Lots of Christians recognize the first question and answer from the Westminster Shorter Catechism: What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. Not as many know the fourth question and answer: What is God? God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.
I’m not sure if the story is true or not, but I have heard that the assembly of pastors and theologians gathered to write this catechism (the year was 1646) had come to a standstill in their attempt to write a short description of God. How do you answer the question, “What is God?” As the story goes, as they were about to take a break from the difficult task of writing an answer to that question, they asked someone to pray. He addressed his prayer to God, who is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. When he was finished praying, someone suggested they write down what he had just prayed and that became their answer to the question. It’s a short description, but it is rich in meaning.
Jesus said, “God is a Spirit” (John 4:24). The Bible affirms these truths about God: He is infinite – he has no limitations in terms of time, space or knowledge. He is eternal – God had no beginning, He has always existed and will continue to exist. And God is not just unchanging, He is unchangeable – “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). For something to be unchanging just means it hasn’t changed yet, but it could change in the future. To be unchangeable means it is impossible for it to become something different than it is right now. God will not change. He will not suddenly become different than what He has revealed about himself in Scripture or in Christ. He won’t change His mind about what He has promised or come up with a different way of saving people from the guilt and power of sin.
But what you might miss in the structure of that sentence is the way those three words (“infinite, eternal, and unchangeable”) modify the words that follow. Read it like this: God is infinite in his being, infinite in wisdom, infinite in power, infinitely holy, infinitely just, infinitely good and infinite in truth. God is eternal in his being – he has always been what He is now. He has always been wise. His power has always been as it is now – he has not grown weaker with age like we do. He is eternal - He doesn’t age. He has always been holy, always just, always good and always truthful. And God is unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.
The fact that God is infinite, eternal and unchangeable in all his attributes is not an abstract, theoretical idea for theologians to debate. What you believe about God will shape the way you respond to life. When you lose your job or hear the doctor say you have cancer, it will be hard to trust that God is infinitely good and wise. Bad things happen, things you would not expect a good and wise God to allow. You experience injustices and see the darkness of evil in so many ways that you could easily doubt the wisdom, power and goodness of God.
When I am struggling with believing something that happened has come from an infinitely wise, powerful and good God, it helps to answer another question: What is man? The answer is: Man is a creature, finite, short-lived, and changeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. My wisdom and insight into what would be best in any given situation is definitely finite. My power to change things or control a situation is limited. I am changeable from day to day in terms of my strength of commitment to just about anything. My goodness and holiness are quite finite! So why should I assume I know what would have been best and wisest for God to do in some situation? Why should I assume justice will never be done if I don’t take matters into my own hands? Why do I think I have the capacity to tell God what goodness should look like in my life?
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! `For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’” …(Romans 11:33-34).
I think I should be able to understand what is inscrutable! But I don’t know the mind of God. He doesn’t need my counsel to know what to do in any situation. I will not understand a lot of what God does in my life and in the world until I stand before Him face to face. From the perspective of eternity, God’s infinite goodness and wisdom will be perfectly clear. Before that time, God has not promised to give me explanations for things that happen. He doesn’t defend his decisions. I don’t have the right to demand answers for all my questions. Instead, God has given me good reason to trust Him. He has revealed his character in Scripture and in Christ Jesus. And he has given His Spirit to enable me to believe Him and trust Him.
It fills me with tremendous joy to know that God is infinitely, eternally and unchangeably good, wise, powerful and all the rest. So much of what I experience in life is finite, temporary and subject to change. In a world that is constantly changing and always unpredictable, I need to know there is one thing that is absolutely reliable, trustworthy and unchanging. There is a God who can be trusted to never change and to always keep His promises