You probably have a lot going on. There are a million things grabbing for your attention—joys and pains in your city, your home, and your church. For that reason, it may not seem like the best use of your time to stop and study the attributes of God. You’d like to, but wouldn’t it be better to use what little time you have available to meditate on something a bit more relevant to what you are dealing with this week? My hope in this article is to show how understanding God’s attributes is more practical than you might expect.
What are God’s attributes? It helps to clarify what they are not.
God’s attributes are not like individual pie pieces that come together to form a complete whole—one slice love, one slice holiness, and so on until you get the complete divine being. God isn’t made up of his attributes, as if he only has a little love, a little faithfulness, a little mercy, etc. He is his attributes. That is to say, everything God is—goodness, grace, justice, holiness, etc.—he is all the time and in full measure. Thus we read that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, emphasis added).
Understanding God’s attributes in this way guards us from thinking that some attributes are more important than others, as if God could shed an attribute or two and still be God. It also helps us see God’s attributes as helpful ways to explore his multi-faceted and Triune glory.
Let’s examine three attributes of God that may seem the least likely to have any practical, day-to-day import. These attributes may be new to you, but I think you’ll see that, when understood rightly, God’s aseity, immutability, and impassibility change everything from how we think to how we feel, all the way down to how we love our neighbor in the nitty gritty of everyday life.
Aseity: The God Who Has No Needs
God’s aseity refers to His absolute independence from everything he’s created. He has always existed and will always exist without your help or mine. He doesn’t need anything outside of himself to be complete or to make himself happy. Within himself—Father, Son, and Spirit—God always has everything he needs. Paul taught the Athenians about God’s aseity in Acts 17: 24–31. Unlike the gods we make for ourselves, the One True God cannot be served by human hands as if He needed anything from us.
God’s aseity helps us understand his love. God’s love for us doesn’t come from a place of need. It is absolutely free! He doesn’t have to love us—He wants to love us. In the same way, God doesn’t need to be loved by us but has chosen to be loved by us. This is good news for anyone who fails to love God as they should. God’s love for you is grounded in the eternal love shared between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. He loves out of overflow, not out of lack. Therefore, we can be confident in God’s steadfast love because it isn’t based on what we can do for God but on what God has freely chosen to do for us in Christ.
God’s aseity also gives us hope as we fight to finish the race set before us. God has abundant life in Himself. However, if he were straining, trying to find his heart’s satisfaction, what confidence would we have that he could ever satisfy our hearts? The greatest threat to our final perseverance is our tendency to seek satisfaction in things other than Jesus Christ. But God promises to satisfy us forever, and he’s able to make that kind of promise because he is an eternal fountain of holy happiness. The God who is always satisfied will keep your heart happy in him to the end.
Immutability: The God Who Does Not Change
When we ascribe immutability to God, we are saying that He does not and cannot change. We change all the time, but God never does (Malachi 3:6). And how could he? He could never change for the worse—he’s perfect. And he can’t change for the better, because, well, he’s perfect!
God’s lack of changing doesn’t mean he’s devoid of life, like a static, uninvolved deity. God’s immutability is a declaration that God is so overflowing with life that it would be impossible for him to increase or decrease.
God’s immutability is especially comforting during this pandemic season when everything feels in flux. Concerts and basketball games have been postponed and rescheduled only to be postponed and rescheduled again. Cancelled vacations. Lost jobs. Relationships ripped apart by differing political allegiances. Our tidy, in-control lives—or at least our perception of them— have been all but shattered. Amid a world of unknowns, cast your hope on the One who is constant. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). God’s immutability means that He can be our refuge and strength, a present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1). Everything in your life may fall through but the unchanging God never will.
Impassibility: The God Who Does Not Suffer
God’s impassibility means (among other things) that he cannot suffer and isn’t changed by outside influences. On the face of it, the cross of Christ would seem to contradict this attribute, particularly given the divine identity of the Son of Man. But this is where the categories used by Christians for centuries can help us. Jesus Christ suffered, bled, and died. Remember, though, that Jesus is one person with two natures—two natures that are united but never mingled. God the Son suffered with respect to his humanity but not with respect to his divine nature.
God isn’t less helpful because he cannot suffer. In fact, the grace of Christ’s incarnation and suffering shine all the brighter against the backdrop of his eternal impassibility. The proof that God cares about our suffering is found in the sending of the Son to suffer for us as a man so that all our earthly sorrow might have an end date.
Take God’s impassibility with you the next time you comfort a grieving member of your church. It’s tempting to tell them that God is hurting as much as they are or that their tragedy has somehow caught him off guard. Resist that. It’s not true, and thank goodness it’s not! Help them fix their gaze on the God who is able to get us through our suffering and one day end our suffering. We need a God who is outside of our muck and mire, not subjected to the whims of life in a fallen world. Friends don’t comfort friends with an impotent God. Paint your sister or brother a grand picture of an impassible God who they can look to when life hurts most.
All this said, don’t miss the most “practical” benefit of studying the attributes of God: beholding God’s glory more fully. What fear isn’t relieved, what sorrow isn’t sweetened, what dispute isn’t relativized when we are filled with awe because of who our God is? The right knowledge of God is essential for giving God the glory he deserves and for our joy in Him. What could be more practical?
–To learn more about these and other attributes of God, see Matthew Barrett, None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God and Mark Jones, God Is: A Devotional Guide to the Attributes of God.