I said last week that for the next few weeks I’d like to do a series of talks on the attributes of God to answer the question: ‘What is God like?’ However, last week we were thinking, not so much about what God is like, but about who God is. God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In other words, we spent our time last week thinking about the Trinity.
Today I want to focus on what the theologians refer to as God’s aseity. The word aseity comes from the Latin a se which means ‘from self’. And when we talk about God’s aseity, we mean that God is independent. He’s self-sufficient. He doesn’t rely or depend on anyone or anything outside of himself.
Think of our own existence in comparison. None of us would exist if it were not for our parents from whom we came. And when we were in our mother’s womb, we were sustained by her. When we were born, we would not have survived without our parents who fed us and cared for us, providing us with everything we needed as we grew up. And every day of our life we need food and drink to sustain us. And therefore we rely on the weather to enable the crops to grow. We rely on farmers who work in the fields and who mind the crops and their livestock. We rely on those who prepare our food and who transport it to the shops. We rely on the shop-owners and workers to sell us our food. We need money to buy food and everything else we need. We also need shelter from the elements. As we were growing up, we needed people to teach us what’s right and wrong and how to behave well. And we needed teachers in school to teach us how to read and count and to teach us about history and geography and French and so on. And we rely on books and the internet for knowledge. Perhaps our eye-sight isn’t good and so we rely on the optician to advise us and on glasses to help us see correctly. And I could go on and on, but you get the point, don’t you? None of us is independent or self-sufficient. We’re not self-contained. We rely on other people and other things all the time. And, of course, the world and everything in it depends on the Lord God Almighty, who made the world and who sustains all things day after day. Humans are dependent creatures. But God depends on no-one and nothing outside of himself.
Think of the story from Exodus 3 which we read I moment ago. Moses saw the burning bush and went over to take a closer look. And the Lord called to him from the bush and told Moses that he had seen the misery of his people and he had come to rescue them. And so, he was sending Moses to lead the people out of Egypt. ‘Who am I that you’re sending me?’ Moses asked. And the Lord reassured him that he would be with Moses. ‘And what will I say if the Israelites ask your name?’ You see, at that time the Israelites were worshipping other gods. And so, one person might say ‘My god is Baal’ and another person might say ‘My god is Dagon’. And so on. So, they might ask Moses: ‘Which god do you mean? What’s his name?’
And so the Lord instructed Moses to say, ‘My God is “I am who I am”.’ It’s an unusual name, isn’t it? But the commentators are generally agreed that this name — ‘I am who I am’ — speaks to us of God’s independence. It conveys the idea that the Lord doesn’t rely or depend on anyone or anything outside of himself for his existence. One commentator puts it this way:
the greatest and best man in the world must say, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’
The greatest and best person in the world must say:
I’m utterly dependent on God to sustain me; and whatever gifts I possess have come to me from God; whatever successes I enjoy have been granted to me by God. I am what I am because of God.
But God doesn’t say that. He doesn’t say:
I’m utterly dependent on someone else; and whatever gifts I possess have come to me from someone else; and whatever successes I enjoy have been granted to me by someone else. I am what I am because of someone else.
God doesn’t say that. He says:
I am what I am. I rely on no one else. I am dependent on no one at all.
That’s what this name conveys. So, the Lord was saying to Moses that he doesn’t rely or depend on anyone or on anything for his existence. And the word LORD in capital letters in our Bibles — or Yahweh in Hebrew — means ‘He is’ or ‘He is what he is’. And ‘I am who I am’ and ‘He is what he is’ are clearly related, because they’re different forms of the verb ‘to be’. So God says about himself: ‘I am who I am’ and we say about God: ‘He is what he is’. And so, every time we see ‘the LORD’ in capital letters in our Bibles, we should remember that one of the things that name conveys to us is the idea of God’s independence.
Being, knowledge and works
Think of God’s being or his existence. His being or his existence is without beginning. This is implied by Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1 which tell us that in the beginning, before anything was created, God already existed. And that’s important for the idea of God’s aseity, because if God had a beginning, then that would imply that someone or something created him. In other words, he would have depended on someone else or something else for his own existence and that other person or thing would have made him, the way Aaron and the Israelites made the golden calf at Mount Sinai. So someone would have shaped him and formed him and made him what he is. But God was not made by anyone; and he owes his existence to no one. As the Lord Jesus tells us in John 5:26, the Father has life in himself and has granted the Son — and we could add granted the Spirit as well — to have life in himself. God doesn’t rely on anything or anyone outside of himself for life or for his existence.
And God doesn’t rely on anything or anyone outside of himself for his knowledge. We have to learn things about ourselves and the world. And, for that, we must rely on people to teach us, whether it’s in person or through books. And scientists and others who know much more about the world than us don’t get their knowledge intuitively. They have to study the world around them. In other words, they rely on the world itself and on the results of their observations and experiments for knowledge. And our knowledge of the world today is the accumulation of what other people have discovered about it in the past. But God doesn’t rely on anything or anyone outside of himself for knowledge, because he knows all things, having determined and planned all things himself. When we make a new discovery about the world, all we’re discovering is something which God already knew from all eternity. And he doesn’t rely on anyone else to tell him what is true, because he has determined what is true.
And God doesn’t rely on anything or anyone to teach him about ethics and to show him what is right and wrong and good and evil. We rely on other people to teach us these things. And so, our parents bring us up to know what’s right and wrong. They taught us how to behave in the right way; and they disciplined us when we did what was wrong. As we get older, we come across new moral issues and we seek guidance from other people on how to decide what’s right and wrong for each new issue. And we have God’s law to direct us and the Holy Spirit to help us to do what’s right. But God does not rely on anyone else for guidance about what is good or evil. He knows himself what is right and wrong, because he is, in himself, righteous and good.
So, no one made God. No one taught him anything. No one told him what is good and what is evil. Or think of it this way. We confess that God is infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. But no one made God infinite or eternal or unchangeable in his being and no one made him wise or powerful or holy or just or good or true. No one made him what he is. He does not depend on anything or anyone outside of himself to be what he is.
And, of course, when he made the world, he did not rely on anything outside of himself, because he made the world from nothing. He didn’t have to start with some kind of primeval stuff, which he then moulded and shaped and bent into place. No, he created the world from nothing.
And he didn’t need any help, because all he had to do to create the world was to speak. He said the word and it was done. Indeed, he said to Job in Job 38:4: ‘Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?’ Well, there was no one there when he laid the earth’s foundation; and he didn’t need anyone to help him or to advise him.
Doesn’t Need Us
And since he made all things, then he possesses all things. The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, says the Psalmist in Psalm 24. The cattle on a thousand hills belongs to him. And every good thing we possess has come to us from him, as James teaches us in James 1:17.
And so, when we give him anything — when in the past people brought animal sacrifices to the Lord; or when we bring our offerings to church; or when we give ourselves to him to love and serve him always — we’re only giving him what he has already given us.
And what’s more, he doesn’t need us. We need him for everything, because in him we live and move and have our being. But he doesn’t need us. That’s one of the points Paul made when he was in Athens. Athens was filled with idols, which the people had made. And the people would bring gifts and present them before their idols. But Paul taught them that there’s a God who made the world and everything in it. And he’s the Lord of heaven and earth. And he doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. And he isn’t served by human hands, as if he needed anything from us. In fact, instead of needing something from us, he gives us everything we need, including our life and breathe.
So, he doesn’t need us. As he says in Psalm 50: ‘I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens.’ The people used to bring him bulls and goats to offer to the Lord. But he didn’t need bulls and goats, because every animal of the forest belongs to him. He doesn’t need us or anything from us.
In fact, he didn’t need to make us. It’s not as if God was missing something in himself and he needed to create the world and us in order to make up for what was lacking in himself. What might God have needed? Fellowship? He had that from all eternity, because God is not an isolated individual, but a Trinity of Three Persons. And in John 17:24, the Lord Jesus, who is God the Son, spoke of the Father’s love for him before the world was made. The three persons of the Trinity have loved one another from all eternity with a perfect love.
What else might God have needed from us? Glory? Again the Lord Jesus refers to the glory that he had before the world existed. The three persons of the Trinity possessed perfect glory from all eternity. There was nothing lacking in God, because our God is a perfect being.
And so, this is the wonder of God’s grace. He did not need us, but he made us. And he did not need to save us from our sin and misery or to promise us eternal life in his presence, but he has. He does not need us, but he wanted us and set his love upon us and he bound himself to us and promised to save us by his Son. In Exodus 3, after revealing the name, ‘I am who I am’, the Lord went on to refer to himself as ‘the God of your fathers’. And that name reveals his commitment to his people. He appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and promised to be their God and the God of their descendants and the one who would do all things necessary to bring them into his presence forever.
This is our God. He does not depend on anything or anyone outside of himself. But he has freely and graciously bound himself to his people to be our God and to give us eternal life in his presence by his Son. And so, to him belongs praise and honour and worship forever and forever because of his kindness to us in Jesus Christ our Saviour.