Who is God? – Part 1
“Philip said to him, ‘Show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied’” (See John 14:8-11, RSV).
A seminary professor once told our class, “The most important question theology attempts to answer is, ‘What is God like?’” This, in essence, was Philip’s question to Jesus. Theology is nothing more (or less) than “thinking about God”. Our quest is not so much to understand the “doctrine” of God as to know Him personally. We must acknowledge our inability ever to know another person completely. This inability often results in caricatures – that is, magnifying certain characteristics of a person while ignoring others. In his wonderful little book Your God Is Too Small, J. B. Phillips offers seventeen “destructive images” of God, including images of God as the “resident policeman”, the “grand old man”, and the “pale Galilean”.
Who is God? First, he is a person. He is not an “it” – not an impersonal object or thing. God is not a rock, a tree, or a river! He is more than the “Life Force”. He is more than philosophy’s “uncaused cause” or “unmoved mover”. He is more than theology’s “ground of being” or AA’s “higher power”. Martin Buber, the Jewish theologian, got it right when he called us to an “I-Thou” relationship. This is why we are to love God with all our “heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Mark 12:30). To know God is to enter a personal relationship. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says that “God is Spirit” (4:24). He is real, but not material. He reveals himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The transcendent attributes of God remind us that he is above, different, “over” us. We may speak of his self-existence, meaning that he was not created. We encounter his immutability (never-changing nature), his immensity (meaning that he is bigger than we can conceive). He is eternal – without beginning or ending. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and everywhere present. God’s transcendent attributes call us to humility, reverence, and worship. We might be moved to sing, “How Great Thou Art”! God’s personal attributes include his holiness, righteousness, and the fact that he is “truth” (absolute honesty, veracity, and integrity). In the writings of John we are told that “God is love” (1 John 4:16) – our only “definition” of God in the Bible!
The most important thing for us is that God is good and loving. He wants us to know him and to respond to his grace with love and faithfulness. This is (a small part of) who God is. Next time we will consider what God does.
Dr. Faught is Pastor of The LaFollette United Methodist Church.