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Knowing God’s Being

Steve —  January 29, 2021 — Leave a comment

In the Applied Theology Project, former seminary professors John Frame and Steve Childers combine their more than 90 years of combined teaching and ministry experience to help you apply theology to real life and ministry.

What is God Really Like?

The Bible describes God as a rock, light, fire, eagle, father, king, judge, warrior, and shepherd. How can we have a biblical view of God?

The Applied Theology Series provides you accessible, affordable seminary-level courses designed to help you learn how to apply theology to your life and ministry in practical ways – with the goal of helping you better know, love, serve, and honor God as LORD in all of life.

In this Essentials Course, we’re explaining and applying the definition of theology as “a study of God in Scripture to know God as LORD in all areas of life.” In this fourth lesson, our focus is on helping you learn what the Bible teaches about God’s transcendent and immanent being.

In this lesson, you’ll be equipped to:

  • Describe the meaning of God’s transcendent being
  • Explain the concept of God’s revealed immanence
  • Summarize how to reconcile these views of God
  • Recognize how the Bible uses analogies for God
  • Illustrate two major errors in explaining God’s being
  • Contrast limited knowledge with true knowledge of God

CHOOSE YOUR LEARNING PATHWAY:
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Knowing God’s Being

By Steve Childers and John Frame 

1. God’s Transcendent and Immanent Being

In our last session we learned one of the ways God chooses to reveal what he is like is through the meaning of the names he gives himself. By referring to himself with the general Hebrew name for God, Elohim, he was revealing his nature as a divine, powerful being whose essence is high and lifted up from humanity and the world he created. Theologians often refer to this revelation of God as his transcendence, emphasizing that God’s being is wholly independent and separate from his creation. But later we saw that God revealed his name to Moses as YHWH, or LORD, whose essence is near to the world he created and present with his people. Theologians often refer to this revelation of God as his immanence, emphasizing that God is also a very personal, faithful, covenant-keeping God of grace who promises to deliver his people by his great power.

To have a biblical understanding of God requires a diligent effort to maintain both a transcendent and an immanent understanding of his attributes revealed in Scripture. It’s been said that “The challenge to theology is to do justice to all the attributes of God revealed in Scripture.”

The Bible clearly presents the fullness of God’s being and attributes as both transcendent and immanent. In fact, one of the great dangers in the history of Christianity is when followers of Christ fall prey to sacrificing the biblical teaching of God’s transcendence on the altar of God’s immanence, or sacrificing the biblical teaching of God’s immanence on the altar of God’s transcendence.

Herman Bavinck writes,

“If God is not held to be independent and unchangeable, eternal and omnipresent, simple and free from composition, he is pulled down to the level of the creature and is identified with the world in its totality or with one of its powers.”

Then he goes on to say,

“What good would it do us to know that God was independent and unchangeable, eternal and omnipresent, if we had to do without the knowledge that he was compassionate and gracious, and very merciful?”

If we deny the absolute transcendence of God’s being above all his creation and humanity, we are at risk of falling into forms of what we’ll study later called Pantheism, believing that everything is God, or Polytheism, believing there are many gods. The opposite is also true. If we deny the immanence and nearness of God’s being to his creation and humanity, we are at risk of falling into forms of what we’ll study later called Deism, believing that God does not intervene in the world, or Atheism, the denial of the existence of God in the world.

We will see that the bible presents God as not only a transcendent, eternal being who is high and lifted up, but also a very immanent being who has somehow mysteriously broken into time and revealed himself in astonishing “figures and images which sparkle with life:”

Bavinck writes,

“It speaks of his eyes and ears, his hands and feet, his mouth and lips, his heart and bowels. It ascribes all kinds of attributes to him—of wisdom and knowledge, will and power, righteousness and mercy, and it ascribes to him also such emotions as joy and grief, fear and vexation, zeal and envy, remorse and wrath, hatred and anger. It speaks of his observing and thinking, his hearing and seeing, his remembering and forgetting, his smelling and tasting, his sitting and rising, his visiting and forsaking, his blessing and chastising, and the like…In short, all that can be found in the whole world in the way of support and shelter and aid is originally and perfectly to be found in overwhelming abundance in God.”

The big idea here is that the same bible that reveals God as incomparable and lifted up in his transcendent greatness and majesty, also speaks of him in all these, sometimes shocking, immanent “figures and images which sparkle with life.”

So, how do we reconcile the bible’s transcendent and imminent images and descriptions of God?

2. God’s Analogical Language

To help us do justice to all the attributes of God revealed in Scripture, theologians often refer to the concept of analogy; our human knowledge of God as being necessarily analogical in character. Calvin describes this adjustment like someone adjusting themselves to the limitations of a baby they’re caring for, talking in baby- talk to be understood. When God reveals himself to humans using human language he has to adjust himself to our limitations as his creatures by using some form of analogy to his creation.

Examples include the bible’s descriptions of God as a rock, a light, a fire, an eagle, a father, a king, a judge, a warrior, a shepherd, and many other analogies. It is good for us to understand God’s being in all these ways. But, in doing so, we must be very careful to realize that all biblical analogies, and descriptions, and words ultimately fall short and that’s because it is not possible to use analogies and words drawn from God’s finite creation to fully reveal the infinite, uncreated God.

Similar to the concepts of God’s transcendence and immanence, there are two common errors to avoid here as well. The first error is the false belief that the biblical descriptions of God mean the exact same thing as biblical descriptions of God’s creation or humanity. As an example, when the bible reveals to us that “God is good,” that is not exactly the same meaning of good as when the bible reveals to us that other aspects of God’s creation are good.

God’s goodness is infinitely greater than any goodness found in his creation or humanity, because his goodness is the source and criterion of all finite goodness. Many fail to understand this important distinction because the same Greek word used in the New Testament to describe God’s goodness, agathos, is also used to describe man (Matt. 5:45), gifts (Matt.7:11), trees (Matt. 7:17), conscience (Acts 23:1), God’s Law (Rom. 7:13), the will of God (Rom. 12:2), and even an unbeliever in authority (Acts 23:26).

A second common error is the false belief that God is so different from his creation and humanity that it is not even possible to understand what he is like. This is the opposite extreme view that there is no similarity between God’s goodness and man’s goodness. If such a view is believed, then meaningful speech about God is actually not even possible. This view is in direct contradiction with the Apostle Paul’s strong declaration that God’s attributes have been clearly understood by humans, when he writes these words, “For his (speaking of God’s) invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, (and then he uses the phrase) have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made (Rom 1:20-21).”

So what’s the solution to this dilemma?

It is to understand that, although the descriptions of God’s being revealed in Scripture are different and infinitely greater than what we mean by them, as mentioned above, there are still strong and true similarities in the meaning.

For example, it is good for you to see God like a father, but not exactly the way you think of a father. God is infinitely greater than that. He is the Father that measures all other fatherhood (Eph. 3:14-15).

And, it is good for you to see God like a judge, but God is more than that. When you see in Scripture that God is joyful, you should know that God’s joy is beyond the realm of human joy. And, when you read in the bible that God is angry you should not think of God’s anger being exactly the same as human anger, it’s not. And when you read in Scripture that God repents or changes his mind, you should not think of God changing his mind like you would.

But just because our knowledge of God is limited does not mean it is not true and good knowledge. Not knowing God as fully as he knows himself, doesn’t mean we can’t know him at all.8 Even though God must condescend to reveal himself to us, using words and analogies drawn from his creation, the good news is that the knowledge of himself that he does reveals to us is true, trustworthy, and perfectly adequate for us to “…proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Pet 2:9).”


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In the Applied Theology Project, former seminary professors John Frame and Steve Childers combine their more than 90 years of combined teaching and ministry experience to help you apply theology to real life and ministry.

Knowing God By His Personal Name YHWH (LORD)

The Applied Theology Series provides you accessible, affordable seminary-level courses designed to help you learn how to apply theology to your life and ministry in practical ways – with the goal of helping you better know, love, serve, and honor God as LORD in all of life.

In this Essentials Course, we’re explaining and applying the definition of theology as “a study of God in Scripture to know God as LORD in all areas of life.” In this third lesson, our focus is on helping you learn what the Bible teaches about “Knowing God as YHWH (LORD).”

In this lesson, you’ll be equipped to:

  • Explain why Moses asked God to give him his name
  • Describe God’s three names he revealed to Moses
  • Define the meaning of God’s personal name YHWH
  • Recognize the Bible’s use of God’s name as LORD
  • Illustrate God’s new personal name given by Jesus
  • Explain the Scripture’s confession “Jesus is LORD”

CHOOSE YOUR LEARNING PATHWAY:
Read the Transcript Below
Listen to the Audio
Watch the Video
Take the Course


Knowing God as LORD

By Steve Childers and John Frame 

1. God’s Personal Name is YHWH (LORD)

When God appears to Moses in the burning bush, he reveals more about himself than being the Redeemer and Holy God of Israel. God continues his self- revelation by also telling Moses his names, including his personal name.

God told Moses earlier that his plan to deliver Israel was going to be through him. Moses responded by asking God what seems to be an odd question: In Exodus 3:13 we read, “Then Moses said to God, ‘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?”

Why would Moses ask God for his name? In the ancient Near East, the names people called their gods always had meaning. A god’s name revealed what their god was like. They needed to know their god’s name in order to understand him, pray to him, worship him, and serve him. By asking for God’s name, Moses is asking God who he is and what he is like. God answers Moses, saying:

“…I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘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.’ (Exod 3:14- 15).”

This can be a very confusing answer. One reason is because God refers to himself in the third person voice, as he often does throughout Scripture. Another reason is because God is using various forms of the Hebrew verb “to be” for his names. This answer can also be confusing because God reveals three of his names in three difficult Hebrew forms:

The first name of God is in a long Hebrew form in the first part of Exod 3:14 ( “eh- yeh a-ser eh-yeh,”) translated “I AM WHO I AM.”1 The second name of God is a shorter Hebrew form taken from the first (“eh-yeh,”) translated “I AM” at the end of Exod 3:14. And the last name God gives himself is in a very short Hebrew form in verse 15, (YHWH,) often pronounced “Yahweh,” and translated here as “LORD” in all capital letters.

Throughout Scripture, one of the most significant ways God chooses to reveal what he is like is by revealing his many names. Theologians suggest many distinctions between a host of God’s names. But almost all agree that God’s name YHWH, or LORD, is the greatest revelation of God’s name in the Old Testament. This mysterious, personal name of God is meant to point us to God’s very being by using various forms of the Hebrew verb “to be.”

Insights into the meaning of YHWH are not found primarily by studying the etymology of the Hebrew term, but more by understanding the historic contexts in which God reveals his personal name. Although Israel’s forefathers knew the name YHWH for God, they could not understand it’s full meaning because Israel had not yet been in captivity to Egypt in need of YHWH’s deliverance as a display of his faithfulness to keep his covenant promises.

Bavinck writes: “From this point on the name YHWH is the description and guarantee of the fact that God is and remains the God of his people, unchanging in his grace and faithfulness.” From this time on God gives a whole new meaning to his ancient name as describing the God who keeps his covenant promises and delivers his people from their captivity (Hos 12:9, 13:4).

God concludes his answer to Moses’ question regarding his name saying, “This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations (Exod 3:15). So we should not be surprised to learn that the English name for God, LORD, another Hebrew name, Adon, and the Greek name, Kurios, occur more than 7000 times in the Bible referring to God. Throughout all of history recorded in Scripture, we learn that God acts in the lives of his people so they will know that he is LORD (Exod 6:7).”

2. YHWH (LORD) is Personal

Prior to God’s revelation to Moses of the fullness of his name as YHWH, God was known by more simple, general Hebrew names, like El, Elohim, and El Shaddai. These names emphasized God’s power and might, and that he is high and lifted up. But as YHWH God reveals himself as a personal, faithful, covenant-keeping God of grace who promises to deliver his people by his great power. Bavinck writes, “YHWH is the highest revelation of God in the Old Testament. YHWH is God’s real, personal name.”

In the New Testament we learn that God retains many of these names and translates his personal name YHWH as Lord (kurios). But there is a new personal name for God added by Jesus Christ. It is the name “Father,” that indicates God’s astonishing familial relationship with his people. According to Bavinck, “Father” is thus the supreme revelation of God, and since the Father is made known to us by Jesus through the Spirit, the full, abundant revelation of God’s name is now Trinitarian: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

By giving himself a personal name, God is reveals to us that he is a person and not an impersonal force or higher power. The world God created consists of personal and impersonal beings. Humans are personal beings with names. Impersonal beings include things like matter, space, time, motion, energy, the law of gravity, thunderstorms, oranges, and bicycles.

Many today believe that humans are ultimately just impersonal matter that has come into being through a mysterious and random convergence of mass and energy over billions of years, for no apparent reason and for no purpose. But the bible teaches that all matter, space, time, motion, and energy are designed by God to bring glory to his name by revealing his rule as a holy, personal God over the universe he created and sustains to accomplish his purposes.

3. YHWH (LORD) is One

God’s name as LORD also reveals the oneness of His being. Unlike the nature of pagan idols portrayed as multiple beings, the LORD’S personal nature consists of one being. Theologians refer to the oneness of God’s personal being as one substance or one essence.

The affirmation of the LORD’s oneness is at the heart of the ancient confession of God’s people, Jewish and Christian, throughout every generation since the time of Moses:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deut 6:4-5).

4. Jesus is LORD!

This fundamental confession of God’s Lordship is a succinct summary of the main message of the whole Bible. The confession of God’s people in the Old Testament was that “God is LORD!” And the good news is that this same fundamental confession of God’s people continues in the New Testament as “Jesus is LORD!”


We help underserved church leaders develop churches that transform lives and communities

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Give using your credit card or bank draft through our secure online form

Phone
Call us at 407-682-6942

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You may give securities either by transfer of the certificate of ownership or through account transfer arranged by your broker. In each case, you avoid the tax on any potential gain and receive a deduction for the full fair market value of securities. To give a gift of stock, email us at staff@pathwaylearning.org, call us at 407-682-6942, or write us at P.O. Box 2062, Winter Park, FL 32790.

In the Applied Theology Project, former seminary professors John Frame and Steve Childers combine their more than 90 years of combined teaching and ministry experience to help you apply theology to real life and ministry.

Knowing God as Creator, Redeemer, and Holy

The Applied Theology Series provides you accessible, affordable seminary-level courses designed to help you learn how to apply theology to your life and ministry in practical ways – with the goal of helping you better know, love, serve, and honor God as Lord in all of life.

In this Essentials Course, we’re explaining and applying the definition of theology as “a study of God in Scripture to know God as Lord in all areas of life.” In this second lesson, our focus is on helping you learn how to see God as “Holy Creator and Gracious Redeemer of all things.

In this lesson, you’ll be equipped to:

  • Describe how creation encourages our trust in God
  • Explain how stories shape our understanding of God
  • Illustrate how God first revealed himself to Moses
  • Recognize how God reveals himself as our Redeemer
  • Summarize what the Bible means by God being holy
  • Explain how our holy God comes near to us in Jesus

CHOOSE YOUR LEARNING PATHWAY:
Read the Transcript Below
Listen to the Audio
Watch the Video
Take the Course


Knowing God as Creator, Redeemer, and Holy

By Steve Childers and John Frame 

1. Knowing God as Creator

A good place to begin our study of God is in the first book of the bible, Genesis.

In the first verse of Genesis we read the famous words, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Genesis begins with creation as a magnificent act of God that reveals God to us as the creator of everything that exists.

Genesis was written by Moses after the exodus of God’s people from slavery in Egypt. This was a long time after God’s mighty act of creation. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Moses wrote Genesis for the benefit of the people of Israel during their hard pilgrimage in the wilderness between Egypt and entering the Promised Land.

These people did not need a definition of theology. They already knew God, as did their ancient forefathers for many generations. The Genesis creation story encouraged their trust in God by reminding them that the God who delivered them from their slavery in Egypt is the same God who created the heavens and the earth.

When God spoke to Moses, he revealed himself as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exod 3:6).” These were their ancient patriarchs to whom God revealed himself in magnificent acts. How did God’s people in Moses’ generation come to know God’s mighty acts in previous generations before receiving the book of Genesis from Moses?

They learned primarily through the stories passed on to them from their forefathers that were faithfully preserved for them by God’s Holy Spirit to each succeeding generation. The Apostle Peter writes, “… men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:21).” These stories greatly shaped their understanding of who God is based on what he had done in and through the lives of their ancestors.

2. Knowing God as Redeemer

But God revealed himself through Moses as not only the mighty Creator but also the mighty Redeemer.

By the time of Moses, Israel had been held in slavery in Egypt for four hundred years. Even though Israel cried out for God to deliver them from their cruel bondage, he didn’t. For four hundred years God was silent. Why did God not answer their heartfelt cries for help? Many of them must have doubted whether all the old stories they believed about God were true.

But God began answering their prayers by first appearing to Moses. We have a written record of this act of God in Exodus 3. It’s the famous account of how God appears to Moses in a burning bush that never burns up. We read, “He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, ‘I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned (Exod 3:2b-3).’”

After Moses discovers this strange phenomenon, he stops to take a closer look. When he does, God reveals himself to Moses as the deliverer, the redeemer of his people, saying:

“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey (Exod 3:7-8a).”

3. Knowing God as Holy

God revealed himself to Moses as being not only the mighty Creator and Redeemer, but also as being Holy.

When Moses approaches the burning bush, God first says to him, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground (Exod 3:5).” God reveals himself to Moses as being so holy that even the ground near him is holy. How does Moses respond? He is utterly overwhelmed. “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God (Exod 3:6b).”

Later, the Scriptures teach that the Prophet Isaiah would have a similar experience as he comes near God’s holy presence (Is 6:1-5). When the disciples of Jesus saw his miracles they would sometimes shrink back from him with a renewed sense of how sinful they were in his holy presence. After Peter saw a miracle of Jesus, he fell down at his feet, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord (Luke 5:8).”

Because God is perfectly righteous and just, there is a great barrier between him as supremely holy and imperfect sinners like us. He is the one whose presence we dare not approach without great respect and awe. The Hebrew word for holy (qodesh) means separateness, set-apartness, and sacredness.

Many people misunderstand God’s holiness to mean that God is so separate from his creation that we cannot really know him or be near to him. This is why some believe that human language can’t even describe God accurately. We’ll study later how this misunderstanding of God separateness from his creation often leads to forms of Deism.

Despite the limitations of our abilities as creatures to fully comprehend God as our Creator, the bible teaches we can know definite things about God. And despite the limitations of human language, God uses it to reveal to us who he is and what he does in history. When Scripture reveals God to us as “high,” “exalted,” and “lifted up,” it is not presenting God to us as being far away from us so that we cannot know him or be near to him. It is revealing to us that God is King and Lord.

In a similar way we need to avoid the opposite danger of believing that God is so near to his creation that he becomes immersed in it and unable to be distinguished from it. We’ll study this more later as the historic error of Pantheism–the opposite danger of Deism. [1]

The Scriptures reveal God to us as always distinct from the world. He is the Holy, Creator and Redeemer King–and the world is his creation. But the good news is that our holy God came to be with us as his creatures, to be near us, especially in the person and work of Jesus Christ through his Holy Spirit.


1 The concern is about a view of God’s transcendence that leads to forms of Deism and God’s immanence that leads to forms of Pantheism. He shares a similar concern regarding God’s incommunicable and communicable attributes, as we’ll see later.


We help underserved church leaders develop churches that transform lives and communities

WAYS TO GIVE

Online
Give using your credit card or bank draft through our secure online form

Phone
Call us at 407-682-6942

Mail
Send a check:
Pathway Learning, P.O. Box 2062
Winter Park, FL 32790

Matching Gift
Your employer may also be able to double your gift.

Give a Gift of Stock
You may give securities either by transfer of the certificate of ownership or through account transfer arranged by your broker. In each case, you avoid the tax on any potential gain and receive a deduction for the full fair market value of securities. To give a gift of stock, email us at staff@pathwaylearning.org, call us at 407-682-6942, or write us at P.O. Box 2062, Winter Park, FL 32790.