The Attributes and Names of God
By: Ron Wilhoit
An Indescribable God!
To picture someone as great as God, ordinary, common words are useless. The most eloquent description in our dictionary could never adequately express His greatness. God simply cannot be portrayed by the human language.
Three words often used to categorize His limitless attributes carry the prefix “omni”, meaning “all”. Perhaps these traits may bring our indescribable God to a clearer focus.
“Omnipresent” means that God is everywhere at the same time. He is both near and far off. His size cannot be comprehended with the human mind. The Bible says,
“Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth?” (Jeremiah 23:24).
One Sunday morning, a professor shared a seat on a bus with a small boy. Evidently the youth was on his way to church, since he carried a Bible and Sunday School papers.
“My boy,” said the man, expecting to have some fun with the child, “tell me where God is and I’ll give you an apple.” The boy promptly replied, “I’ll give you a whole barrel of apples if you tell me where He ain’t!”
“Omniscient” means that God knows everything. Nothing is hidden from Him. Job tells us,
“For his eyes are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings” (Job 34:21).
When Bishop Watts-Ditchfield was a small boy, an aged saintly lady asked him to read the words of a motto hanging on her wall. He read, “Thou, God, seest me.”
Then she explained, “Laddie, folks say that God’s eye is on you to mark your sins and catch you in some wrong. But always remember, because He loves you, He never loses sight of you-even for a little moment. In fact, He loves you so much, He can’t keep His eyes off of you!”
Here are other magnificent features:
* He hears every word that is spoken (Psalm 139:4).
* Darkness hides nothing from Him (Psalm 139:12).
* He is the source and well-spring of all knowledge and wisdom (Romans 11:33).
* The future is as obvious to Him as the past (Isaiah 42:9).
* He sees the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).
* He knows every secret (Daniel 2:2).
“Omnipotent” describes the power at God’s command. He is the Almighty, the Ruler of all!
“Both riches and honor come of thee, and thou reignest over all; and in thine hand is power and might; and in thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all” (I Corinthians 29:12).
He considers nothing impossible.
“. . . With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)
Human beings are subject to many limitations; God has none. He has power to do anything. Yet He will do nothing contrary to His own nature or Word-such as lie or steal. Nor will He do anything self-contradictory or absurd, such as making a triangular circle or dry water.
Infinite is another depiction of God. He is not limited to time or space. He is exceedingly great in, excellence and capacity; boundless; immeasurable!
Eternal is another description. God is not here today and gone tomorrow. He has always existed and will never cease to exist. His Kingdom is everlasting!
“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8)
How God Relates to Man
Now let’s compare God’s nature with mankind.
“God is Holy”
Often we read in our Bibles, “the Holy One” (Psalm 89:18, Isaiah 43:14-15, Isaiah 47:4). No other word quite expresses God’s nature as specifically as does “holy”. God’s Holiness is His separateness from man and all His creation.
“Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11)
Holiness also refers to God’s moral perfection-light in contrast to darkness (John 1:5, I Timothy 6:16). Because God is Holy, He cannot fellowship with sinful man. Sin, (which is disobeying God’s Word), created the gap between God and man.
“God is Righteous”
How do holiness and righteousness differ? Righteousness is holiness in action. It is acting right toward others.
“The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works” (Psalms 145:17)
God manifests this attribute when He vindicates the innocent, condemns the wicked, and enforces justice. Since God is righteous, He must not only deal righteously with us, but He requires righteousness from men. Consequently, He cannot allow the wicked to escape punishment.
“God is Love”
It is not simply that God loved, but that He is love itself. Love is not merely one of His attributes, but His very nature- The love of God as spontaneous and free to all.
“We love him, because he first loved us” (I John 4:19)
Charles Spurgeon’s friend built a new barn and topped it with a weather vane. On it appeared the words, “God is Love”.
“Why did you put that text of Scripture on a weather vane? Do you mean that God’s love is as changeable as the wind?” Spurgeon asked. “I mean,” the farmer replied, “that God is love whichever way the wind blows.”
Such is the God your Bible reveals. He is infinitely powerful, but infinitely compassionate; infinitely wise, but infinitely good; infinitely just, but infinitely merciful. He’s the only Being worthy of universal worship.
“God is Faithful”
God never fails, never falters, and never goes back on His Word (I Kings 8:56). The Bible is filled with examples of God’s faithfulness. More than four thousand years ago, He said,
“While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22)
Every year is a fulfillment and fresh witness to the fact that “. . . He is faithful that promised.”
“God is Merciful”
His mercy is clearly seen in His dealings with sinners. For many years He waited in Noah’s day before executing judgment; mercy was extended to Israel for forty years in the wilderness; and still today, God is compassionate toward those who continually transgress His laws.
“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
His mercy is boundless, free, undeserved, and unending.
“God is Good”
The word “God” comes from the same Saxon root as “good”, thus beautifully expressing Deity’s foremost attribute. Goodness is daily extended to His creatures with provisions, natural pleasures, and beauties to enjoy.
“The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him” (Nahum 1:7)
Many ask, “If He is good, why is there so much suffering and sorrow in the world? Would a good God send people to Hell?” But much suffering results from insisting on our own way. In many instances, sorrow is totally unrelated to personal wrong-doing.
God sends no one to Hell. Each person sends himself. He has made full provision for us to be forgiven, redeemed, cleansed, and ready for Heaven. All that remains is receiving His gift of eternal life. If man sins against God’s goodness, he can only blame himself.
God’s Inner Nature The Bible states clearly that God is a Spirit. But what is a “spirit”? That is like asking-what is the wind? We know when it fills the sails and drives our boat. But we can’t see it.
The story of a boy whose kite had soared out of sight suggests a deep truth. When asked how he knew the kite was up there when no one could see it, he answered, “Because I can feel it tugging at the strings, pulling at me.”
Like the wind, the Spirit of God is invisible, immaterial, and powerful. Our Bible gives definite proof that in His Spirit form, God cannot be seen with human eyes, just as the human spirit cannot be seen or touched:
“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and truth” (John 4:24)
“No man has seen God at any time,” the Bible declares in John 1:18. But every man, woman, and child can feel the pull of the Divine Spirit and know that God is for real.
In the Rospigliosi Palace in Rome is Guido Reni’s famous painting, “The Aurora.” His work is unequalled in that period for nobility of line, poetry; and color. Painted on a lofty ceiling, as you stand on the pavement looking up, your neck stiffens, your head grows dizzy, and the figures become hazy and indistinct. Therefore, the owner of the palace has mounted a broad mirror near the floor to reflect the picture. You can sit down and study the wonderful work in comfort.
Jesus Makes God Visible!
Jesus Christ does precisely that for us when we try to get some notion of God. He is the mirror of Deity. He is the express image of God’s Person. He interprets God to our dull hearts. In Him, God becomes visible and intelligible to us.
We cannot by any amount of searching find out God. The more we try, the more we are bewildered. Then Jesus Christ appears. He is God stooping to our level, enabling our feeble thoughts to get some real hold on God, the Spirit Himself.
Many Biblical students see the scene presented on the road to Emmaus as the picture of God’s purpose. ” . . . While they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.” (Luke 24:15).
He seeks men. It is as though the Eternal Spirit found a vehicle through which His concern may reach to find companionship with man. It is as though Providence is saying, “This is what I have been seeking to do through the centuries. This is how I want to come near and go with you-down the plainest road, leading to the simplest village, to the humblest homes and hearts.”
“God is One”
First of all the commandments is:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).
Established in the Old Testament and echoed in the New Testament by Jesus Himself, this commandment is the fundamental doctrine of the Christian religion. We therefore teach that there is one God, the Lord Jehovah.
“The Lord he is God; there is none else beside him: (Deuteronomy 4:35).
“O Lord, there is none like thee, neither is there any God beside thee, according to all that we have heard with our ears” (I Chronicles 17:20)
“..I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour” (Isaiah 43:10-11)
“One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:6)
“But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him..” (I Corinthians 8:6)
The Great Controversy
More controversy has arisen among Christian people concerning the Godhead than any other religious subject. Almost everyone agrees that God is eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, holy, full of love and mercy, righteous, and just. It’s the various theories about the Godhead that have caused much confusion and error.
To gain a better idea of the variety of opinions on this topic, let’s examine a few of these theories. Before you take sides, look at all sides!
Atheism (or, “No God!”)
The word “theism” is the belief in a God. “Atheism” comes from the Greek word “atheos”, meaning: without God; or the denial that a God exists.
A man was considered atheist by the Greeks if he denied the existence of their state gods. Pagans called Christians atheists for refusing to acknowledge and worship the heathen gods. Today, an atheist is someone who either denies, is ignorant of, or is forsaken by God.
Throughout the Bible, no reference is made to men from whose mind the thought of God is erased. It never condescends to argue with an atheist. Rather, God’s Word declares,
“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God..” (Psalms 53:1).
Monotheism (or, “One God!”)
Monotheism is the ancient doctrine that God is one, not many. Judaism, Islam (Mohammedanism), and Christianity all agree in this respect. However, the Jew and the Moslem vehemently reject the least approach to a Trinitarian conception of Deity.
The Jews’ Messiah will be the One God of the Old Testament coming in the form of man. Moslems believe there is no God but Allah.
Ditheism (or, “Two Gods!”)
Ditheism is a belief in two gods. Somehow, the nature of God created the Son of God in the beginning, who in turn, by delegated authority, created all things. This is supposedly the Son of God’s origin in the Sonship relationship. God Himself was uncreated while the Son was created. This theory is similar to a Senior and Junior God.
Tritheism (or, “Three Substances!”)
Tritheism is the belief in three distinct Gods, or substances in the Godhead. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three coequal, distinct Beings, united by one common will and purpose. Each has a body, soul, and spirit.
Pantheism (or, “God-Nature!”)
Pantheism is the doctrine that all things are simply modes or manifestations of God. God and nature are supposedly one and the same. Men’s souls are only modifications of the Divine substance. Consequently, pantheism ignores the personality of both God and man and eradicates a consciousness of sin. Thus, man is turned into a self-idolater.
Atheists understand and believe in nature and all that has been created-but deny there is any God. Pantheists believe in the existence of a Divine Being, but feel that He is the same as nature. There is no nature except God.
Christians understand that both God and nature exist. However, they believe what the Bible says about God existing before the universe was ever created.
Materialism (or, “Only Matter!”)
Materialism is the doctrine that denies the existence of spirit or anything but matter. According to this belief, there could be no intelligent and personal Creator.
Creation itself is inconceivable and therefore impossible. The spirit is absolutely denied and matter is the fundamental principle of all things.
Humanism (or, “Man-Worship!”)
Humanism places its central importance and value in man- his abilities, aspirations, and achievements in this earthly life. This belief is based on the theory that man is basically good, rather than sinful, that evolution is responsible for man’s origin, and there is no life after death. Therefore, man’s goals should be self-indulgence, rights-without-responsibilities, and actively pursuing the “good life”.
Trinity (or, “One God in Three Persons!”)
The doctrine of the Trinity is that One God exists in three separate and distinct Persons. This, they confess, is a mystery above human reason. But since God is supernatural, or above nature, why must He be understood only in natural terms?
In the one Divine nature is the distinction of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as three Subjects or Persons. These three share equally, and in common with one another, the nature and perfection of the One True God. To sum it up, three Persons are co-equal, co-eternal, and co-existent as One God.
Christian Monotheism (“One God With Three Manifestations!”)
Christian monotheists differ with Trinitarians on many points. With the Jews, they fully agree that there is only One God. But this One God of the Old Testament has come to earth as the Messiah-Jesus Christ. The Christian God and the Hebrew God are exactly the same, with identical attributes.
After Jesus’ Ascension, this same One God sent His Spirit into the hearts of people as the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Although Jesus Christ is the One God of the Old Testament, His Body does not contain all of God. Jesus is God in Human form, but God is also an omnipresent Spirit. God’s total quantity is not enclosed within the small Body of the Savior, but the total quality of the Godhead resides in Jesus. His is the only Body in the Godhead and all that can be seen with humaneyes (Colossians 2:9).
Christian monotheists resent the word “Person” being used to describe the Godhead. This term is used to identify human beings only. The substance of God is Spirit-not flesh, blood, and bones as in mankind. If the term “Person” is to be used at all, it should be limited to Jesus Christ as the Son of Man, since He was truly a Human Being.
However, Christian monotheists do not deny the Father, Son, or Holy Ghost. They only reject the idea expressed in such terms as: three separate and distinct Persons in the Godhead; or God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.
God has manifested or expressed Himself to the world in three principal ways:
* As the Father, He created us, loves, and provides for man.
* The Father changed a portion of Himself into a body of flesh and bones and lived among men in the form of the Son of God, or Jesus Christ.
* After Jesus ascended to Heaven, the Father came to live in the hearts of men in a spiritual form known as the Holy Ghost. When His Spirit comes into our lives, we then become sons of God.
To some, it may seem useless to discuss the importance of Godhead theories. What difference would it make? You believe One in three and I’ll believe three in One. But much more is involved. The Godhead question is strongly linked with water baptism. Trinitarians refuse Jesus’ Name baptism because it interferes with their theory about three Persons.
What’s In A Name!
Your name is special to you. It identifies and distinguishes you from everyone else on earth. One philosopher claims, “The sweetest music to any human ear is the sound of his very own name.
In our search to better understand God, it is important to consider individually the names He used to describe Himself. Each signified a specific relationship of the great Divine with all mankind. Whenever He was approached, caution was needed to prevent people from “taking the name of the Lord in vain.” Even before writing the Name of the Lord, a Jewish scribe was obliged to wash himself, put on a clean linen garment, and be free from every defilement.
Discovering God is like opening boxes within boxes, secrets within secrets, mysteries within mysteries-but in reverse. One opens a little box only to find a bigger box, a bigger world, a bigger universe.
Let’s discuss several names of God in the Old Testament:
The Hebrew word “Elohim” (El-o-heem), translated into English as “God”, appears around 2,500 times in the Old Testament. “God” or “Elohim” is first connected with creation.
“In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1)
Elohim is the living God, the power of creation. The abbreviated singular form of Elohim is “EL.”
“Yahweh” or “Jehovah”
The Elohim of Israel identified Himself with a very special Name. No one today is absolutely certain of that Name’s exact pronunciation since the written Hebrew did not utilize vowels in script. Only in the spoken language were vowel sounds used. Many centuries later, Jewish scholars added makeshift vowels to the Hebrew Bible. Still, no attempt was made to add the vowels of God’s own Name. Devout Jews have always believed that pronouncing God’s Name might mean taking that Name “in vain.”
An approximate rendering of the Hebrew “YHWH” is usually pronounced as “Yahweh” (Yah-way). This Name is found more than 7,000 times in the Old Testament and carries a special connotation. In the Hebrew language, Yahweh signifies “existence,” thus referring to God as “the Self-Existent One”, or “the Eternal”-He “WHO WAS, and IS, and IS TO COME”.
While Elohim is used for both the true God and false gods, “Yahweh” is used only for the true God.
Another word that is often used to transliterate “YHWH” is the Name “Jehovah.” (“Transliterate” means to express or write in the alphabetic characters of another language.)
However, some scholars do not feel that Jehovah is a worthy transliteration nor an acceptable translation of the original.
Yahweh, or Jehovah is translated into English by the word, “LORD”. As God was revealed to His people, He introduced Himself as the LORD (Jehovah), the Elohim (God) of Israel.
To Abraham, He spoke:
“I am the Almighty God (El); walk before me and be perfect” (Genesis 17:1)
The Name “Jehovah” reveals God’s moral and spiritual attributes of righteousness, holiness, love and redemption.
These qualities are also compounded with God’s Name to portray some aspect of His character in meeting human need.
Ten different words are combined with Jehovah, usually in some historic incident, to further demonstrate what Jehovah is really like. These are known as “the Jehovah Titles.” The Jehovah Titles are:
* Jehovah-Jireh – Jehovah will see or provide (Genesis 22: 14)
* Jehovah-Rophe – Jehovah that healeth thee (Exodus 15:26)
* Jehovah-Nissi – Jehovah, my banner (Exodus 17:15)
* Jehovah-M’Kaddesh – Jehovah that doth sanctify you (Exodus 31:13)
* Jehovah-Shalom – Jehovah (send) peace (Judges 6:24)
* Jehovah-Zabaoth – Jehovah of hosts (I Samuel 1:3)
* Jehovah-Tsidkenu – Jehovah, our righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6)
* Jehovah-Shammah – Jehovah is there (Ezekiel 48:35)
* Jehovah-Rohi – Jehovah, my Shepherd (Psalm 23:1)
* Jehovah-Elyon – Jehovah Most High (Psalm 7:17)
The next booklet in this series, “How Has God Revealed Himself to Man?”, tells how the mighty Jehovah God of the Old Testament revealed His new Name, Jesus, to the world.