Cancel

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.”1

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.”2 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.

The gospel depends on a God who does not depend on us.

Similarly, if God is self-sufficient, then so also must He be self-attesting, since He is the very criterion for truth, just as He is for morality. God does not merely possess the truth, know the truth, and speak the truth; He is the truth. To know the truth, everyone must look to Him because He is the very standard of truth. He is truth in and of Himself, independent of any other. The same applies to His justice. He is self-justifying. As Isaiah asks rhetorically, “Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?” (40:14). God not only is just, but He is just through Himself.

If God is self-sufficient, then God must be self-empowering; otherwise He is less than all-powerful, others having to help Him when His power fails. If God is self-sufficient, then He must be self-knowing, meaning He does not depend on any creature to know what has happened or what will happen. For Him to depend on a creature for His knowledge would mean that His knowledge is incomplete and that He must rely on the knowledge of others to help Him plan the future.

Last, if God is self-sufficient, He must be self-excellent, for if there were another being more excellent, more glorious, more majestic than God, then He would be dependent on that being for the very excellence that characterizes who He is and what He does. As Anselm reminds us, “Anything that is great through something else is less than that through which it is great.” God’s perfection must be an independent perfection. His excellence must be self-excellent. His nature must be “superior to others in such a way that it is inferior to none.” Only that “which exists through itself and through which all other things exist is the being that is of all beings supreme.”3 Apart from aseity, God cannot be the supreme being.

The Gospel Depends on a God Who Does Not Depend on You

In Isaiah 40 and 44, we learn that God is not like the pagan gods of the surrounding nations. These gods are fashioned by humans (40:19–20). Using satire, Isaiah explains that the wood humans use to keep warm and cook their food by the fire is the same wood they use to form a god so that they can bow down to it in worship, praying, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” (44:17). Notice how irrational such people are: they think their god can save, but this god is something made by human hands (and out of everyday stuff). This god cannot save. Fittingly, God mocks these man-made gods, as well as those who worship them. These are not gods who save but gods who must be saved.

In contrast, Paul describes the Lord in Acts 17 not as a creature but as the Creator. Paul is emphatic: “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24–25; cf. Gen. 14:19–20; Pss. 24:1–2; 50:9–12). Biblical worship is due to God not because He needs us but because we need Him. When we lift up our voices, God receives our worship. Yet we should never think that in worshiping God we somehow give Him what He otherwise would lack, as if He needed us to make Him complete. Consider the words of the twenty-four elders who fall down before the throne of God, worshiping Him, casting their crowns before Him, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11).

If God were not life in and of Himself, if He were not independent of us, He would not be worthy, qualified, or able to save us, let alone worthy to receive worship and praise. If God were not a se, He would be weak and pathetic, for He would be needy and dependent, too. He would need saving, just as we do. He would be a God like us but not a God other than us. He would be a God in our world but not a God distinct from our world. As Michael Horton has said, “We might pray for this God, but definitely not to him.”4

It is precisely because God is free from creation that He is able to save lost sinners like you and me (Eph. 1:7–8). If God were a needy God, He would need our help just as much as we need His. What good news it is, then, that the gospel depends on a God who does not depend on us.

 

  1. Anselm, On the Fall of the Devil, 1. ↩︎
  2. Augustine, Confessions, 11.4. ↩︎
  3. Anselm, Monologion, 4. ↩︎
  4. Michael Horton, The Christian Faith (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Academic, 2011), 235. ↩︎

Repentance and Learning to Hate Sin

Songs in the Night