15 Amazing Attributes of God: What They Mean and Why They Matter
15 Amazing Attributes of God: What They Mean and Why They Matter What are God’s attributes? When we talk about the attributes of God, we are trying to answer questions like, Who is God, What is God like, and What kind of God is he? An attribute of God is something true about him. While fully comprehending who God is impossible for us as limited beings, God does make himself known in a variety of ways, and through what he reveals about himself in his Word and in his creation, we can begin to wrap our minds around our awesome Creator and God. God is unlike anything or anyone we could ever know or imagine. He is one of a kind, unique and without comparison. Even describing him with mere words truly falls short of capturing who he is – our words simply cannot to justice to describe our holy God. Still, God possess attributes that we can know (even in just in part) and he’s given us his Word as a means to understand himself. We’ve complied a list of 15 of God’s attributes; some are what theologians call “incommunicable” (qualities possessed by God alone) and others are “communicable” (qualities that both God and we possess, though only he possesses them perfectly). Here are 15 attributes of God, what they mean and why they matter: 1. God Is Infinite – He is Self-Existing, Without Origin "And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together." - Colossians 1:17 “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure” – Psalm 147:5 The fact that God is self-existent -- that he was created by nothing and has always existed forever -- is perhaps one of the hardest attributes of God for the believer to understand. In our limitedness, grasping the nature of our limit-less God is like holding onto water as it rages down a river. Indeed, Tozer writes this about the confusing, head-spinning attribute of God’s infinity: ‘To admit that there is One who lies beyond us, who exists outside of all our categories, who will not be dismissed with a name, who will not appear before the bar of our reason, nor submit to our curious inquiries: this requires a great deal of humility, more than most of us possess, so we save face by thinking God down to our level, or at least down to where we can manage Him.” In his article on Christianity.com, Dr. Adrian Rogers writes about the self-existence of God: “The name Jehovah is used some 6,800 times in the Bible. It is the personal covenant name of Israel's God. In the King James Version of the Bible, it's translated Lord God. Not only does it speak of God's strength, but also it speaks of the sovereignty of God and the goodness of God. The root of this name means "self-existing," one who never came into being, and one who always will be. When Moses asked God, "Who shall I tell Pharaoh has sent me?" God said, "I AM THAT I AM." Jehovah or Yahweh is the most intensely sacred name to Jewish scribes and many will not even pronounce the name. When possible, they use another name.” 2. God Is Immutable – He Never Changes “I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.” Malachi 3:6 God does not change. Who he is never changes. His attributes are the same from before the beginning of time into eternity. His character never changes – he never gets “better” or “worse.” His plans do not change. His promises do not change. This ought to be a source of incredible joy for believers. Sam Storms writes this about the good news of God’s unchanging nature: “What all this means, very simply, is that God is dependable! Our trust in him is therefore a confident trust, for we know that he will not, indeed cannot, change. His purposes are unfailing, his promises unassailable. It is because the God who promised us eternal life is immutable that we may rest assured that nothing, not trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword shall separate us from the love of Christ. It is because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever that neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, not even powers, height, depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:35-39)!” 3. God Is Self-Sufficient – He Has No Needs “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” – John 5:26 As limited humans, we have incredible needs, which left unfulfilled, result in death. God, however, has never once been in need of anything. As Tim Temple writes, “God is perfectly complete within his own being.” In a blog post on Reformation21.org, Scott Swain writes that the self-sufficiency of God means he “possesses infinite riches of being, wisdom, goodness, and power in and of himself (Gen 17:1; John 5:26; Eph 3:16). Because he possesses these unfathomable riches in the perfect knowledge and love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt 11.25-27; John 17:24-26), God is the "blessed" or "happy" God (1 Tim 1.11; 6:15).” Because God is self-sufficient, we can go to him to satisfy all our needs. We never have to worry about “drying up” his never-ending well of goodness, peace, mercy and grace. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…” (Ephesians 3:20) 4. God is Omnipotent – He Is All Powerful “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.” – Psalm 33:6 “Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens above—what can you do? They are deeper than the depths below—what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea. If he comes along and confines you in prison and convenes a court, who can oppose him? Surely he recognizes deceivers; and when he sees evil, does he not take note?” – Job 11:7-11 Omnipotent means to have unlimited power (omni = all; potent = powerful). God is able and powerful to do anything he wills without any effort on his part. It’s important to note the “anything he wills” part of that statement, because God cannot do anything that is contradictory or contrary to his nature. Hebrews 6:18 puts it like this: “God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.” In his devotional Forward, Ron Moore puts it like this: “God's attribute of omnipotence means that God is able to do all that He desires to do. When He plans something, it will come to be. If He purposes something, it will happen. Nothing can prevent His plan. When His hand is stretched out to do something, no one can turn it back. Omnipotence comes from two Latin words. Omni means "all," and potens means "powerful." God's decisions are always in line with His character, and He has all the power to do whatever He decides to do.” “Scripture is clear that God is strong and mighty (Psalm 24:8). Nothing is too hard for Him to accomplish (Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:17, 27; Luke 1:37). Often God is called "Almighty," describing Him as the One who possesses all power and authority (2 Corinthians 6:18; Revelation 1:8). In fact, Paul says that God is "able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20).” “Although such power might seem frightful, remember that God is good. He can do anything according to His infinite ability, but will do only those things that are consistent with Himself. That’s why He can’t lie, tolerate sin, or save impenitent sinners.” – John MacArthur 5. God Is Omniscient – He Is All-Knowing “Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” - Isaiah 46:9-10 God is omniscient, which means he knows everything. Debbie McDaniel writes this about the omniscience of God, “He can be everywhere, at the same time. And He never sleeps or slumbers, He's aware every moment of every day, exactly what we're up against. He knows our way, and is with us always. There's no place on this earth we can go that He doesn't see and know of.” Tozer writes this about God’s omniscience: “God perfectly knows Himself and, being the source and author of all things, it follows that He knows all that can be known. And this He knows instantly and with a fullness of perfection that includes every possible item of knowledge concerning everything that exists or could have existed anywhere in the universe at any time in the past or that may exist in the centuries or ages yet unborn.” Because God is all-knowing, we can trust that he knows everything we’re going through today and everything we will go through tomorrow. When we meditate on this truth, especially in light of his other attributes of goodness and love, it makes it easier to trust him with all we have going on in our lives, from the very serious to the silly and mundane. 6. God Is Omnipresent – He Is Always Everywhere “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me.” Psalm 139:7-10 “‘Am I a God at hand,’ declares the Lord, ‘and not a God afar off? 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” - Jeremiah 23:23-24 To be omnipresent is to be in all places, at all times. Yet, it is important to understand that for God “to be” in a place is not the same way we are in a place. “God’s being is all together different from physical matter,” the website Ligonier.org explains. “He exists on a plane wholly distinguishable from the one readily available to the five senses.” Nevertheless, he is with us, the fullness of his presence is all around us. “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.” The psalmist proclaims God’s omnipresence in Psalm 137. This ought to bring deep comfort to Christians who struggle with loneliness and deep sorrow. In a very real way, God is always near us, “closer than our thoughts,” writes Tozer. “The knowledge that we are never alone calms the troubled sea of our lives and speaks peace to our soul.” 7. God Is Wise – He Is Full of Perfect, Unchanging Wisdom “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” – Romans 11:33 Wisdom is more than just head knowledge and intelligence. A truly wise person is someone who understands all the facts and makes the best decisions. A wise person uses his heart, soul and mind together with skill and competence. But even the wisest man on earth would never come close to being as wise as God. God is infinitely wise, consistently wise, perfectly wise. Tozer writes, “Wisdom, among other things, is the ability to devise perfect ends and to achieve those ends by the most perfect means. It sees the end from the beginning, so there can be no need to guess or conjecture. Wisdom sees everything in focus, each in proper relation to all, and is thus able to work toward predestined goals with flawless precision.” Indeed, when we see wisdom like this, we realize just how much our limited, finite wisdom compares with the limitless, infinite wisdom of God. And how comforting and wonderful this is for man to dwell on! The fact that God can never be more wise means he is always doing the wisest thing in our lives. No plan we could make for our lives could be better than the plan he has already crafted and is carrying out for us. We might not understand his ways today, but we can trust that because God is infinitely wise, he truly is working all things out in the best possible way. 8. God Is Faithful – He Is Infinitely, Unchangingly True "Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands." - Deut 7:9 “[I]f we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13 As with all of God’s attributes, they are not separate, isolated traits but interconnected parts of his perfect whole being. So his faithfulness cannot be understood apart from his immutability, the fact that he never changes. So when we read that God remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself, we see these his attributes working together. The fact that he is unchanging means he can never not be faithful. A. W. Pink writes this about God’s faithfulness: “God is true. His Word of Promise is sure. In all His relations with His people God is faithful. He may be safely relied upon. No one ever yet really trusted Him in vain. We find this precious truth expressed almost everywhere in the Scriptures, for His people need to know that faithfulness is an essential part of the Divine character. This is the basis of our confidence in Him.” The fact that God is infinitely, unchangingly faithful means that he never forgets anything, never fails to do anything he has set out to do, never changes his mind or takes back a promise. And his faithfulness pours out from his love, so we can trust Paul’s word that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” Of course, we don’t always understand or see how his plan is faithful. In our limited understanding and finite minds, God’s faithfulness might look a lot like abandonment. For how could a faithful God allow his children to suffer, to hurt, to die? But Christians can take comfort in these moments by remembering these attributes of God, for when we go through hard times, we know that God is nevertheless unchangingly faithful, good, always with us and wise. Faithfully trusting in who God says he is a great comfort. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12 9. God Is Good – He Is Infinitely, Unchangingly Kind and Full of Good Will “O, taste and see that the Lord is good” – Psalm 34:8 According to Tozer, the goodness of God “disposes Him to be kind, cordial, benevolent, and full of good will toward men. He is tenderhearted and of quick sympathy, and His unfailing attitude toward all moral beings is open, frank, and friendly. By His nature He is inclined to bestow blessedness and He takes holy pleasure in the happiness of His people.” Just like his other attributes, God’s goodness exists within his immutability, and infinite nature, so that he is unchangingly, always good. His mercy flows from his goodness. “In his goodness to us, we see that He has purposed to be good in a special way to his people”(Ligonier.com). As with God’s other perfect attributes, Christians find it easier to affirm the goodness of God when things are going well. When life takes a nosedive, though, that’s when we begin to question God’s goodness to and for us. When the Psalmist writes “O, taste and see that the Lord is good,” (Psalm 34) he is inviting us not just to believe that God is good but to experience God’s goodness. And, interestingly, as Desiring God writer Andrew Wilson notes in his article on the subject of God’s goodness, “the psalmist affirms his experience of God’s goodness from a place of suffering. In verse 19, he makes the remarkable announcement, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” Even with a good God, who is sovereign over everything and has the power to do whatever he likes, good people still suffer. His punchline, though, comes in the next phrase: “but Yahweh delivers him out of them all.” Evil happens, but “none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned” (34:22). 10. God Is Just – He Is Infinitely, Unchangeably Right and Perfect in All He Does "The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.” – Duet 32:4 What does it mean that God is just? It means more than he is simply fair. It means he always does what is right and good toward all men. Likewise, although this is hard for many to accept, his sentencing of evil, unrepentant sinners to hell is also right and good. A natural question that arises from this is, how then can a just God justify the unjust (as each of us are without Christ!)? Tozer answers this by reminding us that we find the answer through the Christian doctrine of justification and redemption. “Through the work of Christ in atonement, justice is not violated but satisfied when God spares a sinner.” His mercy is does not forbid him to exercise his justice, nor does his justice forbid him to exercise his mercy. He is both fully merciful and fully just. In light of God’s other attributes of goodness, mercy, love and grace, there are some who might, in error, say that God is too kind to punish the ungodly. But to believe this means we dull the reality of his infinite, unchanging justice. God will have justice for sin, either from Christ’s atoning death or, for those who will not accept it, eternal wrath in hell. “Let’s assume that all men are guilty of sin in the sight of God. From the mass of humanity, God sovereignly decides to give mercy to some of them. What do the rest get? They get justice. The saved get mercy and the unsaved get justice. Nobody gets injustice” - R. C. Sproul 11. God Is Merciful – He is Infinitely, Unchangeably Compassionate and Kind “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy." - Romans 9:15-16 As noted above, God’s mercy is inseparable from his justness. He is infinitely, unchangeably, unfailingly merciful – forgiving, lovingly kind toward us. He is inexhaustibly, actively compassionate. His mercy is also undeserved by us. Spurgeon writes that, “It is undeserved mercy, as indeed all true mercy must be, for deserved mercy is only a misnomer for justice. There was no right on the sinner's part, to the saving mercy of the Most High God. Had the rebel been doomed at once to eternal fire — he would have justly merited the doom; and if delivered from wrath, sovereign love alone has found a cause, for there was none in the sinner himself. “ Without the mercy of God, we would have no hope of heaven. Because of our disobedient hearts, we deserve death. “For all have sinned and fall short glory of God,” and, “the wages of sin is death.” But because of mercy, we don’t get what we deserve. Instead, because of the mercy of God, we get life through faith in Christ. Tozer writes this about the mercy of God. “As judgment is God’s justice confronting moral inequity, so mercy is the goodness of God confronting human suffering and guilt. Were there no guilt in the world, no pain and no tears, God would yet be infinitely merciful; but His mercy might well remain hidden in His heart, unknown to the created universe. No voice would be raised to celebrate the mercy of which none felt the need. It is human misery and sin that call forth the divine mercy.” 12. God Is Gracious – God Is Infinitely Inclined to Spare the Guilty "The LORD is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness." – Psalm 145:8 If mercy is not getting what we do deserve (damnation), grace is getting what we don’t deserve (eternal life). “As mercy is God’s goodness confronting human misery and guilt,” Tozer writes, “so grace is His goodness directed toward human debt and demerit. It is by his grace that God imputes merit where none previously existed and declares no debt to be where one had been before.” Because grace is a part of who God is and not just an action he bestows, it means we can trust that grace is eternal. His grace is something we do not earn or lose (“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…” Eph. 2:8). His grace is also sovereign. “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious” (Exodus 33:19). When talking about the grace of God, theologians will often differentiate between God’s common grace and his saving grace. Christianity Today writer Patrick Mabilog writes this about the difference. “His common grace is a gift to all of mankind. It is the reason that everyone – Christian or non-Christian - enjoys the blessings of life, provision and abundance. Matthew 5:45 tells us, ‘For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.’” While all of humanity benefits from common grace, only those who profess believe and put their faith in Christ receive saving grace. This is what results in our sanctification and our glorification of God, that we might live for him and enjoy him for all eternity. 13. God Is Loving – God Infinitely, Unchangingly Loves Us “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” - 1 John 4:7-8 Love. The word “staggers before its task of even describing the reality,” writes R.C. Sproul in his book, God’s Love. As with all attributes, we can only begin to comprehend God’s love in light of his other attributes. The love of God is eternal, sovereign, unchanging, and infinite. “It is a strange and beautiful eccentricity of the free God,” Tozer writes, “that He has allowed His heart to be emotionally identified with men. Self-sufficient as He is, He wants our love and will not be satisfied till He gets it. Free as He is, He has let His heart be bound to us forever. God’s love is active, drawing us to himself. His love is personal. He doesn’t love humanity in some vague sense, he loves humans. He loves you and me. And his love for us knows no beginning and no end. 14. God Is Holy – He is Infinitely, Unchangingly Perfect “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord Almighty” – Revelation 4:8 The word holy means sacred, set apart, revered, or devine. And yet none of those words is adequate to describe the awesome holiness of our God. John MacArthur writes this about God’s holiness: “Of all the attributes of God, holiness is the one that most uniquely describes Him and in reality is a summation of all His other attributes. The word holiness refers to His separateness, His otherness, the fact that He is unlike any other being. It indicates His complete and infinite perfection. Holiness is the attribute of God that binds all the others together.” That God is holy means he is endlessly, always perfect. And his standard for us is perfection as well. “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” Jesus says in Matthew 5:48. That’s why we need Christ. Without Christ taking the place for us and dying for our sins, we would all fall short of God’s holy standard. Tozer says this about what God’s holiness demands: “Since God’s first concern for His universe is its moral health, that is, its holiness, whatever is contrary to this is necessarily under His eternal displeasure. To preserve His creation God must destroy whatever would destroy it. When He arises to put down iniquity and save the world from irreparable moral collapse, He is said to be angry. Every wrathful judgment in the history of the world has been a holy act of preservation. The holiness of God, the wrath of God, and the health of the creation are inseparably united. God’s wrath is His utter intolerance of whatever degrades and destroys.” Thankfully, the Christian will never have to experience God’s holy wrath poured out. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, the penalty for our sins was paid and we were imputed (credited) with Christ’s righteousness. Now, when God looks on us, he sees Christ’s perfect holiness. Hallelujah! It is only in this that we can hope to stand in the presence of the blindingly pure, perfect, Holy One of Israel. 15. God Is Glorious – He is Infinitely Beautiful and Great “His radiance is like the sunlight; He has rays flashing from His hand, And there is the hiding of His power.” - Habakkuk 3:4 John Piper defines God’s glory like this: “The glory of God is the infinite beauty and greatness of God’s manifold perfections. The infinite beauty—and I am focusing on the manifestation of his character and his worth and his attributes — all of his perfections and greatness are beautiful as they are seen, and there are many of them. That is why I use the word manifold.” Ligonier.org writes this about the glory of God: “When we think of the glory of the Lord, the image of brilliant light often comes to our minds. That is certainly appropriate, as Scripture often describes the glory of God in terms of a light that shines brighter than anything that we experience on earth.” The glory of God is of course, inseparable from his other attributes, so God is eternally, infinitely, unchangingly glorious. His radiance and beauty emanate from all that his is and all that he does. Isaiah 43:7 says that man was created by God for his glory. So our whole existence and purpose is to glorify him, as we are created in his image and do the good work he has prepared for us to do. Inevitably, man will try to find glory in other things, or to try and make himself an object of glory. And when those things fail to bring us satisfaction, we must decide to humble ourselves and turn our gaze back to the only one who is worthy of glory.