The Nature of God

A Rational Faith Section 3.2 The Nature of God

It is only common sense that we must understand what the Bible says about God before
we can have a rational faith. So what does the Bible say about God? The Bible says that
God is uniquely good. The Bible says that God is self-existent. The Bible says that God
is love and tells us what that love is like. The Bible is absolutely clear that God is good.
The Bible is absolutely clear that God is without evil and cannot be tempted to evil. Let
us consider these propositions one at a time.

The Bible is emphatic that God is uniquely good. God is not “one of the fellas” who is
good like everybody else; God alone is good. If the Bible calls some of the angels holy,
this is because they are obedient to God’s will. If God accounts a human being as
righteous, it is only by virtue of the sacrifice of Christ. God alone is good and this is
emphasized throughout the Bible. Consider the following verses:

And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. (Matthew 19:7)

Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me. (Isaiah 46:9)

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? (Matthew 7:11)

And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, LORD God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. (Revelation 4:8)

“Now wait a minute!” you are thinking. “What does God’s holiness have to do with the
fact that God claims to be uniquely good?” The answer is that God’s holiness has everything to do with his claim to be uniquely good. Though the definition of holy is often confused in the mind of the Christian believer, the word means “apart” or “separate”. When God says that he is “holy” he saying that he is different; he is saying that he is apart; he is saying that he is separate. God emphasizes his uniqueness over and over and over again. “I am not like you. I am good, you are evil. Be different like I am different. Be apart like I am apart. Be holy like I am holy.”  Understanding the unique goodness of God is absolutely vital to understanding the Bible.

Another characteristic of God that is emphasized in the Bible is the fact that God is self-
existent. How does God emphasize that he is self-existent? His name Jehovah is
Hebrew for “I am”. In the book of Exodus, God says to Moses, “I AM THAT I AM:
Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” (Exodus
3:14) Jesus later makes this same claim when he claims to be God: “Jesus said unto
them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58) The very
name of God tells us that he is the self-existent one.

Probably the most important characteristic of God that is emphasized in the Bible,
however, is God’s love. Over and over again the Bible tells us of God’s love. God’s love
abounds and is steadfast. God loves the world and he loves believers. The verses that
speak of God’s love culminate in some of the most amazing lines in the entire history of
literature. In these verses, God tells us that he is love and describes what that love is like:

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.  Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4: 8-10)

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (NAS 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)

The statement that “God is love” is profoundly powerful. How powerful is it? Let us
compare it to the statement made by the angels when they cry: “And one cried unto
another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his
glory.” (Isaiah 6:3). What the angels say about God’s holiness is not nearly as strong as
what John writes about God and love in this verse. Let us imagine that I was extolling
the intelligence of my friend Dave and I said, “Dave is smart, smart, smart.” Now
imagine that I made the absurd claim, “Dave is intelligence incarnate.” Which statement
is stronger?

So the Bible tells us that God is love and what that love is like. At the same time, God
makes it clear that he is not a murderer, liar or hypocrite when he rebukes others for these
things. Not only does God not do these things, but he cannot even be tempted to do that
which is evil. Consider the following verses:

Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. (John 8:44)

But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. (Matthew 23:13)

Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.(James 1:13)

Let us, therefore, summarize what the Bible tells us about God. As we have seen, the
Bible tells us that God is uniquely good; the Bible tells us that God is love; the Bible tells
us that God is self-existent. Not only does God have these positive attributes, but God is
not a murderer or a liar or a hypocrite and cannot be tempted to do evil things. There is
no “other half” of God presented in the Bible. God is good plain and simple.

Now as we saw when making the case against Christianity, Atherton the atheist would
argue that I am painting a lop-sided picture of the God presented in the Bible. “Where is
the savage brute who torments sinners in the eternal fire of hell? Where is the ruthless
tyrant who no one dares to question? Where is the vicious and bloodthirsty ogre who
orders the nation of Israel to commit genocide? These other aspects of God are also
presented in the Bible. You cannot take the things that you like and leave the things that
you don’t like. You must consider the whole picture of God presented in the Bible in
order to have a balanced view.”

The Bible, however, never says that God is savage or vicious or bloodthirsty. The Bible
says that God is good as I have outlined above. Where, then, does Atherton get the idea
that God is savage and bloodthirsty and brutal? The answer is that the Bible tells stories
wherein God gives commands and says things that imply these negative attributes and
Atherton the atheist interprets these stories in a way that reflects badly on God. In
various Old Testament stories, for example, God commands the people of Israel to
destroy a city and all of its inhabitants and Atherton thinks that destroying the inhabitants
was the purpose of God’s command. Unfortunately, most Christians agree with Atherton
and misinterpret the stories of the Bible.

Once we as Christians agree with Atherton on the interpretation of the stories of the Bible, however, we have a problem. How can God be good and still order believers to commit genocide?

This is a very difficult question and the church has avoided it using an approach straight
out of George Orwell’s 1984. Following the Orwellian approach, we basically argue that
genocide and eternal torture are okay when God says they are okay and “who are you, oh
man, to challenge God?” Though I joined the church in taking this approach for many
years, it was not ultimately intellectually satisfying for me. Over the long course of my
Christian life, I have come to believe that if we argue in this way we have forfeited a
rational faith. Might makes right is not a sound foundation of absolute morality.

Though many Christians would strenuously argue otherwise, it cannot be rational to
believe that God is good when he orders genocide and tortures people for all eternity. If
God changes the meaning of words in this Orwellian fashion, then it is impossible to trust
God. If eternal torture is consistent with a love that “always hopes, always perseveres
and never fails”, then it is good to be tortured and believers can expect an eternity of
torture in heaven. “God wouldn’t do that because torture isn’t good,” some Christians
would respond. But the “good is evil and evil is good if God says so” approach precludes
trusting God in this way. “God is going to torture us believers and we think that is evil,
but who are you, oh man, to call God a liar or say that God shouldn’t torture us? God has
declared that we should be tortured for the glory of his name and it is good because he
says it is good.” The bottom line is that God must use his power in a measured and
restrained way if he is to be good. I am not being a proud and sinful man when I state
this fact, I am merely following the sense of reason that God gave me. After all, if it is
important for me to be honest and turn the other cheek when I am weak and powerless
and entirely dependent upon God, then how much more important is it for the Almighty
to do these things?

So is Atherton correct that Christianity is irrational? If reason prevents us from believing
that a good God could order genocide and torture people for all eternity, then it follows
that a literal Biblical faith is irrational. Unless there is an alternative interpretation of the
stories in the Bible, we must take a wild and irrational leap of faith to believe in Biblical

Fortunately for those of us who want a rational faith, there is another way to interpret the
behavior of God in these stories of the Bible. In this approach, we apply the entirety of
God’s word to understand every given story so that it is consistent with his overall
message, methods and purpose. When we seek God’s face by studying the Bible in this
way, we find that God really is good and that he has done things in a very specific way to
achieve a very specific purpose. In order to understand his methods and purpose,
however, we must understand a number of other important Biblical principles including
what the Bible has to say about human nature.

About Robert V

Former atheist currently living in Toronto.
This entry was posted in Rational Faith Extracts and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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