The attributes of God can be characterized by a list of words and phrases provided we agree that when a word or phrase is applied to God, the true depth of meaning cannot be fathomed. Here are a few attributes arbitrarily grouped into seven categories.
- Being:Transcendence, Immanence, Infinitude, Eternalness, Immutability
- Wisdom: Exhaustively Definite Foreknowledge, Omniscience, Resourcefulness, Patience, Perseverance, Persistence, Discipline, Prudence, Understanding, Discernment, Stewardship, Courage
- Power: Omnipotence, Humility, Meekness, Gentleness, Obedience/yieldedness, Endurance, Long-suffering/Forbearance, Respect, Responsibility, Dependence, Devotion, Surrender, Commitment
- Holiness: The state of who You are and the acts that You do; Holiness in being and Holiness in action; Absolute purity of heart, will, intellect and action; Perfect love, integrity, righteousness, morality, ethics, character; Perfect being, wisdom, power, justice, goodness, truth
- Justice: Punishment for Sinners; Substitutionary Atonement; Redemption; Forgiveness; Justification; Adoption; Regeneration; Sanctification; Reconciliation; Unification; Glorification
- Goodness: Love, Mercy, Grace, Compassion, Kindness, Benevolence, Charity, Faithfulness, Trustworthiness, Peace, Joy, Fulfillment, Fruitfulness, Faith, Hope, Reconciliation, Healing, Encouragement, Comfort, Strength
Each item, in this list, is brought to mind by some analogous, finite attribute of the human soul (intellect, will and heart). We assume God has enormously expanded versions of the same attributes since we were created in His image (Gen 1:26). In keeping with that thought, a clever theologian, psychologist or sociologist could probably double the size of this list.
Unlike humans, however, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are immutable persons. Scripture says: For I, the Lord, do not change (Mal 3:6). But, the attribute of immutability does not mean God has a frozen, machine-like response to events. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are living persons with uncountable emotions that surface in response to the affairs of creation. The three persons who are one God do not change their character, person or plan, but a variety of emotions rise to the surface as events transpire before them.
Christians are sometimes dissatisfied with merely listing the attributes; we want to go a step further and rank them according to their presumed influence on God. If, for example, omnipotence, righteousness and punishment dominate the personality of God above all else, then perhaps his thinking follows the order of Supra-lapsarian Decrees (Section 1.11 of Theology Corner under the title, “What are the Decrees of God?”). Or, if love dominates the personality of God then perhaps love wins and everyone is saved. After all, if God gives each of us His infinite love and a unique eternal soul, then surely He would experience infinite grief if one of us had hell as our destination.
The error, in ranking God’s attributes by order of importance, is in the assumption that we can understand the mind of God. We cannot!
For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Neither are your ways My ways,
Declares the Lord.
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And my thoughts than your thoughts
Oswald Chambers had some particularly pointed thoughts about the idea that God’s love dominates all other attributes and His love alone would ensure the salvation of all.
“The great miracle of the grace of God is that He forgives sin, and it is the death of Jesus Christ alone that enables the Divine nature to forgive and to remain true to itself in doing so. It is shallow nonsense to say that God forgives us because He is love…The only ground on which God can forgive me is through the Cross of my Lord. There His conscience is satisfied.
Beware of the pleasant view of the Fatherhood of God – God is so kind and loving that of course He will forgive us. That sentiment has no place whatever in the New Testament. The only ground on which God can forgive us is the tremendous tragedy of the Cross of Christ; to put forgiveness on any other ground is unconscious blasphemy.
Forgiveness is the divine miracle of grace; it cost God the Cross of Jesus Christ before He could forgive sin and remain a holy God. Never accept a view of the Fatherhood of God if it blots out the Atonement. The revelation of God is that He cannot forgive; He would contradict His nature if He did. The only way we can be forgiven is by being brought back to God by the Atonement.” (Chambers, November 19th and 20th)