How Can We Study God?
How can we possibly study God? Perhaps one way to begin is by resurrecting an old-fashioned word. The word is “attribute,” (n. a-truh-byoot). God’s attributes are facets of his character that the Bible reveals. Some might object that it is impossible for human beings to comprehend God. And they would be right. But God can enable us to experience him in deeper ways. Why else would he reveal himself if he did not want to be known?
Despite our confusion and obvious limitations, God has revealed himself in the Scripture and he has filled us with his Spirit so that we can begin to understand more about who he is.
While studying his attributes, we must resurrect other old-fashioned words like holiness, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, righteousness, sovereignty, and transcendence. (Do I hear you snoring yet?) But rather than boring us to death, excavating the biblical content of these words may end up thrilling and freeing us from the colossal mistake of concluding that God is too weak or too removed or too soft to enable us to live with joy and fearlessness regardless of the problems we face. Who knows, a thorough-going study of the attributes of God may even show us that God is far bigger and far better than we think. Our prayerful study of God may yield a depth of experience that amazes and delights us, putting God where he belongs--in the foreground as our cares and concerns recede to the background.
One thing to keep in mind is that when it comes to God, an “attribute” is an artificial construct, a helpful way to learn about God. But God cannot be divided into his various attributes nor will he act in ways that contradict himself. He is, for instance, still just even when he is expressing his mercy and still loving when expressing his jealousy.
As A.W. Tozer points out,
“God’s attributes are not isolated traits of His character but facets of His unitary being. They are not things-in-themselves; they are, rather, thoughts by which we think of God, aspects of a perfect whole, names given to whatever we know to be true of the Godhead.
“To have a correct understanding of the attributes it is necessary that we see them all as one. We can think of them separately but they cannot be separated.”1
- A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 1961), 78.