Let's use a modified option (1) for our study.
The Incommunicable attributes: God does not share or “communicate these attributes with others; (i.e, eternity, unchangeableness, omnipresence) - and - the Communicable attributes: God shares or “communicates” these attributes with others (i.e., love, mercy, knowledge, justice, etc.)
Upon reflection, we realize this distinction (incommunicable vs. communicable) is not perfect. For there is no attribute that is completely incommunicable or communicable. For example, “wisdom” - while communicable we can never be infinitely wise as is God. Or “eternal” - while we are created, we can see some reflection of this attribute in that we will live with Him forever and enjoy eternal life.
Thus, we might better define the classifications this way .....
• incommunicable - attributes less shared by us
• communicable - attributes more shared with us
We must also be careful not to isolate any single attribute from the others; all attributes can only be properly understood in the context of all of God’s attributes. For example, thinking of God only as “love” inevitable leads to a dangerously inaccurate perception of God. We can only properly understand the glorious magnificence and full magnitude of God’s love when we understand His holiness and justice.
This outline of attributes is taken from “Systematic Theology” by Wayne Grudem, Intervarsity Press.
They are most easily misunderstood because they are the least familiar to our experience. We will define each incommunicable attribute in a two-part sentence
- 1st part defines the attribute
- 2nd part guards against misunderstanding it by stating a balancing aspect
(1) Independence (self-existence)
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. God’s attribute of independence is sometimes referred to as His transcendence. Scripture is clear that God does not need any part of creation in order to exist or for any other reason (Act 17:24-25). No one has ever contributed to God anything that did not first originate from God who created all things (Job 41:11; Ps 50:10-12). God does not need us for love & fellowship; perfect fellowship and love eternally exists within the Triune God (John 17:5 & John 17:24).
God necessarily exists by virtue of His very nature; He was never created and never came into being. In other words, it is impossible that God not exist. All things that exist were made by Him (Rev 4:11; John 1:3; Rom 11:35-36; 1 Cor 8:6). Before any creation, God existed (Ps 90:2). All of creation is dependent upon the God who is, in Himself, independent.
There is a great statement of self-existence to Moses in Ex 3:14, when asked who is sending Moses to deliver Israel from bondage out of Egypt. This powerful declaration affirms God’s existence and character are determined solely by God alone. He is not dependent upon anyone or anything else. Without any creation, God would still be infinitely loving, just, eternal, omniscient, Trinitarian and so forth.
The difference between God and the creation is infinitely vast (Isa 55:8-9). It's not simply that we exist and God has always existed. God necessarily exists in an infinitely better, stronger, perfect and more excellent way. We cannot think of the difference between us and God as between the candle vs the sun, snowflake vs the Arctic Ice Cap, or a drop of water vs the Pacific Ocean. It is not simply a quantitative difference, but also a qualitative difference. We must be careful that no limitation of the creation is projected onto our understanding of God. Everything else can pass away in an instant (Rev 21:1), but God necessarily exists forever. God’s superiority (or transcendence) over us is seen not only in terms of His greatness, power, knowledge, majesty, etc, .... but also in terms of His goodness, holiness, purity, etc. Consider Christ’s own statements of self-existence and transcendence (John 5:26 and 8:23)
Despite God’s independence, He is closely involved with His creation (Isa 57:15) - which is a beautiful declaration of God’s "transcendence" and what is sometimes called His Immanence. Though God does not need us for anything, we and the rest of creation can glorify God and bring Him joy. This must be understood to guard against any idea that our existence is meaningless. We are in fact very meaningful because God created us and determined that we would be meaningful to Him (Isa 43:6-7; Eph 1:11-12). This is the final definition of genuine significance - our significance to God.
Scripture affirms the amazing fact that we are able to bring real joy and delight to God: i.e.;Isa 62:3-5 where Isaiah prophecies about the restoration of God’s people; Zeph 3:17 ... we can bring joy an delight to God’s heart, etc.
This then is the final measure of our significance and worth - our significance to God. To be significant to God is to be significant in the most ultimate sense. No greater personal significance can be imagined
Implications of God’s independence/transcendence...
- There is something far higher than man; we are neither the highest good nor measure of truth/value. It is not our estimation that gives us value; it is God’s declaration that does so (Gen 1:27).
- God can never be completely captured/comprehended in human concepts and terms. We can never fully exhaust God’s nature. He is not limited to our understanding of Him (Ps 139:5-6) and we cannot give full expression to what or whom God is.
- Our salvation is not our achievement. It is impossible for us to attain fellowship with God on our own (Eph 2:8-9). We cannot ascend to God’s level; He must come down to us (John 1:14).
- There will always be an infinite difference between us and God. It is not merely a matter of “more” to God (1 Kings 8:22-27); He is different - even unique - by nature (Isa 46:9).
- Reverence is appropriate in our relationship with God. Although we can clearly have love, trust and confidence in our relationship with God, we must be careful not to lose sight of His transcendence (Rev 1:12-18). We should always be filled with awe and wonder at God. Some Christians almost seem to perceive of God as some kind of cosmic “grand-daddy”; we are not God’s equals; we are His servants (Luke 17:7-10). We should seek God’s will instead of our own (Matt 6:9-10)
Continued in Part 3)