What is God like? It is impossible to put into human words in a complete way. God is love. He is a Father. He is perfect. He is just. He is jealous. He is a strong tower. He is a husband. He is a judge. He is so much more.
All of those references to God are anthropomorphic, meaning that human language and illustrations are used to help us to have a picture of who God is or what he is like. We understand that God is love because we, in some way, have seen humans love. We know that God is just because we, as humans, have seen justice carried out. We understand that God is a strong protector because, when the Bible calls God a strong tower, we can picture a strong fortress and apply the attribute of strength and unassailability to God.
Now, ponder this from Wayne Grudem:
“For example, we have an idea of love from human experience. That helps us to understand what Scripture means when it says that God is love, but our understanding of the meaning of “love” when applied to God is not identical with our experience of love in human relationships. So we must learn from observing how God acts in all of Scripture and from the other attributes of God that are given in Scripture, as well as from our own real-life experiences of God’s love, if we are to refine our idea of God’s love in an appropriate way and avoid misunderstanding. Thus, anthropomorphic language about God is true when it occurs in Scripture, but it can be understood rightly only by continual reading of Scripture throughout our lives in order that we may understand this language in the context of all of Scripture” (Wayne Grudem, systematic Theology, 159).
You and I must read and reread scripture in concert with our life experiences to better be able to grasp from day to day what our God is like. When I was younger, I understood some of what it meant that God is a father because I grew up with a father. Now I understand more of what it means that God is a father because I now am a father. With the experiences of life, I grow in my understanding of God’s attributes of patience, love, mercy, justice, and so much more.
I’ll give one more example. Being a pastor has helped me to come to gain a deeper understanding of some of the people and events in the Bible. I think immediately of Moses. He was charged by God with guiding a group of people through a wilderness and with directing them to be faithful to God. And Moses knew the sorrow of watching people who had seen the truth of God turn away from him and refuse to follow him. In a small way, every pastor has the experience of seeing individuals and families who, though they have clearly seen the truth of God and experienced his presence, turn away from following him faithfully. Thus, the life experience of a pastor helps the pastor to better understand the Bible’s picture of God.
Make no mistake, my experiences and understandings of God’s attributes do not change the truth of his attributes. If I have a warped view of parenthood, I will have an unclear picture of the reality of who God is. I could easily misunderstand who God is if I apply a warped vision of reality to him, especially if I overemphasize a metaphor to the exclusion of the remainder of the biblical picture of God.
Christians, let this encourage you to not give up on studying and restudying the word of God. You will never fully understand all of who God is. So, with each passing day and each gained experience, you should be able to, by God’s Spirit, understand a bit more of who God is and what he is like.