On a personal level, it means he does not need us, but we need him—desperately, even when we don’t realize it.
In this series we explore who God really is. We have a saving knowledge of him and we pray to him, but who is he really?
Let’s begin with this essential aspect of God’s character, who he is.
His attribute of self-existence, strictly speaking, is incommunicable or nontransferable or “unshareable,” which means he does not communicate it or share it with us in an absolute sense. For one thing, we depend on oxygen and food and water. And when we were born, we depended on our parents. However, our parents got a little taste of independence or self-existence when they realized their baby needed them for existence, but they did not need their baby for existence. So self-existence retains a feeble and faint trace in us, but nowhere near God’s absolute self-existence.
Often in theology the big word for self-existence is aseity (pronounced uh-SEE-uh-tee or ah-SAY-i-tee).
What do theologians say?
Don’t feel frustrated if you have to read this section several times before it “clicks.”
Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms defines the big term aseity as follows:
Aseitas: Having being from oneself … Aseitas is, literally, a-se-itas, from-self-ness, indicating self-existence (p. 42).
Reformed theologian Louis Berkhof:
As the self-existent God, He is not only independent in Himself, but also causes everything to depend on Him. This self-existence finds expression in the name Jehovah [I Am]. It is only as the self-existent and independent One that God can give the assurance that He will remain eternally the same in relation to His people. (p. 58)
Borrowing from Berkhof, Wayne Grudem calls it God’s independence and defines it thus:
God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything, yet we and the rest of creation can glorify him and bring him joy. This attribute of God is sometimes called his self-existence or his aseity … (p. 100, emphasis original)
Norman Geisler is more philosophical:
Aseity … denotes that He exists in and of Himself, independent of anything else. He is self-existent.
Being self-existent, however, is not the same as being self-caused (causa sui). It is impossible to cause one’s own existence, since, again, a cause is ontologically prior to its effect … Thus a self-existent Being (a Being with aseity) is not a self-caused being; rather, a self-existent Being is an uncaused Being. It simply has no cause, since only beings who can possibly not be need a cause. Hence, a Being who not possibly not be must be an uncaused (necessary) Being. (p. 435, emphasis original)
Translation of Geisler: A being that does not have to exist needs a cause. It is contingent. But since it is impossible for God not to exist, he is the uncaused, necessary Being. “Necessity has to do with the impossibility of His nonexistence” (ibid.). Necessary ≠ contingent. We and all creation are contingent; he is Necessary, and the only necessary Being that exists. We contingent beings depend on him for our existence.
Finally, Donald Frame comes up with these synonyms for aseity: independence, self-existence, self-sufficiency, self-containment and absolute; he exists “without receiving existence from something else” (Systematic, p. 406).
This attribute or perfection of God means that he is independent of his creation, self-sufficient in himself, cannot not exist, uncaused, without beginning or end and remains eternally the same for his people.
What do the Scriptures say?
I use the NIV here. If you would like to see the following verses in many translations or in their contexts, please go to biblegateway.com.
Here is a mere sample of verses.
He existed before creation and outside of it:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Gen. 1:1)
“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Rev. 4:11)
His very name means existence:
God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Ex. 3:14)
He is his own existence:
For as the Father has life in himself … (John 5:26)
He possesses everything, but it does not possess him. God needs nothing in his creation:
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it (Ps. 24:1)
I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, 10 for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. 11 I know every bird in the mountains, and the insects in the fields are mine. 12 If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. 13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? (Ps. 50:9-12)
He is unlike anything in creation:
Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. (Is. 44:7)
God is self-existent or independent from everything, but it is not self-existent or independent of him:
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ 29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. (Acts 17:24-29)
He is self-existent or independent in his thoughts:
33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?” (Rom. 11:33-34)
He is self-existent or independent in his will and counsel:
But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. (Ps. 33:11)
He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will. (Eph. 1:5)
He is self-existent or independent in his power:
Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. (Ps. 115:3)
He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” (Dan. 4:35)
How do I get to know God more deeply?
We can know him more deeply when we realize the following:
God does not need us. He does not need his creation. He is independent from all of it. He does not need our worship, but we owe him our worship. He does not need our love, but we need his love.
However, our soul is prone to self-delusion. We believe that we are self-existent on a human scale and need no one. We certainly don’t believe that we need God. Who knows, however? Maybe we have the nagging feeling that we have broken some invisible moral law, even though we don’t know where it comes from. We don’t realize we have broken God’s moral law. We have the nagging feeling that something has gone wrong. The gospel can show us the good news that God loves us.
The gospel proves that God’s aseity does not mean he is immobile or static, unmoved by our great need for him. It is great and awesome privilege that God created us in the first place and now reaches out to us in order to communicate with us and reveal himself to us. He did not have to, for he was content in his relationship with his Son through the Holy Spirit in eternity past.
The fact that he created us with a soul demonstrates how much he loves us. His entire creation demonstrates his love too. Its existence and our existence prove he is love, much like parents who try to have a baby and are blessed with one.
He did all of this out of his free and generous will and bountiful grace, uncoerced and unforced. He wanted to make us and the universe.
Therefore, God does not need us, and he is independent of us, but he wants us. He wants to shower his love and knowledge of him on us. He wants us to be with him forever in his eternal kingdom, in eternal fellowship with him.
Written by James Malcolm
ARTICLES IN THE SERIES “DO I REALLY KNOW GOD?”
Do I Really Know God? He Is Self-Existent