The Being of God

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Hebrews 11:6 ESV

Moses was a shepherd, but that wasn’t always the case. Although he was a Hebrew, who were the slaves of the Egyptians, Moses was found by Pharaoh’s daughter as an infant and raised in the household of the king. But when Moses was grown, he murdered an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew, and he fled into the wilderness where he got married and became the shepherd of his father-in-law’s flocks.

One day in the wilderness while leading his flock, Moses came to Mount Horeb and saw a bush that was ablaze with fire and yet unburnt. From this burning bush, the LORD spoke to Moses, saying that He knew the suffering of Abraham’s descendants and that He was sending Moses as His prophet to deliver them from Pharaoh. Although God already identified Himself as the God of Moses’ fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses asks God a fundamental question, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God answered, “I AM WHO I AM… Say to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you… The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Exodus 3:13-15).

THE GOD WHO IS

Last week, we began our proper study of God’s attributes by observing His incomprehensibility, which was an important first step because we needed to establish whether we can comprehend anything at all of God. Fortunately, we concluded that while God is forever beyond our ultimate understanding, we can still think and speak truthfully about God and His nature because He has revealed Himself to us. With this groundwork set, we now move into discussing the being of God. If we were to put things in the form of a question, last week sought to answer, “Can we really know anything about God?” and this week we will attempt to begin answering the question, “What is God?”

It is fitting that the Scriptures, being the Word of God, presuppose the existence of God and do not actively give proofs to sway the skeptical mind. In fact, the Bible calls anyone who denies the existence of God a fool (Psalm 14:1). Both David (Psalm 19:1) and Paul (Romans 1:20) note that creation gives evidence of a Creator, and as the teleological argument further expounds upon, an ordered cosmos points to an intelligent Designer. There is a structure, a wisdom, that is ingrained within the fabric of universe, such that even outbursts of chaos are notably the exception rather than the rule. To reject this order and the One who ordered it is also a rejection of wisdom. It is foolishness or antiwisdom.

While a correct understanding of the Bible requires this belief in God’s existence, the Scriptures do acknowledge that this is an act of faith. Even though Paul said that God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20), this does not negate the fact that God Himself is invisible, “no one has seen or can see” Him (1 Timothy 6:16). Thus, belief in God requires faith, which is “the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). And the author of Hebrews further notes that “without faith it is impossible to please him [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (11:6). We cannot hope to please or approach God without first believing that He exists. This is not a blind faith by any means. It is a reasonable and rooted faith in what can be “clearly perceived” but not seen. Nevertheless, belief in God’s existence is still faith, a confidence in an invisible reality.

Therefore, once we believe in the existence of God, we must then clarify what kind of existence God has. The Bible clearly and consistently describes God as a being, a distinct entity unto Himself. Feinberg aptly notes what this does not mean:

Having established that the Christian God exists outside our minds, we must quickly add that he is a being, not being-itself, the ground of being, the power of being, or the structure of being. Moreover, he is distinct from the creation.[1]

These points are critical to make because if we do not distinguish God as a distinct being apart from His creation or from all other beings, then we have ventured into either pantheism (which is the belief that all that is exists is god) or panentheism (which believes that the entire cosmos exists as a part of god). These two views, however, are antithetical to the one true God as He reveals Himself to be in the Scriptures. While it is true that “all things were created through him and for him… and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17) and that “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), yet these indicate our being, indeed our continuous being, is contingent upon Him. He alone is a necessary being (a self-existent being) from whom all other contingent (or dependent) beings derive our existence. But this does not mean that God is being-itself because that would make us, as beings, a part of God, who would then be nothing more than the personification of the state of being. Instead, our being is given by and sustained in God, but we are not a part of God. Our being is distinct from His being, even though our being is dependent upon His being.

This distinction between God’s being and our beings is becoming ever more important today. In his insightful series of lectures titled Only Two Religions, Peter Jones argues that only two religions have ever existed and do presently exist. He calls these religions one-ism and two-ism. Owen Strachan describes Jones’ terms as:

two-ism, the biblical approach to reality, in which God fundamentally stands above and apart from his creation, grounding all distinctions, judging all the earth, placing his image in the earth under divine authority to live according to divine design. One-ism, by contrast, reduces the world to an ash-gray sameness: “there are no real distinctions, everything is made of the same stuff, matter is eternal, and it has this spark of divinity within it.” Accordingly, we worship the creation: one-ism is “the basis of nature worship, there’s no category for sin, because think of a circle, everything is within the circle, rocks, trees, good and evil, man and God. Everything is one, and so in that circle, we can do whatever we want to.” We must thus “invent gender and marriage,” making each whatever we desire them to be, while expressing “tolerance for all religions” and “all lifestyles.”[2]

All is one. We are all the same. All religions lead to God. We must become one with nature. These slogans of the nonreligious spirituality of our present day is nothing more than a blatant rebirth of ancient paganism (Strachan calls it neopaganism). You see, our view of God inevitably shapes our view of ourselves. The Christian understanding of God brings with it a fixed understanding of humans as God’s image-bearers. An atheistic rejection of God must also yield a view of humanity as nothing more than cosmic accidents. Likewise, a pagan one-istic view of God, humanity, and nature can only result in a disintegration of all other distinctions. The sexual revolution with its erosion of fixed biological genders is not primarily a problem of anthropology; rather, it is rooted in a faulty theology. Similarly, the postmodern rejection of objective truth can only inhabit the murky waters where God is not a definite and distinct being. This ought to seal the practicality of studying and knowing God. Without a proper understanding of God, we cannot properly understand anything else because our understanding of God will shape and determine our understanding of all other things.

PERSONAL & RELATIONAL

Within the Scriptures, this two-ism, the distinctiveness of God’s being is gloriously revealed by two continuously displayed realities: He is personal and He is relational. Both of these ideas require that God is a being. Being personal obviously requires personhood, and the Bible firmly attributes to God the characteristics that we associate with personhood: He has a will, a mind, emotions, actions, etc. Furthermore, being relational requires interaction and connection with someone or something other than oneself. Even within the first chapter of the Bible, we find both of these characteristics on display. We see God as a personal being through His choice and action to create the universe and to speak all things into existence, and we see God as relational being through His communication to those whom He made in His image, humans. Of course, the Bible itself as God’s Word also testifies to both.

This revelation that God is a separate and distinct being from us and is personal and relational toward us is gloriously good news. It means that there is a wisdom and structure to the created order because it was designed by a Designer and that we are able to know Him and relate to Him. Indeed, few passages of the Bible describe this blessedness more than Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush. In that interaction, God’s relationality and personality were vividly displayed. He first identified Himself as the God of or in relation to three persons: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yet He then gave to Moses His name. Few things reveal personhood and relationality better than having a name. After all, the entire notion behind names is identification. We name chairs chairs as a means of identifying and communicating to one another what that particular object for sitting is. So we do with plants and animals, and so our parents did with us. Our names represent our very being. For instance, saying my wife’s name almost immediately brings to mind who she is as a person and my relationship with her. God’s giving of His name (I AM, Yahweh, or the LORD) to Moses is a clear statement that He is a distinct being from Moses and the rest of humanity but that He is also making Himself known to mankind. This God is not silent nor is He impersonal; rather, He actively reveals Himself to us and purposely desires to be known by us. Indeed, He seeks after us.

We, likewise, must seek after Him. Recall again Hebrews 11:6, “whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Believing that God is real is not faith that pleases God. We must also seek Him, knowing that He rewards those who do so with the immeasurable gift of Himself. Indeed, all of God’s revelation to us in His Scriptures cries out to us: “Seek my face.” As we open the Scriptures and meditate upon gloriously personal and relational being of our God as displayed within them, we say back to God: “Your face, O LORD, do I seek” (Psalm 27:8).

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How do the Scriptures generally approach the existence of God?
  • What is faith? Why is faith necessary for belief in God?
  • What does it mean that God is a being? Why this an important distinction to make?

[1] Feinberg, 207-208.

[2] Owen Strachan, Reenchanting Humanity: A Doctrine of Mankind (Fearn, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2019), 201.

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