Read Richard Rice, 

Reign of God

 (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1985)

I- Read chapter 3&4: Chapter 3 & 4 God’s Character/The Nature of the Reign of God and write an in-depth 
250-word reaction to the reading; this is a summary of what you read. It will need to be written in double space. At the end of your summary, you will need to include 
3 provocative questions (i.e., provocative questions you come up with triggered by your reading, they will not be answered or need to be answered).

II-For this assignment make sure to answer each question thoroughly.  I am looking for well thought out answers so you can get full credit.  
Please do not just copy and paste the answers from the book I want to see it in your own words. Answer these three questions in at
least five sentences and give substantial answers

1. How and why is our knowledge of God limited?

2. Why is it difficult for people to believe in God?

3. What evidence supports God’s Existence?

4. What does this activity involve: Prophesy?

5. What is the evidence for and against the idea that God somehow changes?

III- Read John 5-8 of The Holy Bible
(NRSV-Study Bible) and answer the following questions:

-What are 1 or 2 things that surprised you from this reading?

– Was there something new that you didn’t know that seemed to be important in your reading?


The Nature of


Reign of God

Psalm 90:2

Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth


the worla, jrom everlasting to everlasting you are God.

John 4:24

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.

Revelation 4:11

You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and

power for you created all things, and by your will they were created

and have their being.

Exodus 34:6-7 Isaiah 46:8-11 1 Corinthians 1:9

Nehemiah 9:6 Jeremiah 10:10 2 Corinthians 13:14

Job 38-41 Timothy 2:4

1 Timothy 6:15-16
Jeremiah 18:1-11

Psalm 33:6-9 Daniel 2:20-21

Psalm 103:13-14 Matthew 28:19 James 1:17

Psalm 139 Romans 4:17 Revelation 14:7

Isaiah 6:1-6 Romans 8:28


thing that exists belongs to


“In the beginning God created the

heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:).
The first verse in the Bible is basic


one other of these categories: It is the or the
creator or creature.

As creator, is the source of all reality. He alo

everything that follows. In highly

compressed form, 1t containssa

comprehensive view of God’s

relation to the world. The assertion

exists independently; everything
owes its existence to him. Moreov what is creaturely is always creaturely. A creature can never

that God brought the universe into
existence in an act of personal
freedom illuminates the essential
qualities that distinguish God


everything else, God’s fundamental
disposition toward his creatures, the
way God affects his creatures, and
the way God’s creatures affect him.
To understand the nature of God’s

become a divine being.
This basic distinction between God and the world, between creator and creation, rules out two other world-views that have had great influence in human history: monism and dualism.

As the word suggests, monism is the belief that all reality is one. It also affirms that all reality is divine, so everything real is a part of God. According to monism, the
distinctions that seem so important on the level of ordinary experience between different persons, between
pain and pleasure, life and death,
good and evil, even past and future-
all these differences are illusory.
They arise from our failure to grasp the true nature of things.

The way of salvation this world-
view implies is one of self-
realization. It consists in discovering

sovereignty, we must therefore
examine the following topics: God’s
identity, God’s character, God’s

activity in the world, and God’s

experience of the world. First,
however, we need to take a look at
the fundamental relation between
God and the world which the biblical
concept of creation provides.


The word “world” can refer to the
planet Earth or to the entire universe.
We will use it here in the second one’s essential divinity, and usually

includes a method for overcoming
sense. Gen 1 and 2 describe the
origin of life on this planet, but they also provide a basis for
understanding God’s relation to all



As we saw in chapter 3, the idea
of creation draws a sharp distinction
between creator and creation. Every

the distinctions suggested by ordinary

experience. The great religions ot
the East typically embrace a monistie

view of reality.
As a religious force, dualism is

not nearly as influential as it once
was, but at times it has presented a




cerious rival to the biblical view of

God and the world. According to

dualism, there are two ultimate
principles, rather than one, and they

good, and what he creates is
essentially good, too. Evil doesn’t
belong in the scheme of things. It
isn’t something God created. In fact,
it isn’t a “something” at all; it is a
distortion of what was meant to be.

are engaged in pemanent conflict

with each other. One principle is

good, usually symbolized by light.
The other is evil, or darkness

Dualism provides a convenient

As creator, God enjoys universal
sovereignty over the world, as state

ments like the following affim:
“The earth is the Lord’s and the solution to the problem of evil,

because it attributes all suffering to

the evil principle in reality. In its

pure form, it promises no end to

suffering, since evil is just as

powerful as good. But almost al1
dualistic religions, such as

Zoroastrianism, affirm the ultimate

victory of good over evil.
With its affimation of the

fullness thereof, the world and those

who dwell therein” (Ps 24:1).

Everything belongs to God. Because

God’s sovereignty is all-inclusive, he

is the only being who deserves to be

worshiped. As we saw in the pre-
vious chapter, God’s universal

Sovereignty is closely related to

divine oneness, the central theme in

the Old Testament. Because it creaturely world, the doctrine of

creation excludes monism. On the

one hand, the world is real, even

though it is not divine. Our

emphasizes that God is one, the

religion of the Old Testament is often
identified as “monotheism,” in
contrast to “polytheism,” the belief

that there are many gods.
In polytheism reality is divided

up, or parceled out, among many di-

vine beings. Each god has a different

sphere of influence, or a limited

range of power. One is in charge of

the sea. Another is responsible for

war. Still others preside over

hunting, planting, building, and so

on. In ancient times, for example,
each nation had its favorite god,
which looked after its interests.

experience of things in time and

space is not an illusion. On the other

hand, the world is not evil merely
because it is not God. The distinc-

tion between God and the world does

not coincide with the distinction be-

tween good and evil. The created

world is good because it expresses
the will of a good and loving God.

The doctrine of creation also
conflicts with dualism in two ways.
First, it allows for only one supreme
being: God. He is the single source
of all that exists. His power is

unrivaled, so there is no chance of a

When one country defeated another

in war, the people attributed this to
the superiority of one god to the permanent conflict between God and
other. anything else. Second, God is wholy



The Old Testament therefore According to monotheism, a

single divine being rules over

everything and everyone. Reality is

not divided up among different
centers of divine influence,
competing with each other for human

allegiance. Reality is *of a piece.”It
forms a coherent whole.

reveals a developing understandin of God’s true status. At times, God is described as greater than other god ods, a sort of first among many: “Now T


know that the Lord is greater than: gods” (Exod 18:11); “There is non one like thee among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like thine” (Ps 86:8). But eventually the
recognition emerged that if God is infinitely greater than all others, then he must be the only God there is:
“They [idols] were no gods.. Thou alone art the Lord” (Isa 37:19-20).

This means that our personal,
individual lives can have coherence,
too. The various facets of our

existence find unity in a single object
of devotion: the one true God. This
is precisely why the so-called first
great commandment directly follows
the confession of faith in the oneness
of God: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord
our God is one Lord; and you shall
love the Lord your God with all your
heart, and with all your soul, and
with all your might” (Deut 6:4-5).
The universal sovereignty of God
makes it possible to love him with
every fiber of our beings, because
every activity we engage in, and
every object that interests us, lies
within his domain.


The biblical view of creation gives us
a basic concept of God’s relation to
the world. To expand our

understanding, we need to explore
further the complex interaction
between God and the creatures. As
we noted earlier, theologians
traditionally develop the concept of
God by expounding on a list of
divine attributes. This traditional list

Although the oneness of

God is

basic to biblical religion, it

apparently took the Hebrew people a
long time to grasp its meaning and
importance. For many years
polytheism posed a great threat to
monotheism. The people of Israel
were constantly tempted to

participate in the religious practices
of surrounding nations, and they
finally suffered Babylonian captivity
because of their failure to worship
God alone (see Jer 1:14-16).

has its value, but we are committed

to the central claim that God is the

one who revealed himself in Jesus

Christ. Let’s see how the
identification of God with Jesus
affects these time-honored attributs
and transforms our understanding of

his relation to the world.
From a philosophical standpoint,

self-existence, or “aseity,” as it s

sometimes called, is probably the




fundamental divine attribute. It omniscience. As the source of most.

oresses the concept that God has reality, God must be supremely
powerful, of course.


omnipotence means not merely that
God is more powerful than anything
else. It means that he could not be

life in mself. As the source of life,


God doesn’t need the world, but the
needs God. Its existence is

derivative, dependent; his is

underived, ornginal, and originating.

Because God is self-existent, he

is also eternal. He has always
existed, and he always will. Nothing

could threaten him, because he is

more powertul than everything else.

There is nothing that he has not

made. The concept of eternity raises

the question of God’s relation to

time, which has generated enomous
discussion over the centuries. Two

more powerful than he is. In other

words, his power is perfect.
The concept of perfect power,

like that of eternity, has provoked
lengthy discussion. If we insist that
perfect power is “power to do
anything,” we soon run into
difficulties. Can God make a rock so

big he can’t lift it? Can God add two
and two and get five? Can God make
a square circle? Can God create

uncreated creatures? If God can do contrasting views are particularly

noteworthy. According to classical
philosophers and the many Christian

thinkers who follow their lead, divine
eternity means timelessness. God

exists in a single timeless moment.

There is no past or future for God,

only an etemal present. Not

surprisingly, it is difficult to see how
Such a being could have any kind of

relationship with a world that exists
in time, or could even be aware of it.

The Bible presents a quite different
view of God’s relation to time. For
the biblical writers, God’s e


is not timeless, but everlasting. God
has always existed, and he always
will exist. There was never a time
when God was not.

anything, then we have to answer yes
to such questions, because there is

nothing God can’t do. So this
definition of omnipotence leads to

absurd statements about God.
For this reason, most theologians

define perfect power, not as “power
to do anything,” but as “power to do

anything logically possible.” In
denying that God can do what is logi-

cally impossible, we do not limit his
power. We simply insist that our

language about him make sense. The
reason God cannot “ereate uncreated
creatures” or do other absurd things
is not because his power is
inadequate. It is because such things
aren’t doable. They have no

meaning. We do not honor God by

attributing nonsense to him or detract
from his glory by denying it.

Omnipresence describes God’s

A number of other attributes
follow from God’s identity as creator.
Among the best known are
omnipotence, omnipresence, and



important considerations pres relation to space. Literally, it is the
quality of being everywhere. Like
omnipotence, omnipresence follows
from the idea that God is the

from concluding that God exists us bodily fom. One is the Bible’s condemnation of any attempt to God by physical means. The
depict universal sovereign. If God’s reign

includes all that exists, then there is
no part of the universe from which

God is excluded.

commandment, prohibits the manufacture and worship of images (Exod 20:4.5) This seems to exclude the very idea that God exists in physical form. Another factor is God’s status as creator of the universe. Since every. thing depends on God, since “in him we live and move and have our be. ing,” as Paul stated (Acts 17:28), God must be everywhere. Nothing could exist in his absence. So, he must inhabit all reality, not just a part of it (see Isa 57:15). If God extends throughout the universe, we cannot confine him to a specific part of it.
The religious availability of God also prevents us from giving him a

specific location. God is present to
human beings everywhere. This is
why Paul maintained that God does
not dwell in temples built by hands
(Acts 17:24). In answer to the
question of where one should
worship, Jesus said, “God is spirit,
and those who worship him must

worship in spirit and truth” (John
4:24). God is no more available in

one place than in another. Since God

Is accessible anywhere, worship is a

matter of heart and mind-a matter

for example.

One of the questions
omnipresence raises is whether or not
God has a body of some kind. Those
who believe that God has a body
often appeal to the biblical statement
that human beings were created “in
the image of God” (Gen 1:27), which
seems to suggest a physical similarity between us and God. If human
beings resemble God, they reason,
and if human beings have bodies,
then it is logical to conclude that
God, too, exists in bodily form.
Besides, the word “image” seems to
point to a physical resemblance.

In addition, many biblical
passages attribute physical
characteristics to God. Adam and
Eve heard the sound of God walking in the garden of Eden (Gen 3:8).
Moses saw God’s back as he passed by on Mount Sinai (Exod 33:23). Isaiah and Daniel saw God sitting on
a throne (Isa 6:1; Dan 7:9). There
are numerous references to God’s
eyes, his hand, and his mouth. He is often described as speaking, and sometimes as weeping.

On the other hand, many Christians attribute to God the quality physical location. Those who believe
of personal attitude rather than.

of “incorporeality,” to use the
technical term. They believe that

that God is incorporeal appeal to

other considerations as well.



verywhere ifh had a body, they

for to exist as a body is to be

creatures. This might explain the
similarities among the various
descriptions of God we find in
prophetic visions.

Omniscience is “perfect
knowledge.” An omniscient God
knows all things. This attribute, too,
is a matter of controversy. Some

people insist that God knows every-
thing, others, that God knows
everything that is logically knowable.
In either case, God knows everything
there is to know. The question is
whether certain things are logically
unknowable, and therefore unknown
even by God. No one doubts that
God knows all things past and

resent. The crucial question is
divine foreknowledge, or God’s
knowledge of the future.

If God is omniscient, a familiar

argument goes, then he knows all
reality-past, present, and füture.


not only knows everything that has

already happened; he knows
everything that will happen as well.
But if God knows the entire future,
the counter-argument runs, then
everything will happen just as God

foresees, and there can be no such

hard to see how God could be

somewhere in particular, it is to be

here, rather than somewhere else.
In addition, a body as we know it

depends on an environment. All our

physical organs-eyes, nose, mouth,

hands, feet, etc.-enable us to func-

tion within our specific environment.

They wouldn’t be necessary if we

didn’t need to move around and

weren’t dependent on things like

food, water, and air to survive. If we
say that God has a body, we seem to
imply that he is similarly dependent

on an environment, when the Bible

clearly indicates that God does not

depend on anything outside himself
in order to exist. Consequently,
many believe that we cannot identify
God with a bodily form.

Those who affim God’s

incorporeality usually interpret
biblical passages which attribute
physical characteristics to God as
“anthropomorphisms.” An

anthropomorphism describes God as
if he had human qualities. It is a

figure of speech, not a literal

Perhaps we can harmonize these

diferent views of God if we

thing as freedom. Freedom

presupposes that we have genuine

alternativesi assumes that our

distinguish between “having a body”
and “assuming a physical form.”
This enables us to say that God
himself is not essentially physical,
but he may assume a characteristic
form from time to time when he

choices really contribute something
to reality. But if God knows all our
actions in advance, then everything

about us is already settled, and there
is nothing left for us to decide.
Indeed, if God knows all our choices
in advance, we do not really make manifests himself to physical



to this question. By lookine a way his ministry them when we choose; we merely

find out what they are.

We cannot settle this complicated

issue here. But it is important to note

that supporters of both views agree

that God’s knowledge is perfect.

They differ as to whether future free

decisions can be genuine objects of

knowledge. If so, then of course God

knows them. If not, then God cannot

know them, for the same reason that

he cannot do things that are logically

impossible-not because he is

somehow deficient, but because

divine knowledge, like divine power,

must be logically coherent.

lf you sense something missing
from this discussion of God’s

illuminates d’s and knowledg power, presence,
can develop an rstandingof
intellectual depth and religiousva

these divine qualities that has both

It is not difficult to find
manifestations of divine power in t ministry of Jesus. Miracles are he clearest example. Jesus demonstrate
power over the forces of nature

stilling the storm, walking on water multiplying loaves and fishes,
changing water to wine, healing the
sick, and raising the dead. Two things
strike us as we look at the list of
things he did. One, of course, is the
ability to pertorm these dramatic

feats. Clearly, extraordinary power is attributes, you can understand why

people like the French thinker Blaise

Pascal insist that the God of

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not the
God of the philosophers. We don’t

find expressions like “omnipotence,”
“omnipresence,” and “omniscience”
in the Bible. We don’t use them in

The other striking feature of
these phenomena, however, is the

fact that they all benefited human
beings. None of them was a mere
show of superiority. Jesus was no

wonder-worker; he was not a
magician entertaining the crowds.
He came to minister-to meet human

our hymns and prayers. They are

highly impersonal and abstract.

Instead of promoting our relationship
with God, they seem to get in the

needs, to serve and to bless. AAs

displayed in the life of Jesus, then,
divine power expresses God’s

commitment to our well-being.

On the other hand, these
attributes deal with issues that people
often raise out of deep religious
interest. So, it won’t do for us to
dismiss them as inconsequential to
faith. The question is whether they
have any distinctly Christian content.
Our commitment to Jesus Christ as

God’s power must be more than

unfathomable force. The mere

possession of overwhelming force

represents a tremendous threat.

Could we ever be at peace if we

believed that one being in the

universe has the power to annihilate

everything else that exists? Sheer definitive of God provides an answer



gives us no basis for security.

represen As we see God’s

wer in the life of Jesus, it is always

from your presence? IfI go up to the

heavens, you are there; if I make my
bed in the depths, you are there. IfT

rise on the wings of the dawn, if I

settle on the far side of the sea, even

The crucial question is what that

plied in the framework of love.

God’s power is always power for


Seen in this light, ivine power is not
there your hand will guide me, your
right hand will hold me fast” (Ps
139:7-10). God is inescapable. No

a threat, but a source of immense


A similar transformation occurs
matter where circumstances find us,
we can be confident that he will be

when we look at eternity,

omnipresence, and omniscience in

light of Jesus life and ministry.
Eternity and omnipresence give us

confidence that nothing in time or

space can separate us from God’s

love. Jesus promised his disciples he
would never leave them; he would be

there for them wherever and

with us. Nothing can separate us

from him.
Omniscience, too, has important

religious significance. The idea that

God knows us thoroughly is an
awesome thought. It reminds us that

he is aware of everything about us.

He knows things about us that we

don’t even know about ourselves. He

has numbered the hairs of our head, whenever they called on him.

“Surely I will be with you always, to

the very end of the age” (Matt

28:20). His promise echoes

for example (Matt 10:30). He also

knows things about us that we would

prefer to keep hidden-our innermost
thoughts and intentions, and our
wildest dreams and most private

fantasies. He knows the secret things
(see Ecel 12:14).

By itself, the idea that someone

knows everything about us is no

source of comfort. Since nothing is
hidden from God, he knows all those

things we want to keep entirely to

ourselves. He knows enough about

each of us to condemn us for eternity.

The thought that God knows us

perfectly is frightening .. until we

see what Jesus did with the extraordi-

assurances we find in the Old

Testament. “Lord, you have been our

dwelling place throughout all

generations. Before the mountains

were born or you brought forth the

earth and the world, from everlasting
to everlasting you are God” (Ps

90:21-2). The idea here is that God
is a permanent refuge for his people.
If he lives forever, from time

immemorial and for all time to come,
then we can be confident and secure
in him.

In the same way, God’s

“omnipresence” refers to his constant nary knowledge he sometimes

companionship. “Where can I go
from your Spirit? Where can I flee

displayed. Consider the woman a

the well in Samaria, for example


86 Person


life, her



but he did not




her. He

Because God is free and self.

determined, we can speak of him as a

one of the most significant ideas
“person. The concept of person


in order to

show how


and cared for her. God’s

have. It plays an important role

our understanding of both God and
humanity. “Person” is a difficult

concept to define, but it seems to

involve several fundamental qualitie

ole in

then, is another


of his

ledge to shame or harm us. He

desires to know everything
about us

because he deeply cares for us.

Taking Jesus as the key to our

understanding of God,

the divine attributes. Instead of

love. God refuses to use his know

A person IS first of all a unity

an individual being, not a mere

collection of being. A forest, for

example, is not a person. To be
unified, something must have a

center which organizes and

determines its activities. The central

presenting us with a list of philo-

sophical problems to solve, they

provide us with a wealth of

reassurance. Believing that God

is what Jesus revealed him to be,

nervous system, including the brain,
determines the activities of the entire
organism in higher forms of animal

life and human beings. In addition to
unity, or individuality, a person is
also characterized by self-
consciousness. It is not only a unity;
it is also aware of itself as a unity.

Another important aspect of

personness is relationship, or

reciprocity. Unity and self-
establishes God’s essential identity; it consciousness enable a person to

we welcome the thought that he

is eternal, omnipresent, and

perfect in power and knowledge.



God’s creative activity not only

also indicates the kind of being he is
and reveals his attitude toward the
world he made. God brought the
world into existence by a free, crea-tive act. He created because he chose

experience relationships with other

persons. When you and I encounter 3

person, we encounter something we

can interact with. A person can arrec

us and be affected by us in similar to do so, not because he was com-pelled to. We see God’s freedom in the fact that his creative activity ended when it reached its conclusion

A personal being is also free or

self-determined to some extent. It is

never entirely the product of tacto
outside its control. Each person is a
east partly the product of his or her

(Gen 2:2). It didn’t go on



Own yn choices. This s why we hold craftsman’s or artist’s interest in some
for their product of her ingenuity. God not

only admires and values what he has
made; he commits himself to its
welfare. Moreover, in the fact that
God created human beings in his

image we see that God seeks to
establish a personal relationship with

his creatures.



Because a person is free and self



there is always an

element of mystery in a person’s

ersonal. actions are neveer

entirely edictable. Persons can

decide to do things they have never

done before. They can express

themselves in original ways. Think

of people you know well and admire.

One of the things that make them

interesting is their capacity to

surprise you. The more you know

them, the more you appreciate their

God’s personal interest in
creation separates the Christian view

of God from two other concepts of

God’s relation to the world, namely,
deism and pantheism. Both affirm

the reality of the world and the
oneness of God, but each view in its

own way denies that God is

personally related to the world.

Finally, a person has dignity and

value. We place a higher value on

persons than anything else. We

typically refuse to express their

importance in quantitative terms. We

would never compare the value of a

person to that of a building, or an

automobile, for example. Personal

worth is incalculable.

According to deism, God is
responsible for bringing the world
into existence, but that ended his

involvement with it. Since then he
has taken no further interest in it.
Deism is often associated with two

l0 summarize, a person is self-

conscious and free, capable of

relationships and characterized by
responsibility, mystery, and dignity.
When we speak of God as a person,
we think of him as free and as

popular metaphors, the master
craftsman and the absentee landlord.

Since God designed the world

perfectly, deists maintain, he never

needs to adjust its operation or

interfere with the natural course of

capable of relationships with us that
are somewhat similar to our

events. The universe runs entirely on

its own, and everything operates

according to the fixed laws of nature.

Consequently, there is no place in a

deistic world-view for miraculous in-

relationships with each other.
The Bible attributes many

personal qualities to God, and it
describes his attitude toward his
Creatures in personal terms. God’s
nterest in creation goes far beyond a

tervention or supernatural revelation.

In fact, there is no place in deism for

any divine-human interaction. Like


describe ditterent concepts of
relation to the world. Immanence


absent owner,

God is


unaffected by anything

that hap-

pens in the world. The world is en-

tirely on its own.

refers to God’s participation

or in-

dence refers to the ifference
distinction between God and the

volvement in the world. Transce

Pantheismn world. To use spatial language,
Whereas deism separates God from

the world, pantheism goes to the

opposite extreme and identifies God

with the world. For pantheists,

God” and “world” are references to

immanence refers to God’s closene
to the world; transcendence, to Sod’s distance from the world.

Theism the same all-inclusive reality.
Pantheism maintains that God is the The God of deism is wholly

transcendent, and the God of
pantheism is wholly immanent. For
one, God is utterly beyond the world
For the other, God is in-
distinguishable from the world. Each
view emphasizes one attribute to the
exclusion of the other. In contrast,
Christian faith attributes both

power which sustains all reality, but

t denies that he is anything more

than this. So, it reduces God to his

function within the world.
Like deism, pantheism excludes

any personal relationship between
God and creation. God obviously has
no relationship with the world if, as
ieism claims, he is totally unaware of

it. But if God is essentially identical

to the world, his relation to it could
never be truly personal, either. He
would be related to creatures in the

qualities to God. God indeed
transcends the world. He is unlike
anything he has made and infinitely
superior to everything else. At the
same time, he is immanent to the world as a human being is related to

the cells in her body. He would be
sensitive to their experiences, but the
reciprocity, the conscious interaction, characteristic of personal relation-ships, would be impossible. If God is merely the whole of the reality that includes us, he cannot be an “other,” a “counterpart,” who interacts with

world. He is actively involved in the

world, momentarily sustaining t
operation and guiding it toward the
fulfillment of his purposes for it. i
term “theism” is often used to refer to

this view of God.
Of the three, only theism

provides a way to conceptualize tne

loving reign of God. God does no
reign from a distance. Because Goa

1oves and cares for the world, hes

deeply involved with it. In other
words, he must be immanent to l it.



Immanence and transcendence
Serious thinkers often use the terms “immanence” and “transcendence” to THE NATURE OF THE REIGN OF GOD

Ine same time, if his love is truly


aconditional, God must be infinitely

greater than any aspect of the world.

For his love to be everlasting, for

example, he must be everlasting, He

cannot depend on anything else for

his existence. Moreover, if God’s

love is universal, it cannot be

restricted to any specific location.
God must transcend all finite entities.

In this way we can see why the
central claim that God is love favors

certain philosophical ideas over

The idea that God’s creative
work continues has an intensively
personal application. God is not only
creator of the world, he is the creator
of each individual in the world. As

Martin Luther observed, to say, “I
believe in God… maker of heaven
and earth,” is really to say, “I believe
that God has created me.”2 In terms
of our guiding theme, we have not

grasped the significance of divine
sovereignty if we think of God only
as Lord of the universe. We must others.

These different concepts of God

set the stage for another essential part

of this doctrine. Because he is

each think of him as “my Lord.”

keenly interested in his creatures and

deeply committed to them, he takes

an active part in the world he made.

The word providence” refers to
God’s ongoing involvement in the

world. As described in the Bible, this

activity takes several different forms.

First, God sustains and guides the
natural order on a moment-by-GOD’S ACTIVITY IN THE
moment basis. Divine power main

tains the universe. “Thou hast made

heaven, the heaven of heavens, with

all their host, the earth and all that is

on it, the seas and all that is in them;
and thou preservest all of them” (Neh

9:6). According to many thinkers,

the concept of cosmic or universal

power is basic to the idea of God. In

this vein, Paul Tillich defines God as

the “ground of being,” or the “power

of being.”
The idea of nature that figures

prominently in Westerm thought is

closely related to the Christian view

of God’s relation to the world.

Moden science rests on the presup-

position that reality is orderly and

We have seen that the idea of

creation expresses the Bible’s

distinctive concept of God’s relation

to the world. It also points to the

most fundamental activity associated

with God. “In the beginning,” reads

the first verse of the Bible, “God

created ..”(Gen 1:1). Although
“Creation” brings to mind the origin
of the universe, the word also refersS

to God’s subsequent actions in the
World. And this may actually be its

most basic meaning. For God not

only brings the world into existence
he continues to participate in its


consummate act of human injusti
saved the world. “Christ redeemed
us from the curse of the lawned




This idea


the belief that an

God is


for its



world to

behave in

was the very means by which

become a curse for us-for it is

written, “Cursed be every one who
certain ways;

and by carefully

our minds,
which he also created, we

can figure out what they are.

Although it

refer to God’s

relation to the natural world,

“providence” usually designates

God’s relation to human history. God

directs the course of history

the fulfillment of his purposes.

the most part, he suggests, intluences,

and responds to human decisions and

actions. But he can also take a more

direct role and work through

hangs on a tree (Gal 3:13).

our sake he made him to be sin who
knew no sin, so that in him we miohs


become the rignteousness of God

Cor 5:21).
So great is God’s ability to wort

for good that there 1S nothing, how

ever bad in itself, that cannot

ultimately serve his purposes. Paul

expresses this conviction in the most

famous biblical statement on divine

providence: “We know that in

everything God works for good with

those who love him, who are called
according to his purpose” (Rom
8:28). The assurance that God can

work for good in every situation, no
matter how negative it may be, has

been a tremendous source of strength
to Christians throughout history

We must be careful to distinguish
divine providence from divine
determinism, which makes God
directly responsible for everything
that happens to us. Some people
have the idea that God specifically
plans every event in their lives. They

believe that nothing takes place tha

he has not intended. They may even

Tind support for this view in another

translation of Rom 8:28: “And we

know that all things work together
for good to them that love God, to

them who are the called according

circumstances to bring about specific

Often apparently negative, even

disastrous events contribute to God’s

purposes. In a fit of jealousy,

Joseph’s older brothers sold him into

slavery. Years later, as a powerful
figure in Egypt, Joseph was able to
save his family from starvation. God
thus used an act of treachery to bring
about something beneficial. At least,
this was Joseph’s conviction. “Do
not be distressed, or angry with
yourselves,” he told his brothers.
“God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to
keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Gen 45:5-8).

The crucifixion of Jesus is the most dramatic instance where God used something negative to fulfill a positive purpose. Here the


his purpose” (KJVv).

But this view makes God respon-
future, sees what is going to happen,
and shares his knowledge with us.

An alternative approach views
prophecy primarily as an expression
of God’s intentions. From this

sible for all the suffering and evil in

Christian ith emphatically denies.

It is true that God works through

the world-something which

even negative ones,

good. But he is not himself t the cause

of all the events he uses. God

perspective, prophecy tells us what
God’s plans are. It is not a forecast
of what must inevitably take place.

There are biblical passages that
lend support to each approach to

prophecy. The remarkable
fulfillment of certain predictions
recorded in the Bible corroborates the

for our

frequently works in spite of

rcumstances, as well as through

God’s role in superintending the

course of human history is most evi-

dent in the prophetic books of the

Bible. Here we see God actively in-

volved in national and international

developments. The prosperity of a

nation is shown to be the resuit of

divine favor; conversely, its

view that prophecy is God’s

announcement of what lies ahead.
Seventh-day Adventists see a close
correspondence between the
prophecies of Dan 2 and 7 and the
course of ancient history, with its

succession of four great kingdoms.

For many, this provides strong evi-

dence that the Bible is divinely

In addition, certain features of

misfortunes are a form of divine

judgment. The overall theme of

Daniel, for example, is God’s

ultimate supremacy over every other

power, including the mightiest na- Jesus’ life recall specific statements
in the Old Testament. These include tions on earth.

The phenomenon of prophecy is

closely related to the concept of

providence. Prophecy expresses
God’s perspective on the future, and,
like many aspects of the doctrine of
God, it is interpreted in different

his mother’s virginity (Isa 7:14), his
place of birth (Mic 5:2), and the
Circumstances surrounding his death

(Ps 22:16-18; Isa 53:7,9).

Perhaps most striking are various

predictions of individual behavior.

Isaiah, for example, foretold Cyrus
role in repatriating the Jewish people

and restoring Jerusalem well over a

hundred years before he lived,

according to conservative biblical

reckoning (44:28-45:4). On the eve

of his crucifixion Jesus described the

A familiar approach sees

prophecy as an expression of divine

foreknowledge. Many people think
of prophecy as “history in advance.”
They believe that God looks into the future activities of disciples, in



in nature. A conditional prophecy is
what human beings decide to do.


cluding Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s

threefold denial (Matt 26:21, 25, 31

34; John 13:21, 26).
In light of such predictions, we

can see why many regard prophecy
as an announcement of what is bound

one whose fulfillment depends on

The clearest description of
conditional prophecy appears in the book of Jeremiah:

“If at any time I declare
concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerningg which I have spoken,
turns from its evil, I will repent of the evil that I intended to do to it. And it at any time I declare concerning a
nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then
I will repent of the good which I had intended to do to it” (Jer 18:7-10).

Since God modifies his plan to
accommodate human decisions, many prophetic predictions are not an
ironclad forecast of the future.

to transpire. However, there are also

passages which base God’s
announcement of what is to come on

his intention to take personal action
and directly cause things to happen.
One example is Isa 46:9-11: “I am
God, and there is no other; I am God,
and there is none like me, declaring
the end from the beginning and from

ancient times things not yet done”

(vv. 9-10a). By themselves these
verses suggest that God is a passive
observer of the future. But the next
few words give us a different picture:
“My counsel shall stand, and I will
accomplish all my purposes… I
have spoken, and I will bring it to
pass; I have purposed, and I will do
it” (vv. 10b-11). In this passage, what God foretells will not happen
on its own; he is going to make it

According to this second view, then, the basic purpose of prophecy is loves, respecting their choices yet

Instead, they describe what God will
do in the event that certain things
happen. Like providence, conditional
prophecy portrays God as an active
participant in human affairs. It
shows him interacting with those he

to express God’s intentions to
accomplish certain things. In
prophecy, God reveals his ultimate objectives for human existence and presents the course of action he plans to follow in order to reach them.

doing everything possible to help
them fulfill his glorious purposes tor

their lives.

God often changes his course of action in response to human behavior, and for this reason we speak of many biblical prophecies as “conditional”

In spite of their differences, the

wo Views of prophecy just described

are not incompatible. We can harmo0

nize them by observing that there are

different kinds of prophecy. Some
prophecies describe God’s knowledg
of things that will inevitably come t



Other prophecies express God’s like logical rules which allow no
exceptions. They simply describe the
customary way God operates. Mir-
acles are not violations of nature’s


fulfillment is not itable, because
intentions to do certa things. Their

to human actions.

may change his plans in response

laws; they are simply departures from
God’s ordinary way of doing things.

But even if there is a power
superior to nature, capable of
intervening in its operation, the
possibility of miracles remains in
question. For why would God want
to intervene? Wouldn’t miracles


Although Christians believe that God

is involved in the entire course of

human history, they also attribute

certain events to specific divine

activity. We usually refer to such

events as miracles. A miracle is a

definite occurrence which happens as

the direct result of God’s power and

frequently interrupts the normal

course of events.

In the modern world much of the It actually obscures the nature of

discussion about miracles concerns

the possibility of such events. Ina

well-known book on the topic, C. S.

Lewis observes that the possibility of

miracles presupposes two things:

There must be a power capable of

somehow repudiate or invalidate the
order he created? If he set things up
the right way to begin with, why

would he want to alter their


miracles to define them as interTup-
tions in the natural course of things,
because this focuses on the excep-
tional character of the events. As the

Bible describes them, however, mir
acles are never merely extraordinary

intervening in nature, and this power occurences, or displays of supernatu
ral power. They always serve a

attitude toward miracles thus depends religious purpose. They are part of

God’s larger work in human history.

Our understanding of the reign of The essential purpose of miracles is to

God certainly fulfills the first of these awaken and strengthen human faith in

God. They focus attention on the real

source of all that is good in the world;

must be willing to do so,4 Our

on our concept of God.

conditions. It affirms both God’s

Superiority to what he has made and

the ongoing interest he maintains in

Creation. As sovereign, God is not

bound to act upon the universe he

created in only one way. He may

vary from his normal course of

operation if it suits his purposes.

In this view of God’s relation to

tne world, the laws of nature are not

they remind us that God is indeed

alive and well.

Miracles played a prominent role

in the ministry of Jesus, where they

illustrated the nature of the kingdom

of God. In feeding the hungry,

healing the sick, casting out demons,

and raising the dead, Jesus provided


vivid examples

of what takes place

when God’s reign is realized in this

world. His




According to Christian faith

of God is fully


When God reigns,
human life will

fulfilment. It will not be

only affects the world: th

has what life will be like when the

an effect on God. The convictio ha
that God experiences the world sharply

threatened by hunger, illness, demons,
separates the Christian


or death.Víewed
in this way,

miracles are not violatontions of God is totally inditferent to the worla

separates the Christian view from
other perspectives. Greek philoso-

phers such as Aristotle believed that
miracles are not

violations of nature,

as is often thought, but revelations of

it. They provide a window on what

reality was meant to be.

Although miracles play a role in

God’s activity, we should be careful

not to exaggerate their importance.

God occasionally interrupts the

normal course of events with dramatic aware of the finite world and in-

displays of power, but this is not the

way he customarily exercises his

sovereignty. Instead of directly im-

posing his will on events, he prefers to intense interest in this world. He is

allow his creatures to make their own the supreme actor on the stage of
decisions and then respond in the way history, as we noticed in the previous

that best serves his purposes.
The way God characteristically

acts in and through the actions of

others points to the central feature of
the divine character. Because he loves takes note when a sparrow falls (Matt

us, God values everything about us
and regards our decisions with utmost
seriousness. Because he loves us,
God condescends to interact and

For them, the creaturely world is un.

worthy of God’s. attention, so he exists
in the splendid isolation of etemity.
where he thinks of nothing but him.

But for Christians, God is acutely

timately involved in its events. This

is certainly the biblical view. From
Genesis to Revelation, we see God’s

section, and he is keenly interested in

what happens to his creatures. In-

deed, according to Jesus, he numbers

the very hairs on our head and even

While Christians universally

believe that God knows and cares

cooperate with us. His actions do not
nullify ours, they incorporate them
within a higher synthesis. We
therefore have the privilege of
participating in God’s work in the
world. We are among the means by which he establishes his reign.

about his creatures, they do not agree

on the precise nature of his exper-

ence. Many hold that God’s

experience of the world is static.

They maintain that God experien
the course of history all at once

single, timeless perception. From all



vantage point of etemity, he sec


reality-past, present, and future.

Others are convinced that God’s

experience of the world is dynamio

related to his creatures that he experi.

tnat his experience is static, because it excludes the possibility that he could change in any way. A God
who changed in the slightest, even in
his experience of the world, cannot be perfect, they maintain; he cannot be the greatest possible being.

This is because something can
change in one of two ways-either for better or for worse. If God could

They believe that God is so closely

lives in a temporal way. ences thei

other words, he experiences the In
events of this world as they occur

rather than all at once. This means

that things make a contribution to

God’s experience precisely when they
happen. Interestingly, there is
biblical evidence for both ideas.

Texts like the following play an
important role in this discussion: “I

the Lord do not change” (Mal 3:6);
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday
and today and for ever” (Heb 13:8);
and Every good endowment and
every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of
lights with whom there is no

variation or shadow due to change”
(Jas 1:17).

When the Bible speaks of God as the behavior of certain individuals, changeless, it seems to support thee
idea that God’s experience of the
world is static. Because a dynamic
experience is one that grows or
develops, a changeless God must
remain the same in every way no

matter what happens.
The Bible also states that God is

“perfect” (Matt 5:48). Indeed,
“perfection” is the essential attribute
of God. It means that God is the
greatest being imaginable; nothing about him could be better than it is. In the thinking of many people, God’s perfection supports the idea

improve in any way, then he must be
less than perfect now; if he got
worse, obviously, he would become
less than perfect. Consequently, a

perfect being cannot change, and
everything about God, including his
experience of the world, must
therefore be forever exactly the same.

Many biblical prophecies seem to
indicate that God experiences the
future ahead of time. Certain
prophecies chart the general course of
coming history (Dan 2, 7; Matt 24;
Rev 13). Others accurately predict

such as Pharaoh, who rejected God’s
demand to release the Israelites
(Exod 4:21), and Cyrus, the Persian
king who supported the rebuilding of
Jerusalem (Isa 44:28-45:4). Jesus
predictions of Judas’ betrayal and
Peter’s denial belong to this category
(John 13:21-30; Mark 14:29-30).
Perhaps most remarkable are the
numerous “messianic” prophecies in
the Old Testament that were fulfilled
in the life of Jesus (e.g., Ps 22; Isa
7:14, 53; Mic 5:2). We could
extend the list considerably, but the
pattern of prediction and fulfillment



convinces many that God experiences different emotions to God
times. They support the idea thar exem

God at differens
idea that his

the future, the past, and the present

experience changes in response to
i what happens in the creaturely world

all at once.
Personal religion seems to

require a changeless God, so this,

too, contributes to the idea that God’s

experience is static. If God changes,
how can we trust him? How can we

The many “conditional”
prophecies of the Bible present as responding and reacting to event

in human history (see Jer 18:7.10
The most tamous is Jonah’s
prediction of Nineveh’s destruction

be confident that he will not alter his

(Jonah 3:4). The city’s inhabitants repented when they heard this
message, and “when God saw whar
they did, how they turned from their evil way, God repented of the evil
which he had said he would do to
them; and he did not do it” (3:10).
This statement gives the strong
impression that God decided to spare
the Ninevites in direct response to
their repentance. In other words, he
experienced their repentance when it
happened, not before.

During his ministry, Jesus
heightened this portrait of God’s
sensitivity to his creatures. In his
most dramatic stories, Jesus

attitude toward us? In order to
commit ourselves to God completely,
many believe, we need the assurance
that nothing about him could ever be

different, including his experience of
the world. To use traditional
language, he must be “immutable.”

Evidence that God’s experience
of the world is static is impressive,
but there is significant evidence on
the other side of the discussion, too.

Numerous biblical passages seem to
indicate that God’s experience of the
world is dynamic. These texts
describe God as reacting to events as
they occur. They also show that God
is highly sensitive to his creatures.
What they do and what happens to
them have a powerful effect on him.

At creation, for example, God

was delighted with what he had

made; he saw that it was “very
good” (Gen 1:31). Before the flood,
however, he was sorry that he had
created human beings; indeed, “his
heart was filled with pain” (Gen 6:6).
Later on God was distressed by
Israel’s apostasies (Jer 3:20), and he
was anguished with the thought of
having to give his people up (Hos
11:8). Such passages attribute

described God’s reaction when
Sinners return to him (Luke 15).

According to Jesus, God feels what

the shepherd, the woman, and the

father in these stories felt when they
recovered what was lost. In his

words, there is “rejoicing in heaven
over one sinner who repents” (LUKe

Further support for the view that

God’s experience is dynamic comes

rom the important biblical statement,

“God is love” (1 John 4:8). AS We



seen, Christians believe that

fundamental to the plan of
rather than timeless. It involves
successive experiences, not just one

all-encompassing experience.
The question of God’s relation to

the world is closely related to the
question of divine foreknowledge.
Most Christians who believe that

love is
salvatio and central to the very
nature of God (John 3:16). If God’s
cic attiude toward his creatures is

Jove, then he must be
one oz

love is nothing if not sensitive to its

Human relations demonstrate this that his experience of the world is

responsive to their experiences, for

God’s knowledge of the future is not
exhaustive are committed to the view objects.

principle. The greater our affection
for someone, the more responsive we

are to that person s experiences.
When two people are deeply in love,

they care about the slightest fluctua-

tions in each other’s moods and

feelings. Nothing can happen to one

of them that does not concern the

other. Now, if God loves us more

than any human being does, then he
must be infinitely sensitive to ev
erything that happens to us. And our
experiences must have a greater

effect on him than on anyone else.

These considerations lead many
Christians to conclude that God’s

dynamic.5 Creaturely events make an
ongoing contribution to God’s inner
life. To be consistent, it seems, those
who believe that God knows the
future in all its detail should maintain
that God’s experience of the world is

static, since he sees the entire future
in a single glance.5 However, many
Christians today hold another view.
They believe that God knows the
entire future in advance, but is
nevertheless affected by events as
they occur.7 In other words, God’s
knowledge of the world is static, but
his experience of the world is
dynamic. Knowing that something is

xperience of the world is dynamic

rather than static. They believe that
God responds to events in the

creaturely world with appropriate

feelings or emotions precisely as they

happen. God sorrows when the
sparrow falls,; he rejoices when the
Sinner repents. This means that God

feels our joy and suffers our sorrow
exactly when we do. He has the

experience when the event takes
place, and not before. Accordingly,
God’s experience of the creaturely
world is best understood as temporal

gOing to happen, they maintain, is not

the same as actually experiencing it3
These are complicated issues, to

say the least, but they deserve careful

attention. Besides their intellectual
importance, they can profoundly

affect our atitude toward God and
our relationship to him. Let us pull

together some of the strands

in our

We made several important

distinctions as we developed our
doctrine of God. We discussed the
essential being of God, God’s basic



unseat him from the throne of the universe. Nothing will ever weake his commitment to the welfare of

attitude toward the world, God’s

activity in the world, and God’s

experience of the world. These cate-

gories enable us to assert that God is

changeless in some ways and yet
changing in others. Certainly, God’s
fundamental being and character
could not change. It is inconceivable
that God should not exist, or that the
quality of his knowledge, goodness,
and power should be less than
perfect. Nor can Christians think of
God as ever changing in his attitude
toward his creatures; constant love is
an essential quality of his character.

At the same time, we must
regard God’s activity in the world as
dynamic. It is impossible to do
otherwise, because to act is to bring about a change. And we muust
similarly think of God’s experience of the creaturely world as dynamic. He is sensitive and responsive to the experiences of his creatures.

Now, we can speak of God as both changeless and changing, provided we apply these qualities to different aspects of God. The funda-mental qualities of divinity, the things that make God God, never change. His essential being and fundamental character are always the same. In contrast, his activity in the world and his concrete experience of the world do change. In fact, they are constantly changing.
We can express this point in relation to the reign of God. The reality and the quality of God’s reign never change. Nothing will ever

creatures. It is the same “yesterda today, and forever” (see Heb 13:8 13:8). Yet the precise course of God’s administration changes in response the actions and experiences of his ereations. What he decides to do depends in large measure on what his creatures decide to do, and on what happens to them. God is responsive to all their feelings and experiences The underlying reason for this


complexity in God’s reign is the fact that his essential character is one of love. In constancy and consistency God’s love never changes. The level of his commitment to our welfare could never be greater, and he will never become more or less loving than he has always been. At the same time, God’s concrete responses to our experiences are always changing. The ongoing events of our lives contribute to God’s experience, and he reacts to them with a wide
range of emotions.

Our fourfold conception of God
achieves logical consistency. It also gives us a view of God that is faithful
to the entire biblical portrait. And in

presenting us with a God who is
completely reliable and at the same
time loving and lovable, it helps to
meet our deepest personal nee



fo Chapter 4



atritude is the influence of modern
science on the way we look at the

world. Science operates on the

assumption that reality is uniform. If

we know enough about the present,

we can make reliable predictions
about the future, and a procedure
performed anywhere in the world will

yield identical results elsewhere if the

conditions are duplicated. Science

also directs its attention to the

The central Christian doctrine has

From ancient to modem times, it has

never been easy for people to believe

in God, with all that this means. At

the same time, every age poses its

distinctive challenges to faith. The

intellectual and cultural climate

surrounding Christians has changed

markedly over the centuries, and with

each major shift the question of God

takes a somewhat different form. WVe

cannot retail this fascinating history

here, but it is important for us to

know which way the wind is blowing

in our own time. In recent years,

thinking people have asked probing

questions about the reality of God,
the nature of our knowledge of God,

and the appropriate language we

should use for God.

en a source of ontroversy.

physical world, the world of matter

and energy. Scientific experiments

employ our senses, such as sight and

hearing, or the extension of our

senses by sophisticated instruments

like microscopes and telescopes.
The achievements of science and

technology in Westerm culture are so

impressive that people naturally hold

the conclusions of science in very
high esteem. The enormous prestige
of moderm science tends to have a

negative effect on belief in God. For

some people scientific truth is the

only truth there is, and the only

reality is what science can

investigate. From this perspective, it
is difficult to believe in God, because


he isn’t an object for scientific

investigation. We can’t see him, or

hear him, or touch him. Telescopes
and microscopes have never detected

For most of human history, few

people questioned the existence of
God. In biblical times, the presence
of divine power in the world was evi-

dent to everybody. The great
question then was not whether there
1s a God, but which God is the true
God. Today things are different.
Many people find it extremely
difficult to believe in God.

Not only is God something that

science cannot examine, but people

no longer appeal to God to explain

how things work. For a while it was

common to assign God responsibility

for things that science couldn’t One reason for this change in





for the “gaps”

in our


of the




perceived in the things he h made” (Rom 1:20).
According to the Bible, huma

such a good job of filling in these

that there is less and less for

God to do.

behavior also points to the reality

God. In his sermon at Athens, Paul referred to the religious practices

his audience. “Men of Athens,

The problem of evil is an older

obstacle to belief in God than

perceive that. in every way you are

religious, for as I passed along
Science, and probably a greater


to faith. Since Christians
believe that

God is both supremely powerfül and

perfectly loving, the presence of suf

fering in the world he has created

poses a tremendous problem. If God

is all-powerful, he could prevent or

eliminate evil. And if he is all-

and observed the objects of your

worship, I found also an altar with

this inscription, “lo an unknown

God.’ What therefore you worship as
unknown, this I proclaim to you

(Acts 17:22-23).
Paul also found evidence that

everyone experiences God in the area

of conscience, or morality. Human

beings everywhere have a sense of

right and wrong. “When Gentiles
who have not the law do by nature

what the law requires.. they show
that what the law requires is written

on their hearts…” (Rom 2:14-15)
Over the years, philosophers

have also found evidence for the

loving, he would certainly want to do

so. Yet evil exists. So, the

traditional argument goes, God must

be less than perfect in either power or

love. In other words, the God of

Christian faith cannot be real.

Because it is difficult for people

to believe in God today, an adequate
doctrine of God must address the

question of his existence. The

writers of the Bible all believed that existence of God in nature and in

God exists, but they did not assume
that trusting God would be easy.
They mention several kinds of evi-
dence that support the realty of God.
One source of evidence is the
wonders of nature. “The heavens are

human experience. The most popular

argument for God’s existence begins
with the complexity and intricacy we

see in the world around us. When we

look at the beauty of a starry sky or

telling the glory of God,” David
exclaimed, “and the firmament pro claims his handiwork” (Ps 19:1). Centuries later Paul asserted: “Ever

consider the intricate mechanism or

since the creation of the world, his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly

our own bodies, we find it difficult to

believe that such things happen by

mere chance. They give every

indication of being designed by an

enomous intelligence.

Careful thinkers also find

evidence for God in the mere



off a wo

dinary experience

a world. In the realm of

ce everything gets
mind? We are clearly capable of
such loyalty. People often strive
valiantly to achieve their personal
goals. They will even make great
sacrifices for other people or for
causes larger than their own interest.
But is there anything worthy of our
total devotion, anything worthy of
being served with every fiber of our

being? Is there anything in reality

from mething else.

for the world as its what accounts a



hy is there something,


thar nothing? This ultimate

ause of the universe can’t be

omething that derives its existence
else, for then it would

be another part of the collection

of dependent things. Consequently, it that answers to this capacity for

from anything

must be something self-existent,

something whose existence does not

depend on anything else.

Philosophers have also found

evidence for God in religion and

morality-two pervasive factors in

human experience.
Human beings

have a natural inclination to worship,

to invest something with ultimate im-

portance. The tendency to worship is

so deeply imbedded in our experience

that it seems logical to conclude that

it points to something in reality itself.

For many people, the existence of

God provides the best explanation for

this dimension of our experience.

Augustine put it this way centuries

ago: “Thou hast made us for thyself,
and our hearts are restless until they

find their rest in thee.”9

supreme loyalty? If so, its qualities
would have to resemble those
attributed to God. It would have to

be supremely loving, it would have to

exist forever, it would have to be

accessible everywhere, and so on.

On the other hand, if there is no such

being, then our own experience

apparently betrays us on a

fundamental level. It directs us to an

object that does not exist.
Moral sensitivity is also an

essential characteristic of human ex-

perience, and many people believe

that it, too, is best explained by the

reality of God. Only personal beings
can feel responsible, the argument

goes, and we can only feel

responsible to other persons. So, if

the universe is ultimately impersonal,

if reality is nothing more than the

arrangement of matter, then there is

no good explanation for our sense of

right and wrong. We have an

adequate account of our moral

experience only if there is a supreme

personal being who is the ultimate

source of our moral standards and

Our guiding theme, the reign of

God, suggests an interesting way to

pose the question of God’s existence.

The notion of God’s loving
sOvereignty leads us to ask if there is

anything or anyone worthy of our

ultimate devotion. Does anyone
deserve the allegiance of our entire
Deing-the love of heart, soul, and who holds us accountable for our


God’s Character:

The Basis of His Reig


Exodus 20:3

You shall have no other gods before m


Acts 17:27-28

He is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move


have our being.

1 John 4:8

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Isa 6:3 Rom 1:20
Geneses 1:1|

Exod 3:14-15 Isa 45:15 Rom 2:14-15

Exod 34:6-7 Isa 55:8-9 Heb 11:6

Lev 11:45 Acts 14:6-17

Ps 53:1 Acts 17:22-31


with th


defined. But the problem wit two-stage approach is that his Who and what is God? No question

is more
fundamental to religion, or to

all of human life. What we think

about God affects our attitude toward

philosophical ideas and modes thought can dominate our thi

everything else. Is life worth living?

Do human choices really matter? Is

there hope for the future? Our

understanding of God makes all


difference in our answers to these

and obscure the biblicalaking
God.4 Start with philosophical
arguments and concepts, and it is

f G


up with an idea

that is, at best, only marginally

easy to wind

religious. A better approach is to
examine the biblical portrayal


questions. Most important, it will

determine our understanding of

ourselves. To paraphrase John

Calvin, human beings never achieve

a clear knowledge of themselves

unless they first look on God’s face.

first and then turn to the various
questions people ask about God

today. We will then not only be less
likely to lose sight of the


view; we will also have in hand the

resources it provides as we meet

these challenges.

The central task of Christi


theology-some would say, its only
task2-is to develop an adequate

understanding of God.

While the importance of knowing
God is clear, the best way to develop

this knowledge is not. Many

theologians follow an agenda like

“The Existence and Attributes of

God.”3 They begin by examining
various philosophical proofs for

God’s existence, and then work their


One description of God surpasses all

others in importance. For Christians,

God is first and foremost “the Fat


of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The

way through a list of divine

attributes, such as spirituality,

eternity, immutability, omnipresence,
and holiness. This approach assumes
that theology should first clear away
people’s objections to God and then,
piece by piece, one attribute at a
time, assemble a doctrine of God in
their place.

It is true that a doctrine

of God

today must deal with the issue of
God’s existence, and that God’s vari-

implications of this designation are

profound. For one thing, it means

that everything we say about God

must be informed by what we find in

Jesus. Otherwise, no matter how

much biblical and philosophical

material we accumulate, our concep

of God will never be fully and

distinctively Christian.

The central claim of Christian

faith appears in a number


biblical passages, including John and

1:14, “The word became


ous attributes need to be carefully



2 Corinthians 5:19, “God was in

not simply that God revealed himself in Jesus, but that God revealed himself in Jesus as nowhere else. God communicated with humans hefore Jesus’ life and death, and he

to it. In certain cultures, it is a sign
of respect to address people as Father of..” or “Mother of … followed by the name of their child. Whatever else these people may be, this practice implies that their identity as parents is the most important thing about them. The theological point here is a little like that. God’s relation to Jesus identifies him as

Christ.” The essential claim here is

has communicate with them since but Jesus was the high point of the whole process. God tells us more in this particular life, and he says it
more clearly, than anywhere else in the sphere of creaturely existence. The revelation of God in Jesus is not only unique in scope and clarity; it is definitive. What we see in Jesus is nothing less than God himself.

God. If we want to know God, we need to go to Jesus.5
So, what do we learn about God from the revelation in Jesus? What portrait of divine

esus? What

from his life and ministry? We can summarize it in the shortest, most im-

portrait of divine reality emerges
This is the thrust of Jesus’ dramatic
pronouncement, “Anyone who has
seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). His disciples were evidently hoping to learm more about God than what Jesus had given them. “Show
us the Father,” Philip asked, “and that will be enough for us” (John 14:8). Jesus replied, in effect, “That’s
exactly what I am doing. What you
see in me is the Father. There is

portant statement in the Bible: God is love.


Love is the first and last word in the
biblical portrait of God. One famous
biblical passage asserts that love is so
basic to God’s nature that we cannot
know God unless we know

nothing further God could do to make
himself known.” What comes to something about love: “Whoever

does not love does not know God
because God is love” (1 John 4:8).
This is as close as the Bible comes to

expression in the life and ministry of
Jesus is nothing less than the inner-
most reality of God.

From a Christian standpoint, the
identification of God with Jesus is so
close that it is proper to say not only Jesus is God, but God is Jesus. This
one human life so fully and clearly
reveals God that from this point on

giving us a definition of God,o and
Christians have always viewed it as
the Bible’s most important descrip
tion of the divine reality.7 lt indicates
that love describes the inner reality of

God. Love is not an affection God
sometimes shows, or a quality God people could define God by referring8



that he loved us and sent his Son might or might not display. Love is

the essence of God’s nature. Love is

what it means to be God.

Son an atoning sacrifice for our sins” ( (1

John 4:9-10).

According to the Bible, love i. not only God’s most important quality; it is also his most
fundamental quality. All his attributes arise from love. The assertion God is love therefore includes everything there is to say about God. As one theologian writes, “All our further insights about who and what God is must revolve round.. the mystery of His love.. [T]hey can only be repetitions and amplifications of the one statement that God loves.”9 Love unifies all the attributes of God.10

To be faithful to the Bible, we

ve i
Although it appears only once in

the Bible, the statement God is love

succinctly summarizes a pervasive
biblical theme. The Psalms describe
God as “abounding in steadfast love”
(Ps 103:8; ef. vs. 13). A prophet says
he has everlasting love for his people
(Isa 54:8). According to many
passages, his love or kindness goes
on forever.8 God’s love led him to

establish Israel as a nation: “It was
because the Lord loved you and kept
the oath he swore to your forefathers
that he brought you out with a

mighty hand and redeemed you from
the land of slavery” (Deut 7:8
[NRSV]). God’s love explains his
enduring commitment to his people:
I have loved you with an everlasting
love; I have drawn you with loving-
kindness” (Jer 31:3); “in his love and
mercy he redeemed them; he lifted
them up and carried them all the days of old” (Isa 63:9).

According to the New Testament, God’s love comes to its fullest

must therefore try to show how each divine attribute expresses an aspect of his love. We will examine God’s love more closely and then explore its relation to his other qualities. The English word “love” covers
an enormous range of meaning. We
use it to describe our attitudes toward
everything from our favorite food to
the people who mean the most to us.
But in Greek, the original language
of the New Testament, there are
several different words for love. Two

expression in the life and death of Jesus. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8); “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16). “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but

of them are particularly important for

understanding the nature of divine
love. They are eros and agape.

Bros is the Greek root for such

English words as erotic and
eroticism. While these derivations
have distinctly sexual overtones, tne

original meaning of eros is not


ecessarily sexual

attraction people feel for

omething they find

at all. It refers to
nationality; ethnic, linguistic, or
educational background; financial or
social status; mental, physical, or

moral condition. In a word, there is

desirable and

want to possess. Eros may refer to

the desire of one person for another.


but it
can also refer to our attraction

for anything, such as knowledge,

no one God does not love.
The all-inclusive, unconditional

quality of God’s love is particularly
evident in his actions toward those money, or power. Eros is conditional

love. It depends on the desirability

of its object.
In contrast to eros, agape does

who oppose him. “But God shows
his love for us in that while we


not depend on desirable qualities in

its object. It flows entirely from the
nature of the lover. And instead of

seeking to possess its object, agape

leads to self-giving, self-sacrificing
actions. It is untainted by self

interest. So we can say that agape is

unconditional. To use Shakespeare’s
words, it does not “bend with the re-
mover to remove.” It continues

whether or not it is ever returned.

yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romn
5:8). In the Sermon on the Mount,
Jesus relates divine perfection to the
way God treats sinners. “Love your

enemies and pray for those who
persecute you,” he instructs his
followers, “that you may be sons of
your Father in heaven. He causes his
sun to rise on the evil and the good,
and sends rain on the righteous and

the unrighteous…. Be perfect,
therefore, as your heavenly Father is
perfect” (Matt 5:44-45, 48). So,
God’s love extends to everyone, even

The New Testament uses the
second of these words to describe
God’s attitude toward human beings.

His unconditional love exhibits a
his enemies.

Like an endless fountain, God’s
love pours forth in a steady,
uninterrupted stream. It perfectly
embodies Paul’s famous description:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does
not envy, it does not boast, it is not

proud. It is not rude, it is not self-

seeking, it is not easily angered, it

keeps no record of wrongs. Love

does not delight in evil but rejoices
with the truth. It always protects,

always trusts, always hopes, always
perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Cor


number of remarkable qualities.


one thing, it takes the initiative. “We

love, because he first loved us” (1
John 4:19); “In this is love, not that
we loved God but that he loved

us…” (1 John 4:10). God’s love is
also generous. It leads him to bestow
lavish gifts on his beloved. “For God
so loved the world that he gave his
only Son” (John 3:16). As this text
indicates, God’s love is also all-inclu-
sive. It embraces the entire human
family. It includes every human
Deing, regardless of race, age, sex, or The unconditional nature of



our own.

This is the sort of difference that lies behind the familiar passage, a

God’s love gives it an

iTational quality. It is filled with

surprises. On any
rational scale of

values, God’s love makes no sense.

It defies all logic. It contradicts all

“normal” behavior. This is vividly

apparent in Jesus’ parable of the

prodigal son. 12 A rebellious,

disrespectful son demands his share

of the family estate and then wastes

the entire amount in disgusting

behavior. Later, utterly destitute, he

comes dragging home, hoping to

work as a servant for something to

eat. But instead of treating him as he

deserves, his father joyfully
welcomes him back to the family,
restores him to all the privileges of
sonship, and celebrates his return

thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than

your ways and my thoughts than
your thoughts” (Isa 55:8-9). This is not a general aftirmation of divine

inscrutability in spite of the way it is often interpreted.3 Instead, it refers
to God’s willingness to forgive, in
contrast to our typical reluctance to
do so. “Let the wicked forsake his
way and the evil man his thoughts.”
states the preceding verse. “Let him
turn to the Lord, and he will have
mercy on him, and to our God, for he
will freely pardon” (Isa 55:7). God’s
thoughts and ways are higher than
ours because he is willing to forgive
where we would not be.

with a sumptuous feast. Un-
derstandably, the boy’s older brother
can’t figure their father out. It makes
no sense to treat a scoundrel that
way. He was right. His father’s

lavish affection defies explanation.
And that’s the point of the story.

God’s love is so powerful and
tenacious that it sometimes takes on a

fierce, wild quality. It can be scary to
discover that you are the object of
intense, relentless affection. In a

well-known poem Francis Thompson
compares God’s search for sinners to
a hound’s pursuit of its prey.14 No
matter what we do to evade him, God

God’s love for sinful men and
women transcends all the boundaries
of ordinary experience; it explodes every conventional expectation.

The transcendent quality of God’s love is a familiar theme in the Old Testament prophets. It is one of the most important differences between his nature and ours. God is like us in being sensitive to the experiences of others, but radically different from us in the profound depth of his feelings. His sensitivity and love are infinitely greater than

never abandons his quest for our
affection. He promises never to
leave or forsake us (Heb 13:5; ct.
Exod 31:5, 8). “How can I give you
up” he exclaims (Hos I1:8).

The relentless intensity of divine love helps resolve an apparent dilemma in the biblical portrait o D’S CHARACTER: THE BASIS OF HIS KINGDOM


destroy themselves. Because God

loves human beings, he cannot ignore
human sin. In the final analysis,
God’s wrath is nothing less than ar

expression of his love.5
In spite of their basic compati-

bility, there are striking difierences in

the biblical descriptions of God’s

wrath and his love. For one thing,

God. As the Bible describes him,

God is adically opposed to sin and

ermined to eliminate it from the

He is a “jealous God”

vill by no means

(Exod 20:5), “who

clear the guilty (Exod 34:7). He

will bring “every deed into

iudgment” (Eccl 12:14) and finally

destroy the wicked in a lake of fire

the Bible refers frequently to God’s

love and only a few times to his

anger. Words like “good,”
“righteous,” “merciful,” “gracious,
are applied to God throughout the

Bible, but the expression “angry
God” appears in the Old Testament

only once (Nah 1:2).16 Second,
God’s anger is fleeting or temporary,

while his love is permanent: “His an-

ger is but for a moment, but his favor

is for a lifetime” (Ps 30:5); “In over-

flowing wrath for a moment I hid my

face from you, but with everlasting
love I will have compassion on you”

(lsa 54:8). And third, God is
reluctant to get angry, but eager to

show mercy (Exod 34:6; Ps 103:8).

Clearly, then, God’s fundamental

disposition is one of love, and his

anger is only incidental. Unlike love,

wrath is not an attribute of God, a

(Rev 20:14-15). People often wonder

how the same being can be at once a

compassionate, forgiving parent and a

stern judge of evildoers. So, what is

the relation between divine love and

divine wrath? If God loves sinners

so much, why is he intent on

punishing them?

God’s wrath marks the difference

between genuine love and mere

indulgence. Because God’s love is

unconditional, people are tempted to

think of it as a form of benign

indifference. They suppose that God

doesn’t really care what we do, since

he goes on loving us no matter what.

But nothing is farther from the truth.

God’s love is unconditional, to be

sure, but it is deadly serious, too.

God loves us so much that

everything we do matters to him.

Consequently, he is satisfied with

nothing less than the best for us.

This explains why God is utterly
ruthless in the face of sin, why it
never goes unnoticed or unresponded
to. It is not because God is

quality inherent in his nature. It is

“something that happens rather than

something that abides.”17

With the centrality of God’s love

firmly in place and its various quali-

ties in mind, we can now explore

other aspects of the doctrine of God.
determined to even the score, to take
revenge for every slight he has
suffered. It is because he cannot
stand idle while those he loves



disclosed the Father and Son as one, vet distinct at the same time,
The presence of the Son in the erson of the Spirit also reveals




For many people, the idea of the tri-

nity is the most baffling aspect of the

Christian doctrine of God. It seems

unity that includes a distinction.
Though physically absent, Jesus is nevertheless personally resent with to present us with a mathematical ab-

surdity. How can something be three

and one at the same time? The con-

his followers by means of the Holy Spirit. Through the ministry of the Spirit, Jesus fulfills his promises: “Where two or three come together in
my name, there am I with them”
(Matt 18:20); “Surely I will be with
you always, to the very end of the
age” (Matt 28:20). Though clearly united, the Spirit and the Son are not identical. The Spirit is someone sent from the Father into the world (see John 14:16; 15:26).

Another factor that contributes to the concept of the trinity is the nature of love. Love is inherently social; it

cept of the trinity also strikes some

people as a relapse into polytheism,
the belief in a plurality of gods. How

can we reconcile the claim that God

is somehow three with the biblical


emphasis on divine oneness?
In response to this question,

many people treat the trinity as a sort
of numbers game. They search for

analogies to show that something can
be three and one at the same time,
like a triangle, for example, which
has three sides, or water, which exists
in three different states–solid, liquid, involves relationship between the and gas. But such approaches all
miss the mark. The trinity is not an
intellectual puzzle, a challenge to our
ingenuity. Its basis lies in God’s
saving activity.

The gift of the Son and the gift of the Spirit are the two most
important moments in the history of salvation. They show God moving toward the world, manifesting his love in personal form. In giving himself to his creatures as the Son

lover and the recipient or object of
love. In other words, love requires
an object of devotion. Accordingly, if love is what God is, as Christians
affirm, if love is the very essence of
the divine reality, then there must
never have been a time when God did
not love. God must have experienced love within himself from all etemity.

and the Spirit, the one God discloses his inner reality. He shows that his nature is not monotonous; it is not sheer undifferentiated oneness. The

The understanding of Father, Son,
and Spirit as relations of love within
the divine reality makes this

It this all seems a bit confusing
let us try to reduce the idea of he trinity to its simplest elements. ro

manifestation of God in Jesus
all its complexity, the doctrine of the GOD’S CHARACTER: THE BASIS OF HIS KINGDOM


conviction: God’s revelation in Jesus

is a genuine self-revelation. The

was the first element that eventualy
produced the doctrine of the trinity.
The second was the experience of Je

sus personal presence through the
power of the Holy Spirit. This is the

meaning of the Pentecost, when the
Holy Spirit came upon the early
Christians and enabled them to fulfill
the gospel commission (Acts 2:1-4;
cf. 1:8). The experience assured
them that Jesus was with them at that

expresses one fundamental

history of salvation discloses and
corresponds to distinctions within the

inner being of God himself. What

threefold manifestation of God in the

God reveals himself to be is exactly
what he is. Now, let’s try to unpack

the development of this doctrine a

The earliest Christians, the ones

who had personal contact with Jesus,
found God unbelievably close to
them in his life-so close, in fact,
that they had to speak of God as be-
ing personally present in him. Jesus
was not simply a messenger from

God. He was God. There was no

very time, guiding and leading in
their activities. Though physically
absent, Jesus remains with his people
through the Spirit as the Comforter
he promised to send (John 14:16, 17,

26; 15:26; 16:7-14).
The doctrine of the trinity thus

unifies the revelation and the identity
of God. It expresses the belief that
God is really what he presents
himself to be in his saving activity.
God appears in human history as
Father, Son, and Spirit because that’s
exactly what he is in himself. Our
threefold experience of God

corresponds to a threefoldness in the
inner reality of God.

To some people this doctrine
may look like a presumptuous effort

to probe the inner depths of God.
But far from transgressing the

boundaries of revelation, it is really
an attempt to do justice to its

profound content. The dramatic
claim that God was in Christ-truly,

personaly present in this human

life-requires us to identity Jesus

with God. The gift of the Son was

nothing less than the gift of God

other way to express their experience
of him.

At the same time, all the early
Christians were confirmed
monotheists. They never spoke of
Jesus as another god, alongside, or in
addition to, the ruler of the universe.
They never thought of God and Jesus
as two separate objects of devotion.

We might say they experienced God
in Jesus, not God and Jesus. But

even as they identified Jesus with

God, they made a distinction between
the Father and the Son, as Jesus
himself had done. Jesus was aware
of the Father as another. He prayed to the Father, for example, and he
urged his followers to do so in his

The experience of God as

personally present in the life of Jesus


fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”18 In addition, there ah

Testament references to


But is the doctrine of the trinity

truly biblical? Or is it, as some

people argue, merely a product of

human speculation, an

distortion the gospel suffered as it

made its way into the classical world

and became an object of

philosophical speculation? It is true

that the word “trinity” never appears

in the Bible, nor is the idea ever

several New

Jesus and to the Holy Spirit as divi (e8, Acts 5:3-4).

During the fourth and fifth
centuries Christian thinkers sought to
express more fully the threefold
manifestation of God we find in the
New Testament. They faced two
heretical tendencies-an

explicitly spelled out. So, the

doctrine is not something you can

read right off a page of Scripture.
The concept of the trinity does,
however, express themes that are
central to the biblical portrait of God.
The doctrine brought them to full

expression when the church faced
heretical tendencies that would have
destroyed its understanding of God.

We find hints of this doctrine in
the Old Testament and preliminary
expressions of it in the New. The
Old Testament speaks of the “spirit of
God” and the “word of the Lord” in

overemphasis on diVine unity and an

overemphasis on divine complexity.
Some Christians thought of Father
Son, and Spirit, not as real

distinctions within God, but merely
as modes through which the single
divine Person manifested himself. In
contrast, others subordinated the Son
to the Father in such a way that he
was less than fully God.

It is no simple task to describe
God in a way that avoids these ex-
tremes. But out of the complicated
discussion of those early years came connection with the creation of the a number of terms which are still in world (Gen 1:2; Ps 33:6). There is also a famous passage in Proverbs where “wisdom” seems to enjoy near-divine status (8:22ff.). These

expressions suggest a complexity within the being of God.
This divine complexity is much more apparent in the New Testament. Two texts mention the three together: Matt 28:19, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the son and

use today. Two of them appear in the
formula, “one substance, three
persons.” The term “substance”
refers to what makes something wnat
It is. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are
one in their essential divinity. But as

persons, the three are distinct.
The Latin word persona, the

origin of our word “person,” first
referred to the mask an actor wore identify his part in a play. In the


of the Holy Spirit,” and 2 Cor 13:14, The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the
trinitarian formulas, it referred to tne
distinct manner of subsisting OD’S CHARACTER: THE BASIS OF HIS KINGDOM
Characteristics of each of the three.

d not indicate an independent center or wll and consciousness, as the word “persor does today.

mething fferent now, some of the

affectation on God’s part, or a temporary expedient. It is a disclosure of God’s inner reality. In
the work of salvation, God truly gives us himself. With these basic points in mind, let us consider some of the important attributes of God. If self-giving love is the essential nature of God, then everything about him is related to his love.

center of wil.

Because person” means

familiar analogies for God break
We cannot, for down rather quickly. reak

example, think of God as a family
of three, or as a committee that always votes unanimously. This separates the persons and compromises God’s unity. On the other hand, we obscure the distinctions within God if we think of the three persons merely as different functions. A single individual, for example, may be a teacher, a parent, and an amateur

Our guiding theme, the reign of God, is a metaphor that connotes great power. It afirms God’s sovereignty over all that exists and implies that God’s rule eventually overcomes all opposition. However, the mere no-

Son, and Spirit. But this view fails to tion of sovereignty tells us nothing of

radio operator, all at once. Similarly, some people think, the one divine
person variously functions as Father,

tion of sovereignty tells us nothing of the kind of power in question. We don’t know if its effects are positive or negative, whether it benefits or ex-ploits its subjects. Consequently, we

recognize how essential these
distinctions are to God.

A g0od deal has been written
about the trinity during the past few
years. Recent discussions urge us to
keep our reflections about God’s
nature firmly anchored in the history of salvation,19 When people separate God’s inner life from his saving activity and make it an independent object of speculation, they warm, the
doctrine inevitably becomes esoteric and irrelevant. To avoid losing our
way when we reflect on the trinity,
therefore, we must keep in mind the
basic conviction it expresses: The
history of salvation reveals God as he
really is. The threefold manifestation of Father, Son, and Spirit is not an

need to examine the theme of divine
power and sovereignty in light of the biblical emphasis on God’s love.

What is the relation between
God’s power and God’s love? At
first glance power and love seem
opposed to each other. As we

typically experience them, love is
something positive, power is
something negative. Love values,

supports, and nourishes. Power
dominates, subjugates, and exploits.
Ethicists often argue that vast

differences in power in a society
inevitably result in injustice, and



implication of the biblical
rtrait of history confirms their judgment.

People who have lots of


almost always take advantage of

those who have very little of it. When

we think of figures legendary for

their power, we usually

cruelty on a massive scale. Human

sovereigns often become “great” by

destroying their opponents and terri-

fying their subjects. Herod the Great

slaughtered infants. Ivan the Terrible

tortured his enemies. The rulers of

God. If what God reveals in Jesus is really true, and it is love that ma God God, then ivine power is
nothing other than the power of love God is supremely powerful precisel
because of the intensity and m-
mensity of his lovve. This prevents us from opposing God’s power to his

ancient Sparta could summarily

execute any of the serfs that farmed

their fields; no excuse was needed.

Some of the most powerful men in

recent decades brutally ended the

lives of millions of people. To

describe God as universal sovereign,

then, seems to put him in bad

company. We have to wonder if

God’s great power compromises his

love. Is it possible to reconcile the

most obvious characteristic of deity

love. God’s sovereignty is the fom
God’s love takes toward those who
depend on him for their existence,

As we noted earlier, this relation
between power and love requires us

to rethink the traditional concept of
God. For if God’s love is basic to his
power, if it is actually the source of
his power, then the reign of God is

radically different from the rule of
any earthly monarch. Properly
understood, the reign of God tuns

the whole idea of reign upside down.
Unlike human kingdoms, the purpose
of God’s reign is to benefit his

subjects, not to dominate them or to

glorify himself. And unlike any

earthly king, God places the welfare

of his subjects above his own. By

human standards, the idea of a self-

sacrificing monarch is an oxymoron,

with the central element in the

biblical portrait of God? Can the

same being possess supreme love as

well as supreme power?
The comprehensive quality oof

love we discussed earlier provides an
answer to this question. If love is the a contradiction in terms. As any


who plays chess knows, the king’s

Survival is a nation’s highest priority.

Everyone else in the kingdom is

expendable in the interest of keeping

him alive. But things are different in

the kingdom of God. Here the king

puts the interests of his subjects tirst.

He makes incomprehensible
sacrifices to ensure their survival.

ultimate source of all God’s qualities,
then God’s love must be the source of
his power. He has great power

because he has great love. The idea

that God’s universal sovereignty
derives from and depends on his love
is difficult for our minds to grasp,
because power seems so “detachable”
from love. But it is a necessary



Saying that God’s power is the

fy God. The first verse of the Bible Summarizes his creative work,20 and the idea of creation is central to the general idea of divinity. Most people think of God as a powerful being who brought the world into existence. The concept of creation is basic to God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. It tells us that the power that appeared in Jesus and reaches out to the world

absurd. It is easy to imagine


flove will also strike people

examples. And it is possible to

someone who is powerful

someone who is powerful and

filled with vivid unloving History is

to imagine someone who is powerful

andi loving as well. But it is difficult

because of her love, someone whose
love is what makes him powerful.

through his ministry is the very
power that brought the world into
being to start with.21 And the motive
for both manifestations is the same

The problem here is our inability to

imagine power apart from force
Take the force out of power and we

ceem to have weakness, not strength.
It is hard tO envision a Sovereign who

does not exert force against his

enemies. Yet we know there can be

no force in love. So, if love is central

to God’s reality, then brute force is

alien to his character. God could

never reign merely by coercing his
subjects to submit to him. That
would violate his character.

Hard as it is to grasp, the idea

that supreme love is the ultimate
power in the universe is the heart of
the Christian portrait of God. To

flesh out our doctrine of God we now

1amely, love. The world is therefore
the expression and the object of
divine love. God brings into
existence something other than
himself and lavishes on it his
affection and care.

The idea of reign involves
sovereignty, of course–the idea of
superior power and authority. If
God’s love is the fundamental quality
of his character, however, we cannot
think of God’s power apart from his
love. A loving God is not autocratic
or overbearing. His sovereignty
never consists in the applicatio

n of

sheer force. Every manifestation of
divine power is also a manifestation
of love. We see the unity of divine
power and love in the two most

important activities the Bible ascribes

need to develop this idea along the
lines of traditional theological


to God, creation, and salvation.

Although systematie theologians
typically develop the doctrine of God

by commenting on a list of divine

qualities, the Bible gives more

attention to God’s actions than his

An ancient confession of faith refers
to God as “maker of heaven and
earth.” This is a good way to identi



attributes. Is writers identify God by

describing what he does rather than

defining what he is. We see this in

the opening verse of Genesis: God

created. It is also evident in the con-


Even though it is primarily intereste
in God’s activity, the Bible does
bute a number of qualities to God
God, of course, is supremely power.

fession Hebrew worshipers made

when they offered their sacrifices:

“The Lord brought us out of Egypt”

(see Deut 26:5-11). If we could ask

them who God is, ancient Hebrews

would not offer a philosophical
definition of supreme power, they
would speak of God’s mighty acts of

ful (Jer 32:17). He is everlasting f (lsa 45:5), or immortal ( Tim 6:16); he is
everywhere (Ps 139:7-8; Acts 17:27.
28), and he knows everything (1 John
3:20). Because of his unrivaled

greatness, God is utterly unique,

unlike anything or anyone else (see
Isa 45:5; 46:9). Other supposed

gods are vastly inferior, and in the
final analysis they amount to nothing

was active in the ministry of Jesus for at all. He alone is God (Deut 6:4).
The utter uniqueness of God is

basic to biblical religion. It is the
theme of the most important text in

the Old Testament, “Hear, O Israel:

The New Testament continues
this interest in divine actions. God

human salvation (2 Cor 5:19). His
resurrection, in particular, was a

manifestation of divine power: “God

raised him up” (Acts 2:24).
Creation and salvation are the The Lord our God, the Lord is one”

two most important divine activities,
but associated with them are a num-

(Deut 6:4). It emphasizes the
distinction between God and

ber of other things God does. He up-
holds the world (Neh 9:6; Heb 1:3);
he forgives sins (Exod 34:7); he com
municates with human beings (Amos
3:7; Heb 1:1-2); he makes and keeps
promises (Deut 15:6; 2 Pet 3:9); he
predicts the future (lsa 46:10); he
makes plans (Isa 46:11); and occa-
sionally he changes his mind (Gen
6:6; Jer 18:7-9). God’s actions reveal
that he is a personal being, for only a

person can make plans and work to
fulfill them, and only a person can
communicate with other persons.

everything else and the unity of the
divine reality.

God’s uniqueness derives from
his status as creator. The concept oT

creation divides all reality into two

categories: God and world, creator
and creation. For the biblical wrters,

this distinction is comprchensive.
Everything falls into one category or

the other. Whatever is not God was

created by God and owes its

existence to God. This distinction 1s

also absolute. The creator never

loses his status, and the creature
never becomes the creator. We can

never equate God with anything in



the creaturely world,

This sharp
distinction etween

of worship. It provides the

ommandment” (Matt 22:38).

Immediately after the confession that

God is one,
we find the injunction,

“Love the Lord your God with al


and creature is basic to i


insistence that God alone


for “the greatest and first

natural object like a stone or a tree, a
natural force like wind or rain, or it
may be a human artifact. Either way,
it crosses the boundary between
creator and creature. It brings God

down to the level of a creature, or it



elevates something creaturely to the
status of divinity.

ldolatry also involves an attempt
to limit and manipulate God. If God
is restricted to some specific object or

place, then we can control him to

heart and witi all your soul and

with all your strength” (Deut 6:5).

Because God is one, God is worthy

of total devotion. The distinction

also explains the first two of the ten

commandments, “You shall have no

other gods before me,” and “You

shall not make for yourself an idol in

the form of anything in heaven above

some extent. We may be able to

appease his anger with sacrifices or
curry his favor with gifts. At least,
we can limit his control over us by
running away. But Jonah discovered
that you can’t run away from God; he

rules the sea as well as the


Neither is his love restricted; he loves
the Ninevites along with the

or on the earth beneath or in the
waters below” (Exod 20:3,4). God
alone is worthy of worship, because

he alone is creator. To worship any-
thing else is to worship something
God has made, something less than
divine. We must never identify God
With an object or power in the

creaturely world, because nothing in
the creaturely sphere adequately
represents him. As Paul said in

We often think of idolatry as

something typical of primitive or an-
cient peoples. But idolatry is not
restricted to the adoration of wood
and stone. People are guity ot

idolatry whenever they cross the line
between creator and creature–when-
ever they give God less than our

ultimate devotion, or give ultimate
devotion to something less than God.
Few people worship idols in contem
porary Western society, but many
have a distorted attitude toward God.

Athens, “We ought not to think that
the Deity is like gold, or silver, or
stone, a representation by the art and

magination of man” (Acts 17:29).
The emphatic distinction between

God and creation excludes idolatry, the practice of deifying some finite
Teality. In its most rudimentary form,
1dolatry attributes divinity to some physical reality. An idol may be a

They view him as a source of gratifi-
cation and seek him primarily to sa-

tisfy their wants or meet their needs.
Human beings also have a

persistent tendency to devote



to God, like the sanctuary where God themselves to finite objects of

loyalty. They glorify



military strength.
In the


world we often make idols out of

political power,

and personal

prestige. We care
about such things

more than we care about God, and

we often trust in them more than wee

with it,
dwells, the things associated e God
the priests and sacrificial ithi
and even the people God clain
his special possession. as

The moral dimension in ivine holiness represents another
distinctive feature of the biblical portrait of God. The God of the Bible combines supreme power with supreme goodness. This marks a

trust in him. People also “idolize”

other human beings. They view

political leaders, professional

athletes, and entertainers with the

awe and admiration that only God

deserves. But if we trust or value

striking contrast between the God o

anything more than God, according

to the Bible, we are idolators. In its

essence, then, idolatry is not an

outdated phenomenon. It is the

perpetual rival of genuine religion.

d of
the biblical communities of faith nd the gods of surrounding cultures,
The gods of the ancient Near East
generally personified the forces of
nature, and people depended on them
for fertile crops and fertile families

These gods demanded sacrifices
and offerings, but they did not

require people to treat others in a

decent way. In fact, whether or not

someone was moral in this sense was

not a matter of distinctly religious
significance. After al, the gods

themselves did not display virtuous
behavior. The deities of classical


The radical difference between God
and everything else lies behind the

idea of divine holiness (Lev 11:44;
Isa 6:3). We tend to think of”holy”
as meaning “pure,” “undefiled,” or

“morally upright,” and it does include

these ideas. But more basically, it
refers to the quality of being utterly
different from ordinary things. As
one famous study analyzes it,
something holy exudes a distinctive
aura of “uncanniness.” It fascinates
and terrifies us at the same time.22 In

Greece and Rome were superior to

humans in beauty, power, and

intelligence, but not in morality. In

fact, their behavior was


immoral. Zeus, for example, the

head of the Greek pantheon, was re

nowned for his sexual escapades.
Neither were these ancient deities

the biblical sense of the word, “holy”
applies primarily to God and only
secondarily to things closely related

always considerate of their human

subjects. Variously objects of divine
anger and affection, humans providea

amusement to the gods. “Like flies

to us are we to the gods,” remarked



ical writer. “They kill us for When God did not destroy Nineveh as
Jonah had announced, the frustrated
prophet exclaimed, “I knew that you
are a gracious and compassionate
God, slow to anger and abounding in
love, a God who relents from sending

calamity” (Jonah 4:2).


their spo.


the God of the Bible

is himself supren

moral behavior from his

Divine integrity, God’s

remely good, and he


and reliability, is a

nersistent theme in the P’salms, the

pens ncient hymns of the Hebrew people. concened with the way his followers

followers. Di

As a moral being, God is more

nd the New Testament avers that treat other people than he is with the

God cannot lie (Tit 1:2; cf. Heb 6:18). forms of worship they employ. The

dard of all goodness. “Be perfect,” particular concern of the prophets of Moreover,
God’s goodness is the stan- moral dimension of religion was a

on the Mount, “as your heavenly

Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48).

Another aspect of God’s goodness

lesus told his followers in the Sermon the Old Testament. Rituals are worth-

less, even offensive, in God’s eyes,

they insisted, if people abuse the weak

and ignore the needs of the poor. God

is even more pronounced. This is his values justice above sacrifice. “I hate,

I despise your religious feasts,” God

showers his people with blessings and proclaimed through Amos, “I cannot

stand your assemblies. Even though

you bring me burnt offerings and

grain offerings, I will not accept them.

Though you bring choice fellowship

times are his seasons.” Compassion is offerings, I will have no regard for

them. Away with the noise of your

Bible’s most important descriptions of songs! I will not listen to the music of

your harps. But let justice roll on like

a river, righteousness like a never-

failing stream!” (Amos 5:21-24).

Similarly, Micah declared, “And what

does the Lord require of you? To act

generosity and forbearance. od

affection. He is constantly giving

them good things and forgiving their

faults. As John Donne wrote, “All

occasions invite his mercies, and all

the quality listed first in some of the

God, such as Exod 34:6-7: “And he

passed in front of Moses, proclaiming,

The Lord, the Lord, the

Compassionate and gracious God,

SlOw to anger, abounding in love and

taithfulness, maintaining love to thou- justly and to love mercy and to walk

sands, and forgiving wickedness,

rebellion and sin.””

humbly with your God” (Mic 6:8).

As the supreme
principle of

goodness, God is the ultimate arbiter

of human behavior. According to one

willingness, indeed eageness, to
Oof biblical writer,

the whole

“fear God


AS we have seen, God’s

Telent from punishing people is one of biblical writer, the whole duty of

his defining characteristics. It is one

of the things that makes God God.

human beings is to “fear God and

keep his



To believe in God’s goodness s

God will bring








it is good


in the



God is thus




seeing to it
that good

and evil





draws a sharp


that come

to the godly


awaits the


believe that there is moral
verse, that good is

order in the univer

beneficial and evil

destructive. It is also to

believe that good is ultimately more

powerful than evil and will eventually
triumph over it.

It is not easy to affirm God’s

goodness in the world we live in. One

The first Psalm, for example, prooiem

S tne apparent
breakdown ne

problem is the apparer breakdown of

the order we would expect a moral

Whatever they do prospers.

God to uphold. In a well-ordere

world, we logically assume, the compares
the righteous

to a

God to uphold. In a well-ordered

the wicked are like “chaff that the
righteous prosper and the wicked

wind blows away.” They “will not
suffer. But things are often the other

stand in the judgment.”
“For the Lord

sutfer But things are often the other

around: The righteous suffer and

watches over the way of the righteous, way
around: The righteous suffer and

the wicked prosper.
How can a good

but the way of the wicked will
God sustain such a world? The


As judge, God has the

responsibility to see that sin and

sinners are
condemned. He cannot

question has perplexed people for

centuries, and there is no easy answer

to it. Job is the classic example of an
innocent person who suffers. Psalm

73 deals with the other version of the
overlook violations of the moral law.

According to one typical statement,

The Lord is slow to anger, abounding problem-the
wicked who prosper.

in love and forgiving sin and

rebellion. Yet he does not leave the

problem-the wicked who prosper.

How can we affirm God’s

goodness amid this moral discord?

We address this question elsewhere in

this book, but here let us say that

the third and fourth generation” (Num God’s goodness does not guarantee

guilty unpunished; he punishes the

children for the sin of the fathers to

14:18). Such words sound harsh to

modern ears, but the principle is

immediate rewards or punishments for

every misdeed. Only over the long

important. Unlike pagan deities, who course of human history-indeed,

frequently fly into a rage or capri- only with the eventual climax ot

ciously decide to make life miserable history-will the superiority of

for certain people, God treats people goodness be finally established.

as they deserve. What happens to The idea of a solid moral order

human beings is the outcome of their presents us with another question, those
own choices. They bear responsibility Is there any hope for sinners, for those

for their destiny. who violate the noral law and



to be punish

phere, a good

cquits the

ished? In the human

judge is one wh
innocent and ndemns

God’s attempt to express himself in
human history was the disclosure of
the divine name. For ancient people,
a name was more than a means to

God is truly moral, and

the guilty So, the

refer to someone. It was thought of
as bearing the person’s identity. It

expressed the inner essence of its
object. The various names for God
that appear in the Bible epitomize the

divine reality in distinctive ways.
The two most important names

of God in the Old Testament are


if (


But is condemnation God’s


of mercy as well as justice?

He is bound by his nat to punish he

have to condemn the guilty.

to sinners Is God
only response

As we
have seen, the biblical answer

to this question is a resounding Yes.

God is not bound by a moral

code that limits him to a strict, merit-

only distribution ot rewards. He has

resources of mercy that transcend

judgment. In the words of a famous

Psalm, “The Lord is compassionate

and gracious, slow to anger,

abounding in love. He will not

always accuse, nor will he harbor his

anger forever; he does not treat us as

our sins deserve or repay us

according to our iniquities. For as

high as the heavens are above the

earth, so great is his love for those

who fear him” (Ps 103:8-11).23 As

we have seen, God is not only

generous; it is his very nature to be

generous. With him, forbearance and

forgiveness are more fundamental
than justice.24

Elohim and Yahweh. El was the word
used by the peoples surrounding the

ancient Israelites to refer to a divine

being. Elohim is its plural form in
Hebrew. El and Elohim are a little
like the word “god” in English,
which is used both to refer to a divine

being (“god”) and as a proper name

Elohim appears 2,570 times in

the Old Testament, beginning with

Gen 1:1. As a name for God, it

indicates that all divine power is

concentrated in him. He performs

many of the functions attributed to

the gods of other peoples. He is the

creator and sustainer of nature.

Yahweh is the most important of

God’s names in the Old Testament,

where it occurs more than 6,800

times. Unlike Elohim, it never refers

to other gods, but only to the God of

Israel. God identities himself as

We have said that God reigns by
reaching out in love. He seeks to
Establish a personal relationship witn
human beings. An important part or

Yahweh especially in connection with

the most important events in Hebrew

history. As Yahweh, he delivered

them from bondage, adopted them as

a chosen nation, and guided them



that God is a person. To nama
into the promised


These two important

something is to elevate it fro realm of things to the realm of e the

point, respectively,
to God’s

sOvereign power
and redemptive

Elohim names the creator

and Yahweh, the redeemer. Together,

they identify the comprehensive

of God in the world.

In the New Testament we find

persons. We give names to peo We sometimes name animals :
machines to indicate tha they are
more to us than mere objects in the physical world. The fact that God has names indicates that he is


personal in nature. He is a “thou” wo interesting developments in the

divine name. First, one Greek word

replaces the various proper names

that appear in the Old Testament. It

is theos, the equivalent of “God” in

English. Second, the identification of

God as “father” represents a

significant advance on the Old

Testament view of God. In many

ways, it summarizes the unsur-

passable revelation of God in the

person of Jesus. God is the Father of

Jesus (Rom 15:6), and Jesus is the
unique Son of God (John 3:16).
More than this, in Jesus God

not an “it.” Moreover, in revealing his names to us, God calls us into a
personal relationship with him.
When we exchange names with

someone, or introduce ourselves, we
have the beginning of a personal
relationship. To give your name is to
offer your friendship to someone.

Finally, in giving us his names,
God gives us himself. In Hebrew
thought, as we noted, a name
summarizes the identity of its bearer

God’s names, therefore, tell us what
God really is. In sharing his names
with us, God shares himself. He

wills to bea vital, dynamic presence
manifests and extends his fatherho0od
to all human beings. By responding
to this gracious overture, we are

brought into an intensely close and

personal relationship with God. We,
too, become the children of God, and
we can speak of him and to him as

our Father (Matt 6:9; 1 John 3:1, 2).
Jesus, in fact, used the Aramaic word
“Abba” to show how intimate our

in our lives.

God eagerly reveals his most

fundamental qualities in hopes that

we will respond to his offer of

companionship and open our lives to

him. God’s loving overtures do no
mean that we can ever take a casual

attitude toward God, or treat him like

Something common and familiar

When we encounter the divine, a

relation to God can be. It is roughly
equivalent to familiar English words
like “Daddy” and “Papa.”

We can learm several things from
this biblical emphasis on the names
of God. The most basic is the fact

“take-it-or-leave-it” attitude is wholly

out of place. Not only does Gods

communication to us demand a

response, as we saw in our discusst



divine revelation, but only as he
that love defines the nature of God
has important implications. It means
that God is essentially relational. His
inner reality is a complex of relationships, not sheer undifferentiated unity. It also means
that creation is not an incidental

to com ll extent of the mystery that

municates himse do we come
God is.

The more we know about some
objects, the less mysterious they

ome. But with other things, the beco

opposite. is true. As we lean more
activity for God, but an expression of
his very nature. It shows us what God is really like.

about them, they get more and more mysterious. It is this way with God.

in reality, or the
imaginable, is an

The mere idea of the absolute, the
Itimate principle

greatest power

awesome object of thought. But this is relatively simple compared to the majesty that appears when God

The idea that God is relational also reminds us that everything we say about God is based on our experience of him. We may assert that God is independent from the world in the sense that he does not

eveals himself. We really begin to need it in order to exist. But every-thing we know about God comes from his relation to us. It derives

see how truly immense,
overwhelming, and unfathomable
God is when he tells us about
himself. Ironically, then, the full
mystery that God is becomes
apparent only in revelation.

from the way we, his creatures, experience him. To understand God we must therefore explore his relation to the world more fully. What kind of God created the world? What kind of world did God create? The

questions go together. In Chapter 4 we will examine the biblical view of
We have described God as a living, personal power who creates a reality distinct from himself and embraces it

God’s relation to the world.

with love. The lordship or reign of God therefore consists in the SOvereignty of divine love. Love accounts for the fact that he created to begin with, and love characterizes everything he does as the history of Creation unfolds. Moreover, the love manifest in God’s relations to the Creaturely world expresses the deeper love that God is in himself. The idea




Questions for review

. How and why is our knowledge of God limited?

2. What should we require of our language about God?

3. Why is it difficult for people to believe in God?

4. What evidence supports God’s existence?

5. What are the biblical names for God, and what do they signify?

6. What actions and qualities does the Bible attribute to God?

7 What is the nature of God’s love, and how does it react to sin?

Questions for further study

8. How is the language about God in a book like this different from the language about God we use in prayer, or in singing hymns?
9. In sharing their faith in God, should Christians appeal primarily to personal experience or to rational evidence?

10. The French thinker, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), proposed the following wager in response to the question of God’s existence. Do you thinkit provides a good basis for believing in God?
“Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us co
these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.

imate wagering that God is. Let us est Wager, then, without hesitation that He is” (Pensees: Thoughis
and Other Subjects, trans. William Finlayson Trotter, ed. H. S. Io

ensees: houghts on Religion York: Washington Square Press, Inc., 1965), p. T2).
tter, ed. H. S. Thayer

11. How does our concept, or understanding, of God aftect our i ather”
g, of God affect our relationsh

God? What experience of God does each of these terms sugE
“shepherd,” “uncaused cause”? es each of these terms sugge gest: “fathe



ancept people have of God generally changes as they grow. How is

12. ow of God you have now different from the one you had as a child or
the vie
as an adolescent?


people: see chan anging ideas of God in human history. How has the
hanged since biblical times? Do Seventh-day Adventists have

of God today than they had a hundred years ago?
idea of God
a different view What
actors cou contribute to such changes?

for Bible study

Scholars sometimes distinguish three types of language about God: Literal

language means exactly what it says. Symbolic language uses what is
obviously a figure of speech. And analogical language apples to God terms
that also apply to creaturely objects. Which of these categories would you
use to describe each of the following biblical statements about God?

Gen 1:1 1 Tim 6:16 John 4:24

1 John 4:8 Mal 3:6a Exod 43:14
Ps 90:2b 1 John 3:20 Matt 19:26b

Gen 6:6 Ps 23:1 Ps 18:2

Isa 46:11b Exod 34:7

15. Read Gen 1. Write a list of all the things you can learn about God from this
one chapter of the Bible.

In several passages describing or written by Paul, the apostle appeals to the
evidence for God in nature. Analyze the folowing examples in light of

these questions: (1) To whom is Paul speaking/writing? (2) What things
does he mention as evidence of God’s existence? (3) How do people

respond to this evidence?


Acts 14:14-18 Acts 17:22-32 Rom 1:18-25

Some people see a developing concept of God in the Bible. Do you think
the following passages support this idea?
a. Exod 18:11; Exod 20:3; Ps 86:8; Isa 37:19-20

Gen 1:1; John 1:3; Heb 1:2 b.

C. Exod 20:5-6; Ps 103:8-14



Gen 3:8; Exod 25:8; John 1:14; Rev 21:3

Sam 16:14; Isa 45:7; Rom 8:28; 1 John 1s




From Adven tist writers A few Adventist theologians have mado r

am Maxwell’s influential
God a specif

reflection. The dominant theme of A. Graham

iness of God. His writings include Can Goa Be Trusted? (Nashvill er is thbjc

Publishing Association, 1977), and Servants or Friends? Another Look
TN: Southerr trustwort orth.

at God (Redla
Thompson attempts a unified

God in Whos Afraid of the Old Testament God? (Grand Rapids, MI.7 blical



tieth century than the doctrine of God. In the 1960s and 70s Christian thinkers
on in


the s

CA: Pine Knoll Publications, 1992). Alden 7

ne twen-

rom other writers No aspect of Christian iaith has received more attentinn

preoccupied with foundational issues like the reality of God and the ma.
about God. More recent studies, howeve, set out to explore the Christian vies

directly. Two substantial statements of the doctrine of God are Eberhard Jünge
Mystery of the World, trans. Darrell L. Guder (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman od as the

Kasper, The God of Jesus Christ, trans. Matthew J. ODonnell (New York: C

ng of language


rossroad, 1984).
The trinity, in particular, has received widespread attention. Karl Rahner’s disuce ia

this distinctive Christian concept remains highly inluential (The Trinity, trans. Joseph
ceel [New York: Herder and Herder, 1970]). More recent examinations include David

Brown, The Divine Trinity (London: Duckworth, 1985); Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God
For Us: The Trinity & Christian Life (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1991); and Jürecn
Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981).

A number of studies focus on the biblical portrayal of God. In The Elusive Presence:
Toward a New Biblical Theology (New York: Harper & Row, 1978), Samuel Terrien surveys
the Bible from the perspective of the title theme. James L. Mays argues that God’s reign is
the central concem of the Psalms in The Lord Reigns: A Theological Handbook to the
Psalms (Louis ville, KN: John Knox, 1994). Terence E. Fretheim shows that the theme of
divine suffering pervades the Old Testament (The Suffering of God: An Old Testament

Perspective [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984]).

n of


as lo quote Calvin exactly, “Man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless ne

irst looked upon God’s face”(Institutes of the Christian Religion, bk. I, ch. i. par. 4, ta
Ford Lewis Battles [2 vols.; Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960]. I9

2According to Schubert

several others;
M. Ogden,

it is
the only problem



(The Reality

of God

S God and



Essays [New York: Harper & Row, 1966], p. 1). Grand CI. Stephen Charnock, Discourses upon the Existence and Auributes of G0 Rapids: Baker, 1979).



discussion of this phenomenon in modem thought, sec Michacl J.




of Modern Atheism (New Haven and London: Yale University
S. J., At the Origins


Press, 1987).

cn God, but God the only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made
ever seen

sNo onc has

1:1 8). him known” (John

6Another possible


two stat

ssible definition appears in John 4:24: “God is spirit.” According to Wolfhart
atements are the Bible’s only “clearcut saying[s] about God’s


(Systematic Theology trans. GoefTrey W. Bromiley [Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1991J. 1:395-96).

of the World, trans. Darell L. Gruder (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

God as
the. Mystery of the WVorl

1983), p. 314.

Dogmatics, 11/2, p. 283-84.

Eritz Guy on the pre-eminence of God’s love in “The Universality of God’s Love,” in

ce of God, The Will of Man: A Case for Arminianism, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Grand


Ps 00:5, 106:1, 107:1, 118:1- 136:1-26; Ezra 3:11.

Zondervan, 1989), pp. 33-36.

uWilliam Shakespeare, Sonnet CXVI, in The Portable Shakespeare (New York: Viking,

1944), p. 754.

12Luke 15:11-32.

UMillard J. Erickson, for example, cites vv. 8 and 9 without mentioning v. 7 as support for

the altribute of divinc transcendence, the idea that “God is separate from and independent of

nature and humanity” (Christian Theology [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985], p. 312).

14 The Hound of Heaven.”

1SGod’s “anger and mercy are not opposites but correlatives” (Abraham Joshua Heschel, The

Prophets [New York: Harper and Row, 1962], p. 283).

161bid., p. 291.

171bid., pp. 297, 290.

81 John S:7 in the King James Version of the Bible contains a striking affimation of the

urinity: “For there are threc that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy

unost: and these threc are one.” But the cvidence to support this reading is hopclessly

nadcquate. lt appears in none of the reliable manuscripts of the Greek New Testament.

quote Catherine Mowry LaCugna, “The proper subject malter of the doctrine of the

y is the encounter between divine and human persons in the economy of redemption”

30 Us: The Trinity and Christian Life [New York: Harper San Francisco, 1991], p.


he beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1).

everal New Testament passages indicate that God created through Jesus Christ as his

the n these last days he [God] has spoken to us by his Son, through whom he made

tha TSe (Hcb 1:2); “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made

hinoDEen made” (John 1:3); “[T]here is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all

hings came and through whom we live” (1 Cor 8:6).


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