What are the Communicable and Incommunicable Attributes of God?

Gods AttributesThe Bible teaches that man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). To some extent we are similar to God in that we have certain similarities with him although they are to a lesser degree. For instance, man has knowledge and God has knowledge, but God’s knowledge is greater given that he is an omniscient being; that is to say that God knows all things. Man can love but God’s love is greater and purer given that he is also holy, good, and without sin. God is a rational being and man is a rational being, but God is vastly more rational than man could ever be; indeed, man’s rationality is derivative of God’s. In theological discourse, these attributes that we share with God are called “communicable” attributes. They are the attributes of God that can be communicated to the creature albeit in a finite way. However, there are many ways in which God is completely different than man. When discussing God and man we need to be careful to always make the proper creator/creature distinction. Even in the areas where there is similarity between God and man, those similarities must be qualified and carefully nuanced.

Just as there are attributes of God that can be communicated to man, and in some sense shared; there are what theologians call Incommunicable attributes. These are attributes of God that are not nor can be shared with creatures. It is in these attributes that God is completely different from man. An example would be in the divine attribute of omnipresence (God is everywhere). While omnipresence is an attribute of God, it is not an attribute of man. Man can know what this attribute means, but it can never be understood experientially. I can know what omnipresence is, but I can never know what it is for myself to be omnipresent. Indeed, it is an essential feature of my humanity and createdness that I have location. As a human person, I am a soul with a body. By the very nature of the case, I am limited given the fact that I am finite, and as a soul with a physical body, I have spatial boundaries. My body is located here in front of my computer. God on the other hand is not so limited. God does not have a body, rather, he is a Spirit (John 4:24). Furthermore, he is everywhere (Jeremiah 23:23). There is no “here” for God, nor is there “over there” for God; he is everywhere.

Why are the communicable and Incommunicable attributes of God important? Because on the one hand, we need to understand that God is unique and greater than we are, yet, on the other hand, God desired to create beings that share aspects of his nature. This point of connection allows us to relate to God, and God to us. The God of the Bible is not an impersonal being that cannot communicate with his creatures. The fact that we are created in his image allows for a point of connection and relationship. In a way it demonstrates God’s love for us and desire to be in relationship with man. Let us give thanks that God created man in his image, and let us stand in awe and worship at the beautiful uniqueness of the triune God of scripture.

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