We cannot understand God fully because he is infinite and we
are mere specks of dust. ‘Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; and His
greatness is unsearchable’ (Ps 145:3). No man will ever plumb his wisdom. ‘Such
knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it’ (Ps 139:6). A
‘god’ who is thoroughly understood is nothing but an idol of human imagination.
The true and living God is exalted above the heavens, well beyond the reach of
All the same we must assert that God can be known. Though we
can never delve completely into the depths of the Infinite, still we may truly
know our Creator. Our knowledge of God must always be limited, yet it can be
genuine and sufficient to satisfy the thirst of the human soul. Indeed we are
invited to ‘Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near’
Who, then, is the true and living God? We can begin to answer
this question by considering the divine names and attributes (personal
characteristics) by which God is revealed.
About 2500 times in the Old Testament, God is called by the
titles El and Elohim (translated ‘God’). The basic meaning of this
title is the ‘Mighty One’ or ‘Powerful One’. Elohim is the plural of El
(emphasizing his majesty); however, Elohim is still used with verbs in the
singular since God is one. God’s power is shown in his work of creation (Gen
1:1); his government over all the world (Isa 54:5); his mighty deeds among his
people Israel (Deut 8:14; Ps 68:7), and in his judgment (Ps 50:6). El is also
combined with other titles. El-Shaddai is mentioned mostly in the times
of the patriarchs (Gen 17:1); it means ‘God Almighty’. El-Elyon signifies
‘God most high’ (Gen 14:19).
Another title, Adonai means master, lord, ruler (Gen
19:2; 40:1; 1 Sam 1:15); it is translated ‘Lord’ and it expresses the ownership
and authority that God exercises over mankind.
The name Yahweh (derived from the four consonants
YHWH, sometimes known as the Tetragram) is found about 6000 times in the
Hebrew scriptures. The significance of the name Yahweh, by which God revealed
himself to his people Israel, was particularly spelled out to Moses (Ex 3:14;
6:3). The name means ‘I am’; it testifies to God’s eternal self-existence and
perfection. God is what he ever was and what he ever will be; there was no time
when he was not. He is the eternal ‘I am’!
YHWH is rightly translated LORD in our English Bible,
according to the pattern set by New Testament writers. For instance, the prophet
Joel wrote, ‘Whoever calls on the name of Yahweh shall be saved’ (Joel 2:32). In
Romans 10:13, the apostle Paul quoted this verse, applying it to Jesus. He
translated Yahweh by the Greek word Kurios, meaning Lord.
Yahweh is linked with other titles: the Lord God (Gen 2:7);
the Lord Provides (Gen 22:14); the Lord Heals (Ex 15:26); the Lord Sanctifies
(Lev 20:8); the Lord of Peace (Judges 6:24), and the Lord of Hosts (Isa 1:24).
In the New Testament, the most common titles are God
(in Greek, Theos, the equivalent of the Hebrew Elohim), used
especially of God the Father; and Lord (in Greek, Kurios, the
equivalent of Adonai and Yahweh), used especially of the Son.
To know the name of God means to know God as he revealed
himself (and not simply the pronunciation of the word). Praising his name is
virtually the same as praising him; when his name is dishonoured, he is
dishonoured. God is provoked when his name is profaned: ‘You shall not take the
name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who
takes His name in vain’ (Ex 20:7). But God’s beloved children earnestly seek to
praise and glorify him, as Jesus taught us to pray, ‘Our Father in heaven, may
your name be hallowed.’
The divine attributes are the qualities and characteristics
God is personal; he is not simply an impersonal force
or energy, as imagined in Eastern pantheistic religions. God thinks, chooses
according to his will, loves and hates. He speaks to us, and we to him; he
enters into and maintains a personal relationship with people. He designates
himself ‘I am’ (Ex 3:14), and we address him with familiar titles such as
God is spirit (John 4:24); consequently he is
invisible (Heb 11:27), and does not have a physical body like us (Luke 24:39).
Scripture speaks about ‘the eyes’ and ‘the hands’ of the Lord, but evidently
such language is figurative.
God is independent; he is self-existent and does not
need anything or anyone. We are dependent on God for every moment of our
existence, but God has life in himself (John 5:26). ‘Nor is He worshiped with
men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath,
and all things’ (Acts 17:25).
God is immutable, that is, he does not change. He is
ever the same in all his perfections. He cannot become more, or less, wise, holy
and good. He is infinite in power; he does not grow weary, and he cannot become
more powerful than he is. ‘For I am the LORD, I do not change’ (Malachi 3:6).
God is eternal and is in no way limited by time which
is itself part of his creation. God knows no beginning and will have no end.
‘Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and
the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God’ (Ps 90:2).
God is omnipresent. Being present everywhere, he is
not limited by space. ‘Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from
Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell,
behold, You are there’ (Ps 139:7, 8).
God is omniscient; he knows everything. He does not
need to learn anything; he is never forgetful. He knows himself and all his
creation perfectly. ‘Known to God from eternity are all His works’ (Acts 15:18).
God knows us perfectly: ‘O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know my
sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You
comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways’ (Ps
God is good. ‘For You, Lord, are good, and ready to
forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You’ (Ps 86:5). ‘God
is love’ (1 John 4:8). He is merciful, delivering sinners from their just
condemnation; he is gracious, granting them blessings they do not deserve.
God is holy; he is distinct from all creatures and
exalted above them in infinite majesty and purity. ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD
of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!’ (Isa 6:3). God is morally
perfect. ‘God is light and in Him is no darkness at all’ (1 John 1:5).
God is righteous. He is always perfectly just and
never guilty of the slightest injustice. ‘The LORD is righteous in all His ways’
(Ps 145:17). His law is the expression of his righteousness, rewarding obedience
and punishing disobedience.
God is faithful. ‘God is not a man, that He should
lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? (Num 23:19). His children can
rest assured that he will perform all his promises and lead them to final glory.
God ‘will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of
our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the
fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord’ (1 Cor 1:8, 9).
God is sovereign; he possesses absolute power and
authority, and exercises total control over all his creation. He acts exactly as
he desires; nobody can annul his will or frustrate his intentions. He ‘works all
things according to the counsel of His will’ (Eph 1:11). ‘His dominion is an
everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the
inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will
in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can
restrain His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’’ (Dan 4:34, 35).
God is omnipotent, that is, almighty, all-powerful. He
is able to do whatever he wills. ‘I know that You can do everything, and that no
purpose of Yours can be withheld from You’ (Job 42:2). In him we enjoy absolute
security. ‘He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under
the shadow of the Almighty’ (Ps 91:1).
This is the true and living God -- infinite and perfect in
all his attributes! Being proud and sinful, the natural man cannot and will not
bow before his Maker in adoration and obedience. Though the first commandment
warns against having other gods other than the true God, man has come up with
other ‘gods’, less than the true God, fashioned according to his imagination.
May God give us grace to know him in his majesty, that we may
know him in truth, trusting and loving him with all our hearts. God alone can
open our eyes and reveal his glory to us.
‘Give unto the LORD, O you mighty ones; give unto the LORD
glory and strength. Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name; worship the
LORD in the beauty of holiness’ (Ps 29:1, 2).