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THEOLOGY > God > God's Essence > God is Spirit    


“God is spirit” (Jo. 4:24). To say that God is spirit is to say that God is not material and, therefore, that He is not to be equated with any facet of the created order—God is totally independent of His creation. He cannot be seen, nor has He been seen, for He is without composition. “Invisible” (Col. 1:15; I Tim. 1:17) is the term Paul uses of God, stating that God dwells in “unapproachable light” (I Tim. 6:16). Totally different and totally distinct from anything that is made is God, simply because He is not made. “None of the properties of matter can be predicated of him” (Hodge, ST, I, 378). God is neither a leaf nor a flower, and He is neither in the sunset nor in the rainbow. God is absolutely alone (separate from all substances) and unique (different from all substances). God is not like anything that has been made, for “the whole essence of God is spiritual” (Calvin, Institutes, I, 145).

God is not material, but spiritual, not “a spirit” but “Spirit.” He does not have a literal face, literal arms, literal fingers, or literal eyes. Scripture, however, constantly speaks of God as though He has a body, with references being made to physical features such as feet, hands, fingers, face, and eyes. How are these and similar statements to be understood?

Such physical references are considered to be anthropomorphisms, the method of speaking of God in human terms. “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed” (Ps. 139:16), wrote the psalmist, with the meaning being not a reference to God’s literal eyes seeing a substance in the womb, but rather a clear reference to God’s knowledge of the smallest detail of the future. “The eyes of YHWH are in every place” (Prov. 15:3) certifies that God knows everything that happens in all places. God is not literally like that (literal eyes), but God is spoken of like that so that man’s understanding of God and His acts will be enhanced. Human terms are used to convey definite and appropriate concepts of God and of His relationship to His creation. God uses that with which man is familiar to teach man something about Himself that man needs to know. Instruction and comprehension explain the use of such literary devices.

Because God is Spirit, and thus invisible, man is not to make an image or any likeness to represent God, for God is not like anything that is material and visible. It is impossible to make an image of God because “every figurative representation of God contradicts his being” (Calvin, Institutes, I, 100). “To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him?” inquired the prophet (Isa. 40:18). These questions were not asked to be answered but asked to teach the obvious. To make an image of God is to debase God, making Him like something He is not; to make an image is to violate the Law which forbids equating God with that which can be made—to do so is a “great sin” (Ex. 32:30-31).

To make an image is to seek vainly to represent the spiritual by the material. Images degrade and ultimately destroy the worship of God, for worship is to be “in spirit” just as God is Spirit. To focus on an image is to focus on something that is not only not God but also not like God, for any image will be material—but God is spiritual. Images detract from His glory for they cannot convey His glory, rather, they suggest that God is limited and confined. This is why all images teach heresy. Our conception of God is to become more glorious and awesome, not more perverted by thinking of Him like a man, a beast, and least of all a serpent.

Our mind is to contemplate God as the One who “sits above the circle of the earth” (Isa. 40:22); as the One living “in a high and holy place,” but also with him who “has a contrite and humble spirit” (57:15); as the One who knows that “the nations are as a drop in a bucket” and who counts them as “the small dust on the scales” (40:15); as the One who brings out the starry host one by one, calling “them all by name” (v. 26); as the One “who makes all things, who stretches out the heavens all alone, who spreads abroad the earth” (44:24); and as the One “Who teaches you to profit, Who leads you by the way you should go” (48:17).

If indeed God is like this, how ridiculous to think a piece of wood or stone can be carved or sculptured to depict Him. Man’s spiritual blindness and ignorance are manifested in what should be most sacred to him, his worship of God. To worship that which is made as representing Him who is unmade reveals darkness and depravity. Such images made by man “know nor understand; for He has shut their eyes so that they cannot see, and their hearts so that they cannot understand” (Isa. 44:18). How foolish to say to what has been made, “Deliver me; for you are my god!” (v. 17). To represent God with the material is to place God on the level of the material. Human images of God display human corruption and disgrace God’s nature.

Since God is Spirit then the image of God with which man has been endowed is not to be sought exclusively in the body of man, not in the visible (the body), but in the invisible (the soul, the spirit, the mind). The image of God in man is not mainly the tangible and material, but the intangible and the spiritual. What one sees when one looks at another person is not the total image of God or part of the image of God; the image cannot be seen. Though not seen the image is nonetheless real, as real as God is real. These comments do not discount the idea that the totality of man is the image of God (see: Image of God and Nature of the Image).

To exist as spirit (to be Spirit) is the greatest existence or being possible. Man speaks of it but does not know of what he speaks. To contemplate God’s Being as spiritual is a contemplation that is without comprehension, meaning man is reflecting upon an Existence, a Being—the only Being—a Spirit that he does not have the capacity to fathom. Man is struck with awe and amazement; he is filled with wonder. He surrenders in worship.

God is spirit.
Jo. 4:24

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