If you had to describe God in one word, which is impossible I know, what word would you use? Pause reading this, think about it, maybe write down the word, and then come back to the email.
What word to you land on? Holy? Pure? Trinity? Jesus? Perfect? All-powerful (or its fancy synonym, “omnipotent”)? Another option?
There are so many options. A couple years ago I did a Wednesday evening prayer meeting study through the characteristics of God using the classic book by A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God: Their Meaning in the Christian Life. Tozer makes the following claim that I agree with: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
More than likely the one word you chose to describe God says something about not only what you think about God, but also what you might overemphasize about God. For example, if the one word you use to describe God is “justice,” then you might not be giving enough attention to God’s mercy. If the one word you use to describe God is “perfection,” then you might not be giving enough attention to God’s grace.
What Tozer suggests in the book is that the first word we think about God should be his incomprehensibility, which I find quite helpful. What Tozer means is what God himself said, “my ways are higher than your ways.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) We will never fully understand God, which means that God will always be somewhat incomprehensible to us.
That might sound wrong, as if Tozer is telling us that we should be frustrated because we’ll never really know God. But that is not what Tozer is saying. Instead, he is saying what the Bible teaches, that we humans are and will always be limited in our understanding of the totality of who God is. We should take heart, though, because God has revealed himself to us to the point where we can have a real relationship with him. We can know God, and we can know him very well.
Yet we should be humble and teachable, with a healthy self-awareness of the truth that in our finite minds we will not fully know the infinite God. As theologian Thomas Oden said, we should be comic theologians. What Oden meant is that we should have an ability to laugh at our attempts to fully understand God. In other words, let us not put God in a box, as if we have him figured out.
With all that in mind, if you answered one of the words I listed above, you are not wrong. All of those words describe something important about God. But I think there is one that is superior to them all. Love. God is Love. (1 John 4:7-21) Years ago I would have said that God is “holy” or “perfect” at his core. But the more I study Scripture, the more I read that love is his core. I would suggest that every other attribute only defines his love. He is holy love. Gracious love. Merciful love. Perfect love. And so on. Everything God is and does is flowing from his love.
What does it mean that God is love? Join us on the blog next week, and we’ll talk about it further, as we continue our series on the Fruit of the Spirit, beginning, as you probably guessed, with love.