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Which is the Greatest Attribute of God?

Wed, Dec. 23, 2015 Posted: 02:38 PM


In a recent blog thread on 12/21/2015, responding to Michael Brown’s Christian Post article “Of Course Muslims and Christians Don't Worship the Same God,” a couple posters got to discussing God’s greatest attributes. One said that love is the greatest attribute and the other countered that holiness is the greatest attribute. Who is correct? Neither.

The scandal of the modern Church is the lack of understanding of the nature and person of God. Thinking of the attributes of God in term of rank exposes the flaw in our understanding of the classical Christine doctrine of God. Of course, this points to the bigger problem of inadequate Christian education. Apparently, there is no real focus on teaching today’s believers about how the orthodox understanding of the nature and person of God was developed and codified into the most important creedal documents of the Church.

It seems much of today’s church focus is on becoming the modern equivalent of a successful organization. That means building alliances with secular entities and emulating business models that promise corporate-like success. The only standard for a successful church is found in Jesus’ declaration of John 17:3, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” If the believers do not “know” who God really is then the church is just a place for social gathering, of platitudes and a citadel of secular humanism worshipping a god of our own creation because the true and living God is not known.

What is an Attribute of God?
An attribute of God is an inherent quality or characteristic that neither acquired nor created, but is essential to His nature; they are eternal as God is eternal. In Reformed theology God’s attributes are either communicable, meaning that people possess these in some degree, or incommunicable, meaning they are only possessed by Him.

Examples of the incommunicable attributes of God are:
Aseity: God is self-existent, meaning no one “caused” or “created” Him
Omnipotence: God possesses all power with none more powerful or equal in power
Omniscience: God knows all things past present, future, and all counterfactuals
Omnipresence: God is present in all places at the same time
There are others such as immanence, immutability, transcendence, eternality and sovereignty.

Examples of communicable attributes include love, holiness, righteousness and mercy, etc. When we say that we possess these in some degree, we are admitting that we do not possess the identical attributes, but similar moral characteristics that befit created beings made in God’s likeness and image (Genesis 1:26-27).

How God’s Attributes relate to each other
According the classical understanding of God, He is simple. That means he is not made up of complex parts, but according to the doctrine of Divine Simplicity, God’s being is identical to his attributes. Everything about God is simply God in His fullness. So an attribute considered by itself is as fully God as the next attribute. Therefore, no single attribute is greater than another, or can exist without another when we speak of His attributes, because they are not component parts.

In a sense, the language of accommodation that forces us to use the word “possess” when speaking of God’s attributes conveys the wrong idea, because we tend to think these are characteristics and qualities in Him that can be acquired or developed, lost or denied. In fact, God does not possess His attributes, He IS all of them! It may be a challenge bending our minds around this concept, but God does not possess love, He is Love; He does not possess holiness, He is Holiness. And so on.

Without this understanding Christians run the risk of confusing non-believers when we communicate in the public square. We are admonished by Paul to be “imitators of God” in Ephesian 5:1. That means we are to reflect the attributes we were endowed with as creatures made in His image. Yet if our understanding is that one attribute is more important than another, might we not become inconsistent in representing our Father in heaven?

Marvin Thompson