20:28; Rom 9:5; Heb 1:8; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1; Phil 2:6f; Col 2:9).
Second, there are numerous places where quotations from the Old Testament referring to Jehovah that are applied to Jesus in the New Testament. Compare the following pairs of verses: Mark 1:2 with Mal 3:1; John 19:37 with Zech 12:10; Acts 10:36 with Deut 10:14; Eph 5:14 with Isaiah 26:19 and 60:1; Phil 2:10 with Isaiah 45:23; Heb 1:10 with Psalm 102:25; 1 Peter 2:3 with Psalm 34:8.
Third, Jesus claimed divine attributes. He claimed the ability to forgive sins which only God can do (Mark 2:5-7). He placed His own words on par with the words of God (Matt 5:21f; 31f). He claimed to be omnipresent (Matt 18:20, 28:20) and self-existent (John 5:26; 8:24, 58). In the last two references, He equated Himself with the Great "I Am" of the Old Testament (Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 43:10; Deut. 32:39).
Fourth, attributes of God are ascribed to Jesus by others. Jesus is seen as being omniscient (Matt 17:27; John 2:25f; 16:30; 21:17), immutable, i.e. not able to change, (Heb 13:8), eternally, pre-existent (Isaiah 9:6, Micah 5:2), worthy of worship (Matt 14:33,28:9, John 9:38;20:28; Heb 1:6) and a receiver of prayer (Acts 7:59f; 1Cor 12:8; 1John 5:31f).
Fifth, the Old Testament theophanies (appearances of God to people), are actually appearances of Jesus. This can be determined because Jesus declares, "Not that anyone has seen the Father..." (John 6:46). A comparison of John 12:41 with Isaiah 6:1 will confirm that it is the Son, not the Father appearing. Yet Isaiah specifically says, "I saw the LORD", i.e. Jehovah.
Sixth, the appearance of the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament are an interesting study. Sometimes the Angel of the Lord and the Lord are presented as two distinct individuals and at other times are viewed as being interchangeable (Exodus 3:2,4; 13:21;14:19; Judges 6:12-15; 13:21f; Joshua 5:14f; 1Chron 21:16, 27; 2 Sam 24:16f).
Seventh, the same situation Is seen in the Revelation. The Lamb and God are seen as separate and yet interchangeable (Rev 7:10, 17;22:1-3).
Eighth, Divine titles are ascribed to both Jesus and God; yet, these titles are such that there can only be one who holds them. Compare the following verses where both are called "The Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last" (Isaiah 44:6; Rev 1:1 7f; 2:8; 22:12-16), "King of kings and Lord of lords" (1 Tim 6:16; Rev 17:14; 19:16) and "our Master and Lord" (Greek, despotes kai kurios - Jude 4; Gen. 15:2, LXX).
Lastly, there are three places in the Old Testament that indicate two Jehovahs (Gen 19:24; Zech 2:l0f; 3:1) and one place that indicates two Gods (Psalm 45:7).
Given this wealth of information, the only logical conclusion is that Jesus is God (Jehovah). At the same time, however, Jesus is not the Father (Matt 7:21; 11:25-27; Luke 23:34,46; 1Peter 1:3).
Next comes the Holy Spirit. That the Holy Spirit is a Person and not a force can be shown in several ways.
First, The Holy Spirit possesses personal traits. He can be resisted (Acts 7:51), grieved (Eph 4:30) and lied to (Acts 5:3). He wills (1Cor 12:11), speaks (Acts 21:11), calls (Acts 13:2), teaches (Luke 12:12), thinks (Acts 15:28) and can make intercession (Rom 8:26f).
Second, masculine pronouns are used in reference to the Holy Spirit. This is despite the fact that the Greek word for Spirit (pneuma) is neuter (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7f; Acts 13:2).
Third, Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as another Helper. "Another" in Greek is allos. Greek scholar Joseph Thayer states "Allos generally denotes simply distinction of individuals." This is in contrast to a similar word Jesus could have used but didn't, heteros (different). "Heteros involves the secondary idea of difference of kind."(6) Hence, since Jesus is a Person, the Holy Spirit must be One also.
That the Holy Spirit is God is also easily established. First, he is called God in Acts 5:3f. Second, He possesses divine attributes. He is omnipotent (Luke 1:35-37), omniscient (1Cor 2:10f), omnipresent (Psalm 139:7-10) and eternal (Heb 9:14).
Third, He is involved in divine works. He was active in creation (Gen 1:2; Job 33:4) and the inspiration of Scripture (2Peter 1:21 cf. 2Tim 3:16). He is involved in regeneration (John 3:5, 8), and indwells believers at conversion (Rom 8:9-11; Eph 1:13f).
Yet for all this, the Holy Spirit is a distinct Person from the Father and the Son (Isaiah 48:16; Matt 3:16f; 28:19; 2Cor 13:14).
The last three references are clear allusions to the triune nature of the one true God. This has been established by the Bible's teaching that there is one God; yet, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all God. At the same time, they are distinct Persons. Thus, the Bible clearly teaches there is a plurality in the One Godhead, a three-in-oneness.(7)
God's Grand Design for Human History
God is in control! This statement can be applied in three ways. First, God is in control of nature. God created the universe and by His Word it consists (Gen 1:1; Heb 1 :2f). By virtue of this fact, God is Lord of the Universe. All of nature is under His control (Exod 9:23; Ps 29:3-10; 65:4-11; 89:9,11).
Second, God is the One who orders human history. He is responsible for the rise and fall of nations and kingdoms (Dan 2:21; Rom 13:1). He appoints the rulers of nations and deposes them (Dan 4:17). God uses nations and their leaders to accomplish His purposes (Isaiah 45:1-7; Prov 21:1; Hab 1:1-11). And God's purposes are never thwarted (Psalm 33:11; 115:3; Isaiah 14:26f). It is folly for anyone to think they can overthrow His authority (Psalm 2; 2Chron 20:6).
Thus, human history is going somewhere. It is heading to a Grand Climax where evil will be defeated and God and His people will triumph (Rev 17-21).
Third, God is in control of individual, human destinies. God gave men and women the ability to obey Him (Gen 2:16f). When humankind fell, it was a total fall (Gen 3). The will, intellect, and emotions became corrupted (Matt 15:19). Hence, all humankind is now in rebellion against God and stand condemned before Him (Rom 1:18-23; 3:10-19).
Yet, God, out of His love and mercy, reached down and chose to save some (Matt 22:14). He did so by sending His Son to pay for their sins (Rom 5:8). In order for a totally depraved person to come to Christ for forgiveness, the Father will first draw the person and give the person the ability to believe (John 6:44; 10:26). The person will then be brought into the kingdom (John 6:37-40).
All that God has purposed to save will come and they will be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom 8:29f). Nothing will frustrate His plans for His elect (Rom 8:38f). Nothing ever happens to them that He does not have a divine plan behind (Rom 8:28; 1Peter 1:1-9; Job 1,2).(8)
Suggested Further Reading
The links below are direct links to where the book can be purchased from Books-A-Million.
Bowman, Robert. The Trinity.
Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion .
Millard J. Erickson. Christian Theology .
Lewis, Gordon and Bruce Demarest. Integrative Theology .
Packer, J.l. Knowing God .
Sproul, R.C. One Holy Passion.
Zeolla, Gary F. Scripture Workbook
1) This article is comprised from four "doctrinal papers" handed in as class assignments at Denver Seminary in 1990. The section headings are taken from chapter titles in Integrative Theology (Vol. I, Part Two: "The Living God"), by Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest.
2) Joseph Smith, quoted in Daniel Ludlow, ed. Latter-Day Prophets Speak. USA: Bookcraft, 1988. pp. 278,9.
3) You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth. Brooklyn, NY: The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1989, pp. 36,7.
4) To say these passages refer to God's presence or "holy spirit" (as JWs would put it) is to read something into the texts that isn't there.
5) The word "God" is a translation of the Hebrew word Elohim; LORD, is from Jehovah (or Yahweh). The two terms are used interchangeably in the Old Testament. Hence, they refer to one and the same Being (see Deut 5:2,6,11,12,14,15,16; 1Kings 18:39).
6) Thayer, Joseph. Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon . Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1981, p.243. Compare the usage here with the use of the two words in Galatians 1:6f.
7) For more on this subject, see Doctrine of the Trinity.
8) For one the topics raised in this section, see Calvinism (Reformed Theology).
What is God Like? Copyright © 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).
The above article appeared in The Shield
newsletter in 1980.
It was posted on this Web site February 1989.
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