Although this is the second question, it is perhaps the most important question that we could ever seek to answer. The reasons are many, but perhaps the most important is given to us by Jesus whenever He was praying to the Father in John 17:3, which says: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” God is not merely the granter of eternal life; rather, knowing Him is eternal life. Also, by implication, to be ignorant of God is to be divorced and cut off from life everlasting. What then could be more important than knowing God? And what better place to begin than with the question before us: what is God? The answer that the catechism gives contains three sentences, which easily gives a three part structure to our meditation.
First, “God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything.” This truth is so fundamental to our understanding of the person and the very idea of God that it expressed clearly within the first verse of the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). As many scholars have noted, the phrase ‘heavens and the earth’ is a merism that means all things, just as a common merism used today is to search high and low for something, which means to look everywhere. Thus, with its opening words, the Bible establishes God as our Creator, and it reinforces that truth continually. Consider Psalm 100:3 as an example: “Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.”
But notice that He is not simply our Creator; He is also the Sustainer. All things exist because of Him, but He is not the deistic idea of the great Watchmaker, forming the cosmos and then leaving creation to its own devices. No, God actively upholds and sustains His creation. He spoke light into being, and light continues to shine throughout the universe because God is still speaking. Paul affirms this truth to the Athenians by taking the words that a pagan poet used to describe Zeus and rightly applying them onto the one, true God: “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Second, we read that God “is eternal, infinite, and unchangeable in his power and perfection, goodness and glory, wisdom, justice, and truth.” This sentence expresses many of God’s particular attributes, which I will not spend much time discussing here since I have written more fully on them in a teaching series titled, Him Who Sits on the Throne. God’s simplicity is alluded to by the way that God’s eternality, infinity, and immutability are applied to God’s power, perfection, goodness, glory, wisdom, justice, and truth. For we do believe that God is not partly good and partly wise and partly infinite. Rather, His goodness is eternal, infinite, unchanging, glorious, and wise. As is His justice and His perfection. God is wholly God.
We may also wonder why the writers of the New City Catechism elected not to include the most popular of God’s attributes in his sentence (God’s love). While I cannot offer a definitive answer, we can note that love in some ways an aspect of God’s goodness. Indeed, we might say that all of God’s attributes can be divided into two statements: God is great, and God is good.
Third, “nothing happens except through him and by his will.” Without using the words, this sentence affirms God’s sovereignty and providence. Sovereignty being God’s divine and kingly authority over what He has made and actively sustains. Providence is the aspect of God’s sovereignty whereby He orchestrates all things according to His will.
Indeed, if the previous two sentences are affirmed as true, then the third must necessarily follow. If God is the Creator, then like a potter with clay, He has authority over what He has made. Creator owns creation. If He also sustains all things in infinite, eternal, unchangeable, perfection, justice, wisdom, and goodness, then how could anything be left outside His command and control? Fittingly, here is how the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith defines God’s providence:
God the good Creator of all things, in His infinite power and wisdom does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, to the end for the which they were created, according unto His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will; to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness, and mercy.
Of course, from our vantage point within creation, things do not always feel like they are governed according to the will of our good, perfect, and just God. Just as Jesus’ disciples cried out to Him in their distress of their sinking boat, the Scriptures do not discourage us from crying out to the LORD in the midst of our sorrow. In fact, one-third of the Psalms are lamentations to instruct us and give form to our crying out to God. Even so, Jesus did ultimately calm the storm. Likewise, our perfect Creator and Sustainer will put all things to right in the end. He must, or He would not truly be good, just, powerful, perfect, or any of His other attributes.
What ought to be our proper response to coming to know this one, true and living God? We ought to fall down before Him in worship, giving glory to His great name. Indeed, because God has made all nations, Psalm 86 predicts the glorious day when all the nations that once conspired against Him will worship Him as God. If all will worship Him in the end and if knowing Him is eternal life, let us begin today!
For read more resources related to the New City Catechism, including children’s songs, visit newcitycatechism.com or download the app.