2: The Perfection of God
The Testimony of the Bible: Part 1: God's Being
The Testimony of the Bible: Part 2: God's Actions
The Picture that gets bigger and bigger
closed the previous chapter saying that we would consider here the
question, what sort of God are we talking
about? That is the focus of this chapter and the next.
It is a vital question because all over the world there are different
attempts at describing divinity.
remember in chapter 1 that I spent a little time talking about a Biblical
viewpoint. Now we have lots of weird and wonderful ideas of who or
what we think God is, and all I ask is that we suspend those views
for the moment and come approaching the Bible as scientific observers,
literary, social and moral researchers perhaps, who will carefully
see what IT says about God. We can then work with that.
our only problem, and it is only a problem if we are lazy and want
it all laid out on a plate, is that God did not have the Bible laid
out as a book of systematic theology but rather as an account of His
interactions with humanity over a two thousand year period ending
about two thousand years ago. That may sound very ‘distant' but if
we understand that He is the same today and continues working in the
same ways today as then, even though modern events are not written
down in the same way, we should see that those records simply establish
a cause for living and a way of living that is as equally valid today,
as it was then. It is all to do with God. So what does the Bible say
could start off with things such as He is omnipresent (everywhere),
He is omnipotent (all powerful) and omniscient
(all knowing), but because of the moral nature of our ‘big question'
I intend to start considering in this chapter His
perfection, His love,
His goodness and His wisdom. But it is only a start
and we will only get as far as considering His perfection
although, by necessity, the other things will be mentioned
along the way.
- Understanding what we mean: because ‘perfection'
is a somewhat difficult concept to grab hold of, I am simply
going to use the incredibly basic definition of “complete
and faultless, cannot be improved upon”.
Can we just pause on that definition. If God is perfect, and the Bible
asserts that He is, then if that is right there
is nothing about Him that can be improved upon.
whatever ways or by whatever measuring sticks we might use to go about
assessing Him, we must say that to match this definition, there is
no way that we could improve on the things we assess, whether it be
His Being, His Character, His words or His deeds. Let's emphasise
this by reference to His expressions. If God is perfect then NOTHING
He thinks, says or does can be improved upon!
for some in-depth thinking
to make such a statement is, for many, quite startling, because so
far in life they have assessed what they have read of Him in the Bible
in quite different ways. Richard Dawkins is probably the classic example
of an antagonist when it comes to God. His assessments of God, obviously
thought by him to be academic assessments of things he finds in the
Bible, appear in reality expressions born out of a shallow and apparently
very limited reading of bits of the Bible and, quite possibly, his
prior prejudices (which he does share in his books).
example, if we read a few, limited factual historical incidents in
the Bible we may, as Dawkins obviously does, stop at the few facts
and put our own interpretation on them, based more on our own prejudices
than on anything else.
we distinguish straight away here between
statements of witnesses
in the Bible about God's perfection
(this is what they said and we have recorded in the text),
apparent historical incidents
that appear to involve God (judgments, what actually happened, as
recored in those texts),
understanding of those incidents
(the reasons we assume that are behind them).
first one – God's perfection declared - will not
be in dispute in as far as it can be seen in the Bible as statements
of the witnesses and those who wrote.
second one – God's judgments – similarly should
not be in dispute because of the biblical records, but they need looking
at because people often have incomplete knowledge of what took place.
We will look in great detail at most if not all of the judgments found
in the Bible because these are the things we are talking about.
is the last one – the conclusions that
we draw – which is crucial to our considerations
we will read the Bible narrative more fully, we will note
context of the incident and
to understand its moral and spiritual aspects, and
some more thought, I would suggest, come to realise that instead
of this incident being a hasty act of an unkind God, it was in fact
the only course of action, the very best course of action, that
could have ensued in the light of the wider context, i.e.
all the surrounding people and their actions.
I simply make these preliminary comments, not only as an indication
of where we will go in later chapters, but also as a way of starting
to reduce the unwarranted angst that some of our critical readers
may have already at the very suggestion that ‘God is perfect'. Wider
accurate knowledge and ‘thought-out-understanding'
are the tools to dismantle the biases and prejudices
that so often prevail out of ignorance.
The Testimony of the Bible: Part 1: God's Being is Perfect
what we said: perfect means complete and faultless, and cannot be
improved upon. If this definition is true of God then whatever God
thinks, says or does is perfect, is faultless and cannot be improved
upon. That is the amazing claim this book must face.
need to let this truth sink in. Let's see it as it crops up in the
Bible, first of all in respect of who He is in Himself:
assessment of God
perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”
This was the teaching of the Son of God
The Greek (original) word for ‘perfect'
means whole or complete, lacking nothing.
That is God! Complete! This is vital
to the teaching for it makes Him unique, as no other can make that
claim (we will examine this more fully in a moment, for it is vital
to the ‘big question').
(That is, according to the verse above,
also His objective in working within us, to enable us to come to
full-grown stature, living for the purpose for which we were designed,
completely fulfilled – an expression of His loving design for us).
have just seen Jesus refer to God as ‘perfect' or ‘complete'. It is
easy to use the language without understanding the incredible significance
of it. Perhaps to understand ‘complete' in respect of God as being
complete, it would help to consider first ourselves as ‘incomplete'
Reflection on ‘Incomplete'
I apply the word ‘incomplete' to myself
(and it is valid to do so), I may think of, for example:
I cannot hope to grasp the enormity of what I don't know.
I don't know what is going on in the house next door, let
alone the street, the town, the country and the world!
I don't have a true record of things that happened to me in
the past, let alone what happened to you, and I certainly don't
know about the future.
my lack of strength and energy
– mental, physical and spiritual.
I need constant replenishing and refreshing and rest.
Even when I am fully charged and refreshed, I need more grace,
more wisdom, more insight, more everything else to cope with you,
others, circumstances, difficulties, etc. etc. than I have got.
Therefore there are times, when running on my own resources
which may be good at times, that I still get it wrong and may react
defensively, or with hostility.
I may be unsure of myself and may therefore feel bad (guilty)
about how I handle life, or allow myself to be hurt by your dealings
all these ways I indicate my incompleteness. When we briefly considered
the Greek and Roman gods at the end of Chapter 1, we commented that
they seemed incomplete, lacking a lot of what we might hope for.
God is complete. He doesn't lack and is not limited in any of the
ways I have just considered. (Remember we said above, He is omnipotent
(all powerful) and omniscient (all knowing). This
is what Jesus means when he says God is ‘perfect' or ‘complete'.
Reflection of what it actually means for God to be ‘complete'
are further points to ponder:
if God knows everything
(to lack knowledge means He is not complete), then He will
never be caught on the hop, never surprised by anything that happens
if His wisdom is perfect
(because He lacks nothing – our definition above) then He will
always know how to act or respond to whatever is happening, and
if His power is unlimited
(because He lacks nothing – our definition above, again) then
He will be able to respond however He wants in accordance with that
you start to see how significant this definition of ‘perfect' is?
He has no need to act with hostility towards us because
knows everything there is to know about us,and
are not a threat to Him and He can never feel defensive.
He is utterly capable of handling everything
that ever happens.
as we move into the next chapter, we'll ponder on the characteristics
of love and goodness which the Bible says also describe Him. More
than this, they determine how He will exercise that wisdom we referred
to immediately above.
parallel concept of Holiness
the Bible uses another word when describing God, more commonly than
‘perfect', in respect of His being, although it essentially has the
same meaning – ‘holy'
don't see this as a ‘religious' word; it is a descriptive word of
definition of holy
is “whole, spiritually
perfect or pure; morally untainted by evil or sin; sinless, lacking
nothing, utterly complete”
we see it in respect of God in relation to mankind we might add, “separate
from us, utterly distinct, utterly different, frightenly different
in His completeness.”
of the Use of 'holy'
see some examples of its use:
1:49 the Mighty
One has done great things for me-- holy is his name.
Mary, in the New Testament, inspired
by the Holy Spirit, declared what she knew (and had been taught?)
- that God is holy, a teaching from the Old Testament period, passed
When ‘holy' was used of things
(e.g. altar, see Ex 29:37) or places
(e.g. Mount Sinai, see Ex 19:23) or people
(e.g. priests, see Lev 21:6), it was more a quality, uniquely given
of God, with a God-presence about
His perfect presence was with it or them.
was His very perfect presence that made a thing or place or person
11:44 (& v.45) I
am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy,
because I am holy. (also Lev 19:2,
Speaking of Himself, God calls Himself
holy – whole, different, utterly pure, perfect.
If his people were to draw near to Him
in some measure at least, they would need to be careful, because
as we will see later, perfection or holiness has a moral and judicial
aspect to it, which may have consequences.
His call to them to ‘be holy' was to
do all that was humanly possible to ensure they were the nearest
they could get to human rightness (perfection would be too much
not profane my holy name. I must be acknowledged
as holy by the Israelites.
Even in reference to Him, they were required
to note the distinction – He alone is holy, complete, perfect, utterly
There is no other like Him – this uniqueness
is at the beginning of the Ten Commandments and comes up countless
times in the Law of Moses.
It was the issue that was critical in
the life of Israel – that they conveyed this ‘different-ness' to
the world, that God was utterly unlike any other so-called deity.
He was complete in Himself, wanting or
needing nothing outside Himself.
In this respect He was utterly different
from the Greek or Roman gods we referred to at the end of Chapter
1, clearly expressions of human invention, reflections of inadequate
and incomplete human personalities.
Contrary to Dawkins' suppositions, the
God of the Bible is not a figment of the imagination because the
Greeks and Romans already did that for us and the outcome was nothing
like we find in this Being, observed in the Bible. We could not
have invented what we find here.
99:5 (& v.9) Exalt
the LORD our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy.
This primary characteristic of the Lord
was foundational to their worship and respect of Him, His total
difference from anything else in Creation.
This characteristic often made Him referred
to simply as “the Holy One” – see Job 6:10, Psa 22:3, 71:22, 78:41,
89:18, Prov 9:10, 30:3, Isa 1:4, 5:19,24 etc.
6:3 And they
were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy
is the LORD Almighty;
Note this was the acclamation of the
heavenly companions of God.
Also in Rev 4:8 we find another heavenly
vision where God was being acclaimed in the same way.
should note that the word ‘holy' occurs over 580 times in the Bible
but most of them are attributing this God-presence to people, things
we have been speaking of God's being as ‘perfect' or ‘holy', beyond
this there is little we can say because He is otherwise unknown. Again
theologians speak of Him as eternal or infinite
and the Bible refers to Him as a Spirit
but beyond that we are unable to say much about His being. Even our
understanding of ‘spirit' is limited and analogies in the Bible are
wind, water or fire, all of which convey energy. My own definition
that I have used previously is that Spirit is energy with personality,
but I realise that even that is beyond our comprehension.
Psa 50:2 one of the psalmists declares, “perfect
in beauty, God shines forth.”
that when we consider His perfection, we are left with references
to His actions which we will now consider.
The Testimony of the Bible: Part 2: God's Actions are Perfect
Works are Perfect
is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways
are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”
the things He does as He interacts with men and women are prefect
(and yes, we wil think on that more as we go through this book).
is Moses' assessment of God and he appears to have spent more time
in God's presence (prior to Christ) than any other person and therefore
he is more qualified than most to speak about Him.
first portrays Him as a Rock, a being of utter stability and reliability,
and the reason He is, is because everything He does is perfect and
all the ways He works are utterly fair and right (just).
have often said that it is my belief that when we die and face God,
if He should allow us total vision of all that happened to us in
our lives we would never have any grounds to criticise Him for anything
He has said or done or not done.
Although we cannot see it this side of heaven, because our
knowledge is very limited and therefore our understanding is also
very limited, I believe this is the truth in respect of the One
whose works are described by Moses as ‘perfect'.
Sam 22:31 “As
for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD
This was the song of David another man
who had intimate dealings with God and who was therefore well qualified
to speak on the subject.
When David speaks of ‘his way'
he means the path God takes, the things He does. Again, as far as
David is concerned “his way is perfect”, it cannot be improved upon,
it is faultless.
Works are perfect because they are pre-planned
25:1 “O LORD,
you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect
faithfulness you have done marvellous things, things
planned long ago.”
Isaiah has an intriguing insight. The
way God works is in complete accord with all that He has planned
beforehand, that is what ‘perfect faithfulness' means. When we come
in to the New Testament we find the revelation that everything to
do with Jesus had been planned by God before He even created the
His works are thus in complete and perfect
accord with what He planned before all things came into being. His
actions are not random, casual or even provoked by circumstances;
everything is carefully planned (this does not do away with mankind
having free will. It simply means He plans with foreknowledge of
how we will act.)
will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing
and perfect will.”
The apostle Paul, who exhibits such amazing
insight and understanding about the purposes of God, gives us a
hint of this same thing.
more about this perfect planning
on what we have seen and said so far, we might go on to wonder about
why God's will is so good and how it comes to be worked out.
Why God's plans are so good.
answer has to be because of what we will go on to see in the next
chapter, that God IS love and God IS good. Thus everything that comes
from Him is for our blessing (we will go on to see).
is at the heart of the great question – can we believe that, in the
midst of all we read in the Bible, the purpose and intent of God is
for our good? Well that is what the Bible explicitly teaches and also
implies in so many ways – for example –
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who
love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
This isn't to imply He doesn't work of the good of others, simply
that receiving His good implies working in harmony with Him (the
person with His back to you cannot receive from you).
Love and goodness combined within the character of God mean that
everything He does is for our good. Although you may not understand
it, one of the most famous verses in the New Testament screams it:
“God so loved the world that he
gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not
perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16)
That verse not only declares his love but also reveals its expression
(gave His one and only Son) and the intended outcome, our salvation.
How God's plans can be so good
to such deep questions are usually wrapped up in a number of other
truths, and that is true here. As
we have commented above, the Bible teaches that God is all-knowing
(He knows everything that can be known – meditate on Psa 139 to see
something of this) and all-wise.
example of this is revealed when the apostle Peter preached under
the fresh power of the outpoured Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost,
speaking of Jesus –
2:23 “This man was handed
over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with
the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”
i.e. the Cross was not an accident but part of the pre-planned strategy
of God who knew beforehand what was needed, and what was needed
to provoke the religious and civil authorities, expressing their
Sin, to combine to bring about the greatest injustice in history.
God's plan was that in this way, the eternal Son of God would die
as a form of punishment that could be applied to every single human
being to bring about justice – their sin punished but taken by another
– opening the way up for the case against them to be dropped as
they are forgiven, when they receive it.
The main point is that God, knows everything
and that includes how we will act (even as we express our free will)
and of course, everything that will happen in the future.
This is the framework within which God
operates in His work to bring us back to Himself (if we will respond)
to receive His blessing, all of His goodness.
The Picture that gets bigger and bigger
you may have caught, as we have gone along, some of the factors that
are part of the equation that go towards answering ‘the big question',
some of the factors even that go towards being able to speak of God
In considering perfection we've had to
In considering God's action we've had
to consider His characteristics of love, goodness, being all knowing
and all wise.
these things say to us is that the Bible doesn't come to us like a
text book more like a mystery adventure in which there are clues to
be spotted that go to reveal the truth behind the things we see happen.
Within this it also says that although it doesn't try to explain God's
perfection it does reveal it through a variety of these ‘clues' which
taken together build a very strong picture.
we said, when you are talking about a Being who is described as Spirit,
it is difficult for our finite minds to put descriptions to ‘Him',
at least as far as His being is concerned. When there are a few heavenly
visions (Isa 6, Ezek 1, Rev 4 & 5) perhaps we should not be surprised
that there is a failure to even attempt a description (Isaiah) or
where there is an attempt, such as in Ezekiel, is uses such language
as fire and light but cannot go beyond that.
it comes to John's visions in Revelation it almost becomes more vague
– “the one who sat there had
the appearance of jasper and carnelian” (Rev 4:3) and
in such heavenly visions the most common work is ‘like'. It was like
this or like that. It wasn't this or that but like it. This mystery
is accentuated when God, speaking with Moses declares, “no
one may see me and live.” (Ex 33:20). This is not so
much, “I won't let you see me because I have something to hide,” but
more likely “I won't let you see me because even as if you looked
at the sun you would be blinded, if you saw my splendour, you would
we said, we are moving here in an area of mystery. The best we have
been able to do (and it is valid) is point out the Son's description
of the Father – ‘perfect' – consider the concept of ‘holiness' and
then consider in outline (and we'll do it in detail later) the limited
declarations of God's actions and His workings that are then bolstered
many times over by what we see of His actions in the whole Bible.
be antagonistic about the concept of God's perfection may have two
It can be both childish and an expression of our ignorance, which
comes from our failure to read the Bible and catch the wonder of
the One who is at the heart of it, or
It can be because we have in the back of our minds some of the things
that happened in the Old Testament and we still can't see how they
fit with all that has been said in this chapter.
we conclude this chapter, therefore, may I challenge you to remedy
ignorance if it is there at the heart of your belief system, or be
patient to wait to see how these things work out in practice as we
consider individual judgments in later chapters.
will look square on at the judgments of God in later chapters but
first we must look at fundamental issues, such as more about God's
character, and then what we mean about God's judgments and how they
work in practice. We can only do this by studying the Bible so I invite
you to continue with me as we do that.