This is the second instalment on the sermon series of the “Attributes of God.” Today’s is on aseity. Unlike grace or wrath which is relatively easy to understand and well know characteristics of God aseity among others are deep theological concepts that very few Christians outside seminary are aware of but every Christian should study. The full appreciation of the Bible is not limited to the understanding of culture and language but also to the deeper theological issues. It is with that in mind that this sermon series was begun. Aseity is defined as the theological concept that “refers to the property by which a being exists in and of itself, from itself, or exists as so-and-such of and from itself.” This is often symbolised by a horizontal 8 which in mathematics is a symbol of constant, never beginning and never ending. In logic terms put forth by Plato, Aristotle, or Augustine it could be represented in the concept of energy. Energy has no beginning or end but just transforms into something else. The same is the characteristic of God; He has no beginning or end but always was. In the Old Testament when Moses goes before God in the burning bush he asks what he should tell the Hebrews when they ask God’s name and the Lord responds “I AM that I AM” this implies that God was in the beginning, is now, and ever more shall be (Ex 3:12).
The study of Aseity has been formalised by rabbi’s and Greek philosophers for thousands of years. It was picked up by Christendom in the Middle Ages and Islam as well. Aseity has two aspects, both positive and negative. These two aspects come under absolute independence and self existence. The negative (not implying an emotion but rather a theological, mathematic, scientific, and logical constant) is that God has no beginning outside of itself, He was; there is nothing that caused Him to come into being. This is a very different concept from the Greek and Roman mythology that states even the gods and titans had beginnings that started in chaos (the great void). In the positive angle God is completely self sufficient, not needing anything outside of Himself to qualify or quantify His existence or needs; since He has none of the later. Humanity has no real issue imagining having no end, immortality. But the issue lies in the concept of a being that always was, that has no beginning. The human brain cannot comprehend it because it is out of our nature-we are a species designed around a beginning and an end. But there is another facet of God’s aseitic being and that is God is incapable of changing. It is often referenced that God cannot lie, He cannot contradict Himself because of His aseitic Self. But this aseity extends to His self, many Jewish philosophers believe that the Living God is absent of spatial, bodily, or temporal materials save His incarnate form as Jesus Christ.
Now for the emotional side of aseity; As theologians of the Roman Catholic Church began to expand their understanding they began to theorise that God was unemotional, impassable. This was a theory popularised by the likes of Gregory of Nyssa and Thomas Aquinas. But what is the Biblical basis for aseity? I have referenced the most popular one, the burning bush introduction but let’s go back to the beginning and look at several key verses in the Old Testament and of course how they point to Christ. In the New Testament aseity is not focused on as much because the predominant message of the New Testament is salvation and rightly so. Unfortunately it is an often neglected analysis in the NT but we will eventually get to that point in the journey.
“In the beginning God…” Genesis 1:1. Here we see that God already existed even before the beginning, before the beginning of man, the earth, the universe and time itself. When it references God in the Bible it very rarely uses past tense, and when it does it emphasises that in the past, God IS already, Psa. 90:2 “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” As Christians we know that heaven celebrates when a person comes to Christ and also when they are called home to the Father but we often mistake this joy that the Bible says God clearly has as something that implies God’s happiness is dependent on our salvation. In the Old Testament this is clearly shown to NOT be the case. The aseity of God in the Old Testament is shown in the depths of His power and command over all creation above all else. Many sceptics say that this concept of aseity if primarily from the Greek philosophers and this shows their influence on Christianity and thus the identity of God has been influenced. However the concept of the aseity of God was something separate from most of the world’s religions which relied on the prayers and love of man. The Hebrew faith was unique to the ancient peoples because unlike other gods, Yahweh needed nothing from us and the fact that He had commands for us did not imply He needed us to follow them but that for us to be in fellowship with Him we MUST follow them. In the Old Testament a concept was put forward which has been analysed for thousands of years, the concept of the Absolute. In philosophy the Absolute is more of a reality that goes past all temporal, physical, and conditional existence. In Christianity the Absolute can be applied to anything that always was and is and will always be. This term has been applied by some theologians in metaphysical Christianity and the Kabala to the Tetragrammaton (one of the proper names of God). The Tetragrammaton can also be translated to the verb “to be.”
Like Christ (who was not created or began from something but was begotten) God’s elements cannot be divided from His substance, as Christ’s humanity cannot be divided from His divinity. These things co-exist independent of each other and yet in full harmony as a logical constant in the universe. God is an indivisible unit, and has always been and will always be the same God in all his attributes. Spiritual creatures do not have the same simplicity of nature, since, although being simple substances, many characteristics of creatures may change, and thus are accidents rather than attributes of their essence. But what is the point of this theology and deep examination of God’s aseity? To understand that there is none like Him; Deut 4:35, 39, “You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God; besides him there is no other. . . . Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other.”
Now the danger of the study of aseity is that I have been infringing on my sermon based on eternity but it cannot be avoided, when studying God we see that His personality and existence are sweetly indivisible but clearly definite. But we are not Jewish theologians we are disciples of the ultimate rabbi, Christ Jesus. What does the New Testament say about God’s aseity?
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:1). In the New Testament the entire point of establishing Christ’s aseity was to show sinful human beings that Christ had the authority and power to speak on God’s behalf and to forgive sins. One of the verses that particularly stand out to be me about God’s aseitic nature is Luke 11:14-18; “14 Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. 15 But some of them said, “By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” 16 Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.17 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. 18 If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebub.” This is Christ clearly showing that God cannot be divided against Himself or even be unsure of His own decisions, the same way Christ never second guesses Himself because His nature is eternal, it is perfect. The Trinity does not need to develop or evolve. Many thing because the Spirit came after Christ ascended that it did not exist before that, yet the Spirit of God was referenced in the very first verses of Genesis. Jesus said that “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Truth and life existed before the earth and even before the universe; modern scientists believe that even before the universe began some form of life existed. Sceptics say that there is no way a being such as Christ or God has always existed and is completely independent and yet science has proven that energy cannot be created or destroyed but merely transformed. Christ is a portion of the Godhead, a drop removed from the ocean, the same chemical combination but very different in identity, shape, name, and abilities. In Acts 17:25 Luke says that God has no needs at all and need not be served by human hands. Christ’s aseity can be defined as three conditions of His Lordship.
The first is Christ’s relationship with his creation, us. Like grace Christ’s self existence outside of any needs surpasses our understanding particularly since He came down and became subject to the laws of human nature, death. What an amazing ability to give up complete independence and self sufficiency to become a man subject to hunger, cold, exhaustion, and temptation. This is a key ingredient that makes the Christian faith so very different to any other faith, even though another religion may claim their god is aseitic NONE can claim that theirs have given that up. Secondly, unlike other kings requiring servants, Christ does not require servants, not even the angels are required. What a relief to know that we are not needed to complete God’s existence, the pressure of that would make any concept of free grace impossible and a rebuilt relationship could never exist. And the last condition of His Lordship is that unlike other kings being under condition of inheritance, line of kings, or other countries. His kingdom is “an eternal kingdom of God the Father.” The only kingdom in history or existence that is in fact eternal. Based on these three criteria Christ’s authority is self-justifying and separate from the physical and temporal connections to this world. Many early messianic Jews believed that once God had created the universe, worlds, and life He removed Himself since His presence could not exist in this world and hence to bridge the gap between man and Him He sent Christ which broke the aseity by being born and dying but once He was resurrected His aseity was reinstated. Even Christ’s resurrection was aseitic, “Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2:19).
The final portion of this sermon will be on the aseity of the Holy Spirit. One of the most confusing mysteries of Christendom is that God can exist as 3 beings independent of each other and yet the same and cannot be divided up for He is one God. The Holy Spirit is referenced many times in the Old Testament as not something separate from God but is God in different form, for example when God visits Abraham with the other two. The Holy Spirit is probably the easiest to frame in the concept of aseity. In philosophy and metaphysics energy is easily identified as the first constant in existence and a spirit by definition is energy so if God is viewed as energy, incorporeal, and His Spirit is His essence this proves that God was, is, and always will be; later we will be examining God’s attributes of incorporeality and transcendence so I apologise if I overlap. But what good is theology if there are no practical applications. How does a knowledge and understanding of Christ’s aseity help us to grow in Him?
1) God is everything, we are nothing, and we must always remember this it is a cornerstone of our faith and with that comes the freedom to be imperfect but work towards being perfect as Christ is perfect.
2) Focussing on God’s self-sufficiency means that He is the ONE being in the universe who will never fail us because He is not influenced by anything outside of Him.
3) God’s expectations of us will never change. In ancient Rome and Greece the gods often had their moods change based on a fleeting whim. What God has expected of us He will always expect of us and we do not need to worry about any curve balls.
4) We live in a failing world, one that will eventually die, a being that is an Absolute gives humanity hope that we do not have to be part of a genetic failing that will eventually be our undoing.
5) We can know that our God is the true God by this attribute because it is unique and has not been found yet to be repeated or recreated.
This sermon has made my head hurt, I am sure it has made yours hurt a little bit too. What we need to understand is that even though studying theology may be hard and digging deep into God’s Word may be exhausting we must do it because when we do not dig and strive to understand the deeper folds of God’s mind we cheapen our relationship with Him, do Him an injustice, and take away from the reverence and worship that we are privileged to be part of. Let’s pray.