What is God? When we are looking into proofs for or against the existence of God, we first need to know what it is that we are trying to prove. Sometimes a famous person will say “I have come to believe in God,” and other people who believe in God are very excited. But when the famous person starts to talk about their definition of “God,” you see it is not close to God at all. This is also true when a famous person says, “there is no God.” And you find out they mean something like Zeus. So what is God?
The Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 4 asks just this. And the answer helps show us different parts of the definition. The answer is: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchanging in being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. This definition has three parts.
The first part is about the being or substance of God. God is spirit, not matter. This forms an important part of the proof that God is real because it must be shown that not all is matter. Mind, or spirit, is also real. And more than that, although matter exists, matter has not existed from eternity. Matter had a beginning. So what is eternal is spirit. But I also have or am a mind or spirit. I am not eternal. I had a beginning. What is eternal is a Spirit. There has recently been much agitation about the “simplicity” of God. This is where we find that teaching affirmed. As a spirit, God is without body, parts, or passions (WCF 2.1).
The second part is called the incommunicable attributes. These are attributes that only God has. And no creatures could be made with these attributes or grow into having them. These are infinite, eternal, and unchanging. And these go together. Whatever is eternal is also infinite and unchanging. Whatever is eternal does not depend on another for existence. There is nothing to change from and into. What is eternal is infinite in the sense of “that than which there is no greater.” And this especially comes to expression in the power to give existence (creation ex nihilo).
The third part of the definition is attributes that we can share with God. But God has these attributes infinitely, eternally, and unchangeably, whereas we are always finite, temporal, and changeable. These are attributes that follow from what else we know about God as the eternal Creator. God has being (not just imaginary or an idea). God is wise and this is shown in creation and providential rule. God is holy, meaning set apart as perfectly concerned about what is good. God is just meaning concerned that each is given their due and equals are treated equally. God as creator determines what is good for each creature. And God has all knowledge (truth). We are changeable in that we can grow in these but we can also decline in these. And that sets up our need not only to know God but to be redeemed from not seeking, not understanding, and not doing what is right.
Here I have hinted at proofs for each step. But consider what often happens. A proof is given, and at the end, the conclusion is “This is God.” So a proof might be given for an unmoved mover, and the conclusion is “This is God.” Or, a governor, a designer, a first cause, and at each one, “This is God.” But none of those is God. Those are sometimes called “The God of the Philosophers.” And you can see how far short it comes from the Westminster Shorter Catechism definition. It isn’t that philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, or Plotinus did their best and just needed scripture. Each of them failed to know God as revealed in general revelation. And they went so far as to replace the truth about God with their own vain imagination.
God is knowable from general revelation. But because we do not seek God, we do not understand and do not do what is right. And this is why we need redemption. We need redemption from unbelief. This is what we are offered in the scripture—redemption from unbelief and all of its effects and restoration to knowing God as we should have.
We hope you will join us for our General Revelation Conference on Feb 7-8. This is the kind of topic we will be discussing, and you will have plenty of time for questions. We look forward to seeing you there.