God’s Most Notable Attribute

I originally ran this post back on August 16, 2013, yet I thought that it may be of interest to you again today, particularly since so many of you weren’t readers of this blog back then. This is a critical point in understanding Scripture, a point that is well worth reconsidering every so often, so here goes. I hope you find re-examining it as useful as I have…

I used to ask seminary students this question, “What is God’s most notable attribute from the ancient Hebrew point of view?”

Nobody ever got it right the first time around!

I got answers that contained wonderful divine attributes and these always included love, mercy, kindness and the sharper ones would chime in with faithfulness.  But theologically speaking, these are all subcategories of the one I was looking for.

To the Hebrew, God’s most notable attribute is restraint.

Without restraint, God (and man, for that matter) cannot possess love, mercy, kindness or faithfulness., for each of these things requires restraint.  Bear in mind that God is all- powerful; that He did not use His power to obliterate Adam and Eve when they deliberately rebelled against Him shows tremendous restraint.  Truly, if I had that kind of power, and you rebelled against me, you would be toast, and maybe that’s why I didn’t get God’s job!

Of course, my little remark above demonstrates that I don’t think the way the ancient Hebrews did.  I am Western in my thought process.  To the Greek mindset, and the Western mode of thought that most of us have, God is more notable for His power than for His restraint, and this shows up clearly in much of the Western church tradition, particularly in the Catholic tradition.  Not so for the Hebrew…

This is of vital importance for us to recognize today as we study the Scriptures and try to understand them more fully, and it is crucial if we want to understand how God is working both in the church and in the world around us.  He is exercising restraint. The very fact that He works through His people to make disciples is a perfect example of this restraint, for since He is all-powerful, all-present and all-knowing, couldn’t He make disciples of every human being by some sort of process like a direct download? Of course He could but He doesn’t.


A couple more examples of restraint that are helpful for Westerners to pick this idea up are these:

1. God has given His revelation to Man in the form of the Bible.  The Bible shows us the mind of God in human language and is limited to the rules of human grammar. This puts a limitation to the expression of concepts that are heavenly, for we have no language to communicate those things, so we have passages that are communicated in allegory, metaphors or parables.

2. To establish relationships with humans, God makes covenants with people.  A covenant, by its very nature, restricts the actions of both parties in order to reach an agreement. Christians have a relationship with God as a result of entering the New Covenant.  The New Covenant requires both Man and God to do or not to do certain things, all of which require restraint.

3. God allows Man to have free will.  The fact that we have the ability and freedom to choose either to enter and keep a covenant relationship with God, or to turn our backs and walk away, requires tremendous restraint of God’s part.

There are many other examples, but this is probably enough to think about for one post.  Try to remember this the next time you are moved to ask something like…

How could God allow…?

Why doesn’t God just…?

Why does evil persist?

…and so on.  The answer to these types of questions is that God is most notable for His restraint, and this is the same restraint that makes it possible for you and I to have our sins forgiven and for us to receive the gift of eternal life.

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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24 Responses to God’s Most Notable Attribute

  1. Reblogged this on The Bible Stop and commented:
    Want to know why evil exists if God is so good? Here is an article that explains it from a different angle than most.

  2. Elaine says:

    What a great thing to think about as we start out our day and worship in His house today as well as fellowship with His people. Reblogging this! Have a blessed Sunday Don!

  3. Elaine says:

    Reblogged this on Elaine's Random Thoughts and commented:
    Great food for thought! Restraint is not a word I would have thought of, at least not my first thought of God’s greatest attribute.

  4. bwdell says:

    Great idea. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Yes Don it is True God does allow us to have free will, who wants someone to Love them when they have no choice. God is Love and all things come from His Love, including His Power and restraint as we see in the Scriptures below, to know God we need His wisdom by the empowering of The Holy Spirit 1Corinthians2:9-16 both of which we ask for and believe we have received. Jesus tells us to Seek, Ask and Knock.

    1 Corinthians 13:4 -8a Love is Patient, Love is Kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always Protects, always Trusts, always Hopes, always Perseveres, Love never fails.

    But the fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Forbearance, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control. Against such things there is no law.

    1John 4:16-17 And we have known and believed the Love that God hath to us. God is Love; and he that dwelleth in Love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our Love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as He is, so are we in this world

    1 John 4:10-12 Herein is Love, not that we Loved God, but that He Loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so Loved us, we ought also to Love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we Love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us.

    2 Corinthians 13:11 Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in Peace; and the God of Love and Peace shall be with you.

    1 Corinthians 13:13 And now abide Faith, Hope, Love, these three; but the greatest of these is Love.

    Christian Love from us both – Anne

  6. Thankfully in His Great Mercy and Patience towards us, God blesses us with undeserving restraint ~ Amen :Y

  7. Rebeca Jones says:

    I had never thought of it in terms of restraint. Mercy, yes. Long suffering, indeed. But restraint implies a whole lot more. It embodies mercy and love and patience without watering down His power, strength, and magnificence. Beautifully worded and thought-provoking, as usual, Don. Thank you!

  8. Pingback: God’s Most Notable Attribute | A disciple's study

  9. Very, very good and insightfull. Thanks.

  10. dtkleven says:

    Interesting post! I’m curious, on what basis do you say that restraint is the ‘most notable’ attribute to the Hebrews? Most mentioned? Foundational in some key passage(s)?

    • Don Merritt says:

      Excellent question. I draw from the foundational basis of the relationship and association between God and the Hebrews. This relationship which is formalized through a series of covenants between them and God are built upon the basis of covenant faithfulness on both sides. God, in entering into this covenant relationship has entered into a series of covenant promises with the Hebrew, and their acceptance of the obligations of covenant is based upon their belief that God will keep his promises. In order for that to happen, the free exercise of God’s unlimited power must be subordinated to his promises within the covenant. At the same time, mercy, lovingkindness and faithfulness as attributes may result from his keeping of covenant, and all of this covenant keeping is borne out of restraint. Thus, more than any other single attribute of God, the ancient Hebrew would have to place their complete faith in God’s restraint.

      • dtkleven says:

        This post has been rattling around in my brain this weekend 🙂

        Is ‘mercy’ a synonym for what you are calling ‘restraint’? I’m thinking the Hebrew word ‘rahum’ and verses like Deuteronomy 4:31, in which God’s rahum is the basis of His covenant keeping.

        Am I thinking any of your thoughts after you, here?

        • Don Merritt says:

          Almost. Restraint is , at least in my view, a prerequisite to both ‘rahum’ and “hesed”

          Suppose I have complete and unlimited freedom of action and superior strength and power. Someone comes along and deliberately caused me harm. I have a choice to make in response to that deliberately harmful act: I can retaliate and cause them greater harm… and maybe they have that coming, or I can have mercy on them and forgive them. Which course of action requires that I first have restraint? Here’s another example: Both you and I can speak, and if we can speak, then it is within our power to speak profanity and lies whenever we want to, but if we choose not to do that which we have the full power to do, then we must exercise restraint.

          Nobody can force God to do anything. We cannot make Him enter covenant with us, nor can we force Him to love or forgive us; these are all things He initiates because He has restrained His very real power to wipe us all out any time e wants to. So it seems to me that all love, mercy, faithfulness and covenant keeping are the fruits of His restraint, not of His power, and the verse you cited shows that the ancients were relying upon this.

  11. What a unique perspective about God. I would have to agree restraint has to be a noble attribute considering some of the points mentioned. Also with the western mindset I tend to lean toward to inexhaustible power and knowledge of God. Then to think how the two extremes coincide in their fullest extent in our God. Simply amazing!

  12. pfworld2014 says:

    Thanks for ds! I just reblogged

  13. olubukie says:

    Whao! This is mind blowing. A great insight. God bless you.

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