How does Christianity define God's essence?

by Matt Slick

Defining God is not easy to do. We can offer definitions, but these definitions usually describe attributes. We can say that God is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, holy, perfect, pure, wise, etc. We understand these concepts, but that does not mean we are accurately describing the essence of what God is. But this is to be expected because God is completely different from what we are. He is "wholly other." This means he is not physical like we are. He is not limited to space and time as we are. He's different--not the same as us. So, when we describe him, we can only describe him in ways with which we are familiar even if these descriptions can never be totally sufficient.

Take, for example, humanity. How would we properly define the essence of humanness? We recognize what it is, but we can't define it perfectly without citing attributes. For example, to be human means to be able to reason, to know, to love, to hate, to interact with others in sophisticated conceptual constructs dealing with morality, justice, and love. But those are attributes. How do we describe the very essence of what it is we are? We can't. Does this mean humanness doesn't exist? Of course not.  

Atheists and God

Atheists often ask Christians to define what God is and not by attributes but by describing his essence. When the Christian fails, the atheist complains that even the Christian can't define who God is. Therefore, they often say that talking about God is more or less meaningless. However, I believe this is nothing more than an attempt to continue to deny God and his existence.

When I ask atheists to define what humanity is without using attributes, they sidestep the question either by ignoring it or changing the topic. But if it is okay for atheists to ask Christians to define God without using attributive qualities, then why isn't it all right to ask the atheist to define humanity with the same criteria? And if they cannot, does it mean humanity does not exist, or that discussion about humanity is meaningless? Of course not. The same would go for discussions about God. Not being able to describe the essence of what God is without citing his attributes does not mean a discussion about God and what God is would be meaningless.


About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.