May 28, 2014 Broadcast

The Aseity of God

A Message by Steven Lawson

Of God’s many distinct attributes, one of the most difficult for finite human beings to come to terms with is His aseity, or self-existence. Unlike us, God has neither beginning nor end, and He is not dependent upon anyone or anything. In this message, as we consider God’s limitless abundance and our own neediness, Dr. Lawson invites us to seek full satisfaction and delight in the one who is the limitless source of all things.

From the series: The Attributes of God

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. article

    Holy Ground

  2. blog-post

    In the Beginning God

  3. devotional

    God's Self-Existence

Holy Ground

T. Desmond Alexander

Of the rich variety of books that make up the Bible, the book of Exodus is unique in providing a micro-picture of the larger biblical story of salvation. Exodus describes how God brings estranged people into a personal relationship with Himself.

The motif of knowing God permeates the book of Exodus. Although at the outset God appears far removed from the plight of the oppressed Israelites, He is well aware of their suffering. As the victims of forced labor and genocide, dehumanized and exploited by their captors, the Israelites cry out to God for help (Ex. 2:23). Fully conscious of their torment, God summons Moses to be the agent through whom He will rescue the Israelites from the control of a satanic dictator.

As Moses shepherds the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, on the slopes of Mount Sinai, he encounters God in the burning bush (3:1–6). Ordered to remove his sandals, Moses quickly realizes that he stands in the presence of the Holy One. And so begins a relationship that will profoundly change the rest of Moses' life.

In Exodus, God makes himself known through both word and action. When Pharaoh claims that he has no knowledge of Moses' God, God displays His power in a series of signs and wonders. These supernatural events are clearly intended to make God known (8:10; 10:2).

The signs and wonders climax in the Passover, an event that the Israelites will memorialize for generations (12:14). The sacrifice of the Passover lambs saves the firstborn male Israelites. The substitutionary death of the lambs ransoms the firstborn males from death by atoning for their sin. The sprinkling of the sacrificial blood on the door frames of the houses purifies those inside. By eating the sacred meat of the sacrificial animals, the Israelites are sanctified, or made holy. All three elements—atonement, purification, and sanctification—are necessary in order for the Israelites to become God's holy people. Importantly, the first Passover foreshadows a much greater Passover that comes through the life-giving death of Jesus Christ, the ultimate Lamb of God. Without Passover, people remain under the judgment of death, alienated from the living God.

While Exodus emphasizes God's role in delivering the Israelites from the tyranny of evil, it also highlights their call to exclusive obedience to their Savior. When the Israelites arrive at Mount Sinai, the people are invited to embrace God as their sole King through a covenant. Whereas Pharaoh imposed himself upon the Israelites, God graciously asks the newly liberated slaves to accept His lordship over them, promising that they will become a royal priesthood and a holy nation (19:6). At no point does God compel the Israelites to obey Him against their will.

God offers the Israelites a very different future. Previously distant from Him, they will now experience God's special presence with them. Previously the victims of exploitation and genocide, they will now enjoy the privilege of being God's treasured possession (19:5). Previously forced to build store-cities for Pharaoh, they will now construct a richly ornate tabernacle for God.

Exodus concludes with the Holy One of Israel taking up residence at the very heart of the Israelite camp (40:34). God's coming to dwell among His people anticipates Jesus Christ's coming to "tabernacle" in human form (John 1:14). Additionally, it foreshadows the ultimate goal of the future New Jerusalem when God will dwell with all those He has redeemed (Rev. 21:3).

In the big picture of divine salvation, God's rescue of the enslaved Israelites marks an important stage in the process of mending the broken relationship between God and humanity. Importantly, it provides a paradigm for understanding the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ. As our Passover, He is the one who redeems us from Satan's control and ransoms us from death.

In the Beginning God

R.C. Sproul

When Genesis speaks of a beginning, it is referring to the advent of the universe in time and space. It is not positing a beginning to God but a beginning to the creative work of God. One of the most enigmatic questions of philosophy and theology relates to the nature of time. Was the universe created in time, or was it created along with time? Did time exist before creation, or did it come into being with creation? Most classical theologians affirm that time correlates with creation. That is, before matter was created, time, at least as we know it, did not exist. How one approaches this question of the origin of time is usually bound up with how one understands the nature of time. Some see time not as an objective reality but merely as a category or construction of the mind.

However we conceive of time, we can agree that the ordinary manner by which we measure time requires a relationship between matter and motion. A simple clock uses hands that move around the face of a dial. We measure time by the motion of these hands. Or we may use an hourglass, which measures time by the passing of sand through a narrow aperture in the glass. The sundial measures time by the movement of a shadow. There are many devices to measure time, but in the final analysis they all rely on some sort of motion relative to some type of matter.

If there is no matter, we cannot measure motion. If we cannot measure motion, we cannot measure time. However, just because we cannot measure time without matter does not mean that without matter time does not exist. Genesis merely asserts that the universe had a beginning. It does not explicitly declare that time began with the universe. That concept is derived via speculative philosophy. The philosophical concerns are usually linked to our broader understanding of the nature of God. Especially when we declare with Scripture that God is eternal, the question of His relationship to time arises. Does His eternality mean that He is somehow outside of time, that He is timeless? Or does His eternality mean that He exists in an endless dimension of time?

If there ever was a time when absolutely nothing existed, all there could possibly be now is nothing. —R.C. Sproul

However we answer this question, we conclude that God Himself never had a beginning. He exists infinitely with respect to space and eternally with respect to time. His existence has neither a starting point nor an ending point. The dimensions of His existence are from everlasting to everlasting. This means that He always has been and always will be.

In the Beginning God

Because God Himself had no beginning, He was already there in the beginning. He antedates the created order. When we affirm that God is eternal, we are also saying that He possesses the attribute of aseity, or self-existence. This means that God eternally has existed of Himself and in Himself. He is not a contingent being. He did not derive from some other source. He is not dependent on any power outside Himself in order to exist. He has no father or mother. He is not an effect of some antecedent cause. In a word, He is not a creature. No creature has the power of being in and of itself. All creatures are contingent, derived, and dependent. This is the essence of their creatureliness.

In the Beginning God Created

Thinkers hostile to theism have sought every means imaginable to provide a rational alternative to the notion of an eternal, self-existent deity. Some have argued for an eternal universe, though with great difficulty. Usually the temporal beginning of the universe is granted, but with a reluctance to assign its cause to an eternal, self-existent being. The usual alternative is some sort of self-creation, which, in whatever form it takes, falls into irrationality and absurdity. To assert the self-creation of anything is to leap into the abyss of the absurd because for something to create itself, it would have had to exist before it existed to do the job. It would have had to be and not be at the same time and in the same relationship. Some speak of self-creation in terms of spontaneous generation, which is just another name for self-creation. This would involve the logically impossible event of something coming from nothing. If there ever was a time when absolutely nothing existed, all there could possibly be now is nothing. Even that statement is problematic because there can never be nothing; if nothing ever was, then it would be something and not nothing.


Excerpt from God's Love by R.C. Sproul. Available now from the Ligonier Store.

Copyright 2012 R.C. Sproul. God's Love published by David C Cook. Publisher permission required to reproduce. All rights reserved.

God's Self-Existence

We conclude our study of the relationship between science and theology with an examination of aseity — the doctrine of God’s self-existence. Aseity is the view that God is entirely self-sufficient and not dependent or contingent upon anything else. In other words, He is the eternal, independent, and personal cause of the universe.

Some thinkers appeal to self-creation in order to account for reality while denying God’s existence. As self-creation is illogical, others attack the concept of causality itself. An appeal to the philosophy of David Hume is often made to prove that uncaused effects do exist.

Using his famous illustration of a pool table, Hume stated that we never perceive the immediate cause of anything that happens. True, we strike a cue ball with a pool stick and believe the ball moves because of the impact. However, this does not prove striking the ball causes it to roll across the table. All we have seen for sure, Hume said, is a relationship of contiguity ­— a relationship where one event follows another in sequence. We assume the cause behind the effect but cannot be certain that something else did not cause the ball to move. Perhaps an unseen force was the actual cause of movement (as Christians, we answer Hume’s skepticism by saying both the cue stick and the unseen force of God’s decree make the ball roll).

In any case, Hume did not deny that causes exist, he just believed we cannot determine what they are. The law of causality still holds true: “Every effect must have a cause.”

In order for anything to exist, an uncaused something, or someone, must exist. It is not an uncaused effect that must exist, for there can be no such thing. Self-creation, an uncaused effect, may be an illogical contradiction, but a self-existent, “uncaused cause” is not.

This “uncaused cause” must have the power of being within itself — it must exist in and of itself. This cause must be eternal, for that which does not exist cannot later bring itself into existence. Moreover, this cause must be personal for an impersonal one could not create personal beings. Only a personal, self-existent God can answer the question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

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