The Character of God

A friend of mine, Chris, a student in my Sunday School class several years ago, lost a friend from COVID early this year. Chris had prayed fervently for his friend, but God allowed the friend to die anyway. I shared Chris’ sadness as we talked together. He asked me to write an article addressing the question, “What is the character of God?’” The best place to discover the character of God is in His revelation, both His general revelation, creation, and in His specific revelation, the Bible.

What do we learn about God from Creation?

The universe is vast and ancient, but not infinite or eternal. It has space and time limits, a beginning and an end.[1] Therefore, we cannot look within the universe to find the origin of the universe. Our universe had to be caused by something or someone outside of itself. People who reject the possibility of God often assume that since our universe has come and will go, innumerable other universes must have existed from eternity past and will exist to eternity future, a “multiverse” hypothesis.[2] The more commonly held view in history, and the Christian view, is that a Being outside the universe, God, created our universe, and any other universes that may exist. Neither view can be confirmed by observation or experimentation from within our material universe, and therefore neither can be proved or disproved by what we today call science. Both views are philosophical rather than scientific, and people can choose to believe whichever they wish.

God created the “heavens and the earth,” and the beauty, power, and complexity of His creation reveals that God Himself is beautiful, powerful, and complex. To have made the universe, He must be incredibly intelligent and wonderfully wise, far more than mortal man. God’s creativity shines in the variety and synergy of His creation, from Challenger Deep to the Everest Summit, and from the Saharan fennec foxes to the Siberian salamander. The universe is orderly, subject to consistent physical laws which govern its physical behavior. Consequently, God’s creation, and God Himself, is discoverable by man. These “laws of nature” emanate from the orderly person of God. Furthermore, God made the earth specifically to support life. If any of a thousand physical forces had been even a hair different, for example, the force of gravity, life as we know it could not exist. It feels like God made the heavens and the earth for His purpose, and for our good. God did not have to create the universe, but He did. It is almost as if He loves His creation…and loves us.

What do we learn about God from the Scriptures?

The Holy Bible reveals the person of God more completely and accurately than anything else. It is also a large book, including at least 2,000 pages, each of which helps man know God better. Rather than trying to summarize the whole Bible in a few pages, our discussion will focus on one chapter, Psalm 52. In this passage, Doeg the Edomite and King Saul were in the priestly quarters near the town of Nob. Unwittingly, the priests had helped David the fugitive to escape with his men. Doeg the Edomite told King Saul what had happened, and Saul ordered Doeg the Edomite to massacre the priests and their families known as the “House of Ahimelech.” David discovered what had happened, and penned this psalm.

Verse 1b – Why do you boast in evil, O mighty man? The lovingkindness of God endures all day long.

King David, the Psalmist, begins by confronting Doeg the Edomite, and by extension King Saul, his powerful foes, with a bitter truth – their actions were evil. The men violated the righteousness, the perfect moral purity, of the Holy God. Doeg persisted in his evil boasting. Saul persisted in his unjust pursuit of David. Sin inevitably followed. Both men tried God’s lovingkindness and longsuffering towards them. The Lord is not willing that any should perish, even this evil man, but that all should come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9). However, He does not restrain His judgment forever.

Verses 2-4 – Your tongue devises destruction, Like a sharp razor, O worker of deceit. You love evil more than good, Falsehood more than speaking what is right. You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue.

Doeg, like all evil men, knew that words are mighty, defaming the honorable and defrauding the vulnerable. His tongue became a sharp razor, and his lips lied. The wicked man delights in wrongdoing, and his enemies bleed from his barbs. Evil men think they will prosper forever. And yet, God lays charges out before criminals (such as Doeg and Saul) as a judge would before a trial. Judgment awaits, The Holy One can never let sin go unpunished.

Verse 5 – But God will break you down forever; He will snatch you up and tear you away from your tent, and uproot you from the land of the living.

In the twinkling of an eye, God destroys the unholy one, removing his wealth, his success, his reputation, and finally his life. Worse, God “breaks him down” forever, with no hope of salvation unless he repents. The Lord’s action cannot be changed. History omits the final departure of Doeg the Edomite, but Saul met his end in battle (1 Sam 31:1-6). The judgment of the wicked is certain, but the timing is not. David had to wait approximately fifteen years, with great hardship and discouragement, for God to finally uproot Saul. In His longsuffering, God allows evil men, such as Saul and Doeg, to prosper in the hopes that they will repent.

Verses 6-7 – The righteous will see and fear, and will laugh at him, saying, “Behold, the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and was strong in his evil desire.”

God’s people, like David, who have been crying out to their Father to punish the wicked, will see the final ruin of those who hate Him. Those who see the judgment of the wicked will fear God’s righteousness because they are people of unclean lips (Isaiah 6:1); their righteous deeds are as worthless as filthy (menstrual) rags (Isaiah 64:6). Those who follow Christ will laugh in joy that they fall under Jesus’ righteousness and escape the Father’s wrath. But this laughter is not mean-spirited, and believers will not rejoice in the destruction of their enemies (Job 31:29).

We have learned from Psalm 52 that God is holy and righteous. He is also patient and loving, even towards the wicked. This psalm depicts a God who is all-knowing and utterly powerful. This passage is about judgment on evil men, but it is also about the murder of innocent people, the priests and their families. As Chris prayed for his loved one, so the priests, their wives and children, their friends, and others in their community undoubtedly prayed to God to stay the hands of Saul and Doeg. And yet God did not; He allowed the horror to continue. Despite this tragedy, and this injustice, Psalm 52 depicts a God who is holy, righteous, patient, and loving. As with Job, the Psalmist does not attempt to explain why God allowed this massacre, but affirms God’s perfect character despite the massacre. He expects us to trust God even when, and especially when, we don’t understand. We trust in God, not in what we expect Him to do for us.

Verses 8-9 – But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever. I will give You thanks forever, because You have done it, and I will wait on Your name, for it is good, in the presence of Your godly ones.

King David, the Psalmist, did not see himself as a towering oak, mighty in God’s service, but as a green olive tree, bearing fruit because of the bountiful provision of the Lord. Psalm 52 ends as it begins, praising God for His amazing love, and trusting Him no matter what happens. Notice that David did not trust God to give him what he expected, as if God were bound to the desires of man. Rather, David trusted the person, the character of God. God, the Pearl of Great Price (Matt 13:45-46) and the Hidden Treasure (Matt 13:44), is our goal and our joy. We can have Him freely and fully, so we need never settle for any less. But God does everything in His time, not ours. To fail to wait is to fail to trust.

Conclusion

What is the character of God? He is eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, and infinite. His wisdom, knowledge, and creativity are beyond our grasp. He is utterly holy and will not tolerate any evil. Yet, time and again we read of His amazing love and His provision for His creation…even we wicked and rebellious humans. God has good things in this life for those who follow Him, and He has far more blessings in the life to come. Terrible trials will come, as David faced when fleeing from Saul, as the priests and their families faced while being murdered by Doeg the Edomite. Our Lord loves us. He will carry us through the trials and then safely home. Then, we shall see Christ Himself, the ultimate goal of our faith.

[1] Scientists estimate that our universe was “born” at the Big Bang and has existed roughly fourteen billion years. Though some would dispute this number, the point is not the age of the universe, but that the universe is not eternal.

[2] There are many problems with the multiverse hypothesis, not the least of which is that each of those universes would also have to have a beginning and an end. It pushes the question of ultimate origins back but does not solve it.

Author: MD Harris Family Institute

MD, MPH, MBA, MDiv Colonel, US Army (ret)

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