Since the end of August we’ve been studying the attributes of God to answer the question, ‘What is God like?’ We began, however, not with an attribute, but with who God is. God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. However, there are not three gods, but there is only one God. He is one God in three persons; and the three persons of the Trinity possess the one divine essence so that there is no difference between the Father and the Son and the Spirit. That means that whatever we say of the Father is true of the Son and of the Spirit. The only difference between them is in terms of their relations, because only the Father is unbegotten; and only the Son is begotten by the Father; and only the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Apart from those relations, the Father and the Son and the Spirit are the same; and they are one God.
After that, we thought about God’s aseity, which means he does not rely on anyone or anything outside of himself for anything. He is independent and self-sufficient. You and I rely on other people and on other things all of the time. For instance, when we were young we relied on our parents. And every day we need food to sustain us. When we’re sick, we need doctors and nurses to care for us. And there are all kinds of other things and people we rely on every day. And, of course, the world and everything in it depends on God to sustain all things day by day. But God relies on no-one and nothing.
Then we thought about God’s simplicity, which means he cannot be divided into parts. All of us are made up of different parts, because we’re made up of body and soul. And though we’re all human, we’re all different, because all of us are made up of different parts or different attributes. One person is tall and another is short. One person has dark hair and another person has fair hair. One person is wise and another person is foolish. But God is not made up of parts and his nature and his attributes are one and the same. So, what he is and the way that he is are one and the same. So, by nature he is good and by nature he is holy and by nature he is wise and so on. This is what he is by nature. And he cannot cease to be good and holy and wise, because that’s what he is.
And then we thought about God’s goodness, which includes his kindness to all of his creation and his steadfast love and his mercy and grace towards his people in particular. We also thought about his holiness, which means he is set apart from his creation. He’s set apart from us in terms of his majestic transcendence, because he is so much greater than his creation. And he’s set up from us in terms of his moral purity, because he alone is perfectly pure. He is above and beyond everything he has created and he is set apart from all that is evil.
And then we thought about God’s omnipresence which means he is present everywhere all at once. It’s not that part of him is present with me in one place and part of him is present with you in another place. He cannot be divided into parts and he’s therefore present everywhere with all of his being. He fills and surrounds all things all of the time with all of his being.
And he’s immutable, which means he cannot change. You and I change all of the time, but God is unchangeable in his being and he’s unchangeable in all his perfections and in his plans and purposes and in what he wills and decrees and knows. But that doesn’t mean he’s immobile or rigidly frozen, because he is always active in the world and in our lives.
And our God is impassible, which means he is without passions and he cannot undergo changes of emotion and he cannot suffer. All kinds of things happen which affect how we feel. Something makes us happy and something else makes us sad. Our mood changes throughout the day. But God is not affected in any way by anything outside of himself. This does not mean he is cold and indifferent. It’s just the opposite: he’s full of love and joy and delight and he’s always full of love and joy and delight and nothing we do can change that about him.
We also thought about God’s knowledge. God knows himself and he knows all other things perfectly. And his knowledge is unchangeable. Our knowledge accumulates over time as we experience and learn new things. But God’s knowledge does not accumulate over time, because he knew everything before it existed. And he knew everything before it existed because he planned everything before it existed. I won’t know what will happen in my life tomorrow until it happens, but he knows what will happen in my life tomorrow because he has planned it.
And God is omnipotent, which means he can do all things. Nothing is too hard for him and everything is under his power and control.
And then we thought about God’s will and we learned that everything derives from God’s will. It is the ultimate cause of all things, because by his will he has determined all things. He has decided what should exist and what those things will be like and what will happen to those things. And he has decided who should exist and what they will be like and what will happen to them.
And we also thought about God’s eternity. He does not have a beginning or an end and his existence is not a succession of moments which can be divided up into past, present and future. He does not exist in time, because he made time and he’s exalted above time. He’s not limited by time in any way. Whereas we talk about before and after, there’s no before or after with God, because everything is present to him. Whereas we are controlled by time, God is able to use time to display to us his eternal glory.
And the last attribute we studied together was God’s justice or righteousness. The Lord is just and righteous in all his ways and everything he does is just and right.
So, we’ve studied a lot of things together. And we study these things so that we will know our God better. And knowing him better means we will love and praise him more. As the theologians sometimes say, theology leads to doxology. Studying God leads to worshipping God.
Today we come to the final attribute in this series, which is perhaps the culmination of all the others, because today we’re thinking about God’s blessedness. God’s blessedness, like everything else about him, is infinite and eternal and unchangeable. Therefore, when we talk about God’s blessedness, we’re talking about the way he is infinitely and eternally and unchangeably happy. He is eternally in a state of delight. He is eternally happy and joyful. He is in complete harmony with himself and experiences supreme satisfaction in himself.
Compare his experience with our own common experience. There are always things which keep us from being perfectly happy. There are things nagging at the back of our mind which disturb our sense of peace and contentment. Little thoughts or memories or fears. There are memories of things we did which makes us feel shame or embarrassment. There are memories of things other people did to us which make us feel sad or angry. There are events which happened in the past, even long ago, which still affect us today. And then there are fears about the future; and those fears are always on our mind. And there’s that thing we have to do, which we’ve been putting off, but it really needs to happen and until it happens we can’t get any peace. And then there are things which happen which spoil our plans and disappoint us. There are things we would like to do, but we can’t do them for whatever reason and we’re frustrated with ourselves and with our circumstances. There are all kinds of things which spoil our mood and keep us from being perfectly happy. But there’s nothing which can disturb God’s happiness.
The Bible uses the words ‘bless’ and ‘blessed’ in different ways. The ESV version of Psalm 103 begins with the words, ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul….’ David is talking to himself and he’s telling himself to praise God. And so, the NIV translates the same verse as, ‘Praise the Lord, O my soul….’ And throughout the Psalms, we’re commanded to bless the Lord. That is, we’re to praise him. We’re to give thanks to him. The ESV version of Ephesians 1 says, ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ….’ Paul is telling us that God deserves our praise.
So, that’s one way the word ‘bless’ is used in the Bible. Then we have the way it’s used in places like Psalm 1 which begins with the words, ‘Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked….’ And we have the beatitudes at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven….’ And so on. We could replace the word ‘blessed’ with the word ‘happy’. So, happy is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked and happy are those who are poor in spirit. But in those examples, the word ‘blessed’ is applied to human beings.
But in two places, the word ‘blessed’ is applied to God. So, in 1 Timothy 1:11, Paul refers to the glorious gospel of the blessed God. And in 1 Timothy 6:15+16 Paul refers to God in this way:
the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.
When used in this way, the word ‘blessed’ refers to God’s eternal blessedness. He alone is infinitely and eternally and unchangeable happy and joyful. He is supremely satisfied in himself. He is completely in harmony with himself and he has no sorrows. According to Paul in 1 Timothy 6, God is the only ruler and the King of kings and Lord of lords. So, he is sovereign, exalted as ruler over all. And he is immortal so that he cannot die. And he is majestic in his transcendence so that no one can approach him. But more than that: he is also blessed. One of the theologians says that God is above all worlds in the happy land of the Trinity.
I said that this attribute is the culmination of the others. In fact, in the past, when theologians were writing their systematic theologies, they put God’s blessedness at the end of what they said about God’s attributes. And they did this because God’s blessedness sums up the rest of God’s attributes. So, if we were to think about all of God’s attributes and then ask what word could we use to describe the being who possesses all of these attributes perfectly, the most suitable word is the word ‘blessed’.
Why are we so often sad? Because we rely on other people and things for what we need and they can let us down. But God does not rely on anything or anyone outside of himself. He’s never in need. And none of us is perfectly good like God. And so, we do mean things to other people and feel bad about it afterwards. But God is perfectly good. And we’re not holy like God and we’re not perfectly righteous and just like God. And so, we do things which are not right. And afterwards, we feel bad about ourselves. But God is just and righteous in all his ways; he never has to worry that what he did was not right. And we’re often frustrated because we can’t be in two places at once, but God is present everywhere all at once. And we’re sad because, as we get older, we change and become weaker. But God does not change or diminish. And we don’t know everything and our ignorance gets us into trouble, but God knows all things perfectly and unchangeably. Often we’re frustrated because we’re not omnipotent or because there’s something we want to do, but we run out of time. But God can do all things and he’s exalted over time. And then, when we make our plans, they are often disrupted for all kinds of reasons. However, God’s will determines all things and his will is never frustrated.
And think about this question for a moment. Why did God make us? Why did he make the world and everything in it, including us? Was he lonely without us and did he need our company? Was he bored without us and did he need something to do? Did he need us? In the past, some have thought that God did need us, because how can God display his love without having something to love? However, God did not need us, because God has always been one God in three persons; and the Father and the Son and the Spirit have loved one another eternally and God has always been completely happy and content in himself.
And so, do you see? What one word could sum up this God who is infinitely and eternally and unchangeably like this and who is never in need and never frustrated? The only word is the word ‘blessed’. How blessed he must be! How blessed he must be to be like this and never to be in need and never to be anxious or troubled or threatened in any way by anything.
Having said that, the theologians suggest there are actually two words which sum up all of God’s attributes. Considered outwardly, or from our point of view, all of God’s attributes can be summed up by the word ‘glory’. So, when we think about what God is like, we’re struck by his glory. And when he appeared to his people in the past, as recorded for us in the Bible, they were overwhelmed with his glory which shone forth like a bright light to dazzle them. However, considered inwardly, considered in relation to himself, all of God’s attributes can be summed up by the word ‘blessed’. Because of who and what he is, God is forever blessed. So, ‘blessedness’ refers to his inner sense of his own perfections, whereas ‘glory’ refers to the revelation of his perfections to us.
Talking about God’s blessedness, which is infinite and eternal and unchangeable, is like talking about his impassibility and how God cannot undergo changes in emotion and he’s not affected by anything outside of himself. And so, two questions arise in connection with his blessedness which also arose in connection with his impassibility.
The first question is about how to understand those places in the Bible where it speaks about God regretting something or being sorrowful about something or being angry. There are places where it speaks about God as if he were less than happy. How should we understand those things? And the answer is that from time to time God uses human language and human expressions in order to communicate his truth to us in a way we can understand. Just as an adult will adapt how she speaks to a child so that the child will understand what the adult wants to communicate, so God adapts or accommodates his language to help us understand what he wants to communicate. So, when God says in the Bible that he regrets something or he was sorrowful about something or something made him angry, he’s communicating to us in a way we can understand that our actions are sinful. And his wrath is not a sudden urge of passion which overtakes him the way anger overtakes us. God doesn’t ever lose control of himself because of something we have done. He doesn’t ever lose his blessedness. Wrath, for God, is not a sudden urge of passion, but, as Geerhardus Vos says, it’s an evenly strong yet lasting and rational impulse of God’s holy will. In other words, God’s wrath is the decree of God to punish unrepentant sinners. And so, when the Bible attributes unhappy emotions to God, we are not to take these descriptions literally, because to take them literally would be to deny that God is infinitely and eternally and unchangeably happy.
And the second question is related to Christ’s suffering. God is infinitely and eternally and unchangeably blessed. But Jesus Christ, God’s Son, was a man of sorrows who was familiar with suffering. In the Garden of Gethsemane he wept; and he suffered under Pontius Pilate; and he suffered in our place God’s wrath for our sins. If God the Son suffered like this, how can we say that God is unchangeably happy? And the answer to this question is the same as what we said about God’s impassibility. The Son of God did not suffer as God, but he suffered as man. As God, he’s both eternally and unchangeably impassible and blessed. But as man, the Lord Jesus is passible and he was able to suffer and to die for us and for our salvation.
And that brings me to today’s conclusion. I said earlier that God did not need to make us. It wasn’t as if God was missing something, or that he was in need, and that he had to make us in order to fill up what was missing in his life. No, before he made us, God was perfectly happy in himself. So, he did not need to make us.
And the same goes for our salvation. God did not need to save us from the punishment we deserve for our sins. He did not need to give us eternal life. It’s not as if something was missing from his life and he could only fill up that hole in his life by saving us. That’s the way we sometimes think about our lives. We feel that something is missing. There’s a hole in my life. There’s some unfulfilled longing or desire and I won’t ever be satisfied until that longing is fulfilled. That’s the way we sometimes think and feel. But God is not like that. He has been perfectly happy in himself from all eternity. And his perfect blessedness would not be affected if we were not saved. And so, he did not need to save us to make himself happy or to give himself joy or satisfaction. And he did not need to save us to save himself from sadness. And saving us does not increase his happiness, because how could his happiness increase when it is infinite and eternal and unchangeable? Our sin does not hurt God in any way; and our salvation does not add to God in any way.
But it’s here that we see the grace of God; the kindness of God; the overflowing love of God to sinners. He did not need to love us, but he chose to love us. He did not need to save us, but he chose to save us. He did not need to give us eternal life, but he freely sent his only begotten Son into the world so that we might have eternal life with him. And his only Begotten Son, who is eternally blessed, became one of us. And as one of us, he became a man of sorrows who was familiar with suffering. And he suffered and died for you so that you might be spared the suffering you deserve for a lifetime of sin and rebellion. And because of what he suffered as one of us, in our place, we’re able to read in Revelation 14:13:
Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on….
Believers who die are blessed, because after we die, Christ our Saviour brings us into the presence of God to enjoy perfect peace and rest for ever and for ever. In this life, we will have many troubles and trials and sorrow and suffering. But because of Christ who suffered as one of us, in our place, and whose body was broken and whose blood was shed, we receive the hope of everlasting life and the hope of everlasting blessedness in the presence of the blessed Trinity.