· God is perfect with respect to His person.1
“Although God reveals Himself as a personal Being capable of fellowship with man, who we can worship and love, and to whom we can pray with the assurance of being heard and answered; nevertheless He fills heaven and earth; He is exalted above all we can know or think. He is infinite in his being and perfections.”2
“God’s perfection means that God completely possesses all excellent qualities and lacks no part of any qualities that would be desirable for him.”3
“Absence of all limitation and defect.”4
Note: All of God’s attributes are interrelated, interdependent, and inseparable in God. Though listed here as a separate attribute, perfection describes all of God’s attributes, i.e., He is perfect in holiness, perfect in knowledge, perfect in wisdom, etc.5 Indeed, theologians often use the term “perfections” instead of “attributes” to describe the nature of God.
Deuteronomy 32:4: “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.”
Job 37:16: “Do you know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge.”
Psalm 113:4: “The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens!”
· God is eternal with respect to time.
“As He is free from all the limitations of space, so He is exalted above all the limitation of time. As He is not more in one place than in another, but is everywhere equally present, so He does not exist during one period of duration more than another. With Him there is no distinction between the present, past, and future; but all things are equally and always present to Him. With Him duration is an eternal now.”6
Psalm 90:2, 4: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God…. For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.”
Psalm 102:25-27: “Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end.”
Isaiah 57:15a: “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy.”
· God is immense and omnipresent with respect to space.
Immensity and omnipresence “are not different attributes, but one and the same attribute, viewed under different aspects. His immensity is the infinitude of his being, viewed as belonging to his nature from eternity. He fills immensity with his presence. His omnipresence is the infinitude of his being, viewed in relation to his creatures. He is equally present with all his creatures, at all times, and in all places.”7
Immensity has to do with God’s transcendence (i.e., He is not subject to the limitations of space), while omnipresence has to do with God’s immanence (i.e., God is present in all aspects of His creation).8
Jeremiah 23:23-24: “Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.”
Psalm 139:7-10: “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”
Ephesians 1:23: “[The church] which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
Caution: Though God fills all things, and occupies all space, he is not all things, and has no spatial dimensions. The Creator and His creation are distinct. He is everywhere, but He is not everything.
Nothing can be higher than God as infinite. As big as the universe may be, it is small compared to God. The “gap” between God and His creation is infinite. As we noted earlier, if God did not condescend to reveal Himself to the people He created, we could never know Him. The finite cannot comprehend the infinite without the help of the infinite, as it were.
As infinite, God is perfect in every way. All His attributes are absolutely perfect and without defect. As noted with respect to God’s eternal self-existence and self-sufficiency, no standard or authority exists to which God is answerable. God created and sustains all things, while all things depend upon God for everything. As infinite, He is beyond His creation to an infinite extent. He is everywhere always, and transcends the limitations of time. As the source of all truth and knowledge, God is the ultimate authority and standard of truth and cannot possibly be wrong. He answers to no one. To whom or what can a finite human being appeal to criticize or question the will and authority of an infinite God? No such authority can possibly exist. As noted concerning God’s incomprehensibility, created and finite beings are unqualified to contradict what Scripture says God can, cannot, should, or should not do. Indeed, for finite, fallen, and dependent people to question the supreme authority and infinite perfection of their creator is a supreme insult. Charnock writes,
The validity of a proclamation is derived from the authority of the prince that dictates it and orders it; yet, the greater the person that publisheth it, the more dishonour is cast upon the authority of the prince that enjoins it, if it be contemned. The everlasting God ordained it, and the eternal Son published it.9
How much more, then, the infinity of God should give us reason to rest in the trustworthiness of His word, Scripture.
The infinite cannot be constrained by the finite. Without defect or limitation, God cannot be constrained by what He created. He is perfectly free and independent of all things. Yet, one of the most common misrepresentations of God is that He is subject to the limitations of that which He created and sustains. On the contrary, God is infinite and without limits. Many of the objections to the God of Scripture would easily be dismissed if we would merely acknowledge both the infinite nature of God and the limits of our human understanding. God transcends the constraints of the “natural” world.
Apart from God’s revelation, created, finite, and dependent people cannot know what God can and cannot be, or what God can and cannot do, and therefore what is and what is not possible with God and His universe. A brief look at a few representative objections to the nature of God as revealed in Scripture will help illustrate the point.
For instance, some people reject the doctrine that God is omnipresent because “two things cannot occupy the same space.”10 Scientists operating from their limited, human vantage point have observed this as a characteristic of space and matter. But, on what authority does one apply characteristics observed in the created universe to God, who created, sustains, and transcends the universe? God is infinite and without limitations. Human understanding of the laws of physics may say that two different things cannot occupy the same space at the same time, but the transcendent God who created and sustains all things is not so constrained. Apart from God’s revelation, how can finite people know what is possible for an infinite and transcendent God? To what higher authority can one appeal? Scientists can observe and describe the universe as God created and sustains it, but can only offer unjustified guesses as to what a transcendent God can and cannot do. And as all people are equally incapable of knowing truth about the transcendent God apart from His revelation, trust in human opinion as the standard of truth reduces to relativism and the loss of truth. Six billion or more people, each as an “ultimate authority” or standard of truth, reduce to no ultimate authority or standard of truth.
Others claim that God must be constrained by time to interact with people in time. Again, on what authority is the claim based? None can know such a thing apart from God telling them, and Scripture tells us that God transcends time and interacts personally with His people in time. He is transcendent and immanent, beyond and within His world at the same time. Here again, science can do no more than offer an unfounded opinion.
One last example is the claim that “if God fills all things, He must be all things.” Or, if God is immense and omnipresent, we should all be pantheists. But Scripture clearly distinguishes God from His creation. The Potter is not the clay, though the Potter is everywhere and fills the clay. We may not understand how this is possible from our limited perspective, but to what authority can one appeal to say otherwise? The finite cannot possibly know that the infinite God is so constrained. Scientists, again, can only venture a guess. No finite human interpreters are justified in claiming that the transcendent creator of all things is subject to the constraints of what they observe in created reality.
The claim that God is constrained by that which He created and transcends denies the attributes of God as He has revealed them to us in Scripture. God’s infinity and transcendence is denied, His omnipotence is denied, His omnipresence is denied, His knowledge of the past, present, and future at the same time, is denied. To state that God is constrained by aspects of created reality is to deny God as God.
To know what is possible or impossible with God apart from Scripture, one would have to be God, knowing everything about the universe and beyond. Ironically, those claiming that God is subject to the constraints of His creation lack the omniscience to make such claims, even while they contradict Scripture, the only authoritative source of truth about such things. Yet, all unbiblical speculation concerning what is and is not possible with God reduces to unjustified faith in human opinion. And again, when human opinion becomes the ultimate standard of truth, all knowledge becomes relative as truth is reduced to billions of individual opinions. Truth is thereby rendered meaningless and unknowable, as no single ultimate authority exists by which opinions can be measured as true or false.
Opinions about God not only concern knowledge and truth, they are an ethical issue. How one approaches truth and knowledge reflects how one honors the authority and rule of God. To assume that God is constrained by His creation dishonors God by repeating the sin of Adam and Eve. In choosing to eat the forbidden fruit, they assumed for themselves God’s place and prerogative as the ultimate authority and determiner of truth.
In the sin of Adam and Eve we see not only the evil and consequences of willful disobedience to a command of God, we see a presumed role reversal of God as creator and His people as created, a denial of reality as God created it, a presumed usurping of the authority possessed by God alone, a denial of the true source of truth and knowledge, and an ethical irreverence of God as creator and benevolent giver of all good things. In the sin of Adam and Eve, we see the depth and breadth of the evil of sin.
To begin, as created by God, Adam and Eve depended upon God for all things, including all knowledge and truth. God alone is the independent and authoritative source of all truth and knowledge. Adam and Eve owed God all love, honor, and obedience, while God owed them nothing. This was the reality and proper order of things in the garden.
The serpent, however, questioned reality as God created it and proposed for Adam and Eve a false reality where they were ultimate authorities, where they determined knowledge and truth, and where God’s will for them was one alternative among many. In effect, they did not owe God all love, honor, and obedience. Contrary to God’s representation of reality, God did not really want what was best for them. He was merely self-protective, not wanting them to be like Him or to know what He knew. God was neither good nor forthright. The serpent proposed a role reversal in exalting the authority of Adam and Eve over God’s authority, while lowering God to the same level as the serpent as an equally valid alternative. Worse, the serpent asked them to exalt him over God, by calling God a liar and exalting his word over God’s word.
The response of Adam and Eve affirmed the serpent’s distortion of reality, denied their created status and dependence upon God for all knowledge and truth, and denied their debt to love, honor, and obey Him always. When Eve observed the beauty of the fruit and its ability to make her “wise,” she rejected God’s authority and explanation of reality and exalted her own reason over God’s authority and revelation. She assumed that her interpretation of reality was better than God’s interpretation and disregarded God’s command and explanation of the consequences of disobedience. When Adam and Eve contemplated the serpent’s offer instead of rejecting it, they lowered God’s word and will to the level of the word and will of the created serpent. They granted themselves the authority to choose between the word of God and the word of the serpent. In short, they denied the true nature of reality as God created it, they usurped the ultimate authority of God to determine truth and knowledge, and dishonored God to whom they owed all love, honor and obedience. They took upon themselves the place and prerogative of God.
In the sin of Adam and Eve we have a clear picture of the nature of sin and unbelief. They deny human dependence upon God as creator, to whom belongs all love and honor, and usurp His authority to determine truth and knowledge. Unbelief denies God and exalts humanity to God’s rightful place. Unbelief repeats not only the sin of Adam and Eve, but the first sin of Lucifer who sought to exalt himself over the throne of God.11 Tozer put is this way,
Sin has many manifestations but its essence is one. A moral being, created to worship before the throne of God, sits on the throne of his own selfhood and from that elevated position declares, ‘I AM.’ That is sin in its concentrated essence.12
In the role reversal, mankind assumes the place of ultimate authority to determine truth and knowledge, while God’s revelation of Himself and His universe is dismissed as unhistorical and unscientific.
At first glance, the idea that God is debased by exalting Him above fallible human language may sound counterintuitive. Can God really be lowered by raising Him so high? Yet, this is exactly the case. For one, Scripture is replete with clear and unequivocal statements that God has spoken to us in human language and that we can know Him savingly and lovingly by His written word.13 Also, to speak of God as too exalted to be known by language answers yes to the question, is anything too difficult for God? Apparently, using spoken and written language to communicate to and though imperfect people is too difficult for God. He can create us in His image, but His power and wisdom to personally communicate with us in human language is thwarted by our imperfections. His perfection and transcendence somehow limit His capabilities.
The problems associated with this assertion are the same problems with claims that God is constrained by the universe He created, sustains, and transcends. First, the claim contradicts itself. No one could know that God is too exalted to be known by human language apart from God telling them with meaningful and understandable human language. And if God were to communicate such a notion through subjective impressions in the heart or mind, to understand and articulate its meaning would require language. Subjective impressions are meaningless without specific content. Curiously, those who speak of God being unknowable by human language tend to say a great deal about God. John Frame makes this interesting point.
Theologians who make much of the ‘wholly otherness’ of God are not in the least restrained in their writing and speaking about God. Typically, they have gone ahead to write great tomes, developing elaborate theories about God’s nature and existence, his attributes, and the relations among the persons of the Trinity, as if they had entirely forgotten their initial agnosticism.14
Apart from knowledge of God by the definitive revelation from God, one wonders why some scholars spend a lifetime writing about that which language is wholly unable to describe, and why anyone would pay attention to their unfounded opinions.15
Second, the claim exalts human reason as the ultimate authority over God’s revelation and authority. Proponents of the view presume their own authority to determine what God can and cannot be and do, contrary to Scripture’s clear teaching. Yet, while they lack the omniscience necessary to make claims about God apart from specific revelation from God, they contradict the special revelation God has provided. Here, again, an untenable position is based on faith in personal and unwarranted opinion.
Interestingly, those who emphasize God’s transcendence and deny His active and ongoing personal involvement in history, and those who deny God’s transcendence and reduce Him to no more than an idealized man, operate according to the same unbelieving principles. They both trust in their opinion over the authority of God in Scripture, and interpret God and reality according to the same unbelieving assumptions that exalt human opinion over God’s revelation. Perhaps their common denial of the historicity of the temptation and fall of mankind is in their interest, as the sin of Adam and Eve so reflects their own approach to God, reality, knowledge, and truth. In any event, history shows that they always seem to end up in the same place, denying the exclusive claims of Christ and the Gospel.
Few doctrines of Scripture are more difficult to accept than our human limitations and absolute dependence upon God for all knowledge and truth. Yet, few doctrines are more important for a proper response to profound suffering and evil. Given the nature of God and who we are in relationship to Him, humble acceptance of our limited perspective and understanding is necessary and appropriate. Peace and contentment in the face of great difficulties are not ultimately from specific answers to every difficult question (though God has provided many specific answers in Scripture), but from resting in the perfect goodness and excellence of the One with all the answers.
Moreover, our perspective is often earthly and short-sighted. We lack the comprehensive, eternal perspective from which to properly view all things. The ultimate outcome of everything is in God’s hands, and He has told us enough to trust Him. In the long run He will make everything right. As we read in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” All suffering must be viewed in light of the brevity of life, endless eternity, the excellence of God as most fully displayed in Christ and the extent to which He went to remedy evil, and our profoundly limited human perspective. God’s justice is perfect, all people will be treated accordingly (The “problem of evil” will be discussed further under the attribute of “Unity”).
Perhaps Calvin best summarizes the point.
“And let us not be ashamed to submit our understanding to God's boundless wisdom as far as to yield before its many secrets. For, of those things which it is neither given nor lawful to know, ignorance is learned, the raving to know, a kind of madness.”16
Sin’s desire to be God can generate unwarranted speculation. The “madness” and “raving to know” beyond what God has given us to know display a misplaced faith and unwillingness to accept our limitations as created, finite, and dependent creatures of God. True wisdom knows its limitations and accepts the silence beyond the boundaries of God’s revelation.
“Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”
1 Berkhof defines God’s infinity according to the threefold definition utilized here. L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 4th revised and Enlarged ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939; reprint, 1991), 60-61.
2 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; reprint, Hendrickson, 2003), 380.
3 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 218.
4 Orr, quoted in Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 60.
5 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 218. See also Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 60.
6 Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1:385.
7 Ibid., 1:383.
8 Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 61.
9 Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God (1797; reprint, Minneapolis: Klock & Klock Christian Publishers, 1977), 264.
10 Not being a physicist, perhaps there are more recent theories that allow for two things to occupy the same space at the same time, but even if such a theory were to exist, it does nothing to bolster the objection against God’s omnipresence.
11 See Isaiah 14:12-14.
12 A. W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers, 1961), 29-30.
13 The instances of God speaking directly to His people began with God speaking directly to Adam and Eve in spoken and understood language. The entire scope and meaning of redemptive history is dependent upon the clear words and understanding of the first commandments of God to Adam and Eve. Throughout the Old Testament, in passages too many to mention, God spoke to His people in clear and understandable language. With respect to Scripture as the written words and word of God, see Matthew 5:18, 2 Timothy 3:16, 1 Thessalonians 1:13 and 2 Peter 1:20-21.
14 John Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002), 206.
15 Unbelief has the tendency to mask itself in piety, as appears to be the case with those claiming to exalt God by denying the verbal and plenary inspiration of Scripture.
16 Calvin, Institutes, 3.23.8.