As with most sytematic theologies, the Belgic Confession of Faith starts out with an article on God.
Article 1: That There is Only One God
We all believe with the heart and confess with the mouth1 that there is only one God,2 who is a simple and spiritual Being;3 He is eternal,4 incomprehensible,5 invisible,6 immutable,7 infinite,8 almighty,9 perfectly wise,10 just,11 good,12 and the overflowing fountain of all good.13
1 Rom 10:10. 2 Deut 6:4; 1 Cor 8:4, 6; 1 Tim 2:5. 3 Jn 4:24. 4 Ps 90:2. 5 Rom 11:33. 6 Col 1:15; 1 Tim 6:16. 7 James 1:17. 8 1 Kings 8:27; Jer 23:24. 9 Gen 17:1; Mat 19:26; Rev 1:8. 10 Rom 16:27. 11 Rom 3:25, 26; Rom 9:14; Rev 16:5, 7. 12 Mat 19:17. 13 James 1:17.
Many Christians wouldn’t know what to say when confronted with the question: “What is God” or “Who is God.” But we don’t have to conjure up vague answers in our mind: the Confession already has a comprehensive one. Let’s look briefly at each portion of the Confession’s definition of God, and then think about some misconceptions related to that portion.
One: We believe that there is one God in three Persons (Essences), but not three “Modes” or “Manifestations”! We’ll explore this later in Article 8.
So we worship only one God. Not like the New Agers, Hindus, and those Native Americans who believe that God is everywhere in nature (trees, mountains, rocks, rivers, etc.): this is pantheism. Nor do we worship the “sun-god” or the “moon-god” or “mother earth”: this is paganism.
Many Christians of course don’t worship these things. But like all idolaters, we also worship other gods. All over the world, people worship celebrities, power, money, and sex. Like everyone else, Americans idolize their sports and entertainment celebrities (“American Idol,” “Brangelina,” Michael Jordan, etc). Their goal in life is the “American Dream.” When these things become the stuff of life, as in “pride in possessions” (1 John 2:16), they become idol-gods.
Simple: This doesn’t mean that God is a simple-minded Being, as one thinks of a “simpleton,” unsophisticated, naive, gullible. No, the “simpleness” of God means that God is and can never be divided into parts. He’s not Father+Son+Holy Spirit, nor Eternal+Incomprehensible+Invisible, etc. He is a perfect unity.
Spiritual and Invisible: As a spiritual Being, God has no physical attributes, as some imagine when thinking about man being an “image of God” (Article 14). To accommodate man’s finite mind, the invisible God appeared to men in visible forms such as a cloud, fire, storm, burning bush (theophanies), and even as the “Angel of the Lord” (Christophanies). But the ultimate visible appearance of God is in His Son, Jesus Christ, who is “the image of the invisible God,” and “in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1:15, 19).
Eternal and Infinite: God has no beginning, and has no end: “In the beginning, God…” He is not constrained by finite time and space (Psa 90:2; 139:7-10; and 2 Pet 3:8).
Incomprehensible: For us, all of God’s attributes are incomprehensible. It’s hard for us to comprehend existing for 1,000 years, much less for eternity! That’s why being chosen “before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4) is such a mind-numbing, unacceptable concept to most Christians.
Since he is incomprehensible, how do we know that He exists? How do we know who He is? Only by God’s Word. In revealing Himself to finite creatures like us, the infinite God accommodates our finite mind. He uses words that we can relate to (anthropomorphisms). This is the only way He can make Himself known and comprehensible to us.
When we say that the computer is “running,” or is “reading the CD,” are we saying that the computer is a biologically animate creature like us that can run and read? In the same way, it is wrong to literally ascribe physical parts to God using texts like Psa 18:6, “From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears”; or Psa 36:7, “The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.”
Immutable: God is unchangeable; his plans don’t change. He doesn’t have any Plan B. How can an all-knowing (omniscient) God, who has predestined the end from the beginning, change His mind (Isa 46:10)? Does the all-knowing God make a mistake? This may be unthinkable for many of us, but some pastors (“open theists”) teach this heresy. Why, they ask, did God “repent” of His creating man, who turned out to be so wicked (Gen 6:6)? If He is all-knowing, why did God have to see for Himself the wickedness of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:21)?
“Open theists” teach that God only reacts to man’s decisions. He’s like a chess player who can always respond correctly to any move by man, but He really doesn’t know, and doesn’t have any control over, his opponent’s next move. What’s their motivation for teaching such nonsense? It’s to safeguard man’s “free will”; God didn’t create men as “robots,” they say (Article 14). But what about God controlling the minds of mighty, wicked men like Pharaoh (Exo 7:3, 9:34), or Nebuchadnezzar (Jer 43:10), or Pontius Pilate (John 19:11), or the Beast and the False Prophet (Rev. 17:17), or any king (Prov 21:1)? Doesn’t God control all men’s hearts (Psa 37:23; Prov 16:9)? And what about man’s decision to seek God (Eze 36:27; John 1:12-13; Acts 16:14; Rom 9:16, 18; Phil 2:13)? Did this decision come from his own sin-slaved heart? No, man has no “free will.” In fact, the exact opposite is true: man’s will is a slave: to sin! (John 8:34; Rom 6:6-22)
Almighty: As God is eternal, infinite, and immutable, so He is almighty. He created the universe out of nothing. He sustains and governs it. He controls kings and kingdoms for the benefit of His people.
If God is so powerful that He is able to create the universe out of nothing, and to control everything for His own glory, wouldn’t it be a most effortless task for Him to be sovereign over the human heart? Most Christians don’t believe so, believing instead the lie that man controls his own destiny by his own “free will.” (See the immutability of God above.) God is often pictured in the evangelical world as a helpless God knocking on the door of the sinner’s heart, begging, “Please! please! Let me in!” What a pathetic God! This is NOT the almighty God of the Bible.
The above are all attributes of God which only God possesses (incommunicable). Next post, we will study those attributes of God that man also possesses (communicable), even if only finitely and imperfectly.
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great Name we praise.
Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.
Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
All praise we would render; O help us to see
‘Tis only the splendor of light hideth thee!.
(Walter C. Smith, 1876).