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God the Creator was before all things, creating the world ex nihilo. It was by Christ that “all things were created,” and “in Him all things consist.” He is also the end of creation; all things were made “for Him” (Col.1:16–17).

Among created things, human beings are unique, for they are made in the image of God. As rational creatures, we are able to know God and, in a finite manner, think like Him. For this reason, we have the great privilege of thinking God’s thoughts after Him. Also, as volitional creatures, we are able to reflect His excellencies in the manner in which we live and exercise dominion. This is our great responsibility.

Skeptics say that we cannot describe God. After all, the Creator is immutable and infinite, whereas creatures are mutable and finite. Hence, terms derived from human experience cannot possibly describe God. If we attempt to use the same terms in the same sense, it seems that God knows in exactly the same sense that man knows—that He acquires and can lose what He knows. If, on the other hand, there is no common content to the terms, such as love, that apply to both God and men, then love may mean one thing when referring to men and something entirely different when referring to God. The theist, the skeptic says, is not able to steer a course between these two rocks.

The skeptic says we cannot meaningfully apply even the term life to God because it describes the process of growth, reproduction, and self-movement. Since the immutable God does not grow and is not moved, we cannot intelligibly say that He is a living God. To do so results in a dilemma: either a contradictory or a meaningless statement.

But there is a means of escape from this dilemma. It is true that living things grow and move, but this is not the primary meaning of life. After all, nonliving things move and grow. My pen moves as my hand moves it and the fence outside my window grows as the carpenter builds it. A living thing, by contrast, acts of itself; the principle agent or efficient cause of action comes from within. Thus, “acting of itself” is the primary meaning of life. Plants are alive and they move themselves, though less perfectly than do animals. Most animals not only move themselves in a specific place (growth), but also from place to place. Animals are not capable of rational thought and cannot choose their own purposes. But humans, with their ability to reason and think abstractly, can determine for themselves their own purposes.

However, we humans beings are restricted because our logic and the standard by which we are judged are set by God. Although we act of ourselves in a greater manner than animals, we also have limits set for us.

God, on the other hand, is not limited. The logical principles by which God acts and the end for which He acts (i.e., the good) are identical with His being. He acts completely of Himself. We say “God is life” rather than “God has life” to indicate that God’s life is not separable from His essence. Such a usage is unique, but so is God.

Scripture teaches that the living God knows (Ps. 147:5). Some deny this because human knowing involves dependency and composition. For instance, my knowledge of the fence in front of me is dependent upon the existence of that fence. Thus, the argument goes, if God knows, He also must be dependent. In addition, human knowledge is composite. Knowledge is something I acquire and can lose. Since God is neither composite nor dependent, the skeptic concludes that He cannot know. Hence, in the skeptic’s mind, to say that God knows is either contradictory or meaningless.

But surely one can intelligibly say, “God perfectly knows Himself.” Such knowledge is not dependent upon the existence of anything other than God. On the contrary, the rational and logical structure of God’s nature sets the standard of possibility. God is logic itself. From God’s perfect knowledge of Himself comes the knowledge of all things possible. He is before all things, setting the standard of what is possible. Moreover,this is done without composition, since God’s act of knowing is identical with His being.

Furthermore, God’s knowledge of Himself entails His knowledge of all things that will actually exist. Knowing Himself, He knows His own purpose, and from this knowledge comes the awareness of all things He will create. All things are known as they exist in Him, possible as possible, actual as actual, free things as being free, necessary things as being necessary, and past, present, and future things as respectively past, present, and future. Although God stands outside of time, all things are ever-present to Him in the logical order in which He will bring them into being. God acts from eternity and the effect occurs in time.

The proper object of God’s knowledge, then, is Himself; He knows Himself in Himself and the world through Himself. Just as the final result of the artist’s work will more perfectly reflect his purpose the more perfectly he grasps his purpose and the greater his artistic skills, so the final result of God’s plan will perfectly reflect His plan. Consequently, God is before all things in that it is His perfect knowledge of all things that causes their existence.

God’s knowledge is both like and unlike the knowledge of human beings. The similarities allow us to say that God knows. However, there are also significant differences. First, human acts of knowing are dependent on the existence of their object, whereas in the case of God, it is the existence of the objects that is dependent on God’s act of knowing them. Second, God does not gain or lose knowledge. From eternity, knowing Himself in one immediate and intuitive act, God knows all that He is and will do.

The skeptic tells us our explanation fails. To say God knows all things through His knowledge of what He chooses to create is to assume that God loves. But the skeptic says “love” cannot describe God since this usage would imply that God lacks something. Desire and hope are acts of the will associated with love: A man’s love for heaven makes him desire and hope for that which he presently lacks.

Thus, the following is said to be true:

First, love is involved in desire and hope where a good is presently lacked. However, love is also associated with joy and delight, which are also acts of the will connected to love. They, like desire and hope, are associated with the good in a qualified sense, but, unlike desire and hope, they are directed toward a good already possessed.

Second, love is also present when we delight in the desired object that we now possess.

Thus, love is directed toward the good, whether it is possessed or not, and is present in both senses cited above. It is the reason we both hope for the good we lack and delight in the good possessed.

Can we intelligibly say that God loves? Certainly not in the first sense above because this implies that God lacks something. But we can say that God loves in the second sense: He delights in His knowledge of all possibilities and in His purpose to create certain ones. In one immediate and intuitive act, God from eternity knows and delights in His knowledge of Himself (the good). Furthermore, since the good possessed and delighted in is none other than God Himself, there is no implication of composition or dependency in God.

The Bible confirms this. God is wise, it tells us (Rom. 16:27). “God is wisdom” means that God has the noblest of ends as His goal and the perfect means to achieve that goal. This means that God not only knows all things possible, but chooses the plan that He loves and knows to be best. God’s knowledge and wisdom, then, consist in one intuitive act where there is no temporal succession. Included within this act is knowledge of the good and love for it. Included in this act is the logical order determining the time of each entity and how each relates to the others. God is logically before all things because it
is His wisdom that holds all things together. He is wisdom itself. Needless to say, God’s knowledge and wisdom are unique, but they are not unintelligible.

All of creation is also “for Him.” With man’s great privilege to think God’s thoughts after Him comes the responsibility to take that which we receive and give it back to God in an act of worship. The God who is knowledge is worshiped by our knowing Him. The pursuit of knowledge is good. The only wise God is worshiped when His creatures are wise. This is done when we have the noblest of ends (i.e., God Himself) and employ the most effective means of exercising dominion over His world. The God who is love is glorified when appreciative love for God is the motive from which we act. The God who is truth is worshiped when we “practice the truth” (1 John 1:6). God is worshiped when we model our lives after Him in loving obedience.

Imago Dei

Spirit and Truth

Keep Reading "According to Our Likeness:" God's Communicable Attributes

From the June 2003 Issue
Jun 2003 Issue