God is not merely an idea or a proposition but instead a living and free person who is completely “other,” or holy. Speaking about this entirely other God is difficult. In an effort to explain God according to Scripture, theologians have distinguished between his unshared attributes that belong to him alone (also called incommunicable attributes), and God’s shared attributes, which he bestows upon us to a lesser degree than he possesses them (also called communicable attributes).
Imaging God practically means that we will mirror both his moral and non-moral likeness. Mirroring God’s moral likeness means we will exercise decision-making power, have dominion over lower creation, live in social relationships with others, feel our emotions, love, serve, and communicate. Mirroring God’s non-moral likeness means that we use our intellect and reason to think and that we can be creative with the materials God has created; it also includes the fact that we are immortal and will live spiritually even after our physical death.
Before examining God’s attributes as revealed in Scripture, two points are important. First, God’s attributes are not merely attributed to him, but they are qualities inseparable from his very being. In every way that God exists, he exists without limit, that is, in perfection. Second, we know God by our experiences through relationship with him: when we recognize his presence all around us, when we recognize his provision in our lives, when we confess our sins and accept his grace to live by faith. In his loving friendship, we come to a fuller realization of who he truly is as revealed in Scripture.
God’s Unshared Attributes
- Omnipresence: God is everywhere at all times.1
- Omniscience: God has complete and perfect knowledge of all things, including the past, present, future, and everything actual or potential.2
- Omnipotence: God is all-powerful and able to do all that he wills.3
- Immutability: God does not change in his essence, character, purpose, or knowledge but does respond to people and their prayers.4
- Eternality: God has no beginning or end and is not bound by time, though he is conscious of time and does work in time.5
- Sovereignty: God is supreme in rule and authority over all things,6 though he does allow human freedom.7
The bottom line is that there is no one like God. The God of the Bible is utterly unique and stands alone as distinct from and superior to everyone and everything he has created.
God’s Shared Attributes
Because we are made by God in his image, there are some of his attributes that he shares with us. These are called God’s shared, or communicable, attributes. They include the following:
- Holiness: God is absolutely separate from any evil.8 We mirror God when we hate sin and love holiness by repenting of our sin and fighting against sin in the world.
- Love: God alone is perfectly good and loving, and he alone is the source for all goodness and love.9 We mirror God when we love God and others, starting with our families, friends, and fellow church members and extending to strangers for hospitality and even enemies for reconciliation. Like him, we seek to preserve their dignity and well-being even at personal cost.
- Truth: God is the source of all truth. He is the embodiment of truth.10 We mirror God when we believe biblical truth over lies and speak truthfully as an act of worship.
- Righteousness: God does not conform to a standard of right and wrong, but right and wrong flow out of his character.11 We mirror God as we fight oppression, injustice, and evil and pursue justice—paticularly for those without power, such as the unborn, sick, poor, marginalized, defenseless, and abused.
- Mercy: God does not give some people what they deserve, because he is loving and gracious.12 We mirror his mercy when we forgive those who sin against us and do good to those who do evil in an effort to bring them to repentance.
- Beauty: God is beautiful and his creation reflects his beauty. God made men and women in his image and likeness to also create works of beauty.13 We mirror God when we create and enjoy beauty in a holy way, such as by stewarding God’s beautiful creation (including our own bodies and health), enjoying the arts, and even painting the walls of our home in thanks to God who gives us both color and eyes to see it.
The fact that God shares some of his attributes with us by virtue of making us in his image explains why even non-Christians do “good” things. This does not reveal that we are good, but rather that the God who made us is good.
Which of God’s unshared attributes are you most familiar with? Which of God’s unshared attributes are you least familiar with?