Chapter Two What Is God Like?
In the modern world, atheism is making a bold attempt to banish all thought of God from the minds of men. By teaching that men and apes evolved from a common ancestor, atheists try to prove that all ignorance, superstition, witchcraft and religion are related to man’s primitive state. They blandly assume that science has banished all such ignorant beliefs and demand that God must be rejected along with fairies and goblins. Yuri Gagarin, the Russian cosmonaut, joked that up in space he saw no sign of God. What did he expect to see? Was his concept of “God” that of an old gentleman sitting on a cloud? But is God like that? What is God like?
THE BIBLE DOES NOT ATTEMPT TO PROVE THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
It does not need to, because it is in itself the record of the way God has revealed Himself to mankind. Thus it begins with a positive statement of the fact that there is a God and states that those who come to God must believe in Him. It says, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6).
The Bible begins with the statement that God is the Almighty Creator. The account of the creation of our world is found in Genesis 1:1-28. You should read this in your Bible. This short paragraph contains an implicit denial of all subsequent deviations from the truth about God. It refutes ATHEISM which says there is no God. It refutes POLYTHEISM which says there are many gods. It refutes PANTHEISM which says that the universe is “God.” It refutes HUMANISM which worships man himself. It refutes ASTROLOGY which says that the stars affect destiny, whereas in fact they are only part of God’s inanimate creation.
FROM THE BEGINNING OF HUMAN LIFE, MEN KNEW GOD
The evolutionary theory claims that because the primitive ape-man creatures were afraid of the forces of nature they began to imagine all kinds of unseen spirits and gods in their environment. As their knowledge increased they developed the “god idea” until eventually the concept of One God emerged. The Bible refutes this idea emphatically. Romans 1:18-25 says: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. This very important statement shows plainly that, from the very beginning men knew God but they turned away from Him. Thus false religion and idolatry is not a primitive fear-concept, but a later development which arose when men deliberately exchanged truth for error.
From the beginning, God the Creator revealed Himself to man. God talked with Adam (Genesis 1:28), with Noah (Genesis 6:13), with Abraham (Genesis 12:1). You might wish to look up these references in your Bible and see what God said to them. Man’s rebellion and disobedience has resulted in a distortion by him of the pure knowledge of the One True God. By the time of Abraham, idolatry was almost universal. God called Abraham to leave his own country with its idolatry and corrupt culture to journey to the land of Canaan, where he was to found a new nation devoted to the worship of the One True God. Here is the record of that call: So Abram left, just as the Lord had told him to do, and Lot went with him. (Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.) And Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they left for the land of Canaan. They entered the land of Canaan. Abram traveled through the land as far as the oak tree of Moreh at Shechem. (At that time the Canaanites were in the land.) The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So Abram built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him. Then he moved from there to the hill country east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and worshiped the Lord. (Genesis 12:4-8). The Divine plan of course, required a considerable period for its development. The family of Abraham first grew to be a tribe but by the time of Moses; it had become a nation.
THE FIRST WRITTEN LAWS CONCERNING THE WORSHIP OF GOD WERE GIVEN TO MOSES
At this point, please read the following verses:
I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on earth under it, or that is in the water below. (Exodus 20:2-4).
Listen, Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one. You must love the Lord your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).
Be very careful, then, because you saw no form at the time the Lord spoke to you at Horeb from the middle of the fire. I say this so you will not corrupt yourselves by making an image in the form of any kind of figure. This includes the likeness of a human male or female, any kind of land animal, any bird that flies in the sky, any insect on the ground, or any fish in the deep waters of the earth. When you look up to the sky, see the sun, moon, and stars—the whole heavenly creation—you must not be seduced to worship and serve them, for the Lord your God has assigned them to all the people of the world. (Deuteronomy 4:15-19).
These three paragraphs give the oldest and clearest statement of the Unity of God to be found anywhere in all the history of man. By the time of Moses (about 400 years after Abraham) the human race had so completely turned to the worship of false gods that it became necessary that the One True God should be clearly distinguished from the countless false gods and idols of the pagan world. That is why God, through Moses, revealed that His name was YAHWEH (actually in Hebrew, only the consonants are given, as in Arabic script, so that the name of God appears as Y-H-W-H). In Exodus 3:15 we find the following words: God also said to Moses, “You must say this to the Israelites, ‘The Lord—the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you. This is my name forever, and this is my memorial from generation to generation.’” Also in Exodus 6:2-3 we read: God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name ‘the Lord’ I was not known to them.” From this time onwards, the whole of the Old Testament plainly teaches that Yahweh is the One True God. Now read 1 Kings 18:39. The contest between the prophets of the pagan god Baal and Elijah the prophet of God was tremendous. The result was that the people cried out, The Lord [Yahweh] is the true God! The Lord is the true God! All other gods, by whatever name they were called, were false. Along with the revelation of the Name of God, there was given a strong safeguard to protect this great truth from corruption. Idols and images and “aids to worship” were completely forbidden. To keep this great truth alive God chose the people of Israel as His channel of Divine revelation—they were the “People of Yahweh, the people of the One True God.” Unfortunately, they did not always maintain this privileged position, but often lapsed into idolatry themselves. For this God punished them repeatedly.
THE BIBLE REVEALS THE NATURE OF GOD BY WHAT HE DOES
The Bible purposely does not give a systematic description of what God is. Man is finite and cannot possibly understand a God who is infinite. Any description of God must therefore be inadequate. Because of this, God chose a way to reveal the mystery of His nature well within our grasp. He has revealed His nature by His acts. Thus the Bible is a written account of the way God has acted down the centuries.
1. God in Creation
The Bible tells us that the universe is the work of God. True science confirms this. With the telescope we study the immensity of space with its galaxies and star-systems or through the microscope we marvel at the intricate pattern of life scaled down to the minutest dimensions. We discover creatures so small they can find a mighty ocean in a single drop of water! We wonder at the exactness of natural laws, and at the miracle of design and beauty in every part of nature. We realize something of the greatness and the wisdom and power of the Creator. His work of creation teaches us that God is perfect in wisdom, intelligence and power.
2. God in Providence
Abraham is a classic example of God’s love and care for the individual. God called him to obedience and faith, and in the constantly recurring crises of life, Abraham learned the reality of the love and care and provision of God. The whole story of Abraham (Genesis 12-25) is recorded for our benefit. Read it in your Bibles
3. God in History
One of the ways the people of Israel recalled the greatness of God was by reciting what He had done in their national history. Psalms 78, 105 and 106 are good illustrations of this. Here is just one example taken from Psalm 78. Read this whole psalm in your Bible and look up the other two as well.
He did amazing things in the sight of their ancestors, in the land of Egypt, in the region of Zoan. He divided the sea and led them across it; he made the water stand in a heap. He led them with a cloud by day, and with the light of a fire all night long. He broke open rocks in the wilderness, and gave them enough water to fill the depths of the sea. He caused streams to flow from the rock, and made the water flow like rivers. Yet they continued to sin against him, and rebelled against the Sovereign One in the desert. They willfully challenged God by asking for food to satisfy their appetite. They insulted God, saying, “Is God really able to give us food in the wilderness? Yes, he struck a rock and water flowed out, streams gushed forth. But can he also give us food? Will he provide meat for his people?” When the Lord heard this, he was furious. A fire broke out against Jacob, and his anger flared up against Israel, because they did not have faith in God, and did not trust his ability to deliver them (Psalm 78:12-22).
Study what God has revealed about His own nature and His will, and compare the accounts of what He has done. You will find a thrilling combination of factors which display the glory of God. Here are a few of them:
God is One— Listen, Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4).
God is Living— The Lord is the only true God. He is the living God and the everlasting King. When he shows his anger the earth shakes. None of the nations can stand up to his fury. (Jeremiah 10:10).
God is Self-existing— God said to Moses, “I AM that I AM.” And he said, “You must say this to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14).
God is Eternal— O sovereign Master, you have been our protector through all generations! Even before the mountains came into existence, or you brought the world into being, you were the eternal God. (Psalm 90:1-2).
God is Almighty— When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the Sovereign God. Walk before me and be blameless.” (Genesis 17:1).
God is Changeless— “Since, I, the Lord, do not go back on my promises, you, sons of Jacob, have not perished. (Malachi 3:6).
God is Omnipresent— “Do you people think that I am some local deity and not the transcendent God?” the Lord asks. “Do you really think anyone can hide himself where I cannot see him?” the Lord asks. “Don’t you know that I am everywhere?” the Lord asks. (Jeremiah 23:23-24). Where can I go to escape your spirit? Where can I flee to escape your presence? If I were to ascend to heaven, you would be there. If I were to sprawl out in Sheol, there you would be. If I were to fly away on the wings of the dawn, and settle down on the other side of the sea, even there your hand would guide me, your right hand would grab hold of me. If I were to say, “Certainly the darkness will cover me, and the light will turn to night all around me,” even the darkness is not too dark for you to see, and the night is as bright as day; darkness and light are the same to you. (Psalm 139:7-12).
God is Holy— They called out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord who leads armies! His majestic splendor fills the entire earth!” (Isaiah 6:3).
God is Love— In a far-off land the Lord will manifest himself to them. He will say to them, “I have loved you with an everlasting love. That is why I have continued to be faithful to you.” (Jeremiah 31:3).
God is Merciful— And the Lord passed by before him and proclaimed: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and on the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7).
God is Just— Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the godly with the wicked, treating the godly and the wicked alike! Far be it from you! Will not the judge of the whole earth do what is right? (Genesis 18:25).
This list merely introduces the vast subject of the nature of God. It is only by regularly and systematically reading the Bible that we really learn the greatness and majesty of God. Read carefully the following quotations. They reach great heights of poetic beauty as they describe the greatness and glory of God:
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is an eternal God, the creator of the whole earth. He does not get tired or weary; there is no limit to his wisdom. (Isaiah 40:28).
This is what the true God, the Lord, says—the one who created the sky and stretched it out, the one who fashioned the earth and everything that lives on it, the one who gives breath to the people on it, and life to those who live on it: “I, the Lord, officially commission you; I take hold of your hand. I protect you and make you a covenant mediator for people, and a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to release prisoners from dungeons, those who live in darkness from prisons. I am the Lord! That is my name! I will not share my glory with anyone else, or the praise due me with idols.” (Isaiah 42:5-8).
For this is what the Lord says, the one who created the sky—he is the true God, the one who formed the earth and made it; he established it, he did not create it without order, he formed it to be inhabited—“I am the Lord, I have no peer. I have not spoken in secret, in some hidden place. I did not tell Jacob’s descendants, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I am the Lord, the one who speaks honestly, who makes reliable announcements. Gather together and come! Approach together, you refugees from the nations! Those who carry wooden idols know nothing, those who pray to a god that cannot deliver. Tell me! Present the evidence! Let them consult with one another! Who predicted this in the past? Who announced it beforehand? Was it not I, the Lord? I have no peer, there is no God but me, a God who vindicates and delivers; there is none but me. Turn to me so you can be delivered, all you who live in the earth’s remote regions! For I am God, and I have no peer. I solemnly make this oath—what I say is true and reliable: ‘Surely every knee will bow to me, every tongue will solemnly affirm’” (Isaiah 45:18-23).
These spiritual concepts were written by the prophet Isaiah about 2,500 years ago. Obviously there was nothing primitive or defective in the knowledge of God Isaiah and the other prophets brought to men.
4. God as a God of Love
Many people have misunderstood what is meant by the fact that God is a God of love. Because He is love, many have thought that God is indulgent of human sin, that He does not care whether or not men break His laws. God is love, but He is also absolutely holy and sin is an insult to Him and an outrage against His nature. Some have imagined that God’s love and mercy are contradictory to and incompatible with His holiness and justice. This is not so. God in His justice and holiness cannot treat sinners indulgently. Sin must be punished unless it is forgiven in a way which is fully consistent with both the justice and the mercy of God. This is the message of the gospel! God has revealed a way in which a sinner can be forgiven and cleansed from his sin and thus enjoy the love and grace of God. Holiness, as an attribute of God, is not abstract purity-merely the absence of evil. It is a positive quality which reaches out to mankind. God is love, and therefore He does not want to punish sinners, and God is holy, and therefore He desires to restore sinners to a state of holiness and purity, fit for His eternal presence. The gospel tells us that God truly loves sinful people and has provided a salvation which transforms men and women into “sons of God,” thus enabling them to share His eternal glory. Study this quotation from Romans 8:29-30: Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.
This revelation of the character and attributes of God is found in the Bible and nowhere else! As you continue your studies you will, we trust, come into this glorious fellowship with the God who, though so great in power and majesty, desires to save the weakest and worst sinners and make them His worshippers.
THE GOD OF THE BIBLE AND ALLAH OF THE QURAN
The following chart shows how God is revealed in the Bible and how Allah is spoken of in the Quran.
Hebrew titles of God in the Old Testament
Arabic titles of God used in the Quran
One difference is quite evident. Elohim is approximately equivalent in meaning to Allah. Adonai is approximately equivalent in meaning to Rabb, but it can be seen that there is no Quranic equivalent for Jehovah (Y-H-W-H). The Elohim-Allah title describes God as the Almighty Creator. The Adonai-Rabb title describes God as Lord and Master over all His creatures. But it is in the Bible alone that we find God revealed as Jehovah, a title which is used over 6,800 times and which is the main name of God in the Bible. We all know names of God to be important because they reveal His character. Jehovah, as a Divine Name, is used in the Bible to depict God as the One who is Self-existing, and Self-revealing. As the Self-revealing God He reveals Himself as a God of grace who acts in redeeming love to rescue sinful men and women and restore them to fellowship and intimacy with Himself. Jehovah wants people to know Him and love Him while on earth, and then go to live with Him and share His glory for ever.
Jehovah in the Bible, as much as Allah in the Quran, is the Almighty Creator and Master. But He is also the God of redemption, love and grace, who says that, not only may we know Him in an intimate fellowship, but that all blessedness begins when we come to know Him. Read the following verses which emphasize the fact that God desires that man may know Him and enjoy His fellowship now and forever:
The Lord says, “Wise people should not boast that they are wise. Powerful people should not boast that they are powerful. Rich people should not boast that they are rich. If people want to boast, they should boast about this: They should boast that they understand and know me. They should boast that they know and understand that I, the Lord, act out of faithfulness, fairness, and justice in the earth and that I desire people to do these things,” says the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23-24).
I will give them the desire to acknowledge that I am the Lord. I will be their God and they will be my people. That is because they will wholeheartedly return to me.’ (Jeremiah 24:7).
“People will no longer need to teach their neighbors and relatives to know me. That is because all of them, from the least important to the most important, will know me,” says the Lord. “All of this is based on the fact that I will forgive their sin and will no longer call to mind the wrong they have done.” (Jeremiah 31:34).
Now this is eternal life—that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent. (John 17:3).
The concept which it is the essential purpose of the Bible to reveal is that God is Jehovah, the Redeemer who desires that men may know and love Him as a personal God.
Related Topics: Theology Proper (God)