Who is God – Part 3
Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23NKJV
Today we look at the final part of question 7 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What is God?” It gives the answer: “God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.” Having considered God’s spiritual nature, His eternality, unchangeableness, infinity, and omni-presence, power, and knowledge the last two weeks, we now move to those “most” and “abundant” attributes. As always, we must keep our understanding of who God is not only free of all human tradition but firmly fixed upon His infallible revelation of Himself in His proven word, the Bible.
First, we notice that God is “most wise.” Here wisdom is distinguished from knowledge: God is “knowing all things,” and also is “most wise.” In Hebrew thought wisdom is seen in those actions which ultimately bring success to, and establish the one acting. Accordingly, the essence of human wisdom is the fear of the Lord – turning away from evil and doing good (Prov. 3:5-7; 9:10; Ps. 2:9-10) – for only in the fear of the Lord will a man be able to stand, whereas the evil man will fall (Prov. 12:3). However, God’s wisdom is not that He fears Himself (which is a contradictory concept), but is found in the fact that He does all things well. All of God’s acts are wise, for all that He has done will stand and accomplish the purpose for which He has acted. Thus, Scripture repeatedly describes God’s creation as having been done, “in wisdom” (Prov. 8:27-29; Ps. 104:24; 136:5; Jer. 10:12; 51:15).
Likewise, God is most holy. Holiness means to be separate from and above the common. It also means morally pure and upright. Although many things in Scripture are said to be holy, God alone is said to be holy to the third degree. God alone is “holy, holy, holy” (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8). In other words it is not possible for God to be any more holy than He is. Holiness in the creature is always a derived attribute that comes as a result of being drawn in closer to God. This is because God’s holiness is germane to the essence of His being as He relates to all created things. All created things are infinitely below the God who alone has the power of all being within Himself. God is the only necessary being whose essence is to exist. All other beings are contingent beings who only exist by and for the will of God.
Next, we see the Catechism describe God as both “most just” and “most merciful and gracious.” Perhaps the joining of these two attributes that is most striking to us as we consider who God is. To be just is to be fair. God is most just in that God perfectly renders to everyone exactly what they deserve. He will not leave the guilty unpunished or the righteous unrewarded (Exod. 34:6). Yet at the same time, God forgives sins (Exod. 34:6). He is merciful and gracious. To forgive is to not give to someone the negative consequences of their actions that they fully deserve in all fairness. Thus, God is at the same time the most just and the most merciful! This apparent contradiction is fully realized and harmonized in the cross. It is in the cross that God fully pours out all of His wrath upon the sins of His people (born by Jesus through substitution) – and thus He is most just. Yet at the same time He fully forgives them and justifies them as righteous in His sight (due to Christ’s personally wrought righteousness) – and thus He is most merciful and gracious. It is by God’s gracious double imputation (our guilt to Christ, His righteousness to us) that in the cross “Righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Ps. 85:10); so that God is both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).
The Catechism finishes its description of God as it notes His “longsuffering” nature, which is “abundant in goodness and truth.” The Hebrew behind “longsuffering” is literally “long of nose.” To be long of nose is to be slow to anger. God is not slow to anger because of any weakness or hesitancy in God to punish evil. God is slow to anger because He is abundant in goodness and truth. It is through God’s longsuffering that all men enjoy the goodness of God’s creation, and all of the elect are brought to repentance (Rom. 2:4).