Now this was a completely different way of thinking about God. Instead of starting with man and projecting human attributes back onto God, Anselm started with God and His perfection, and then worked his way to man. Doing so avoids a real danger, a danger prevalent in evangelicalism today: imposing human limitations on God as if He were a creature like us, only bigger and better. Anselm warned against this tendency way back in the medieval era. God is not just a bigger, better version of human beings. No, He is a different type of being altogether.
The Infinite Being
If He is a different type of being than the creature, He must be defined by attributes that are incommunicable, that is, attributes that are not true of us creatures at all. One of the first incommunicable attributes to recognize is God’s infinitude. Because God is infinite, we cannot conceive of any one greater.
Because He is the infinite Deity, any creaturely limitation must be ruled out of the question. God can do all that He wills to do, be anywhere and everywhere He wills to be, and so forth. Should He be limited in some way—by time or space, in His power or knowledge, by change, or by divisible parts—then He could no longer be infinite. Some type of limitation would be introduced into the very essence of God. No longer would He be the most perfect being. We can always conceive of someone or something greater than a limited being.
But that’s not all. To say God’s attributes are infinite does not mean He merely has our attributes but in greater measure. Instead, for God to be the most perfect being, He must be His attributes—His perfections—in infinite measure. Not only must any “quality which is inherently limiting” be “denied of God,” says philosopher Katherin Rogers, but “any perfection attributed to God” must be “attributed in an unlimited degree.” He is not just powerful, for example, but He is power and in infinite measure; He is omnipotent. Or consider His love. He is not merely loving; He is love and in infinite measure.
We could go on. But the lesson here is clear: whenever we talk about who God is, we must always do so knowing that His essence has no limitations. As the Creator, rather than the creature, He is immeasurable in His being. While we grow and mature, God does not; He cannot be His perfections any more than He already is eternally. God is His attributes absolutely, for He is the perfect being. Or as Anselm liked to say, God is pure being. Perhaps the Puritan Stephen Charnock summed it up best when he preached to his congregation, “No perfection is wanting to God.” A “limited” divine essence “is an imperfection,” but an “unbounded essence is a perfection.”
The God Who Will Not Be Domesticated
Of course, none of this is original to Charnock, Calvin, or Anselm. The idea of a perfect, infinite being goes back to Scripture itself. This is one reason I love to read the Psalms each day. For example, in Psalm 147, we read that God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (v. 3). The reason the downtrodden can know that God will bind up their wounds is because it is this God who “determines the number of the stars” and “gives to all of them their names” (v. 4). What, then, can the psalmist conclude about this Creator but this: “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure” (v. 5)? According to the psalmist, God is so great—so perfect—because there is no limit to His power; His wisdom and knowledge have no bounds.
Can we settle for a God who is less than a perfect being? We cannot. To do so is to rob God of His infinite nature and unbounded perfection. To do so, scary as this sounds, is to create a god in our own image. Our God, by contrast, is high and lifted up (Isa. 6:1). He cannot, He will not, be domesticated.