Is God Perfect?

Most Christians would immediately answer yes! God is perfect. One of the classic descriptions of God’s perfection was from Boethius who wrote that God is “that then which comprehendeth and possesseth the whole fulness of an endless life together, to which neither any part to come is absent, nor of that which is past hath escaped, is worthy to be accounted everlasting, and this is necessary, that being no possession in itself, it may always be present to itself, and have an infinity of movable time present to it.”[1]

 Bavinck said:

Stated or implied in this biblical teaching is all that Christian theology intended to say with its description of God’s essence as absolute being. God is the real, the true being, the fullness of being, the sum total of all reality and perfection, the totality of being, from which all other being owes its existence. He is an immeasurable and unbounded ocean of being; the absolute being who alone has being in himself.[2]

 What do we mean when we say that God is perfect? What does God’s perfection mean to us?

God’s perfection is described in Scripture as his fullness, boundlessness, and perfection. God is perfect, and his people are expected to pursue that perfection in their lives (Matt 5:48). God has “the life in himself” (Jn 5:26). He is the God who simply “is” (Ex 3:14). God is “perfect in knowledge” (Jb 37:16). God’s ways are “perfect” (Ps 18:30). His work is “perfect” (Deut 32:4). Jesus said that he is “the life” (Jn 14:6). All the “fullness of God” was pleased to dwell in the Son (Col 1:19).  Since God is perfect, he does not and cannot change in his essence (Js 1:17), in his will (Mal 3:16) or his mind (Num 23:19-20).  

God’s perfection is also seen in his self-existence. There was no “before God.” No one created God. God is the necessary first cause of all contingent things. God made all things and is not limited to physical habitation (Acts 17:24). God is not served by humanity because he requires service to exist (Acts 17:25). Instead, out of his infinite nature, God makes everything without losing anything (Acts 17:26). This God is perfect. Bavinck wrote said “As One who exists of and through and unto himself, he is the fullness of being, the independent and supremely perfect Being.”[3]

God is perfect. There is no “potential” in God as there is potential in us. He is already perfect. He cannot be better. Since he is perfect, he cannot be less than perfect because there is no weakness or ignorance in him. John Owen said, “God is absolutely perfect; whatever is of perfection is to be ascribed to him….He is absolutely perfect, inasmuch as no perfection is wanting to him, and comparatively above all that we can conceive or apprehend of perfection.”[4]

What does God’s perfection mean to us? First, since God is perfect, we know that we can and do depend upon his perfection for our lives. Second, we know that God will always do that which is best since he is perfect and there are no weaknesses within him. Third, we understand that we should seek him as the ultimate reality. He is perfect goodness, beauty, and truth. Finally, we must adore him. Adoration of God is necessary because he alone is perfect and therefore worthy of worship.

Why Does Perfect Being Theology Matter?

            That God is perfect—the fullness of life—has been regarded as an essential aspect of Christian thinking. However, since the Enlightenment, questions of God’s perfections have dominated the theological atmosphere. Perfections such as timelessness, omniscience, simplicity, and even aseity have been highly questioned and even totally disregarded by many scholars.

            This modern downgrade controversy has many serious implications. First, the God who is now presented is simply not the same God who had been worshiped for over 1800 years. Surely, scholars would be wise to avoid the chronological snobbery that C. S. Lewis warned us of. We must also struggle with the reality that the modern God never existed in the history of Christianity until the 19th century. The absence of the modern conception of God from Jewish and Christian history. Third, the modern conception of God is relational above all else. If God is relational above all else, the emotional state of such a deity must be a chaotic mess. Surely the impassible God of classical theism would be preferred as a bedrock upon which everyone might rest. If God does not know the future as open theists and others claim, then why should we trust him? What would we do with Scriptures which affirm that God is the cause of now future events and perfectly knows all future events?  Finally, if divine simplicity (the doctrine that states God is not composed of parts) is cast aside, shouldn’t the composing parts be worshiped rather than God?[5]

            The modern relationally focused doctrine of God presupposes that God does not possess any of the attributes which classical theism presupposed as essential to God’s nature. Classical theism presents a truly perfect God who is the fullness of life and is therefore able to be the source of all contingent life. Modern conceptions of God offer a deity who is composed of powerful attributes (who composed God then?) and experiences history with his creation. This god does not know the future. This god may be said to be alive, but he could not be said to be life. This modern deity is closer to a superhuman or archangel pointing to something yet higher rather than the God of classical theism who is himself the greatest conceivable being.


[1] Boethius. The Theological Tractates and the Consolation of Philosophy, lib. 5.6.

[2] Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 123.

[3] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2, 124.

[4] John Owen Works, vol XVI, 95.

[5] If divine simplicity is cast aside, wouldn’t God become like the Avengers and Thanos searching for infinity stones to empower him? Wouldn’t whoever had the powers be “god” rather than some being who was actually God?

HELPFUL LINKS:

R. C. Sproule

https://www.ligonier.org/blog/god-most-perfect-being/

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