The Aseity of God

For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.

John 5:26 ESV

The heavens and the earth, the vast expanse of the universe around us and the dirt beneath us, the spiritual and the physical, the immaterial and the material, the invisible and the visible, all burst forth into existence, from nothing to something. The cosmos, all of creation, was created by a Creator, the primary Cause, the prime Mover. And the Creator did this creative work through His verbal decree. He spoke, and it was so. Declaring the word light brought into existence light itself. But if all things derive their being from the Creator, where did His being come from?

SELF-EXISTENT

Having thus far discussed the incomprehensibility and being of God, we now proceed into an attribute that is very much logically connected to God’s being: aseity. Aseity comes the Latin a se, which means from self; thus, God’s aseity is His self-existence.

We must begin by taking care how we define God’s self-existence. Some view God’s aseity as meaning that God is His own cause, which we refute for at least two reasons. First, to speak of God being His own cause implies that God had a beginning. The Scriptures, however, reveal that God existed before the beginning and was the One who began the beginning. Moses also declared, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2). With no beginning and no end, God alone is truly eternal. Second, God causing Himself to be is a contradictory statement. As R. C. Sproul argues, “To create itself, something, even God, would have to be before it is. It would have to exist and not exist at the same time.”[1] We rightly, therefore, reject this conception of aseity.

Instead, God is self-existent as being uncaused. Again, this is closely bound to God’s eternity. God’s being is uncreated. Although He is the origin of all things, He alone has no origin. He perpetually is, which returns us the significance of God’s name being I AM WHO I AM. Only God can claim the designation I AM as His personal name because He alone has unconditional and uncaused being. He forever is because He is self-existent.

Although this truth, like God Himself, is impossible to fully grasp (and though some blatantly reject God’s aseity), our hearts are naturally inclined to search it out. Tozer poignantly describes this reality:

The child by his question, “Where did God come from?” is unwittingly acknowledging his creaturehood. Already the concept of cause and source and origin is firmly fixed in his mind. He knows that everything around him came from something other than itself, and he simply extends that concept upward to God. The little philosopher is thinking in true creature-idiom and, allowing for his lack of basic information, he is reasoning correctly. He must be told that God has no origin, and he will find this hard to grasp since it introduces a category with which he is wholly unfamiliar and contradicts the bent toward origin-seeking so deeply ingrained in all intelligent being, a bent that impels them to probe ever back and back toward undiscovered beginnings.[2]

Even as children (perhaps especially as children), we naturally seek the origin of things. We long to know how things came to be. We learn to see the world as cause and effect, and since our eyes behold effects without end, we search for causes without end. Perhaps God placed this natural curiosity within us because He is the ultimate cause. Being the great Originator, with no origin Himself, perhaps our inquisitive search for causes is really our search for the Creator. Far from being a deistic Deity who forms the world and then leaves us to our own devices, God has designed us to seek after Him, and He delights in being found by us (Jeremiahs 29:14). As is often the case, we leave behind what we instinctively know to be true as children for the purposes of appearing more enlightened.

But perhaps we should consider the words of Augustine’s famous prayer, “In yourself you rouse us, giving us delight in glorifying you, because you made us with yourself as our goal, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[3]

SELF-SUFFICIENT

Yet God’s aseity also means that He is self-sufficient. Self-existence and self-sufficiency are bound together. If God is the uncaused Cause, the uncreated Creator, then just as His very being is self-contained so must His being be self-sustained. We already approached this concept briefly last week whenever we referred to God as a necessary being as opposed to a contingent being.

As contingent beings, we are utterly dependent. Pause our hearts for more than a moment, shift the oxygen levels too much in the atmosphere, push or pull the earth a bit closer or further away from the sun, separate us from As contingent beings, we are utterly dependent. Pause our hearts for more than a moment, shift the oxygen levels too much in the atmosphere, push or pull the earth a bit closer or further away from the sun, separate us from water, food, or sleep for an extended length of time, or any number of other slight modifications to ourselves or our environment and our life flickers out like a candle. We subconsciously (sometimes even consciously) like believe that we are divine, that we are independent, that can exert ultimate control over our circumstances, but reality has a way of pinching those who attempt to ignore it back into itself. Death, after all, is not only a curse but a means of humbling us, of reminding us of our creatureliness. The great humiliation of death lies in its proof that we are not necessary. Life continues forward when even the very greatest of people pass away. Of course, this makes it the exactly proportionate consequence from God for our attempt to become deities ourselves.

God, however, is not contingent upon anyone or anything; He is entirely self-sufficient. Also, as we will soon see, God’s self-sufficiency is not limited to His mere existence. Because He is Triune, God does not need us even to be objects of His love and delight. Existing eternally as three Persons in one God, He was not lonely in the eternity before creation; instead, His decision to create us (and also to redeem us!) was a gracious act of His sovereign will. With God being self-sufficient and us being contingent, we also rightly declare God to be a necessary being. Indeed, He is the necessary being. While He is dependent upon nothing, all things are dependent upon Him. After all, “he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3).

For a subtle but powerful biblical declaration of God’s self-sufficiency, we can again return to Exodus 3. Consider God’s revelation of His name in the context of Scripture as a whole and even of life as we know it. We first see names being given during the process of creation where God names a part of the cosmos and it comes into being. “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). Likewise, God gave the first man His name, Adam, and because Adam was made in God’s image, after God’s likeness, he was given dominion over all the creatures of the earth. Adam’s first task as God’s steward over the earth was to name each of the living creatures. God delegated authority over His own creation to one of His creatures, and that authority was displayed through the giving of names. Continuing the biblical narrative, we see God’s taking of Abram and Jacob as His own special possessions and them a new covenant of blessing in Him by giving to them new names, Abraham and Israel. We see this notion within ordinary life as parental authority over their child begins by giving the child a name. Furthermore, the angel’s instructions to Zechariah that his son was to be named John and to Joseph and Mary regarding Jesus’ name served to ground Jesus and John as specially given to the service of the LORD.

Recall now the question that Moses asked of the LORD: “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” (Exodus 3:13)? Moses understood the deep difference between the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the gods of the Egyptians. Like all other false gods, the Egyptian gods were named by the people who invented them, yet Moses knew better than to attempt naming this God. Instead, Moses asked God to reveal His name, and God does. The LORD’s revealing of His own name is an easily overlooked but nonetheless potent declaration of His aseity. He is the God who cannot be named by man because He is not dependent upon man, and yet He reveals His name to us because He has willingly chosen to bind Himself to us by covenant.

The aseity of God, therefore, is not an obscure attribute of little significance to us. Rather, like each of His attributes, God’s aseity gives us another glimpse of the marvelously otherness of God. Being self-existent and self-sufficient makes God vastly unlike us, but this is glorious news! We are dependent, but He is independent and has graciously given us Himself as our anchor. We are unnecessary, but He is necessary and has chosen to place the infinite treasure of Himself within “jars of clay” like us. Our utter reliance upon the One who needs no one and nothing only magnifies the riches of grace that He has given us in Jesus Christ.

DICUSSION QUESTIONS

  • What does God’s aseity mean? How does it relate to God’s being?
  • Why do we deny that God brought Himself into being?
  • How does God’s self-existence show that God has designed us to seek Him?
  • What is the relationship between self-existence and self-sufficiency?
  • How does God’s revealing of His name display His self-sufficiency?
  • Why is it good news for us that God is self-existent and self-sufficient?

[1] Sproul, R. C.. Enjoying God (p. 33). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2] Tozer, 52.

[3] Augustine, Confessions, (translated by Sarah Ruden, New York, NY: Modern Library Edition, 2017), 3.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s