Understanding the Attributes of God
About the Guest
How well do you know God? Jen Wilkin, author of "None Like Him," talks about the attributes of God. Wilkins reminds listeners that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Jen Wilkin talks about the attributes of God. Wilkins reminds listeners that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Understanding the Attributes of God
Bob: God is too big for us to wrap our minds around; right? So does that mean we can’t know Him? Here’s Jen Wilkin.
Jen: You get people who say: “Oh, God is just so big and vast. I can’t understand Him—so I’m not going to try. I’m just going to have my simple faith, and all I need is Jesus,” and they just go on about their way. And yet the Bible tells us we ought to devote ourselves to getting these feeble human brains around as much of the knowledge of God as we can.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, October 12th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey. I'm Bob Lepine. There’s a lot we can’t understand about who God is; but there’s a lot we can understand, and we should. We’ll talk more about that today with Jen Wilkin. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I just got my wallet out. There’s something I want to show our guest here that I have tucked in my wallet. I think you’ve seen this.
Dennis: There’s no money in there. [Laughter]
Bob: That’s what I wanted to show our guest. Introduce our guest, and I’ll get this out of my wallet.
Dennis: Jen Wilkin joins us again on FamilyLife Today—Jen, welcome back.
Jen: Thank you.
Dennis: Jen’s a speaker, a writer, a teacher of women’s Bible studies—lives down near Dallas/Fort Worth. She and her husband Jeff have been married since 1993. She has four children; and she’s a couple of years away from the empty nest, where she can be reminded once again why she and Jeff met—[Laughter]—and what you really did like about each other. She has written a book called None Like Him: Ten Ways God Is Different from Us.
Bob: And that gets me to what I wanted to pull out of my wallet, because I saw the book and I thought back—
Dennis: —to a ticket?
Bob: No! In 2001, I was invited to give the commencement address for the graduating seniors at Walnut Valley Christian Academy, which is today Little Rock Christian Academy.
So I started thinking, “What do I want to make sure I tell these kids?” What you just picked up—what’s the first thing at the top of my “Seven Irrefutable Truths” that I shared with the class of 2001?
Dennis: “There is a God—it’s not me.”
Bob: And that’s what I thought of when I saw your book, None Like Him. This is a book about how different we are than God and how different He is than us; right?
Dennis: I know you read a lot of Tozer, and you like his writings; and you’re a Bible student. You believe what we think about God is very, very important.
Jen: Yes. You know, it’s been said that the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self always go hand in hand, and that there’s no true knowledge of self apart from the knowledge of God. It follows that, if we’re going to have true self-knowledge, we need to understand what the Bible says is true about God and have a pretty good grip on that.
One of the things that I encourage women to do, when they’re studying the Bible is—to read, looking first, for what it says about God Himself. I’ve just learned, over the years, that that’s a more difficult request than we might think—that many of us have an underdeveloped vocabulary when it comes to discussing the nature and character of God. So I wanted to write a book that helped us to form our thinking around what the Bible has to say about who God is—specifically, about what it has to say about Him that is unique to Him and that is distinct to Him, relative to who we are.
Bob: I had a friend ask me a number of months ago what were the most influential books in my life. I don’t know that I’d stopped to think about that in awhile. I thought he wanted the top-ten list—so I put it together. The number one book on my list—probably the most influential book—was J.I. Packer’s book, Knowing God.
The reason is because just what you’re saying—it gave me a picture of God / an understanding of God that was more exalted than the smaller picture I had in my own mind. There is something about understanding just how amazing / just how spectacular God is that changes everything.
Jen: I think that we have tendency to diminish who God is naturally or to form Him after our own likeness. Because God is so other than we are, and because it is difficult to wrap our human brains around that, we default to thinking about ways to sort of frame Him up within our human understanding that diminishes who He is.
Bob: So our thought naturally gravitates to, “God is like us—only better.”
Bob: And that’s kind of our—it’s the “best us you could be,”—is kind of “That’s who God is.”
Jen: Right. [Laughter]
Bob: But that’s not who the Bible—
Dennis: No; and that’s pretty sad too—[Laughter]
Bob: —if that’s who you think who God is!
Dennis: Kind of adding up all of humanity and trying to make that into God.
If you’re going to have good self-knowledge—appropriate/accurate self-knowledge—you have to begin with God and think backward from Him.
Jen: Yes; exactly. But what we have a tendency to do is—to turn and measure ourselves against the person sitting next to us or the person that we know from work—someone who usually we’re going to hand-pick so that we measure up favorably when we place ourselves next to them. But when you measure yourself next to an immeasurable, transcendent God, it teaches you to place yourself rightly in the scheme of things. It creates worship in us, and worship is something that we need to be able to flourish as creatures.
Dennis: As a mom, you raised four children—about to be done raising them to adulthood.
Jen: Stop saying that!
Dennis: I know, it’s a hard assignment to get fired as a mom.
Jen: You want me to just sob and cry for the rest of the show?
Dennis: I know / I get it. I just want to ask you, though—you’ve written a book here about passing on the truth about who God is. How did you do this with your kids?
What would you say were the best couple of things you did in passing on the truth about God to your children?
Jen: Children tend to see their parents as almost god-like. A lot of helping your child have a transcendent view of who God is—is by allowing them to see you as fully human. That’s a difficult thing, but it means that you have to be vulnerable around them. You have to be able to confess when you have done something that is wrong or that is offensive, and repent in front of your children. It’s a combination of them being able to process both the things that are truly admirable in their parents in balance with the things that just make their parents fallen and human.
Dennis: What I hear you saying is, “Let your children into the interior of your soul—
Dennis: —“into your relationship with Christ.
Dennis: “Explain it to them—let them hear about your humanity and how you fail.” I’m listening to your definition and I thought, “My kids ought to have a really good understanding of who God is [Laughter] because I sure had to ask for their forgiveness or tell the kids:
“You know, I blew it here,” or “I was not—I did not behave like the daddy God made me to be in that situation.”
Bob: But I think I felt pressure, as a parent, to be as perfect as I could be in front of my kids. If there was something wrong—to kind of skirt it away or explain it away rather than doing what you’re talking about, which is confessing, and repenting, and showing them: “This is natural and normal. This is what we do as Christians—it defines us.”
We talked about influential books. I know Psalm 111, verse 10, was an influential verse for you. Was this early in your life that you came across this verse and it kind of grabbed you?
Jen: Yes; fairly early. I hit young adulthood and started to become increasingly aware of my own limits—I think it’s a pretty common thing that happens—and came across that verse that said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” It really stopped me in my tracks, because I just did not expect that the word “fear” would be where it was in that verse.
I wanted it to say, “The love of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” or “The worship of the Lord…”
So then it became really important to develop a biblical understanding of what fear is being talked about there. You find that in Hebrews, Chapter 12—that it’s the right reverence and awe that you should feel towards someone who is worthy of it. That made more sense, you know, that we begin to become wise when we rightly acknowledge God for who He is and we place Him where He belongs in our estimation.
Dennis: Jen, there’s a paragraph in your book that I want you to read and then comment on—it’s on page 13, right in the middle. That whole paragraph, I think, is really good; because it explains what happens when we don’t revere and fear God.
When we lose sight of the majesty of God, we invariably fill the gap in our vision with the fable of the majesty of someone else—
—we revere a spouse or a leader; we worship our children or friend; we even give reverence and awe to ourselves. This is complete folly. Not only is it unwise to give our worship to someone other than God, it is the very definition of irrationality; and it is an exhausting business.
Dennis: Because ultimately, it you end up focusing on yourself, you’re trying to be God.
Jen: Right! I wanted to—not just talk about what theologians would call the incommunicable attributes / the ones that can only be true about God—but I wanted to relate it to how we actually—even without knowing it sometimes—reach out to take on those attributes, thinking that we will find some sort of personal significance in them that would make gods of ourselves, just like Adam and Eve were reaching for the forbidden fruit and the serpent telling them, “You will become like God.” That’s still an appealing message to us—
—so we feel like: “I do want to be sovereign over the people in my life,” “I do want to be omnipotent,” “I do want to hold all knowledge, and I think it would be great if I did.” We talk ourselves into thinking that to be limitless would be something that would suit us just fine.
Dennis: You talk about, in your book, ten ways God is different from us. The first one you start with is hard to argue with—God is infinite.
Jen: Yes; yes—not able to be measured. You and I are a set of measures, and we love to measure. This is the thing that was fascinating as I was writing that chapter—I started realizing how many things we measure and how much time we give to calculating—and that these are all ways that we try to take control over the environments that we inhabit. I don’t mean that in a negative sense / I think it’s a very human compulsion.
But it’s interesting to me that God defies measurement; because again—there, we have no choice but to worship and to marvel; because we can’t quantify Him.
I know the exact calorie count in anything that I put in my mouth, because it’s labeled on the package. I can weigh myself every morning. I know how tall I am. I know how much gas is in my gas tank. I know how many minutes it is until I arrive at my destination. All of these measurements are ways that we provide ourselves with a level of comfort and control, but God does not allow us to feel any of that with regard to Him.
Bob: You know, the whole idea of infinity is something that just will curl you up in a ball.
Jen: Makes your head hurt; right.
Bob: Yes. So I’m thinking of the fact that I will have eternal life—it will go on forever / there is no end—but I had a beginning.
Bob: God had no beginning.
Jen: Yes; yes.
Dennis: He created the beginning.
Bob: Can you just explain all of that to me?
Jen: Sure, let me just wrap that up for you. [Laughter] Yes.
Bob: This is—and the fact that it’s beyond our comprehension should help us understand, first of all, that it’s true; because we would not make up something that is beyond our comprehension—we’d try to define it if we were making it up.
Secondly, it should tell us that our minds are not big enough to be able to comprehend everything that’s true about God. We get pictures / we get glimpses; but if we try to get our minds around all of it, we’ll never get there, because we’re finite creatures.
Jen: Yes. And there’s a right response to that and there’s a wrong response to that. You get people who say: “Oh, God is just so big and vast. I can’t understand Him—so I’m not going to try. I’m just going to have my simple faith, and all I need is Jesus,” and they just go on about their way. And yet the Bible tells us that we’re to love God with all of our mind. It gives us sufficient knowledge of the character of God—everything necessary for salvation and to grow in holiness is there for us. We ought to devote ourselves to getting these feeble human brains around as much of the knowledge of God as we can.
Dennis: And what you’re talking about there is comprehending who God is—
Bob: —the Incomprehensible.
Dennis: Yes. That’s what I was going to—is the second attribute you talk about is He’s beyond understanding.
Jen: Yes. But in contrast—and this is what’s so interesting—we’re able to be fully understood. The God who cannot be measured actually measures everything; right? He’s the one who numbers our days and He counts the hairs on our head.
Bob: Now wait—you’re saying my wife is able to be fully understood?
Jen: Yes; yes. And we don’t like that; right? I mean, we would love to tell ourselves, “I’m just a bit of an enigma and you can’t possibly understand me.” With other human beings that’s true; right?—I mean, we can’t ever fully understand one another. But God fully understands us—you know, the picture in Psalm 139 of Him knowing our words before we speak them. Why?—because He knows our thoughts. How does He know our thoughts? Well, because He made us; right?
So there’s no aspect of us that He does not have an absolute and thorough grasp on, which means we could never go to Him and make the claim that we have been misunderstood when we are called into conviction for sin or when there is a claim made about our behavior.
Everything is known to Him.
Dennis: And I want to go back to a statement you made earlier, where you talked about someone who just kind of gives up because they say they can’t know God.
Dennis: Well, it is true He is incomprehensible.
Dennis: You can’t fully understand who God is; but in the midst of Him having this attribute, He is knowable.
Jen: Yes; He is knowable. Praise God!—right?
Jen: And that’s the thing that sets Christianity apart from the agnostic. The agnostic would say, “Well, you acknowledge that there is a God, but you can’t know anything about Him.” The Christian would say: “But we can! He’s disclosed Himself to us. Has He disclosed Himself to us in nature? Yes; He has. With broad brush strokes, we can learn things that are true about God; but the fine-tipped pen writing of His nature and character is found in His Word, faithfully recorded for us and preserved.”
Dennis: And in the stories about when He became flesh and He dwelt among us—
Dennis: —we see the life of Christ—where God took on flesh and was fully truth and fully grace and showed us how to relate to fallen human beings.
Dennis: We can know who God is through Jesus.
Jen: Hebrews: “He’s the exact imprint of His nature.”
Bob: Yes; in fact, you can look at the stars and know something about God. You see creation and you should be able to conclude there is a God. In fact, it takes more faith, I believe, to look at creation and conclude that “Somehow there was gas and now there’s this,” than it does to believe that that tree is there because God can create trees.
You look at your own conscience and you know there’s a God, because the moral impulses we have are not something that we generate for ourselves. But then, when we want to know God in a more personal way, that’s when we look at His Son and look at His Word.
That’s where He has disclosed things. Some of what He’s disclosed—we look at and go, “I don’t understand it.” He said: “I know. It’s like trying to teach calculus to a third grader. You’re not going to understand it all, but you recognize there’s math at work in here”; right?
Bob: And then there’s other stuff that we look at and we go, “Now, it makes sense to me,” because we see who God is in the person of Christ and in the revelation of His Word.
Dennis: And that really leads us to a third one you talk about here in your book—self-existent.
Dennis: God has no beginning—we already talked about this a bit earlier—this is close to the attribute of Him being infinite; is it not?
Jen: Yes. You can’t separate His infinitude from any of these. His infinitude is just saying He has no limits and then—the fact that He’s self-existent means that there are no limits to His life, so to speak. He’s the source of all life. The fact of God’s self-existence is the very first declaration that the Bible makes. It doesn’t beat about the bush to tell you what it’s going to be about—it says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
So He has within Him the power to give life—it’s His creative nature, and there are no limits on it.
Dennis: So how did you teach this to your kids growing up?—the self-existence of God—because parents’ assignment is to take their children’s hands in theirs and to put it in God’s hands and to introduce the child to who God is in an accurate way.
Jen: Sure. I’m a gardener. The way that I know what grows in my garden—the reason that people think I’m a good gardener is because they have not been there to watch all of the things that I killed in my garden to teach me what was going to grow. This is because I don’t have the power of life in me; right? I can nurture something, but I can’t give life to something.
We would point our kids to things—you know, an example like that—like: “Who gives life to this plant? Why does this plant grow?” Of course, God creates and He also sustains, which gets into His self-sufficiency. But you can look at the world around you and—you know: “I can’t keep a loved one alive.
“I gave birth to you, but I didn’t make that life start inside of me. Something is driving that.”
When the kids were little, we would go on road trips. They loved it when mom would do this—I’d make them have a nature moment. We’d be driving along and I’d be like, “Nature moment!” and they’re like: “Mom! Stop!”
Bob: Rolled their eyes; yes.
Jen: But just to take time to look around you and acknowledge kind of what you’re saying, Bob—the common sense—which we all know is not common knowledge—would say to you that none of this is an accident / it has an origin. That’s an interesting thing that we have to come to grips with—with God.
If you think about fine art, the reason that fine art is worth more than art that is not fine is because of who painted it; right? It’s a matter of origins. It’s really important for children to understand: “God is your origin, because that’s where you derive your value from. It’s not from anything else. It’s also the reason that we owe Him our obedience and our worship.”
No human creates the way that God creates. God speaks, and where there was nothing, there is something; and that is spectacular.
It’s important / it’s so important for us to understand, because that is the work of the new creation that is spoken of in the New Testament—you know: “If any of you is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone and the new has come.” God speaks the word of life into our hearts; and where there was no righteousness, there is righteousness—it’s the righteousness of Christ.
It’s so foundational for us to understand how God creates in creation to understand how God creates a new heart in us as we become those of the new creation.
Dennis: What I want every parent to do right now is to listen up. Teacher Jen has just given you some great illustrations of how you can introduce your children to God. I don’t care how old they are. Even if your children are adults, you can keep on introducing them to God.
You can do that through creation, you can do that through His Word, you can do that through your experience of His Word in your life and your experience of God. In fact, this is a command of Scripture. Go take a look at Psalm 78—the first six or seven verses. It is a command for parents to introduce their children to both who God is and to also introduce them to God through their experience of Him on a daily basis.
When you give kids the truth about God and the experience of God, you have a chance of them catching the picture of what Christianity is really all about. It’s not just about a cerebral understanding of who God is—it’s about experiencing God on a day-in and day-out basis.
I have to tell you—having started this journey more than 50 years ago—it’s exciting! It’s not always easy; but seeing God at work in you and through you and around you and in other people’s lives, and running into people—
—the other day, I was on an airplane; and I was just looking around at the people getting on the plane. I thought, “Every one of these people are image-bearers.” They’re not just people—they are eternal because of who made them. I just had to take a step back and go, “What a great God we serve.”
I just want to encourage parents: “Make the hand-off, and do it well. Don’t quit!”
Bob: The cerebral knowledge is necessary, but it’s not sufficient—that’s what you’re saying—you have to have both. I’m just thinking of the cerebral knowledge as a starting place. A mom and a dad could take Teacher Jen’s book—that’s your new name now, “Teacher Jen”—
Dennis: Teacher Jen.
Bob: —you could take Teacher Jen’s book—
Dennis: And it’s deep, but it’s not cerebral.
Bob: You could take Chapter 3 on the self-existence of God—it’s ten pages long—
—you could read that in a couple of nights at the dinner table; or read a few paragraphs out of that chapter and have a great conversation about what this teaches us about who God is.
The book is called None Like Him: Ten Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing). We have copies of the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center. Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order from us online—again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com—or call 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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Now, tomorrow, we’ll continue our conversation with Jen Wilkin about God—His attributes and how we can know Him better. That’s coming up tomorrow. Hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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