God: His Attributes (Part 2)

Have you heard the ancient Indian story of the blind men and the elephant?  Here is a version of it retold in a poem by John Godfrey Saxe:

Blind Men and the Elephant

“It was six men of Indostan to learning much inclined,                                                                Who went to see the Elephant (Though all of them were blind)                                                That each by observation might satisfy his mind.

The first approached the Elephant and happening to fall                                                           Against his broad and sturdy side, at once began to bawl;                                                          ‘God bless me! but the Elephant is like a wall!’

The second, feeling of the tusk, cried, ‘Ho! what have we here                                                      So very round and smooth and sharp?  To me ’tis mighty clear                                                 This wonder of an Elephant is like a spear!’

The third approached the animal and happening to take                                                                The squirming trunk within his hands, thus boldly up and spake;                                                ‘I see,’ quoth he ‘the Elephant is like a snake!’

The fourth reached out an eager hand, and felt about the knee.                                            ‘What most this wondrous beast is like is mighty plain,’ quoth he;                                             ”Tis clear enough the Elephant is very like a tree!’

The fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, said: ‘e’en the blindest man                                     Can tell what this resembles most; deny the fact who can                                                           This marvel of an Elephant is very like a fan!’

The sixth no sooner had begun about the beast to grope,                                                          Than, seizing on the swinging tail that fell within his scope,                                                          ‘I see,’ quoth he, ‘the Elephant is very like a rope!’

And so these men of Indostan disputed loud and long                                                                  Each in his own opinion exceeding stiff and strong,                                                                Though each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong!”

It is possible to have a distorted understanding of God.  Some emphasize His love, grace, and goodness.  Others emphasize His holiness, justice, and severity.  It is important that we consider all that god reveals about Himself in the Bible.  Let us continue our study of the attributes of God.

5.  God is Good.

His goodness is proclaimed in the scriptures.  The Psalms proclaimed this point (e.g. Psalms 23:6; 25:8; 31:19; 33:5; 51:1; 106:1; 107:8, 9, 15, 21, 31).  Jesus proclaimed this point (Mark 10:17-18; Matthew 19:16-17; Luke 18:18-19).  So did Paul (Romans 11:22).  So did James (James 1:17).

The Hebrew word (tob) and the Greek words (Kalos, Chrestotes, agathosune, eupoiia) are translated “good.”  These are words are used in a variety of ways in the Bible.  The Hebrew tob is defined to mean “pleasant; agreeable… excellent… valuable in estimation… appropriate, becoming… better, …glad, happy, prosperous… kind… good (ethical), right” (Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius).  The Greek Kalos means “beautiful to look at… good, excellent in nature and characteristics… beautiful by reason of purity of heart and life… morally good… honorable… affecting the mind agreeably” (Thayer).  The Greek chrestotes means “moral goodness, integrity… benignity, kindness” (Thayer).  The Greek agathosune is defined nearly the same way as the previous word.  “Trench following Jerome distinguishes between the chrestotes and agathosune in that the former describes the kindlier aspects of ‘goodness,’ the later includes the sterner qualities by which doing good to others is not necessarily by gentle means… Lightfoot regards chrestotes as a kindly disposition toward others; agathosune as a kindly activity on their behalf” (Vine’s).  The Greek eupoiia means “doing good, beneficence” (Thayer).

We will consider three ways in which God is good.  First,  He is physically beneficent.  “He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good (agathopoieo), gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17).  “He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).

Second, He is spiritually beneficent.  The opportunity for salvation is due to His kindness (chrestotes) or goodness (Titus 3:4-5 cf. 2:11).

Third, He is by nature morally good (Mark 10:17-18).  Thomas Warren said in the Warren-Flew debate, “He gives us the old medieval problem which raises the question as to whether an action is good because God approves of it or does God approve of the action because it is good?  Now, you see this problem is supposed to put us into the dilemma, ‘If God approves of it because it is good,’ then there is some law above God.  But if you say, ‘It is right simply because God approves of it,’ then you have something under God that was arbitrarily given by God, so that if He had wished, He could just as well have said that lying is good and that fornication and adultery, and murder and rape and all such is just as good as purity and truth-telling.  Now neither one of those alternatives will do, and they do not constitute a proper dilemma because goodness flows from the ultimate good, who is God.  Goodness flows from the very nature of God.  It is neither that God is under the good nor that God is above the good but that good flows from God” (Warren-Flew Debate p. 32).  “Every good (agathe) gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17).

Jesus said, “No one is good (agathos) but One, that is God” (Mark 10:17-18; Matthew 19:16-17; Luke 18:18-19).  What did He mean?  (1) He not mean that no man could be called good, in any sense of the word (cf. Psalms 37:2-3; 112:5; Proverbs 2:20; 12:20; 13:22; 14:14; Matthew 12:35; 25:21, 23; Luke 6:45; Acts 11:24; 3 John 11-12).  (2) He did not mean that He was sinful (cf. Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22).  (3) He did not mean that He was not god, that is deity (John 1:1 cf. 1:14; 8:56-58; 20:28-29; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8).  (4) He did mean that only God is absolutely, perfectly good.  Why is it that did He said this?  (a) He may have been correcting the common casual use of titles.  Albert Barnes comments, “Why did you give to Me a title that belongs only to God?  You suppose me to be only a man, yet you give me an appellation that belongs only to God.  It is improper to use titles in this manner… a most severe reproof of a foolish habit of compliment, and flattery, and seeking pompous titles (Barnes Notes, Vol. 9, p. 167).  (b) He may have been prompting the man to consider whom he was.  Eric Lyons comments, “Jesus did not intend to deny divinity, but instead was actually asserting that He was God (and thus morally perfect).  Jesus simply wanted this young man to appreciate the significance of the title he had employed, and to realize to whom he was speaking” (Lyons, The Anvil Rings, Vol. 2, p. 68).

“God is so good, God is so good, God is so good, He’s so good to me! / He cares for me, He cares for me, He cares for me, He cares for me, He’s so good to me!” (Song: God is so Good by Paul Makai)

6.  God is Love.

His love is mentioned throughout the Bible.  It is mentioned in the Old Testament (e.g. Deuteronomy 4:37; 6:8; 10:15; 10:18; Psalm 106:1 NASB; Psalm 107:1, 8, 15, 21, 31  NASB; Proverbs 3:12; Isaiah 63:7; Jeremiah 31:3; Hosea 11:1).  There are many familiar passages in the New Testament.  Consider: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16).  “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1).  “He who does not love does not know God for God is love” (1 John 4:8).

His love is especially seen in His plan of salvation.  He knew that man was weak, and subject to temptations (cf. Psalm 103:10-14).  This is how He chose to make man.  He knew that man would need forgiveness.  Yet, His holiness and justice demanded punishment for sin.  Moreover, the price had to be high.  God hates sin.  He planned for all of this, before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:17-20; Revelation 13:8).  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son…” (John 3:16).

Was the cross really necessary?  Evidently, God thought it was.  John Hobbs writes, “Some say that it is not necessary to satisfy God.  They say since God is sovereign, all He has to do is to simply say, ‘I forgive man.’  But, this ignores the attributes and nature of our Creator who never does anything inconsistent with his character… God’s holiness, righteousness, justice, and love demanded that something be done to satisfy all his characteristics” (Hobbs, The Compelling Power of the Cross, pp. 24-25).  Moreover, the cross provides great motivation for man to change his conduct (e.g. John 12:32; 2 Corinthians 5:14; 8:8-9; Galatians 2:20; 6:14; Ephesians 4:32; Philippians 2:4-8; 1 Peter 2:20; 1 John 3:16).

God is love (1 John 4:8; 4:16).  Roy Lanier Jr. comments, “Literally, this is stated ‘the God is love.’  John’s use of the definite article leaves no doubt as to the subject and predicate.  The language cannot be translated ‘love is God'” (Lanier, Epistles of John, p. 139).  Love is not God.  God is love.  Love flows from His nature.  It is not above Him.  It is not beneath Him.  He initiated love, loving us before we loved Him (1 John 4:10; 4:19; Romans 5:8).  He showed us how to love (1 John 4:10; 4:19).  He loved before the foundation of the world (John 17:24).

“Come let us all unite to sing, God is love; Let heav’n and earth their praises bring, God is love; Let every soul from sin awake, Each in His heart sweet music make, And sing with us for Jesus’ sake For God is love” (Song: Come Let Us All Unite To Sing).

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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