Divine Aseity

by | Jan 7, 2017


Proposition/claim: God is self-existent, self-reliant, self-contained, dependent on no one or nothing outside of himself in any way.

There is nothing more important than knowing God.[1] At the very center of Christian theology, of Christianity itself is the proposition: God exists as the Creator and sovereign Lord over all things. But the question immediately arises, “who is God and what is He like?” Since God transcends human experience, and the created order, being immaterial, uncreated, not extended in space and time, it follows that the source for our knowledge of who God is and what God is like, is of critical importance. For the Christian, the only reliable source for our knowledge of God is the Christian Scriptures. It is in the Christian Scriptures that God comes to us, revealing to us who he is and what he is like and, in addition, what this thing we call ‘life’ is all about. One of the things that Scripture reveals to us about God is that God is A se.

Divine aseity is “a term derived from the Latin a se, “from oneself.” Aseity, as a divine attribute, refers to God’s self-existence. In other words, God is not dependent upon anything else for his existence but has eternally existed without any external or prior cause.”[2] This term is often used interchangeably with the term independence. Scripture itself reveals the general attributes of God’s nature before, and more clearly than, it reveals his Trinitarian existence. God is independent, all sufficient in himself, and the only source of all existence and life. YHWH is the name that describes this essence and identity most clearly.[3]

In the Old Testament book of Exodus, when Moses asked God essentially who he was, God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” (Ex. 3:14) This name describes him as the One who is and will always be what he was, that is, who eternally remains the same in relation to his people.[4] This is repeated as a matter of fact that is to be uncritically accepted again in 1 Corinthians 8:6: yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. In one popular challenge from the Jews, Jesus’ issued the famous riposte, “Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58) The Writer to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) If it is true that God is from himself, it must also follow that whatever God plans or decrees is also not dependent on anything outside of God. This has serious implications for all branches of Christian theology, not the least of which is practical theology, or, as we like to say, Christian living.

To tease this out a little more, Herman Bavinck writes, “While aseity only expresses God’s self-sufficiency in his existence, independence has a broader sense and implies that God is independent in everything: in his existence, in his perfections, in his decrees, and in his works.”[5]

From this state of affairs, that God is absolute, self-contained, independent being, all other attributes of God flow. If the Christian can begin with a right understanding of God in this most basic and fundamental truth about who God is and what God is like, much error and even heresy can be avoided.

Now, if God is self-sufficient, self-existing, not dependent on us for anything a few things worth mentioning will follow from this:

  1. God does not need. We have often wondered why God created human beings or even angels for that matter. In our feeble attempts to understand the why, we come up with all sorts of creative ideas. We think God wanted a relationship with us so he created us because he wanted to have someone with whom he could have fellowship. But this idea would require that God was missing out on something. We think that maybe God was sort of lonely, like we get when we are alone with no one to talk to. This view of God is the product of human projection. We project onto God our own nature. This is a dangerous practice that must be avoided at all costs.
  2. There is no lack in God. He wants for nothing. If God wants for nothing and he lacks nothing, then this means that God is all that God is. I can’t even say that God is all that he needs because God has no need. There is a serious limitation on the language we use to describe God. This becomes very apparent the more we try to look for analogies that may help us better understand God. This is where biblical trust comes in. We trust God even though he has not revealed everything we might want to know about him. This means we must avoid the sinful temptation to engage in conjecture and speculation where the nature of God is concerned. What God has not revealed, he has not revealed on purpose.
  3. God is never frustrated A frustrated deity and divine aseity are not apparent contradictions. They are real contradictions. If it is true that God’s plan can be frustrated, or go unfulfilled, then it is true that God is not independent after all, and that he does have some deficiency by way of dependency in his nature. The popular doctrine of libertarian free-will threatens divine aseity in precisely this way. If I am truly free to act against God’s plan, then it follows that God can be frustrated because I did not do what he had planned for me to do. If Judas had the kind of free will that some people think he had, then he could have acted independently from God’s plan or purpose (decree) and frustrated the divine plan. Unwittingly, those who hold to such a view are affirming a belief that is contradictory to the nature of God at a basic level. Moreover, it should be noted that nothing happens that God has not planned. In other words, your flat tire, or not, is just as planned by God as the crucifixion of our Lord.
  4. There is nothing we can do to add value to God’s experience, existence, or pleasure in any way. God does not need our fellowship. He does not need a relationship with us. God does not need more people to be redeemed than he has presently redeemed. God does not need to direct his love toward us. But more importantly, God does not need our love and devotion or our praise and worship. He needs NOTHING from us. There is nothing we can do that will result in God receiving more glory or experiencing greater pleasure than what God receives always at all times forever and ever. God needs nothing from us, including us. Moreover, God does not want something from me like I want something from someone only to experience true disappointment. Any language in Scripture that one might take this way is what we call anthropopathic. This means that God often uses human phenomena to describe himself, not because that is actually what he is experiencing, but because it is similar in a way that at least humans can understand what he is communicating. Just as we speak baby-speak so that our young children can understand us, even sometimes pretending to cry so that they understand us, God does the same with us. God’s communication with his creation is accommodative. As Cornelius Van Til would say, our knowledge and God’s knowledge is analogical. Think about it like this: humans experience anger or disappointment because an outcome was different from what we expected and from what we had hoped. This is not the case when Scripture is talking about God’s anger. Scripture uses this kind of language to express his disposition toward a particular thing because we can understand that God has a very negative disposition towards that particular behavior.
  5. God does not learn. There is nothing God does not know. This means that God does not look into the future in order to learn what will happen and this is how he knows and controls things. This would mean that God learns. In other words, God does not look into the future and figure out who is going to believe in him and then choose these individuals for salvation. Such a view is not consistent with divine aseity because it makes God’s plan dependent on what others will do. In fact, this view would mean that the death of Christ was not guaranteed and that Christ’s death  even if it were to materialize, could not guarantee the salvation of even one person. This is simply a very confused way of viewing God’s sovereignty and how it relates to his knowledge. This also means that God does not react to things. It means that bad things do not just so happen to you, and then somehow God figures out how to take that bad thing and turn it into something good. Your car broke down because God planned it from the very beginning. Your child died of cancer because God planned it from the beginning. You lost your home to the bank because God decreed it to be before he created the first blade of grass. God does not encounter situations, react to them, and then figure out how to make you benefit from them because he is infinitely intelligent or really, really smart. Such thinking threatens divine aseity.

The only way God can guarantee our salvation, the only way we can believe that the Bible is the Word of God without the possibility of error is if God is self-sufficient. If this position of divine aseity if wrong. If God is not like what has been described here and in historic Christian orthodoxy, it could have truly been the case that the Christ event could have been frustrated by the free choices of human beings. The only way we can believe that the future promises of God will absolutely materialize just as God says is if God is in fact A se.

Navigate to the tutorial for a self-assessment and additional information by clicking the link:

Divine Aseity Q&A +

[1] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, A Theology of Lordship (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., ©2002), 1.

[2] Stanley Grenz, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 16.

[3] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, ©2003- 2008), 148.

[4] Ibid., 150.

[5] 152.

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