Monday, October 7, 2013

Attributes, a few notes

Attributes are “those qualities of God that constitute what He is, the very characteristics of His nature.”[1]  Hence, these are sometimes referred to as the character of God.  Attributes, therefore, are what we can examine to discover the essence of who God is, to the extent that we as finite, fallen beings can.  They are “permanent and intrinsic qualities, which cannot be gained or lost,” thus God cannot add to or take away from who He is.[2]  However, we must not confuse His attributes with his actions, nor His corresponding roles as such; examples of non-attributes include God’s act of creating, guiding, and preserving creation, and the roles of Creator and Sustainer thereof. 

The attributes of God apply to holistically the Godhead; each is a quality possessed by the Trinity as a whole.  Properties, on the other hand, are characteristics expressed distinctively by an individual person of the Trinity.  Thus every member possesses the attributes of God, but each may express distinct properties.
So what does all this mean?  It means that God’s actions are not what define His character; rather, His actions are informed by His attributes.  He acts a particular way because He is a certain way.  For example: I am a mother – role – because I birthed two children – action.  I was able to do this because I am a woman – attribute.  Giving birth to my children and my role as their mother are not a defining characteristics; this is an action I can do and a role that I am able to fulfill because I am a woman.  Thus, attributes make actions possible and shape roles.  I can be a mother of more children if I have others.  But if I had never been pregnant, I could not be a mother.  However, I cannot be more of a woman by having more children, nor can I be less of a woman by not having any children.  My woman-ness (attribute) is absolute, regardless of my role as a mother or the number of times I have been pregnant (action); it cannot be added to or taken away from.[3]

Therefore, the attributes of God are qualities that make up who He is.  They are universal among the Godhead; and they cannot be added to nor taken away from.  They inform how God acts.  And because they were revealed to us by God Himself, they can help us know, glorify, and worship Him all the more. 
I will see you tomorrow, reader, as we take a look at God’s omnipresence.   


[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology Second Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998). Page 291.
[2] Ibid. page 292.
[3] Please note that this is NOT a commentary on adoption – children of the heart make women mothers just as much as those of the womb – I was simply employing a metaphor that I find accessible, for men and women.  Conversely, women who are unable (or choose not to) have children are no less woman than any other individual with XX chromosomes.    

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