There might not be a more important question than, “Who is God?” When we ask that question, we tend to mean, “What is God like?”
While we may have some favorite influencer or philosopher we like to consult for such questions, the best source for answering “Who is God?” is God himself. Thankfully, God has told us about himself in his Word, the Bible.
This means that we don’t have to resort to speculation, experience, or guesswork for the answer. We can sit down—right now—and listen to God tell us about himself. Just pick up the Bible and read what he has to say.
Christian scholars throughout the centuries have collected everything God says about himself in the Bible, and they have catalogued them into easy-to-remember categories called “attributes.” The attributes of God are the many terms we use to describe God’s character and nature.
Christians traditionally separate God’s attributes into two categories: those attributes that can be true only of God (his incommunicable attributes) and those attributes that God shares with humans (his communicable attributes). Put simply, these are characteristics about God that are like us or unlike us.
For example, God has all power. The Bible calls him “almighty.” Here is God speaking about himself in Revelation 1:8 (NIV):
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Sometimes we use the more complex term “omnipotence” to speak of this, but it’s easier to say God is “all-powerful.” Regardless of the term, this attribute describes a Being who has every ounce of power that exists in all creation and beyond. Clearly there can’t be more than one Being who has all the power. Therefore, this is an attribute that only God can possess. God alone is omnipotent, so we call his omnipotence one of his incommunicable attributes.
On the other hand, God also has attributes like love (1 John 4:8), and humans share in this attribute. The Bible calls God gracious, merciful, kind, forgiving, among other things. These traits that we possess with him, because we are made in his image, are examples of his communicable attributes.
Interestingly, some Christians have labeled these two categories of attributes differently, as God’s metaphysical attributes (what God is in himself) and his moral attributes (what God commands of us, in reflecting his nature).
We hope you enjoy discovering all the ways God describes himself to us in his Word. But keep in mind, we don’t just read about these attributes so we can fill our heads with facts. We study God’s nature so we can love him for who he is, and better bear his image as we love others (Genesis 1:27-27; Matthew 22:38-40).
We don’t learn about the attributes of God to exercise our minds, but to engage our hearts. As we contemplate God’s incommunicable attributes, we learn that he is worthy of all our trust and praise. And as we study his communicable attributes, we learn how better to serve him and bring him glory in the world.