I believe that the most important question in life is this: “Who is God?”
Our knowledge of God determines the knowledge of ourselves. In the end, that knowledge dictates how we live our daily lives. To paraphrase how John Calvin introduces his Institutes of the Christian Religion, unless we know God, we can hardly know ourselves.
Unless we know God, we can hardly know ourselves.
So I’m very excited about the series of short articles that TGC Africa has lined up, on the attributes of God. For as we grow in this knowledge, we’ll also grow in the knowledge of ourselves. I anticipate that through this we won’t only be moved to glorify our Creator and Lord, but also to enjoy him. In this article I simply want to outline what we mean by the attributes of God, particularly two technical theological words often used in conjunction with them: incommunicable and communicable.
Incommunicable and Communicable Attributes
The attributes of God, simply put, refers to his character. They tell us what he is like. And these are typically classified into two categories of attributes: communicable and incommunicable. Most of us might have heard of communicable and non-communicable diseases. In medical terms, communicable diseases are those that we can pass on to each other like COVID-19 and colds. On the other hand, non-communicable diseases are not transmittable.
The attributes of God, simply put, refers to his character.
In terms of God’s attributes, communicable attributes are those characteristics that he shares with human beings, because we are created in his image. Incommunicable attributes are those that God doesn’t share with us. For example, omnipresence is an incommunicable attribute. Only God is present everywhere (Psalm 139:7-10), while we can only be present at one place at one time. However love, to pick another example, is a communicable attribute. God loves and we also love.
Our Lives and Love Are a Dim Reflection of Him
Although God shares the communicable attributes with us, they are not as perfect in us as they are in him. For we are sinful and fallen, while he is holy and sinless. Let’s consider love again. God’s love is unconditional and unending. But our love is imperfect, tainted by selfishness. We are often self-seeking and selective regarding our love. This doesn’t mean we don’t love our family, friends, or church. It only explains why our love so often fails; why we let those we love down.
Yet God’s love never fails (Lamentations 3:22). He is steadfast. Isaiah 49:15 captures this truth very well, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”
The great Lord over all the earth created us to mirror his characteristics.
Studying the attributes of God should surely produce humility and awe in our lives. As we look at his communicable attributes, we should be humbled that the great Lord over all the earth created us to mirror his characteristics. Simultaneously, the incommunicable attributes should also stir humility. For in many ways God is holy and other, categorically different to what he has made. He is most holy, exalted above his creation. To him alone be the glory, forever! Amen.