What is God like?
Humans have a remarkable way of projecting what is inside of us onto what is outside of us. You can see that in the way we describe other people. For example, when we critique others, especially if we do it in a mean-spirited way, we most often use categories that are familiar to us. The behaviors we tend to critique and expand on when we critique others are usually the flaws we see in ourselves. In a more general sense, we project on the whole of the world around us. We anthropomorphize animals, weather, things we fear, and even inanimate objects. While this is normal human behavior, it makes talking about God very difficult. If we cannot help but project onto things we can see, how much more powerful is the instinct of projection onto a God we cannot see?
Because God is beyond human experience, we have nothing to compare to God. God’s incomparable nature means that all of our human generated thoughts about God are bound to be defective and idolatrous. When we talk about God we naturally tend to fashion a God like us; we project. We would make God out to be “man shouted in a loud voice,” as Karl Barth would put it. God, however, is not like us. God is above and beyond us. God is the utterly transcendent reality on which all reality depends. There is no analogy to God, so, we have no resources to describe God. As a result, when we talk about God, we are often talking about a God of our own making. “The Big Man in the Sky,” and the like are pure human projections.
The conundrum we face is that if God is the ultimate reality, we must try to understand God. If not, the ordinary realities of life can make no sense. How can we understand God as the ultimate reality though? We cannot get out of our own way enough to reason our way to God. We cannot feel our way to God. Our intuitions are broken so they do not have the power to get us to God. So, what can we do? Our only recourse is to rely on revelation.
“Revelation” means what God has chosen to reveal about Himself to us. When believers call the Bible the word of God, they mean that in the Bible, God is revealed. God has revealed God’s nature to us in Scripture. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments refer to God as “good” pervasively. One could argue that goodness is one of the two most consistent descriptions of God in the Old Testament. In the Bible, God’s goodness is complete. God is good in His person. God is the author of all good things. Everything that is good comes from God. God is not only good; God is the sole basis for goodness. God is goodness itself.
One of the interesting words the Scriptures use to define God is “jealous.” Of course, they do not use the term to imply that God is envious. Rather, the Scripture’s use of the term means that God will tolerate no rivals. In other words, God will not be one of our gods. God will not be second in our affections and desires. God alone is God. He alone has the right to rule, and He alone has the ability to save.
The Bible presents God as Holy. God is eternally free from evil in His nature. God cannot be charged with evil in any sense. God only wills the good, only creates the good, and only tolerates the good. Evil has no standing with God. God’s holiness is so supreme that the few humans who have caught a glimpse of the glory of God recoiled in terror at their own sinfulness. Because God is Holy, God’s wrath is ever directed toward sin and evil. This is not because God is a cosmic killjoy. No. God’s holiness is directed against the actions that destroy His good creation, and evil is always an attack on something God has created. God does not have wrath because God is a petty tyrant. God has wrath because evil is directed against the ones God loves.
The most amazing picture of God in the Bible is God is love. We hear that description of God in John’s letters. God is love. That means that you do not have to do anything to be loved by God. God already loves you because God is love. That also means that there is nothing you can do to make God not love you. God loves you, period. God has loved you from before the beginning of existence. God loved You in the work of Jesus Christ. God loves you at your best. God loves you at your worst. God loves you today. God will love you tomorrow. We know that because the Scriptures teach that God never changes. He is always faithful in His steadfast love.
The Scriptures also teach us that Jesus is the fullest revelation of God. Jesus Christ is “… the exact imprint of God’s very being…” (Heb 1:3 NRSV). In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father…” (John 14:9 NRSV). Therefore, if you want to understand God, understand Jesus. Jesus’ life and ministry are the central focus of the New Testament, and teach us directly what God is like. The Scriptures present Jesus as faithful, kind, loving, powerful, and wise. They present Jesus as directed to the good of His people. Jesus is the loving Shepherd who searches for the lost sheep. Jesus is the Great Physician who the mere touch of His garment can heal. Jesus will allow no sinful past to overcome His love and grace. He will not allow the power of sin and death to destroy His people. He is always directed to the love and salvation of His people. Jesus is love, and His love is directed to You.
What is God like? God is amazing in power and goodness. God is holy beyond imagination. God is great in mercy. God is the source of all that is good, and wields the power that overwhelms death. God is love. How do we know God is like that? He has revealed it to us.