“The difference between God’s being and ours is more than the difference between the sun and a candle, more than the difference between the ocean and a raindrop, more than the difference between the arctic ice cap and a snowflake, more than the difference between the universe and the room we are sitting in: God’s being is qualitatively different. No limitation or imperfection in creation should be projected onto our thought of God. He is the Creator; all else is creaturely. All else can pass away in an instant; he necessarily exists forever.” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology)
The first doctrine we looked at in our Bite-size Theology series was the doctrine of God’s simplicity. This is helpful because knowing that God’s character is “simple” (in other words, unified) allows us to view each of God’s attributes as connected to all the rest. Because God’s being is completely united and in no way contradictory, it is virtually impossible to discuss one of his attributes without using another to qualify, explain, or clarify it. The doctrine of God’s simplicity prepares us to to view each attribute in light of every other attribute.
God’s simplicity is the first of what are called the “incommunicable attributes.” Incommunicable attributes are those character qualities that God does not have in common with his created beings. I mentioned in the last post that we do not share the attribute of simplicity with God because we cannot be entirely loving, or merciful, or just all of the time. In this way God is utterly distinct from us. Today we will look at another incommunicable attribute: God’s independence.
God is independent in that he does not depend upon his creation for anything, in any way.
In his sermon to the people of Athens, the apostle Paul proclaimed that God “made the world and everything in it,” and “does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17:24 & 25) Here, Paul is beautifully and boldly explaining that the Creator is distinct from his creation in that he does not need anything from it. He is the one who gives and sustains life to mankind, not the other way around. Unlike the idols Paul’s gentile crowd worshipped, the one true God is completely self-sufficient. He does not need anything. He is the abundant one; we are the ones in need of his abundance. Revelation 4:11 expresses this truth well in the form of praise: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
Integral to the doctrine of God’s independence is the doctrine of the Trinity, which explains God as being three persons in one: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Before God created the heavens and the earth, he existed in perfect fellowship within himself. Therefore, it was not out of loneliness that he decided to create mankind, but out of the freedom of his will. Neither was it out of a need to be worshiped and glorified, for Jesus tells us in John 17:5 that the Father and Son were eternally glorifying each other.
We see from these truths that it couldn’t be out of a sense of loneliness or a need for worship that God decided to create mankind for he was already receiving these things perfectly in and of himself! In actuality, his desire to create came not from necessity, but from ability. It was an act of selfless, overflowing love that prompted him to create creatures who would have the capacity to enjoy him–the supremely enjoyable One. Michael Reeves makes this point in his book, Delighting in the Trinity:
He [Christ] is the one eternally loved by the Father; creation is about the extension of that love outward so that it might be enjoyed by others. The fountain of love brimmed over. The Father so delighted in his Son that his love for him overflowed, so that the Son might be the firstborn among many sons.
Though God clearly doesn’t need us for his life, happiness, or well-being, we must be careful not to paint him as an uncaring, unloving, or uninterested deity. The Bible doesn’t describe God as being unconcerned with humanity or any other part of creation. On the contrary, he is concerned with even the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. To this truth Jesus says, “How much more will he care for you who are worth so much more to him!” Indeed, it is a testimony to his greatness that though he doesn’t need us, he chooses to pour out his love and fellowship upon us. How marvelous to think that although God is perfectly complete, and happy, and sufficient in and of himself, he has chosen to allow us to experience him, to have a personal relationship with him, to bring him joy even!
Why it Matters
Because of the doctrine of God’s independence, we know that he cannot be manipulated by his creation. While the idols Paul was referring to in his sermon to the Athenians could be (or we should say were thought to be) swayed by penitence or sacrifice the true God has no need of these things. We should not see him as being able to be controlled by our good works or bad deeds. He acts independently of us, doing all that he wills.
God’s role as creator and life-sustainer (as apposed to being a created, needy being) also gives us great confidence in his ability to fulfill his promises. His plans and purposes are not dependent upon any other force or living thing. Though world events, family circumstances, or personal trials may cause us to question whether he will be able to accomplish his purposes, we can be assured that none of these things will thwart him. His will is not dependent upon any created thing, therefore neither are his plans. After all, we are told that it is God, “for whom and by whom all things exist.” (Hebrews 2:10) Surely the one who keeps all things existing can faithfully accomplish his perfect purposes through them. We can trust this God who works independently of all we see and know.
The doctrine of God’s independence is marvelously tied to the doctrine of grace. What can we say of a God who–though he has no inherent need of us–chooses to create, love, and save those who have rebelled against his perfect rule? What could be said of a God who humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross, for those he has no need of? Surely this God is rich in grace and love!
Just as God did not have to create us, neither did he have to save us. He–the Triune God–could have easily left us without hope, doomed to pay the just penalty for our rebellion. But he didn’t. Simply because of his love. This is amazing grace!
For those who have been redeemed by the blood of the lamb and brought into a right relationship with the Father, the doctrine of God’s independence is of great significance. Because of his independence, we can rest assured that though we continue to wrestle against sin and struggle with unfaithfulness, he will never forsake us! His love and grace are not dependent upon our faithfulness, but upon his perfect, faithful character. He has chosen–out of his own free will–to lavish his love upon us. Therefore, the forgiveness and sanctification he has promised to us are wholly based upon his unchanging character. Because of this, there is great reason to rejoice!