In this final part of our Get to know God series, we turn to thinking about how God is three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is traditionally known as the doctrine of the Trinity. Sometimes people can have the idea that the Trinity is too difficult to think about, or it doesn’t really make much difference to everyday life. But, as theologian D.B. Knox said: “The doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of the Christian religion”. It’s essential to our Christian lives: we experience God as Trinity. It matters that we don’t just think of ‘God’, but think in terms of the Father, Son and Spirit.
Obviously there are many books which have been written about this topic (and I’ll link to some of them below). We won’t be able to deal with the whole doctrine of the Trinity in one session! But I hope this will at least make a start so you want to continue learning yourself.
Let’s start by thinking about what the Bible says, before we go on to look at why it matters for us day-by-day.
What does the Bible say about the Trinity?
The doctrine of the Trinity is somewhat veiled in the Old Testament. That is, it’s there if you know what you’re looking for – there are some passages which don’t make sense any other way. And yet, we don’t really get the full picture until the New Testament. Because we don’t have much time here, we’ll concentrate on the New Testament for the moment.
In the ninth (and penultimate) part of the Get to know God series, we’re looking at how God is the maker and preserver of all things. This means that God made everything, but he also ‘preserves’ everything – he keeps it going day-by-day, moment by moment. If you’ve been following the series, you’ll know the drill by now: we’ll start out looking at what the Bible says about it, then we’ll think about how it applies to us today.
What the Bible says
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:1 is one of the most famous verses in the Bible. So famous, in fact, that we probably don’t give it the attention that it deserves. We often skip over it. But let’s spend a bit of time thinking about it. What do these few words say about God’s creation?
In this eighth part of the Get to know God series, we are thinking about how God is good. Not just good – God is infinitely good. He is the very definition of goodness itself. But what does it mean for God to be good? What does that look like? And what does it mean for us in our lives and how we relate to him? Let’s start, as always, by looking at the Bible before we turn to think about what it means for us.
What does the Bible say about God’s goodness?
Only God is good
A man once came to Jesus to ask him a question. The man called him “Good teacher”, but Jesus responded: “Why do you call me good? No one is good – except God alone” (Mark 10:18). Jesus didn’t respond like this because Jesus was saying he wasn’t good (we’ll come onto that in the final session!). But he wanted the man to think about what he was saying. Who is truly good? Only God is truly good.
If we want to see and know what true goodness is, we need to look to the Lord. He alone has true goodness. He is 100%, pure good. And, at the risk of stating the obvious, it’s worth making the point that the opposite of good is evil. That which is not good is evil.
You might be thinking – if God alone is good, what does that say for human beings? Are human beings not good? Or, at least, can human beings not be good? We’ll come onto that question in a minute!
In the seventh part of the Get to know God series, we’re looking at how God is infinite in wisdom. We’ll think a little bit about what wisdom is, how it relates to God, and what we need to do. As usual for this series, firstly we’ll look at what the Bible says, and then we’ll think through some practical points for us.
What does the Bible say about God’s wisdom?
Wisdom belongs to God
Where then does wisdom come from?
Where does understanding dwell?
It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing,
concealed even from the birds in the sky.
Destruction and Death say,
‘Only a rumour of it has reached our ears.’
God understands the way to it
and he alone knows where it dwells
Wisdom is something that God alone possesses. This is echoed in the New Testament in Romans 16:27 where Paul says, “to the only wise God”. Wisdom is something that God simply has perfectly and infinitely, it is part of who he is.
In the Bible, wisdom is about making good and right decisions. (If you’re interested, I have a post about Wisdom and Guidance in Proverbs). It’s about doing what is good and avoiding what is evil. We human beings have limited wisdom – and we’ll come onto that later. But this is not the case with God.
God doesn’t have to listen to advisers to tell him what the right course of action is. God simply knows, because he is perfect wisdom. We human beings are capable of making poor decisions for all sorts of reasons. Maybe we make decisions based on misunderstanding or incomplete knowledge. But God never has that problem: all of his decisions are perfect. God never has to worry about which way to go – he always knows.
The sixth part of our Get to know God series looks at God’s omnipotence – the fact that he is infinitely powerful. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found the last couple of sessions have dealt with some pretty tough concepts. This week is, I hope, slightly less tough in that respect. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty here to get your head around – and plenty to be encouraged by. Let’s look into it. We’ll start out by drawing out a few points from the Bible, and then we’ll think about what it means for us.
What does the Bible say?
No-one is powerful like God
No one is like you, Lord; you are great, and your name is mighty in power.
The Bible often describes God’s power as being incomparable. Nothing else in all creation could come anywhere close to matching his power. His power is often seen in the things that he does.
In this fifth part of the Get to know God series, we’re looking at something called God’s impassibility. This is a really important aspect of God, and yet out of all of them this is probably the least popular. Part of the problem is that people don’t understand what ‘passions’ means! But this is important for understanding who God is: do we want a God who is actually able to help us in our suffering? For that, we need a God who is impassible.
What does impassible even mean?
A few years ago, a friend of mine wrote an article defending God’s impassibility. He started out with a brief definition of impassibility:
Divine impassibility refers to the belief that God can neither be acted on from without, nor experience ‘emotional’ change within, and that, more specifically, God can thus neither be caused to suffer, nor choose to suffer, in his divine nature.
This is a good definition to be going on with. Impassibility, or being ‘without passions’, means that God doesn’t have emotions in the same way that we do. (This is especially true about suffering – God does not suffer). Emotions, as it says, are about change: we human beings generally can’t go through a day without experiencing a number of emotional changes. An emotion is a change. But – as we have already thought about – God does not change. God is constant. That’s good news for us!
It’s good news because it means that God is not changeable like us, but is above our ways. Let’s take a look at the Bible to see what it says.
In this fourth part of the Get to know God series, we’re going to be looking at God’s simplicity, or the fact that God is “without parts”. Now, simplicity is probably the most misleading word in the theological dictionary! It’s a very particular definition of simplicity which has very little to the way that we use the word in common speech. It is important, however, because I think it has a direct bearing on issues in our society today.
But let’s go into what simplicity is. Let’s start out by thinking about a jigsaw.
This is part three of the “Get to know God” series. Here we are considering that God is spiritual – he doesn’t have a body (sometimes called incorporeal). We’ll also look at what theologians call omnipresence, that is, being present everywhere. I know it may seem like these are big words, but I promise you, it will be worth looking into it!
So let’s start by looking at what the Bible says. After that, we’ll spend some time thinking about what it means for us.
What does the Bible say?
God is everywhere
‘Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord.
The Bible is clear that God cannot live in a house like a human being. As the quote from Jeremiah says – God “fills heaven and earth”. God is big, filling the universe itself! This doesn’t mean that God = the Universe. Some people say that – this is known as ‘pantheism’, and the church has always condemned this as a heresy. We need to be clear from the start that God is distinct from the universe as its creator.
God sustains each part of creation moment-by-moment. A Psalm such as Psalm 104 says that God feeds the animals, watches over the seas and all creatures in them, as well as all human beings. Jesus says in Matthew 10:29 that not even a sparrow can fall to the ground outside of God’s care! It is obvious that in order to do that, God cannot be limited to one place (and time). He has to be everywhere, all at once.
God is Spirit
In John 4:24, Jesus says: “God is Spirit”. What does this mean? This is what the Bible scholar Don Carson has to say about these words:
Jesus is not suggesting that God is one spirit amongst many … In this context ‘spirit’ characterizes what God is like, in the same way that flesh, location, and corporeality characterize what human beings and their world are like … ‘God is spirit’ means that God is invisible, divine as opposed to human, life-giving and unknowable to human beings unless he chooses to reveal himself.
In other words, Jesus doesn’t say God is “a” spirit – as if he’s just one of the spiritual beings. The Bible does talk about spiritual beings elsewhere, for example Ephesians 6:12 talks about “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”. There are spiritual forces in the world – good and evil. Jesus is not saying that God is simply another one of these beings!
Jesus is simply making the point that God is unlike us: we human beings have bodies, we can only be in one place at a time – we are ‘corporeal’. God, on the other hand, does not have those limitations. He is present everywhere, at every place and time. We’ll come back to this a bit later on.
God is bigger than the universe
The final thing here is that God is bigger than the universe. This issimilar to the point that we’ve made before, but I think it’s worth saying explicitly. The whole universe was made at God’s command. He is far above any created thing. This often comes across in the prophets, especially Isaiah:
For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy
Isaiah 57:15 (ESV)
God dwells in eternity, he is “high and lifted up”. God isn’t just everywhere – he’s far beyond that! The nations are a “drop in a bucket” to him (Isaiah 40:15). It’s important to grasp that the universe is not stretching the limits of God’s power or where God can be – he is far bigger than that!
What does that mean for us?
We’ve thought about what the Bible says about God not having a body. Let’s spend the rest of the time thinking about what difference it makes to us. How can we live differently as Christians knowing this about God?
The first thing is as an encouragement. Wherever we are, whatever situation we’re in, we know that God will be there with us. In these beautiful words from Psalm 139, King David reflects on how wonderful it is:
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
David praises God because he knows that, wherever he goes, he can never go further than God. No place – however dark – is too dark for God to see. We cannot outrun God. Even the moon! (Did you know – one of the first things that happened on the moon was Buzz Aldrin took communion?)
And God is not just with us all the time, but he guides us and we are held in his hands. God isn’t simply some kind of travelling companion – he’s a guide, a protector, and so on. The reason that God can do all of those things is that God is everywhere, he is unlimited.
Another helpful thing here is that God is able to look after those we love even when we’re miles apart. God is able to answer prayers, even for things which are on the other side of the world. We don’t have to pray for things which are local to us! I find it a great comfort when I’m away from my family to know that they are still in God’s hands, even though they can’t be in mine.
One of the most well-known stories in the Bible is that of Jonah and the whale. If you’re not familiar with the story, you can read it in the Bible (it’s very short!) or there are lots of videos around – like this one for kids. At the start of the story, God calls Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh. Instead, Jonah decides to go in the opposite direction! But he soon finds out that he can’t run away from God.
I think this is an important warning for us to listen to as well: for those who love and trust God, it’s a great thing not to be able to run away from him. For those who do not love and trust God, it’s a warning. In the book of Revelation, on the day of judgement we see people trying to run away from God:
Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?’
Obviously, trying to run away from God is futile! This is because we cannot run away from God – he is everywhere.
We need to worship God ‘in spirit and truth’
Earlier on, I quoted John 4:24, where Jesus says “God is spirit”. He continues on: “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth”. That means we can’t worship God as if he is some created being. The second of the Ten Commandments expressly forbids worshipping an image of God. The reason is because God is infinitely bigger than any created thing. No statue or anything created could adequately represent God. In fact, any image of God will be a false god – something we thought about in the first session.
God wants us to worship him, but God wants us to worship him in the Spirit and in truth:
In the Spirit means that we can only come to God through the Holy Spirit. We can’t draw near to God like we would a person. With humans beings, we come near to them physically. As God doesn’t have a physical body, we can’t draw near that way! The way to draw near to God is through the Holy Spirit. When we repent of our sins and turn to Christ, when we seek to love, serve and obey God, then we draw near to God. This is how James puts it: “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8).
Because God is spirit, we can only draw near to him spiritually. It’s not about being a special place e.g. a church or the like – but we draw near to him as we seek and obey him.
In truth means that we need to take on board everything God has said to us about who he is and how he wants us to worship him. Because we can’t see God, it’s all the more important to listen to him rather than simply imagine a God! In Knowing God, Jim Packer quotes the phrase: “for the Christian, the ear is the primary sense organ”. We know about God by listening to him – through his Word, the Bible. If you want to draw near to God, you need to listen to the truth about him.
Finally: this doesn’t mean the body is bad!
One of the mistakes which I think has commonly been made over the last 2,000 years is this: “God is spiritual, and to get close to him I must get more spiritual. Therefore, I should try to avoid anything physical”. A lot of Christians through the ages have decided to be more ‘spiritual’ they should renounce all physical pleasure. Sometimes they do this in quite extreme ways, for example Simeon Stylites lived for 37 years on top of a small platform on a pillar!
The fact that God is spiritual doesn’t mean that the physical is bad. After all, God made the world! God created the world, and made it good. This is something I talk about in the first session of the What is Christianity course.
Being ‘spiritual’ is not about getting away from the physical! Rather, it is learning to use our bodies in a spiritual way. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honourable”. So we shouldn’t avoid anything physical altogether – far from it! Rather, with God’s help we should learn to control our bodies in a spiritual way and enjoy physical things in the way that God intended.
God loves our bodies, God loves the physical world! Being spiritual doesn’t mean being less physical, it just means being physical in the right ways. In fact, I think it means being more physical, because we see the created world as something God made to be enjoyed with him.
In the second part of our “Get to know God” series, we’re going to think about how God is everlasting or eternal. The Bible teaches that God has always existed, and will always exist. He doesn’t have a beginning or an end. He is not bound by time in the way that we human beings are. Let’s think about what the Bible has to say about God’s eternity, and then think about how it makes a difference in our lives.
What does the Bible say about God’s eternity?
God never had a beginning
Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
One of the most important things to grasp about God is that he never had a beginning. He has always existed. I know that’s hard to get your head around! We human beings are so used to thinking of things in terms of beginning and ending, that it’s very difficult – if not impossible – to really understand how God could be different. But – that is what the Bible teaches.
This is fundamental to who God is. The universe needs to have a “first cause”. In Stephen Hawking’s famous book A Brief History of Time, he tells this story:
A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the centre of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”
If you think about it for a moment, there has to come something at the bottom of the pile. It’s the same thing with creation. If you ask, ‘who created God?’ then you have to ask ‘Who created the person who created God?’ and so on.
In the first part of the “Get to know God” series, we are thinking about how God is one. What does it mean for God to be one? Why do we make the point that God is “living” and “true”? Let’s dive in!
How many gods are there?
Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
How do we know there is only one God? The Bible is very clear about it. This verse from Deuteronomy is start of the Shema, which orthodox Jews recite every morning. As they say on that page, “The first verse of the Shema is considered the most essential declaration of the Jewish faith — the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” Christians and Jews alike believe there is one God. This is known as monotheism, if you want the proper word for it.
This is in contrast to other religions, which believe there are many gods. For example, there are many Hindu gods. The ancient Greeks believed in many gods. such as Zeus – as you can see from the picture.
So, what difference does it make believing there is only one God? Let’s spend a few moments thinking about it.
What is the significance of one God?
1. There are no other gods
This is simply a matter of basic logic. If there is only one God – then there are no other gods. The Bible often contrasts God with ‘the gods of the nations’. For example, Psalm 96:5 says, “For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens”. (An ‘idol’ here is something which is worshipped as a god but is not God. If you’d like to look into idolatry more, check out this session from the Heidelberg Catechism course). God, the God of the Bible, is one God. He made everything, and there are no other gods.
This is significant for how we see other religions: Christians believe that Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus (for example) are mistaken about their gods. Believing in the God of the Bible means not believing in other gods. We can’t pick and choose!
2. There is order, not chaos
Imagine if there was more than one god, like the ancient Greeks. Imagine one god decided that we should be kind to each other. Another god contradicted him and decided that we should be nasty to each other. Whose will should win out? The ancient Greek legends are full of stories of gods warring with each other. If you think about it, it’s absurd: what kind of god would need to war with another god? If God is truly God, then he cannot have any rivals!
This is significant for us, because it gives the universe – and our lives – meaning. The universe is not chaotic, but rather it has an order and purpose. God, the Creator, has made everything for a reason. He has put you here for a reason. He has given you your gifts, interests, circumstances and so on for a reason. They are not simply the product of a chaotic universe.
This is so important to understand. The universe did not come into existence by chance – it was created for a reason. God made the universe with his wisdom behind it. You have been made for a purpose. If there were multiple gods, we couldn’t be sure of that at all. This can only be true if there is one Creator who stands behind creation.
3. There is one set of rules
Another significance of there being one God is that there is only one set of rules. Because God made the universe, he sets the rules. God has the sole right to set the rules as our sole Creator.
We recognise something of this today. For example, intellectual property recognises that if you create something, you should have certain rights over it. You can’t simply steal someone else’s creation and pass it off as your own. In law, it belongs to them and they alone have the right to use it. They have the rights because they are the creator.
It’s the same with God: God created the universe, therefore he alone has ‘rights’ over it. We are living in his world, and he gets to set the rules. Fortunately for us, he is a good and loving God – we will come onto that. But let’s move on for now.
What is the significance of a living God?
You might think this is a rather pointless word to put in. Why should we specify that God is living – after all, God isn’t dead! (German philosophers notwithstanding…). The point being made here is not that God is living rather than dead. The point is that God is a personal living being – rather than some kind of impersonal force.
Let’s consider a couple of examples of beliefs where gods are not living.
Deism (derived from Latin “deus” meaning “god”) is a philosophical belief that posits that God exists as an uncaused First Cause ultimately responsible for the creation of the universe, but does not interfere directly with the created world. … It also rejects revelation as a source of religious knowledge and asserts that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of a single creator or absolute principle of the universe.
So, in Deism, there is one God – but it is very unlike the Christian God. The Deist God is basically the source of everything in the world, but one who is not involved in the universe day-by-day. You can’t pray to or have a relationship with the Deist God. This kind of belief is still alive and well today – in fact, let’s look at the example of Jordan Peterson.
Non-living gods 2: Jordan Peterson
Jordan Peterson has made a name for himself by looking at Biblical texts such as Genesis to try and find meaning in the world. He sometimes talks about “God” – but what does he mean by that? Merion West argues:
Peterson’s conception of God is best understood as being the individual human being’s self-conscious relationship with what they value … For Peterson, as for Tillich, God is a term individuals apply to what is of “highest concern” to themselves. For the rich man, this is money. For the scientist, it is knowledge of the world as it truly exists.
This is very different to the Christian concept of God! For Peterson, God is not a personal being who you can relate to. In a nutshell,for Peterson, God is not a living being. This is why it’s important to say that God is living!
What does the Bible say about God living?
The Bible is full of language about God living. There are hundreds of verses we could look at. One of the most significant is Revelation 4:11:
‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.’
This verse says that God didn’t just create everything, but he sustains everything as well. We have our being in God. God is not some kind of Deist God, who simply made everything and then disappears. He creates and sustains everything, moment-by-moment.
Not only that, but he wants us to relate to him. The early chapters of Genesis make clear that God created man to be in relationship with him. For example, Genesis 3 tells of when God was “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” – and speaks to Adam and Eve. From the very beginning of the human race, we have been made for relationship with God. (If you’d like to explore more of what Genesis means for us, the first two sessions of the What is Christianity course cover this).
As the apostle John puts it, “Godislove“ (1 John 4:8). You could not describe an impersonal force or an idea in this way! God is fundamentally relational and loving. This is why we need to describe God as ‘living’.
What is the significance of a true God?
Finally, let’s look at God being “true”. Why describe God as true – isn’t that just redundant? After all, God can’t by false, by definition, can he?
I think this, again, is more to do with our ideas about God rather. Unfortunately, we human beings have a tendency to create God in our own image. We have a tendency to create ‘false gods’, or idols.
What is a false god?
A false god is anything that we worship as a god, but which is not God. You might naturally think of idols or statues of gods. These were commonly worshiped in the ancient world, and – as you can see in the picture – are still worshiped today.
However, a false god doesn’t have to be something we consider a god. False gods can be intangible. For example, let’s take money: money can be a god for some people. It controls everything they do; they will do anything to get more of it. They’ll even sacrifice friends and family for money. Essentially they are worshiping money. There are many other things which can become false gods – for example, career, power, family, sex, and so on.
It’s even possible to worship a false god when we think we’re worshipping the true God. We humans are very capable of coming up with our own novel ideas about God. For example, have you ever heard anyone say: “I like to think of God as…”? This is why it’s so important to get to know know God. When we come up with our own ideas about God, we are in danger of worshiping a false god.
If you’d like to read a book which helps explain this in much more detail, I can highly recommend Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller. You might also like the session What is idolatry? which is part of the New City Catechism course.
What does the Bible say?
The second commandment commands us not to worship images that we make of God (Exodus 20:4-5). God cares about how we worship him. God doesn’t want us to worship a false God – he wants us to worship him alone!
God must be the one who tells us who he is. Throughout the Bible, God is the one who reveals himself to us. He takes the initiative. We don’t reach out to God, he reaches out to us and reveals himself to us.
For example, there’s a very famous moment in the book of Exodus. Moses is on a mountain – when he receives the Ten Commandments. But before that, God reveals himself to Moses:
And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’
Here, God reveals himself as compassionate and gracious. But – he is also a God of justice, who punishes sin. It’s so easy for us to focus on the one rather than the other! We human beings love to think about God as loving and compassionate. We don’t like so much the fact that he is a judge. But God is both – and we must let him define who he is.
If we don’t let God be who he says he is, then we are worshiping a false God.
Here are all the resources I’ve pointed to. If you’d like to explore this topic further, you could start here.