To utter the word theology will arouse various feelings, thoughts, and reactions from different people; some will absolutely love the study of theology, others will cringe at the thought of theology. At times, students of the Bible can elevate theology and in the end loose doxology (worship); at other times, students of the Bible can elevate doxology and loose theology (drifting into idolatry). In the end, theology is incredibly important for our worship in order that we may praise God correctly and appropriately.
For some time now, I have noticed that the average church-goer does not seem to have an interest in theology. It is seen to be an area of study for pastors, missionaries, seminary students, or perhaps even “serious Christians.” In reality, all Christians, regardless of vocation or maturity, would benefit from the study of theology, since within the subject itself elevates our view of God. Perhaps the problem is more with the term than the subject. Regardless of the issue, my hope is to expose Christians to more fundamental theological concepts in short articles. The following is my attempt to present salient theological topics in a digestible yet satisfactory manner.
THE INCOMMUNICABLE ATTRIBUTES
In theology proper (the doctrine of God, i.e. the study of God himself and his works), scholars spend significant space on the attributes of God, which are various properties in which God simply is. In other words, God does not have love, he is love. Within the attributes of God, theologians distinguish between the incommunicable and the communicable attributes; the former referring to the properties that belong to God alone (omniscience, transcendence, etc)—the latter referring to the properties that we possess, at least to some degree, vis-à-vis as a creature of God made in his image. For this article, we will discover what the incommunicable attributes are and how theologians categorize them.
When considering who God is, we have to recognize that we are completely unlike God. God is the first cause of all things, wholly self-sufficient in himself, is existent within himself, and is entirely unable to change or be changed. Herman Bavinck, writing in Reformed Dogmatics, notes, “God has a free, independent existence and life of his own that is distinct from all creatures.”
God alone bears his own names in which he shares with no one—YHWH being the supreme in this example.. YHWH is the one who was, who is, and who will always be. In other words, God has no variation or change even in the slightest degree—he is wholly independent within himself. Again, Bavinck summarizes it well, “Thus, being all-sufficient in himself and not receiving anything from outside of himself, he is, by contrast, the only source of all existence and life, of all light and love, the overflowing fountain of all good.” After being redeemed out of Egypt, Moses sings, “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?” The answer: no one!
If you were to open a systematic theology book, you will discover that scholars tend to present the incommunicable attributes under distinct headings:
The Self-Existence of God
God is self-existence in the sense that his existence is not tied to anyone or anything but rather in himself. Therefore, there has never been a time in which God has not been—he always was, is, and will be. “God is self-existent, that is, He has the ground of His existence in Himself.” God is the uncaused being—one who exists wholly by himself by no causation. “All that God is, he is of himself.”
The Immutability of God
God is entirely consistent in his character, ways, actions, and purposes: “it is that perfection of God by which He is devoid of all change, not only in His being, but also in his perfections, and in his purposes and promises.” According to Bavinck, God can not and will not change: “If God were not immutable, he would not be God.”
The Infinity of God
The infinity of God is the perfection in which he is completely free from all limitations or hindrances. To say that God is infinite is another way of saying that God is eternal. God is also not confined to space, meaning that God is everywhere—no one can hide from him. The Lord alone is the creator, the possessor of heaven and earth, the Lord of all creation, in whom we all live and move and have our being, as the Psalmist proclaims:
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,
– Psalm 139:7-9
The Unity of God
The last incommunicable attribute theologians describe is the unity of God, which is often differentiated in the unity of singularity and the unity of simplicity. When I say that God has unity (or oneness) in singularity, I mean that there is only one divine being, and having the virtue of divine nature, there cannot be more than one God. Therefore, every other being derives its existence from him, through him, and to him. In other words, God alone is unique and shares his divinity with no one.
The unity of simplicity argues that God is not collection of composite parts but is simple (or one). The simplicity of God “contends that the first cause of all being [God alone] must be simple for the straightforward reason that complex or compound things depend upon parts that are more fundamental in being than themselves. And nothing is more primary in being than God.” In other words, a Boeing 747 is a complex design, made up millions of composite parts that function together to create a powerful airplane. God is simple in the sense that he is not dependent on any other composite parts to function or to be—he simply is within himself. To conclude, Steven Charnock summarizes it well:
God is the most simple being; for that which is first in nature, having nothing beyond it, cannot by any means be thought to be compounded; for whatsoever is so, depends upon the parts whereof it is compounded, and so is not the first being: now God being infinitely simple, hath nothing in himself which is not himself, and therefore cannot will any change in himself, he being his own essence and existence. – Steven Charnock