Our small groups at Christ Presbyterian Church are currently going through Ligonier’s course, The Attributes of God, taught by Steven Lawson, and the first attribute discussed was on the aseity of God. “Aseity” is not a term most people are familiar with, but it comes from Latin and according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary refers to the absolute self-sufficiency, independence, and autonomy of God. This is a pretty abstract idea, but the key thing about this is that God is completely free, independent, and self-sufficient. He is not dependent on or beholden to anyone or anything. I think the Westminster Confession really draws this out fully:
God has all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of Himself; and is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which He has made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting His own glory in, by, unto, and upon them: He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things, and has most sovereign dominion over them; to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever He pleases. In His sight all things are open and manifest; His knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to Him contingent, or uncertain. He is most holy in all His counsels, in all His works, and in all His commands. To Him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience He is pleased to require of them.Westminster Confession of Faith 2.2
So, what are we supposed to do with this concept? God is self-sufficient. Ok, I get it. Now what? Well, all of God’s attributes should drive us to worship the greatness of our God, but this attribute is a lynchpin with some real and practical implications. I would at least four things that this attribute affects:
1. Our attitude toward God: We think everything revolves around us. But if God is the one who is the source of all things, the mover and sustainer of all things, and is directing all things to His glory, then simply put, the world doesn’t revolve around us. We need a major attitude adjustment. In some ways, it may be useful to think about this doctrine negatively, that is, what would the implications be if God was not self-sufficient or was somehow beholden to us? The whole history of non-Christian thought (and even some Christian thought) is an exercise in trying to put God in our debt, making Him somehow dependent on us, but a God who depends on us for anything is a weak God.
2. Our salvation: A God who is not dependent on us or anything in creation can be a scary God if we consider Him independent of His other attributes. God is the source of all things and all things exist for His glory. Our purpose is for His glory, indeed, not just for His glory but to commune with Him. We need to make sure that we are in good with this God–but the Bible tells us, we’re not, and that’s why we need salvation. This should also drive our apologetics and evangelism. If God is the most absolute thing in existence, then what are things people treat as absolute and what are the implications of trusting in those things? How does that highlight one’s need for God?
3. Our worship of God. For us as Christians, that God is absolute, self-sufficient and completely independent should move us to a reverent fear and awe. God is not a Being who jumps at our beck and call, and yet how often do we typically think that is the case? The fact that He has extended grace to us and does provide us with blessing is certainly to His praise, but ultimately, we have to worship Him not for what He can do for us, but for who He is in and of Himself. Along with this, with such a God, we need to worship Him as He wants, not as we want. Do we do this? Also, because God is absolute and independent, we can trust Him absolutely. Again, do we do this? These are questions we need to ask ourselves.
4. Our Christian worldview: A worldview is made up of an understanding of overarching reality (metaphysics), knowledge (epistemology), and behavior (ethics). Non-Christian thought starts with the universe being eternal and the product of random chance; all knowledge starts with ourselves, as does our ethics. In the Christian worldview, because God is absolute, He transcends the universe and there is not ultimate randomness. Because He is absolute, He is the source of all knowledge, therefore a true understanding of reality requires starting with a biblical framing. Lastly, because He is absolute, there are no virtues He needs to conform to; His character forms the virtues that we need to conform to. Morality, therefore, has an absolute basis; indeed, it is the only real solid basis for any morality.
- Reality: God transcends everything and everything finds its source in Him. There is no randomness in the universe or something God has to react to. He is a totally unhindered actor. He does not have to do anything for anyone. Our reason for even existing at all is bound up with God’s glory. This should cause us to stand in awe, even fear.
- Knowledge: God not only knows more than we do, He is the source for all knowledge. We know things because He has revealed Himself and those things to us. As Cornelius Van Til would always say, we think God’s thoughts after Him. This means that any system of thought that does not begin with God will always be skewed.
- Behavior: All basis for morality is found in God, and there can be no real basis for morality apart from God. There are abstract ethical principles that God has to subscribe to. God not just gives us moral standards and exemplifies those standards, His character and being are the ground for those standards.
Scripturally, the key text one needs to keep coming back to is Romans 11:33-36: “For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor? Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to Him? For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be the glory forever. Amen” (cf. Isa. 40:13, Jer. 23:18, Job 36:22 and 41:11). I can think of no better doxology.