What Is God Like? Classical Theism and Isaiah 46

Most of us try to imagine God. That’s really something we shouldn’t do. The first commandments in the Decalogue are to have no other Gods and not to make any graven image of our God. Why shouldn’t we make any images of God? Perhaps the best reason we shouldn’t make any images of God is because we can’t ever do justice to his glory and—he is invisible. Whenever we try to imagine God, we can’t help but to make him something like us—which is inevitably something far less than he is. This lessening of God is at the heart of profanity and blasphemy.

Isaiah wrote to people who needed to know God. Instead of focusing on God’s greatness, they were worried about the nations around them. Isaiah 46 was written to remind Israel that their Babylonian threat was completely under God’s control. Instead of worrying about Babylon, or any other threat or any other hope. They should have focused only on the God of Heaven.

Our God is Supreme

Isaiah 46:1-2 declared the impotency of the Babylonian deities (and all other “deities”). The Scripture reads: “Bel has bowed down, Nebo stoops over; Their images are consigned to the beasts and the cattle. The things that you carry are burdensome, A load for the weary beast. They stooped over, they have bowed down together; They could not rescue the burden, But have themselves gone into captivity.” Look at how the God of Heaven supersedes the gods we can imagine.

First, the gods we imagine are “bowed down” and eventually they “stoop over.” As much as we would like to put our hope into these “deities,” eventually we learn that they are our own creation and are even weaker than we are. Their weaknesses are seen in how we have to care for them. Isaiah wrote that “their images are consigned to the beasts of and cattle.” We have to carry our idols around. They can’t support themselves, because they are just reflections of our own desires.

Our God Carries Us

Isaiah 46:3 says, ““Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, And all the remnant of the house of Israel, You who have been borne by Me from birth And have been carried from the womb.” Instead of being carried, our God has carried us. This is significant. It is “in him” that “we live and move and have our being.” Look at the way Paul described God, imaged in Christ, in Colossians 1:15-20:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

God doesn’t need us. We don’t have to maintain God. The opposite is true. God created us. It is “in him” that “all things hold together.” Through his sacrifice Christians are redeemed. We can’t do anything to help God. He has done everything for us. He carries us. Look at the intimate way that God described our complete dependence on him. Just a like a newborn baby is totally helpless, we are totally helpless and he has carried us—like a newborn baby—all of our lives. Even though we think we are strong and special, he has carried us the entire time.

           The popular postcard of “footprints in the sand” that shows two sets of footprints and then only one as Christ carries someone through the hard times isn’t quite accurate. Just like we wouldn’t expect a newborn baby to take care of itself or to walk until things got hard, God has been carrying us the entire time. We shouldn’t be deceived into thinking that we ever supported ourselves for any step of the way. Our God carries us.

Our God Remains the Same

           Isaiah 46:4 says, “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” Our parents bring us into the world. They are the first to hold us, but eventually they can’t hold us anymore and we often begin to care for them as they cared for us at the beginning. That is the way of life for changing creatures. That is not the way of life for God. God never changes. He holds us from conception to decay. This never changing nature of God is related to God being nothing but God—not composed of parts (simplicity) and God’s innability to change since he is the perfect and infinite fulness of life (immutability). Bavinck said, what God is he “is and will always be what he was” or God is he “who eternally remains the same.”[1]

           Bavinck wrote “At the same time the Scriptures testify that amid all this alternation God is and remains the same. Everything changes, but he remains standing. He remains who he is (Ps. 102:26–28). He is YHWH he who is and ever remains himself.”[2] Bavinck helpfully demonstrated the Scriptural affirmation of divine immutability.[3] He wrote: Bavinck continued with the following Scriptural affirmation of divine immutability: “He is the first and with the last he is still the same God (Isa. 41:4; 43:10; 46:4; 48:12). He is who he is (Deut. 32:39; cf. John 8:58; Heb. 13:8), the incorruptible who alone has immortality, and is always the same (Rom. 1:23; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16; Heb. 1:11–12). Unchangeable in his existence and being, he is so also in his thought and will, in all his plans and decisions. He is not a human that he should lie or repent. What he says, he will do (Num. 15:28; 1 Sam. 15:29). His gifts (charismata) and calling are irrevocable (Rom. 11:29). He does not reject his people (Rom. 11:1). He completes what he has begun (Ps. 138:8; Phil. 1:6). In a word, he, YHWH, does not change (Mal. 3:6). In him there is “no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17)” 

Our God is Holy

           To be holy, as far as it speaks to our existence, is to be purified, set apart, and given a purpose. But this definition of holiness does not capture what it means for God to be holy. He is not purified, he is purity. He is not “set apart,” he is just different. This is what holiness means when we say that God is holy—God is just different. He is other than anything or anyone we might consider in creation. Isaiah 46:5 says, ““With whom will you compare me or count me equal? To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?” Isaiah 46:8-9 says, ““Remember this, keep it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.” God is different. He is holy.

           Isaiah was allowed to come into God’s presence, at least in a vision, to be overwhelmed with God’s holiness. The cherubim around God’s throne cried out “holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God of armies. The whole earth is full of his glory.” Sinclair Ferguson wrote, “It is tempting to think that the seraphim are in such constant awe in the presence of God because they are privileged to sense this mystery—and feel they are not fit to gaze on it without winged protection—so they cry, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:3).[4]

           Christians, we would do well to spend more time meditating on God’s holiness. He is completely other, totally better, utterly transcendent. He is the fountain of life and source of every good thing. In him is light and he dwells in unapproachable light. There is nothing in creation which should occupy our minds as much as our holy God. He is that spectacle which should occupy our minds. He is that which we will be enamored with for eternity and that which we should adore even now. God is holy—he isn’t like the things around us.

Our God is in Control

Isaiah 46:10-11 emphasized God’s sovereignty—his control over his creation. Sovereignty should not be confused with determinism. God has given us wills and the ability to exercise them. He could have made us as programmed robots, but he chose to make us with a will of our own. Still, God remains in control. His creation is his. Creation is, ultimately, what he made it to be. The Scripture says, “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do.”

Note the way God described his knowledge of the future. First, God is able to tell the end from the beginning. This “prophetic” ability was a major proof of God’s existence and power throughout the Scriptures. Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar were reminded repeatedly that Daniel’s God could tell the future. Daniel’s God was the true God. Jesus promised his death, burial, and resurrection on the third day. His disciples knew that he must be the Messiah because he was raised just as he promised. Secondly, notice that God’s description of the future is not a hope, but it is his purpose and his action. Isaiah 46:10-11 does not read as though God looks down the corridors fo time and is able to tell what will happen. Instead, the text reads as though God is in control of everything which he wishes to control. God’s plan is fulfilled by God’s power and action—not just his knowledge of data.

It can be uncomfortable and even a bit scary for us to think about God—the God who knows everything and causes his will to be done in creation. How can we be in a relationship with a God like that? Still, God’s sovereignty can be seen as a blessing. Spurgeon said that God’s sovereignty is the pillow upon which the Christian lays his head. Christians can be comforted by knowing the God who is sovereign is also the God who is perfect in holiness and goodness.

Our God Saves

This God who is holy, sovereign, and unchanging isn’t aloof. Our God is a gracious Savior. Isaiah wrote, “Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted, you who are now far from my righteousness. I am bringing my righteousness near, it is not far away; and my salvation will not be delayed. I will grant salvation to Zion, my splendor to Israel” (Is 46:12-13). Many modern theologians have worked diligently to deny the classical attributes of God we have seen in the Scriptures above. They claim that a God who is transcendent, truly holy, simple, eternal, and truly immutable could not be involved with a creature’s life.

the Bible knows nothing of an inert and uninvolved God. The God of the Bible is unchanging, eternal, transcendent, and intimately involved in your life because he is the fulness of life. This is why we can be saved. This is why we have confidence in God for our salvation. We should not reject the God of Heaven or struggle against him. Instead, we must lovingly and thankfully submit to his will. But as we submit, we remember that we are submitting to the perfectly loving God—our Savior.


[1] Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 150.

[2] Bavinck continued with the following Scriptural affirmation of divine immutability: “He is the first and with the last he is still the same God (Isa. 41:4; 43:10; 46:4; 48:12). He is who he is (Deut. 32:39; cf. John 8:58; Heb. 13:8), the incorruptible who alone has immortality, and is always the same (Rom. 1:23; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16; Heb. 1:11–12). Unchangeable in his existence and being, he is so also in his thought and will, in all his plans and decisions. He is not a human that he should lie or repent. What he says, he will do (Num. 15:28; 1 Sam. 15:29). His gifts (charismata) and calling are irrevocable (Rom. 11:29). He does not reject his people (Rom. 11:1). He completes what he has begun (Ps. 138:8; Phil. 1:6). In a word, he, yhwh, does not change (Mal. 3:6). In him there is “no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17)” (Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 153).

[3] Whatever critiques one has for divine immutability must be levied against the Scripture either by reinterpretation of the Scripture apart from the consistent testimony of the great tradition or by the exclusion of the Scriptures. Philosophical examination must be the handmade of theology and exegesis. Scripture, exegesis, and theology cannot serve philosophy as supreme.

[4] Sinclair B. Ferguson, “Chapter 2: ‘Hallowed Be Your Name’: The Holiness of the Father,” in Holy, Holy, Holy: Proclaiming the Perfections of God (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2010), 15.

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