What was God doing before He created the world? Some people would answer that perhaps He was lonely. And being lonely, He needed to fill that empty hole in His heart. So, maybe He decided to create the world so He could have fellowship with others. Now that the world is here, God is not so lonely anymore. Because of us, He feels fulfilled and whole.
This answer is common. It can be heard in many churches today, articulated by well-meaning Christians. Please brace yourself, because I have something shocking to say: God does not need you. He doesn’t need you, He doesn’t need me, and He doesn’t need anyone or anything in this world. In fact, He doesn’t need the world at all.
God is not a needy God. It’s not as if He was bored, twiddling His thumbs, desperately lonely before He created the world. God is not dependent on the world for His existence, nor is He dependent on the world for His happiness and self-fulfillment. Instead, He possesses life in and of Himself. More precisely, He is the fullness of life in and of Himself.
What Is Aseity? Life in and of Himself
What we are describing is the attribute of aseity—from the Latin a se, meaning “from himself.” As I argue in None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God, to affirm God’s aseity is to say, first and foremost, that He is life in and of Himself, and on that basis He must be self-existent and self-sufficient. It is because God is life in and of Himself that there can be no sense in which He is caused by another.
There is, most fundamentally, a difference in nature between the Creator and the creature, the former having life in and of Himself, the latter deriving life from the One who is life. We are born into this world totally dependent, finite in every way. Our existence is derived from our mother and father. If we are to continue living, the God of the universe must sustain us. We are dependent on not only our earthly father but our heavenly Father too. Our nature, our very existence, is contingent in every way.
Not so with God. His nature is not at all like our nature. He is incommensurable, incapable of being measured by the same standards as our human existence. Unlike everything in this world, His existence is not grounded in, derived from, or contingent on something or someone else. No one brought Him into being; nor is He dependent on something or someone else to continue being. He is underived from and unconditioned by that which is finite, contingent, limited, and changeable. That much is evident in how He created the world. He did not depend upon some preexisting matter to create the universe, but He created ex nihilo, out of nothing.
Furthermore, only One who has no beginning or cause to His own existence can bring the world into existence out of nothing. Uncaused, His existence is grounded in Himself alone. That does not mean that He created Himself or caused Himself to be but that He alone, as Anselm says, “has of himself all that he has, while other things have nothing of themselves. And other things, having nothing of themselves, have their only reality from him.”
That phrase “has of himself all that he has” handsomely summarizes aseity. This phrase cannot be applied to objects in the created order. Placed next to God, Augustine observes, “they are deficient in beauty and goodness and being.” But there is no such deficiency in God’s being. Aseity defines God as a perfect being.
The Key That Unlocks God’s Attributes
Now that we’re clear on just how dependent we are and just how independent God is, it is critical to understand how aseity relates to the other attributes of God. If God is life in and of Himself, what other attributes must follow?
To begin with, if God is self-sufficient, then He is also self-divine, for a God who is self-existent cannot receive His deity from anything or anyone outside Himself. If God is self-sufficient, then He is also self-wise, for if others could inform God of what is wise or what wise choices He should make, then He would be less than perfect in His wisdom. Moreover, if God is self-sufficient, then He must be self-virtuous, for if He received His virtue from another, then He could not be perfectly moral, for He who increases in virtue cannot be the very standard of morality.