Comforts Found in the Moral Attributes of God

God not only possesses non-moral attributes, which describe God’s essence of being; but God also possesses what are termed moral attributes. These attributes demonstrate the moral qualities of God. The moral attributes describe how God relates to individuals. Whereas the non-moral attributes depict the awesome power of God, the moral attributes demonstrate the personal qualities of God. This post will examine each of the nine moral attributes as given in John S. Feinberg’s book No One Like Him, and will provide comforts that the modern Christian can find in each of these divine moral qualities.

holiness

Holiness

Feinberg notes that “Scripture offers a two-fold picture of divine holiness. On the one hand, God is holy in that he is distinct or separate from everything else…other passages that speak of his holiness may be seen as referring to his majesty.”[1] Isaiah writes “For the High and Exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy says this: ‘I live in a high and holy place, and with the oppressed and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the oppressed'” (Isaiah 57:15). The believer can take comfort in knowing that God is higher than the problems of life. While individuals may become victims of the evil treachery of the wicked, God will eventually judge the wicked. Those who are wicked may be able to act in horrific ways now, but there is coming a day when every person will give an account of his or her life. God will not be bribed (2 Chronicles 19:7) and God will not be mocked (Galatians 6:7).

Righteousness

Feinberg defines God’s righteousness as His “moral purity…he has established a moral order for the universe, and he treats all creatures fairly.”[2] In fact, the book of Deuteronomy states that God is “the great, mighty, and awesome God, showing no partiality and taking no bribe” (Deuteronomy 10:17). It is also said that God “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2). Therefore, the Christian can take comfort in knowing that God’s moral character will not change. Often some individuals will act in fashions that are contrary to their character. For instance, good people will at times act in an unfavorable way. Bad people will sometimes act friendly. However, God is God; and God will never change. That fact can provide great stability to a life found in chaos.

Love-of-God1

Love

John famously wrote that “God is love” (1 John 4:16). God has a love all people. While it is noted that this love may be in greater or lesser degrees, as with Jacob and Esau (Romans 9:13), Feinberg notes that “The NT teaches that God’s love extends to all people, not just to those who trust him.”[3] John indicates as much when he wrote that “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). Some would claim that God’s wrath discredit’s God’s love in some fashion. However, this need not be the case. Tony Lane indicates that wrath may be a natural function of love as “there is not true love without wrath…Failure to hate evil implies a deficiency in love.”[4] Lane brings forth a compelling point. No one would ever think that a parent could be termed loving who willingly allows his or her child to suffer abuse without repercussions to the offender. Such actions would not constitute love, but something far worse. Thus, God’s judgment towards those who remain rebellious is found perfectly in the heart of love.

Grace

Feinberg states that grace is “best understood as unmerited favor.”[5] The great grace of God was involved in one’s salvation, for “you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift” (Ephesians 2:8). Some individuals live under the impression that they are owed something: someone owes them a living, or a corporation owes them particular benefits. However, when an individual understands that they do not deserve salvation or heaven, one can appreciate the great grace that God has bestowed upon such a one. Jesus said that “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him” (Luke 11:13). Salvation is not deserved. Salvation is a gift given by God to individuals.

Mercy

Related to the concept of grace is that of mercy. Feinberg compares mercy to grace in that “Both involve unmerited favor, but the difference is that whereas grace may be given to those who are miserable and desperately in need of help, it may also be given to those who have no particular need. On the other hand, mercy is given specifically to those whose condition is miserable and one of great need.”[6] It is not a popular thing in polite society to proclaim that people deserve to go to hell, but that is exactly what the Scriptures indicate as “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). When a Christian understands what it is that he or she really deserves, such a one will earnestly appreciate the great loving mercy demonstrated by God in saving them. The word saved begins to take on a new meaning.

longsuffering1

Longsuffering

Longsuffering is best understood as God’s “patience toward us.”[7] One of the fruit of the Spirit is indicated as patience in Galatians 5:22. Paul indicates that God “endured with much patience objects of wrath ready for destruction” (Romans 9:22) and Peter writes that “the Lord does not delay His promise as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Comfort can be found in that while evil is present and often goes unpunished; God will rectify all things in the end. God is patient desiring all that would be given the opportunity to come to Him. However, at some point in the future, God will bring justice to those who do evil. Just because God has not judged yet, does not indicate that He never will.

Goodness

Feinberg indicates that the major point concerning God’s goodness in the Scriptures is that “God is concerned about the well-being of his creatures and does things to promote it.”[8] Paul Moser writes that God’s goodness would include “uncoerced human volitional…cooperation with God…To that end, God would want people to be related to God on perfectly loving terms that exclude selfishness and pride and advance unselfish love toward all agents.”[9] While theologians may argue the uncoerced aspect of Moser’s assessment, almost all would agree that God advances unselfish love towards His children. Each Christian can find comfort in knowing that God is indeed good.

Lovingkindness

Due to the other attributes listed, one can obtain a good picture of what God’s lovingkindness would be. The believer could easily pray along with David, “God, Your faithful love is so valuable that people take refuge in the shadow of Your wings” (Psalm 36:7). While the world becomes increasingly hostile, the Christian can take comfort in knowing that God will always be loving and kind towards His children. Even when God must discipline, His actions are performed with kind motives.

Proclaiming Truth Square

Truth

Truth speaks of things as they really exist. In this note, Feinberg describes God as a “God of truth. He knows the truth and only speaks the truth.”[10]  God is a reality. God is the source of all things. Thus, God knows things as they really exist. God is the ultimate source for reality. Since God is transcendent, God knows all things that was, are, what will be, and even what could be. God’s truth extends from God’s omniscience and omnisapience. In addition, it is impossible for God to lie (Titus 1:2). Therefore, when Jesus said that “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32), then it can be trusted that God will lead us in the right paths and inform of certain realities. The great comfort found for the Christian is in the fact that God can be trusted. Those things that God promises will come to be. The Christian does not have to worry about whether the truths of God can fail or falter. They can rest in the great comfort that the promises of God are certain realities from the Certain Reality.

 

Conclusion

While the non-moral attributes of God demonstrate God’s awesome power and complex being, the moral attributes of God provide comfort like no other. The non-moral attributes stretch the powers of the mind, whereas the moral attributes of God stretch the depths of the heart. The theologian and Christian leader owes it to individuals to teach them about God’s moral attributes. It may be that one has suffered from infidelity and needs to know that God is always faithful. Another may have suffered from great wickedness and desperately needs to know that God still loves them and will bring justice to their assailants. People need the comfort that can only be provided in knowing the moral attributes of God.

 Note: This work represents the academic work of Pastor Brian Chilton. The contents of this article have been submitted to the author’s university. Any attempt to improperly use the information found within this article for academic papers without proper citation may result in charges of plagiarism.

Bibliography

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Nashville: Holman     Bible Publishers, 2009.

Feinberg, John S. No One Like Him: Doctrine of God, Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Lane, Tony. “The Wrath of God as an Aspect of the Love of God.” In Nothing Greater, Nothing Better: Theological Essays on the Love of God. Grand Rapids, Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001.

Moser, Paul K. “Evidence of a Morally Perfect God.” In God is Great, God is Good: Why Believing in God is Reasonable and Responsible. Edited by William Lane Craig and Chad Meister. Downers Grove: IVP, 2009.

Copyright. Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014

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Footnotes

[1] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: Doctrine of God, Foundations of Evangelical Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 341.

[2] Ibid, 345.

[3] Ibid, 351.

[4] Tony Lane, “The Wrath of God as an Aspect of the Love of God,” in Nothing Greater, Nothing Better: Theological Essays on the Love of God (Grand Rapids, Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001), 159-160.

[5] Feinberg, 354.

[6] Ibid, 359.

[7] Ibid, 362.

[8] Ibid, 366.

[9] Paul K. Moser, “Evidence of a Morally Perfect God,” in God is Great, God is Good: Why Believing in God is Reasonable and Responsible, William Lane Craig and Chad Meister, ed (Downers Grove: IVP, 2009), 59.

[10] Feinberg, 370.

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