Many have made attempts to define God’s “primary attribute”. For some of the Reformers, God’s primary attribute was holiness. For others, it is God’s aseity, or self-existence. For others, sovereignty. Others, especially those in the Wesleyan tradition, have argued that God’s primary attribute is love. Still others have argued for omniscience as the primary attribute of God. The list could go on and on.
My goal today isn’t to try to put forth yet another contender in the battle for God’s primary attribute, but to try to bring some sense of reason to the whole discussion. I warn you now, this will be discussion could get mentally exhausting…primarily for me but maybe you too if you give it much thought. Ready? Let’s go:
Let’s start by defining our terms:
- Lasting or existing forever; without end or beginning.
- Limitless or endless in space, extent, or size; impossible to measure or calculate.
Now, let’s make a couple of assertions about God:
- 1. He is eternal
- God’s eternality has multiple attestations in the Scriptures. Read Psalm 90:2, Romans 1:20, 1 Timothy 1:17.
- 2. He is infinite
- God’s infinitude also has multiple attestations in the Scriptures. Read 1 Kings 8:27, Psalm 102:25-27, Isaiah 40:28, Revelation 22:13.
With God’s eternality and infinitude firmly established, I’ve got one more definition that I’ve got to list and then we can get to the point of this post:
- Ordinal Number
- A number defining a thing’s position in a series, such as “first,” “second,” or “third.”
Now…my point: If something is infinite and eternal – impossible to measure and without beginning or end – is it possible to assign an ordinal number to it? No! It’s impossible! Sure, you can do some non-finite mathematics and come up with infinity3, but in the real world does that mean anything? Not really…
So if it’s impossible to assign an ordinal to an infinite, how can we say that God has a primary attribute? I would contend that we can’t. Sure, there are some attributes of God that are more emphasized in the Scriptures, but if God is in any way holy, then He is, by His nature, infinitely and eternally holy. And if He is in any way self-existent, then He is, by His nature, infinitely and eternally self-existent. If God is in any way loving, then He is, by His nature, infinitely and eternally loving. And if He is just…or righteous…or merciful…or wrathful. I think you get the point.
Someone could argue that “a loving God wouldn’t allow send someone to hell” but a logical fallacy has been committed. Because, even though God is infinitely and eternally loving, He is also infinitely and eternally just…and wrathful. To say that God is primarily love means that He is not as holy as He is loving. Or that He’s not as sovereign as He is loving.
So what am I trying to say with this whole post? I’m not really sure at this point. I just want to make sure that when we try to conceive God as definable and categorizable, we are aware that He is anything but. He has no beginning. He has no end. He is immutable (Malachi 3:6), holy (Exodus 15:11), righteous (Psalm 119:142), good (2 Chronicles 5:13), sovereign (Psalm 135:6)…the list goes on.
One last interesting note: Compare Psalm 90:2 and Revelation 22:13. That which was said of the Father is said of the Son. Jesus is the Eternal God. May His name be praised forever.