The first time I heard the word aseity was while sitting in a seminary class at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School with Dr. D. A. Carson. He was my advisor during my seminary years, and I heard Dr. Carson say many times: “I’ve learned over the years that my students don’t remember everything I teach them . . . but they do tend to remember what I am most excited about!” God’s aseity was a doctrine that I still remember Dr. Carson being excited to teach!
God’s aseity refers to God being eternally and completely “of himself.” The word comes from the Latin. It’s a compound word made up of two smaller words: “a” (from) and “-se” (self). To talk about the aseity of God, then, is to say that God is from and of himself. He is completely self-originating and dependent on nothing other than himself.
When we’re talking about God’s aseity, we are referring to the way that God has existed from eternity past completely independently of anything else—completely “of himself”—and therefore satisfied and delighted in himself. It goes without saying that this is not a “communicable” attribute of God (humans don’t share this attribute with God!). Now, here’s how I found this doctrine connecting with other systematic theological categories.
What does God’s aseity mean for the creation of the world?
I remember learning about creation (Genesis 1–2) in a Sunday school class when I was probably 6 or 7 years old. One of the kids asked the Sunday school teacher, “Why did God make Adam and Eve?” I remember her answering something like this: “God made Adam and Eve because he was ‘lonely’ and he wanted people to be with him and be his friends.”
Is that correct? Why would God choose to create the universe and human beings?
The doctrine of aseity tells us that God’s decision to create cannot be because of any deficiency in God. He didn’t need the universe in order to be happy. He wasn’t lonely without us! So, why create?
God’s creation of the universe—and human beings—must be the abundant, joyful, gracious overflow of his goodness and kindness. What an amazing thought! God’s creation must be a result of his joyful delight to share and display his glory in all the universe and with all his creatures!
What does God’s aseity mean for the salvation of sinners?
In Genesis 3, God could have been justifiably done with humanity! Adam and Eve had been living in the Garden of Eden, walking with God, enjoying his creation and stewarding it, and living in perfect fellowship with their Creator. And in that terrible moment, they listened to the lies of Satan and rebelled against the word of their good God. God could have wiped humanity from the earth, but he doesn’t do that.
Instead, we get Genesis 3:15, the protoevangelion or “first gospel.” God looks far into the future and promises that Eve’s seed—his own Son—will crush the head of the serpent and destroy Satan, sin, and death for his sinful people! The question is Why?
I want to suggest that the doctrine of God’s aseity gives us only one answer: God does this out of his sheer delight in demonstrating his grace! It’s the joyful overflow of God’s demonstration of this aspect of his character: his mercy and grace.
In the wake of the Fall of Adam and Eve, God delights in revealing his gracious character through the redemptive work of his Son for sinners, which would not have been the case if sin had never entered the world. In other words, the work of redemption gives us an opportunity to see God’s character and sing praises to him that would not have been possible without sin!
You can see this in the “songs of heaven” that the apostle John witnesses in his visions of Revelation 4 and 5. In Revelation 4, he sees and hears the angelic beings singing to God the Father as Creator. Simply because of creation, God deserves glory and praise! But then in Revelation 5, John hears the angels singing a “new” song. What’s new about it? It’s a song of praise to the Lamb—specifically because of Christ’s work of redemption through the cross.
Why would the God of aseity choose to save sinners who had rebelled against him? He does it from the sheer delight of demonstrating his grace.
What does God’s aseity mean for what he wants from us?
One could argue that this is the most important question of life: What does God, who made me, want from me? In considering his aseity, I think it’s Isaiah 66:1–2 that provides God’s answer to this question:
Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”
What does the God of aseity want from me? God says, I made everything. I don’t need your temple or any ‘house’ that you might build for me. The very earth is like a footstool for me!
This was, by the way, in stark contrast with the pagan deities of the Canaanite peoples. Their idols were thought to rely on the sacrifices and rituals that their followers gave them. God is saying through the prophet Isaiah, I’m not like that! He even clarifies in Psalm 50 that he doesn’t eat the bulls and goats that his people offer to him in sacrifice.
So, if God doesn’t need anything from us, then what does he want from us? Simply this, according to Isaiah 66:2: that we be “humble and contrite,” and that we “tremble” at his “Word.” God delights in people who humbly delight in him, trembling in both awe and joy at his life-giving word.
The doctrine of God’s aseity, then, makes it very clear what we bring to the table in our relationship with God. What is the one thing we have to offer that he doesn’t? Simply our need. We bring to the God of aseity the gaping opposite of aseity. We bring him our sin—and our need. As Jonathan Edwards wrote: “The only thing we contribute to our salvation is the sin that makes it necessary.” And God the Father, in Christ, delights to both forgive us and adopt us as sons and daughters.
What does God’s aseity mean for eternity ahead of us?
If we were to fast-forward one million years into the future, to find ourselves with Jesus and God’s people in the new heaven and new earth, what does God’s aseity tell us about that eternal existence?
We can conclude that God certainly doesn’t need us to “work the farm” in the new heavens and new earth! The apostle Paul tells us that we’ll “judge angels” one day and John tells us we’ll “reign with Christ.” But it’s not as if God needs our help in his eternal judgement and reign.
Here’s what we must conclude: It must be that God delights to share his glory and even his reign with his redeemed people, for all eternity. When we think about eternal life stretching out before us, we should think about our Savior’s delight to share his joy with us—to welcome us into his glory and to offer us eternally fulfilling work and worship.
God does this not out of any need or deficiency, but out of his abundant grace and sheer delight.
Do you see how this attribute of God touches so many different aspects of Christian doctrine?
Christian, this is an attribute of God that ought to make you say of him, What a God! He doesn’t need us, but he delights to give himself to us through the redeeming work of his Son. And, for all eternity to come, we will share in the joy and reign of the God of aseity, who has shared himself with those who so desperately need him.
Jon Nielson is the author of Knowing God’s Truth: An Introduction to Systematic Theology.
His almighty power makes it possible for him to reach out to us in love and to save us from our sins. This is why the attributes of God matter.
Let’s explore how various attributes of God are displayed in his truthfulness. “Attributes” of God are terms describing who he is.
Most of us take God’s attributes for granted and seldom think about them specifically. They may be hard to fathom, but they matter greatly for our relationship to him.
How should we understand God in his fullness—both near to us as our Father and yet above and beyond us as our Creator?