The Incommunicable Attributes Of God
Philip Alms: “Theology Proper Paper”
When debating whether or not God exists, there are two arguments that I believe do a great job of logically proving the existence of God. The first is the cosmological argument which says that everything we know exists in the universe has a cause; there cannot be an infinite regress of causes; therefore, the universe must have an uncaused cause. This uncaused cause must be God. The second is the teleological argument for God which is also called the watchmaker argument. It says that the odds of someone picking out 10 discs numbered in sequence are 1 out of 1 billion. If those odds are so great, how much greater is it that the universe came together? This logic points to a design and creator. Now that we have a God, what is he like?
When describing God, who I don’t believe we can totally comprehend because, if we could, we wouldn’t need faith. I believe that you are required to separate the conversation into two separate parts. First, God has attributes that, while they can be shared with us partially, they are only ever perceived or accomplished in full by God Himself. These attributes are called the incommunicable attributes of God, which are independence, immutability, eternity, omnipresence, and simple. The second part to God’s attributes are those that are more easily shared than his incommunicable attributes. These attributes are called God’s communicable attributes. This is a much more exhaustive list which I can only scratch the surface of in this paper. These are attributes that can only be possibly shared because, as Genesis 1:26,2:7 say, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…””Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living creature.” It is because we are God breathed, because God breathed spiritual life into us, that we can have such a personal relationship with God as sharing attributes with Him.
The first incommunicable attribute that I believe God possesses is independence. Wayne Grudem defines this attribute as, “God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything, yet we and the rest of creation can glorify him and bring him joy.” This is a huge concept to grasp in your belief in God. Without a firm understanding and belief in this incommunicable attribute, you are subject to easily sliding into robbing God of complete glory and taking partial (or total) control of your life. I love what Rick Reynolds says about this unhealthy feeling of significance when he stated, “Don’t think you’re so significant that you can ruin God’s plan.” The result of my belief in this attribute is that I am forced to always ask how I can glorify God regardless of the situation I am in; to always react to events in my life in the way I was created, to glorify God, and not in a way that says I know better than my creator. “Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control, that Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed his blood for my soul, It is well with my soul…” (“It is well with my soul” by Horatio G. Spafford. 1873.) We were created solely for God’s glory. We are described by God as, “Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Isa. 43:7)
In support to my belief in the independence of God Acts 17:24-25 says, “The God who made the world and everything in it (As evidence of Genesis 1), being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breathe and everything” We see that creation cannot serve God, because God is the creator. Every aspect of creation is in total reliance on God because, as Revelation 4:11 states, “For you created all things, and by YOUR WILL they existed and were created.”
The second incommunicable attribute that I believe God possesses is Immutability. Wayne Grudem defines this attribute as, “God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to the different situations.” This is an attribute of God that I cling to with all the strength I have. The idea that God is unchanging as Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Jesus is one of the three persons of God, but we’ll get to that “simple” stuff later in this paper.) Without a firm understanding and belief in this incommunicable attribute of God, it makes glorifying Him in all circumstances an impossible thing to achieve. For example, in hard times of life you easily shift your view of God from someone who should be glorified to someone who is punishing you or trying to harm you with no end goal, and with no reason. I have seen my mind wander to a God who may even like introducing pain in my life when my faith in this area is weak. We were created by a God whose love never changes, whose end goal never changes, and who will carry out that plan. “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient of times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” … I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” (Isa. 46:9-11) God’s Word is another testament to the immutability of God. It carries a common theme, belief, and message throughout His 66 book love letter to His creation, which is made in His image.
The third incommunicable attribute that I believe God possesses is that He is eternal. Wayne Grudem defines this attribute as, “God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time.” It is impossible to believe that God is unchanging if you don’t believe that He is eternal, because that suggests that at some point He had to change into existence. So, as you can see, this is another vital truth to believe about God. The result of my belief that God is eternal is that He had to be the creator of all things, over all things, and in all things sovereign. I believe in an everlasting God that the Psalmist took even a step further in saying, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” I cannot fathom the extent of a God who is everlasting for, “the number of His years is unsearchable” as Elihu said to Job in Job 36:26.
In support to my belief that God is Eternal, I have to look at Genesis 1 and go back to where all of creation started. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Therefore, God had to have existed before the beginning. Also, later on in Genesis 1:3-5, it says, “And God said, “Let there be light, and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” Wayne Grudem so eloquently states,
“The study of physics tells us that matter and time and space must all occur together: if there is no matter, there can be no space or time either. Thus, before God created the universe, there was no “time,” at least not in the sense of a succession of moments one after another. Therefore, when God created the universe, he also created time. When God began to create the universe, time began, and there began to be a succession of moments and events one after another. But before there was a universe, and before there was time, God always existed, without beginning, and without being influenced by time.”
This is an amazing discovery! God is eternal on the simple basis that He is outside of time; that He created time. And because God is outside of time, He is able to see every event in time and act in time. Going back to Isaiah 46:9-10 God says, “For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.”” He is able to declare the end from the beginning because it is as if He were standing above our lineal view of time, as if it were a timeline, and is able to interact and see time in its fullest extent.
The fourth incommunicable attribute I believe that God possesses is omnipresence. Wayne Grudem defines omnipresence, saying, “God does not have size or spatial dimensions and is present at every point of space with his whole being, yet God acts differently in different places.” Once again (Are you seeing a pattern?), I believe this incommunicable attribute of God is dependent on Him being eternal, Him not changing from being omnipresent, and Him being independent of our worldly and physical limitations. Without a belief that God is omnipresent, you are left to believe that either He is outside of our limitations of time, space, and matter, or that He is a personal God; you are forced to pick one or the other. One of the greatest thinkers who was born once said,
“What is there in places almost empty of Matter, and whence is it that the Sun and Planets gravitate towards one another, without dense Matter between them? When is it that Nature doth nothing in vain, and whence arises all that Order and Beauty which we see in the World?... does it not appear from phaenomena that there is a Being incorporeal, living, intelligent, omnipresent, who in infinite space, as it were in his Sensory, sees the things themselves intimately, and thoroughly perceives them and comprehends them wholly by their immediate presence to himself. And though every true Step made in this Philosophy brings us not immediately to the knowledge of the first Cause, yet it brings us nearer to it, and on that account is to be highly valued.” (Sir Isaac Newton)
This is such a true observation. In different words, we find in Jeremiah 23:23-24 God asking, “Am I a God at hand, says the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?” says the Lord. “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the Lord.” Likewise, Psalm 139:7-10 further expounds, “Whither shall I go from your Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”
The fifth and final incommunicable attribute I believe that God possesses is unity (or simplicity). Wayne Grudem defines unity as, “God is not divided into parts, yet we see different attributes of God emphasized at different times. Though the following are not incommunicable attributes of God, but are communicable, I believe Galatians 5:22 is a great picture of unity of God’s attributes. It says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…” Notice in this verse how all these attributes are the fruit of the Spirit and not the fruits of the Spirit. Also, notice how you can be joyful at one point in life, you can be kind at another, and you can be faithful at a totally separate time in life, but the fact remains that each one of those are the fruit of the Spirit. You can see that part of the fruit is not love and another part peace. Likewise, you can see that love is not more of the fruit of the Spirit than peace (or any of the others mentioned). But as the verse reads, the fruit itself is fully love and the fruit itself is fully peace. Just as these communicable attributes have unity as the fruit of the Spirit, God’s incommunicable attributes display unity. It is the reason that the Bible can say that God is one thing and then later say He is something different.
Also, God is a unified trinity. He is God in three persons and each of those persons is fully God though one might show up at one point and another at a whole different point. The triune God can be defined as one God who eternally exists in three different persons; The Father; The Son; The Holy Spirit. All of whom are fully God; All of whom are equal. These three persons are completely coequal and are coeternal and have subordinating functions. God the Father’s subordinating function is Will. Jesus submits to God the Father’s Will on the Mount of Olives before his crucifixion saying, “…Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42) Accordingly, God the Son’s subordinating function is mediating between us and God the Father personally, sacrificially, and vocally. “Jesus said to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” (John 14:6) Accordingly, God the Holy Spirit’s subordinating function is agency. John 14:26 says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
Now to shift to the other side of the conversation that consists of the communicable attributes of God. These are attributes that we can share with God because, as I stated earlier, we are God breathed and made in His image. The main communicable attributes I would say are found in the fruit of the Spirit to which I referred to when I spoke about God’s incommunicable attribute of unity.We are called and able to have love be our motive in everything whether it is in a spiritual gift, action, or word. Second, we are called to have a joyful spirit and able to share that in all that we do. Third, we are called to have patience and are able to have patience for God’s plan and with others. Fourth, we are called and are able to share a kind heart toward one another. Fifth, we are called and able to share in goodness only through Him. Lastly, we are called and able to be faithful to God and others. God breathed into us the ability to share in some of His attributes so that we could be a reflection of our creator; and glorify Him, which brings us back to the first incommunicable attribute of God; independence. We are created to glorify Him.
Therefore, I believe that God exists based on cosmological and teleological arguments; I believe He has incommunicable traits and communicable traits; both of which work together and complement one another; all of which declare His glory; communicable attributes which allow me to have a personal relationship with my creator; incommunicable attributes which leave no doubt in my mind that I serve an infinitely glorious God who is three persons in one.