What is God like? Refs
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God uses the Bible to tell us who he is and what he is like. His character is shown through his creation and in the way he deals with the people and things he has created. At certain times, through his friendship with particular people, he gives more detailed descriptions of himself and his expectations of us.

Jonah 4

After first trying to run away from God, Jonah went to Nineveh (the capital of the Assyrian empire) as God commanded and warned them of coming destruction. As Jonah feared, all the people turned from their evil ways and so God relented. Jonah was very angry. To teach him a lesson, God used a worm to destroy the plant under which he was sheltering. Jonah was concerned about a plant he had done nothing to raise. Should not God be much more concerned about 120,000 ignorant people whom he had created?

1. The kingdom of Assyria was aggressive and brutal. God sent Jonah to Nineveh to warn them. What does this tell us about God’s character?

2. God had said that Nineveh would be destroyed in 40 days and yet it wasn’t destroyed once the people repented. What conclusions can we draw about God’s threats of future destruction elsewhere?

3. Why was Jonah angry that God had forgiven the people of Nineveh?

4. Did Jonah have a right to be angry about the plant?

5. About 60 years later, Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel (where Jonah came from) with great brutality.
Was Jonah right to want Nineveh destroyed?

6. What do you think Jonah was meant to learn about God from this incident?

God shown in creation
How could we know what God is like without the Bible? Just look at creation. What could show God’s living power more clearly than the magnificence of the stars and the tiny and intricate detail seen in a cell? Before we even start looking at the Bible, we begin to see the character of God in what he has made. However, the Bible tells us about God in much more detail than creation ever can.

The character of God

God presents himself to us throughout the Bible, showing different characteristics at different times, just as we do. At times he shows his power, at other times his gentleness. In the flood he showed his punishment and in sending his son, his love. He deals with mankind in many different ways and describes himself to us because he loves us and wants us all to love him.

Some important characteristics of God
Perhaps the most detailed description of God in the Bible is given in Exodus 34 when Moses asked to see God. God told Moses that it was not possible for a man to see the face of God and live, but presented himself to Moses in a clear and simple description. God described himself as having all of the following characteristics.

Compassionate (v6)
Compassion is feeling sorry for others in their suffering—feeling pity and mercy. God sent his son to take away our sins and the suffering that sin brought into the world.
For 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. (John 3:16)

Gracious (v6)
God shows us his grace by doing something for us even though we do not deserve it. An example of this is the mercy and kindness shown in sending his son to die for us.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

Slow to anger (v6)
God does not deal with us as we deserve. Despite our sins, he is patient with us. This was one of Jonah’s complaints about God—he knew that God would be patient and forgiving if people were willing to repent.
Jonah 4:2

A few characteristics of God
Characteristic
Old Testament
New Testament
creator and sustainer Genesis 1; Psalm 104:5–31 Acts 17:24–28
father Deuteronomy 32:6 1 Corinthians 8:6
holy Exodus 15:11 1 Peter 1:15–16
loving Exodus 34:6 John 3:16
sinless Deuteronomy 32:4 James 1:13
lawgiver and judge Isaiah 33:22 James 4:12; Hebrews 12:23
supreme Isaiah 43:10 1 Timothy 2:5
eternal Deuteronomy 33:27; Isaiah 40:28 1 Timothy 6:15–16
angered by 2 Chronicles 24:18 Romans 1:18
forgiving/justifying Exodus 34:7; Isaiah 43:25 Romans 8:33
jealous Exodus 20:5 1 Corinthians 10:21–22
all knowing Isaiah 44:6–8; 46:10 1 John 3:20
present everywhere Psalm 139:7–12 Acts 17:24–28
hears prayer Psalm 65:2 Matthew 6:6
gives and keeps promises Joshua 21:45; 23:15–16 Acts 13:32–33
all powerful Isaiah 44:24–28; Jeremiah 27:5; 32:17,27 Luke 1:37

Abounding in love and faithfulness (v6)
God has not forgotten the promises he made to Abraham almost 4,000 years ago. We can still become heirs of these promises today. This is real faithfulness—abounding faithfulness. God shows great unchanging love too; he has kept working with Israel throughout history, trying to guide them in right ways.

Forgiving (v7)
God’s capacity for forgiveness is seen clearly in how he dealt with Paul, a man who had viciously attacked the early believers in an attempt to destroy them. God forgave Paul. He can forgive each of us if we repent and forgive others.
1 Timothy 1:12–16

Punishing the guilty (v7)
Ananias and Sapphira were believers who wanted so much to look good to others that they forgot it is impossible to fool God. They sold some property and lied about how much they received to make it appear that they were willing to give all they had to God. But God knew the truth. Ananias and Sapphira died because God does punish the guilty. If we do not repent, we too are guilty and have nothing but God’s punishment to look forward to. Acts 5:1–11
, Hebrews 10:26–27

It is important to note that this is one of the characteristics of God that we are not to copy, but must wait for God to act. God says that vengeance is his and he will repay. Romans 12:19

Jealous (v14)
God will not accept half-hearted worship. Trying to be friends with God and friends with the world will never work. God warns that being a friend of the world will make you his enemy. Only worship God; never money or power or fame. James 4:4

What else do we know about God?
Two additional and important characteristics not mentioned in Exodus 34 are that God is holy and he is a creator.

Holy
Holiness is being separated from evil. God wants us to be holy as he is holy. He sent Jesus to show us what that meant; what being God-like meant in human life. Jesus shows the character of God as it should be seen in our lives. 1 Peter 1:15–16

Creator
God can still be a creator in us today as he creates in us a new life, a new hope, a new joy and a new peace. He does not want any to perish, but wants all to repent and find that new life. John 3:16

Two major differences between God and us are that God can never do evil and that he never changes. He is still the same today as he showed himself to be in the Bible. Malachi 3:6; James1:17


God is a complex character and he wants to teach us what he is John 17:3 like. He asks us to copy many of the characteristics he shows us. For example he is

compassionate (merciful),
gracious,
slow to anger,
abounding in love and faithfulness, and
forgives wickedness, rebellion and sin.

God also tells us some of his characteristics to warn us. He

does not leave the guilty unpunished and
is jealous

Learning to know God and his character is the most rewarding course of learning we can ever take. It is vital to our life now and in the future.


1. How do we know which characteristics of God we should copy and which are to be left for him alone to exercise?
2. Consider God’s application of forgiveness and punishment of the guilty. Is there a difference between a sinner and one who is guilty? (See Exodus 34:6–7.)
3. In the Lord’s prayer Jesus tells us to call God our father. What similarities (and differences) are there between the character of God and the character shown by a human father?


1. Choose a well-known person from the Bible (e.g. Abraham, Moses, David or Paul) and make a list of the characteristics God showed personally to them.
2. As God has worked in your life, which of his characteristics have you seen?
3. Choose three characteristics of God that you would like to show more of in your own life. Make a plan for developing these characteristics in your life. (Hint: try to get friends who will help you check on your progress.)


The mind of Jesus by William Barclay, Chapter 11 (published by SCM Press Ltd., 1960). 22 pages. A very good summary of the character of God, particularly as that character is revealed by Jesus. Some of the other parts of the book are not so good.
Thine is the kingdom by Peter Southgate (published by the Dawn Book Supply, 2nd ed., 1997). Chapter 3 (16 pages) gives a clear description of God’s character.
BBB Study 8
BB Study 1
The God you’re looking for by Bill Hybels (published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997). A very readable introduction to the character of God. As with most non-Christadelphian books, there are a few errors. In this case, they don’t affect the main message of the book.


10. Worship
12. Blasphemy
13. Idolatry
14. Holiness and obedience
32. Jesus: Son of God and Son of Man
44. Judgement

 
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