Koinonia
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Koinonia

Series on the Westminster Shorter Catechism

What Do We Know About God?

Scripture reveals His form and substance

Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

A question both simple and complex, ages-old, what is God? From the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession:

God is a Spirit, 1 infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, 2 wisdom, 3 power, 4 holiness, 5 justice, 6 goodness, 7 and truth.

I’ll unpack classic theology to explain what those attributes mean. I aim this information to the folks who make up church organizations. This is not to mean ordained officers. People who are not ordained (official) leaders, called laypersons, also evangelize.

We should be able to state what and why we believe as we do

Believers, often the main point of contact with friends and family, who do not belong to any faith, may be asked, “Well, what is God?” which will catch many of us off guard. This may result in a muddled, at best, answer; possibly even “I don’t know”, an unsatisfactory response.

As believers people who we encounter expect us to give an intelligent answer. What can turn them off is our inability to answer their questions. We don’t have to channel Billy Graham or R.C. Sproul. We want to rise above “I don’t know”!

None of us laypersons need the polish and studied nuances of theologians. Even so, we should be able to state what and why we hold onto our beliefs. Addressing that, let’s look at each quality as presented in the answer, in order.

In Deuteronomy, Moses wrote about our tendency to seek the tangible. How we humans desire something visible on which to place our faith. How we make a physical representation of higher powers. We are prone to make images of gods in our form and temperament. The form may be animal or human. Or, we construct myths and fables from the stars and planets we can see.

God instituted a singular relationship of one God, one people

God appeared before the assembled people in a form of smoke and fire. In that form he enveloped the mountain with darkness. From that mysterious cloud, he thundered a command. No image of anything ever represent him. Why? Animals, heavenly objects, and idols are available to all people of the Earth. God instituted a singular relationship of one God, one people.

We enjoy a relationship of a personal God through his grace and the salvation afforded by Jesus. The Gospels enlarge this story by telling us the story of Jesus. That part of God, the Son, came down to be among us, inhabiting a body of flesh and bone.

In that body, Jesus lived through the same aches and pains that we experience. He sweat, he bled, he knew hunger and loss. Giving up the body through torture and death, he descended into Hell. There, he defeated and chained Satan rendering the Accuser dependent on his demons. Then, arising from the grave, he made Death ineffective, powerless, and a thing we need not fear.

The Apostles wrote what they saw, felt, and heard when they walked with him. They wrote what he taught concerning God. Our Father inspired them in their writing and ministry; they state that God is a spirit, plain and simple. That since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.

Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? (Job 11:7, ESV)

Scripture relates that not only is God a spirit, without form or substance, he is also infinite. Infinite! What does that mean? Can we begin to understand what “infinite” and “infinity” constitute? As thinking people, we have considered the concept of having no bounds, no limits. We’ve discussed what it means for thousands of years.

The Greek mathematicians spoke of infinity as a mathematical idea. But, the symbol, “∞” only came into use during the 17th century. The writer of Job asked.,” Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?” (Job 11:7, ESV).

We are not capable of imagining eternity.

Space telescopes enable us to see light formed many billions of years ago: so far away from us, that light is still on its way! We also have instruments that use other forms of “seeing”. Scientists use radio, infrared, Xray, and higher wavelengths that allow the imaging of galaxies and other bodies at greater distances than before.

David wrote psalms extolling this infinite nature of God. His frame of reference is his relationship with God as nearness. He knew that the Lord is everywhere. If David sought to flee God’s presence where would he go?

If ascending to the heavens, God is there. Try descending to the depths of the grave, God is there. As far as David could imagine traveling, God is always there to lead and protect. The Lord’s powers are beyond all accounting and all understanding.

Sometimes we lose sight of that quality of God to be in all places at the same time. We build our churches and decorate the inner and outer aspects of the building to please our Lord. A mistake slips into our thinking: “Here is God, here at this altar I will worship him and here I will be able to be with him”.

Solomon addressed that hitch in logic when he said this wise thing.:

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! (1 Kings 8:27, ESV).

Eternal — Existing outside all relations of time; not subject to change (Dictionary.com)

We experience time as a linear chain of events. First, this happens then that happens. People have measured time for many thousands of years. Whether based on the moon, the sun, or the stars, humans needed to organize their days and activities. We are bound to a progression of events and our efforts to organize those events. We recognize that God experiences no such boundaries. Therefore we worship him as our eternal God.

John introduces his letter to the seven churches of Asia referring to Jesus, who had appeared to him in a vision. John calls him the past, the present, and the future. In other words, our Lord embodies time itself. Later, John quotes,

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8, ESV).

This prayer, credited to Moses in Psalm 90 (ESV),

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. [2] Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

Exalts the everlasting nature of God. The prayer goes on to compare our limited existence with the eternity of God. Isaiah does the same,

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever”. (Isaiah 40:8, ESV).

I am the Alpha and Omega

Given the eternal and infinite God, does he change? Is he the same everywhere and every-when? He tells us this about his nature:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8, ESV)

Along with having no boundaries in space, not bound to time, he never changes. Scripture further says,

“The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.” (Psalm 33:11, ESV).

That verse comes near the end of a praise section extolling the power of the Lord. About creation as he spoke into existence all things. Today, we have a better grasp of what physical processes sprang into motion at the spoken word of God. Forces vast to us are mere tools to our almighty Lord. His love and work on our behalf remain constant. Malachi wrote,

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6, ESV)

In His Being

Establishing that God is a spirit when calling Moses, he appeared as some sort of flame that was in the bushy plant but did not consume the material. His declaration to Moses’ inquiry was the simple,” I am who I am”.

What a mighty declaration. I am who I am, you are what you are, your form and position as sinner prevent you from perceiving my person. Isaiah said that the ways and mind of God are as far beyond our understanding as the heavens from the ground. This aspect of God will remain mysterious while we inhabit these earthbound bodies.

“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:34, ESV)

The Lord is the ultimate counselor. If we seek his advice and depend upon his grace and wisdom, we need no other. That is the key to “getting” God. We should not pray for personal gain or material things thinking these will please us. Rather, we should approach him with an open heart and guileless mind. Like the faith of a child expecting only that he works for your good, that His will is sufficient.

That doesn’t mean behaving like a child. God exhorts us to grow in our maturity and knowledge. Accepting as a child but in the well-fed faith of the grown believer. Reaching a mature spirituality, we develop a deeper understanding. It serves to remind us of the unknowable power of our God.

“… for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:20, ESV)

Separate from sin and incorruptible

The angels glorify God as holy, judge, omnipotent, eternal, and immutable. Following their example, holy men glorify God, too. John writes in his first letter to the churches that we believers have to live our faith. Show what our hearts believe with action. Our hearts condemn us when we stray and cause us to seek forgiveness from God. He is holy and gracious to do so.

Photo by Jonathan Farber on Unsplash

God and the Trinity are One as indicated by Jesus that a house divided cannot stand. Some religious leaders had accused him of working from evil. God is as far from sin as day and night, incorruptible. He is quick to forgive and slow to punish. Scripture and solid teaching are both encouraging and inspiring. They move us to emulate the qualities of holiness as far as possible and to the best of our abilities.

His justice, goodness, and truth

Scripture is replete with descriptions and declarations of His justice, goodness, and truth. Start with the fascinating dialogue between God and Abraham about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham had hosted three angels with the magnificent hospitality of a desert-dweller.

The angels had left for Sodom and Gomorrah ostensibly to scout out the situation on the ground. Perceiving the endgame of this visit, Abraham pleads with God to not destroy the righteous with the unjust but to make allowances for them. The Lord entertains the arguments of Abraham as whittles down the acceptable number of blameless citizens required to forestall destruction.

Moses gives his farewell address to the nation as the Hebrews near the Promised Land. Joshua is commissioned to carry on the work of Moses entrusted to him. Moses says,

“The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity just and upright is he.” (Deuteronomy 32:4, ESV)

Facing death, Moses extols our God’s faithfulness, justice, and lack of iniquity.

Psalmists sang of his everlasting goodness, faithfulness, righteousness, mercy, and graciousness. The Book of Psalms closes with:

“Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! [2] For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD!’ (Ps.117: 1–2, ESV)

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Robert McManus

Retired RN from VA ER, reader, writer, Southern, Christian, veteran. That’s the bare bones, the trees, not the forest, the whole picture.