The First Call to Worship

Twelve Attributes of God in One Verse

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Professor, Westminster Theological Seminary

In December 1968, as Apollo 8 orbited the moon, the voice of Bill Anders sounded back to earth with some of the most familiar words in the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” As Genesis 1:1 stands, it is a simple yet profound statement of fact. Yet it is also more than that. It is factual, yes, but it is also liturgical. Genesis 1:1 is the first call to worship. In the opening line of Scripture, God calls us to worship him for who he is and what he has done in creation.

Theology Behind the Liturgy

Genesis 1:1 is liturgical because it is first theological. By good and necessary consequence, we may reasonably deduce twelve attributes of God from this one verse.

1. God Is One

In the beginning, there was God and only God. This is one of the Bible’s great claims: there is one God, and besides him there is no other (Isaiah 45:5). Connected to this truth is God’s oneness, otherwise known as his simplicity. Because God is Creator, not created, he is a simple being, not a composite being. God is one; he has no parts. Indeed, in the Old Testament, the oneness of God is at the heart of Israel’s worship: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

2. God Is Spirit

Before the creation of the heavens and the earth, there was nothing but God. Space, time, matter, and energy were all created by him, which means that he himself does not consist in space, time, matter, or energy. As Creator, God is distinct in his essence from the world he has created. In the New Testament, Jesus states explicitly what is said here implicitly: “God is spirit” (John 4:24).

3. God Is Eternal

For God to be present in the beginning, he had to exist before the beginning of time, which means that God is outside of time. His existence is eternal. He was there in the beginning because he had no beginning, and he will be there in the end because he also has no end. God was and is and is to come — he is eternal. “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2).

4. God Is Infinite

The phrase “the heavens and the earth” is a merism: two polar opposites that also include everything in between. In other words, “In the beginning, God made everything.” By everything, however, we should think not simply of the physical universe. The heavens and the earth include the invisible as well as the visible, realms unseen and seen. Given their created nature, these realms are finite, but for God to create finite realms, he himself must be infinite. The Bible conveys this truth by affirming his immensity or omnipresence (Isaiah 6:3; Jeremiah 23:23–24), but also by stating how unfathomable his majesty is: “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3).

5. God Is Unchangeable

Before God created everything, he simply was. This means that there was nothing external to God that could change him — his being was the same throughout eternity past. And after he created everything, since the universe was (and is) dependent upon him, it could not (and cannot) change him. God has remained the same in eternity past, and he will remain the same in eternity future. The God who was and is and is to come is the same God. In short, he is unchangeable. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).

6. God Is Self-Existent

God existed before the world, and therefore he was not dependent upon what he created. In his essence, God is independent; he relies on no one and nothing for his existence. Theologians call this God’s aseity, from the Latin a se, meaning that God is “from himself.” That is, God derives his existence from himself and not from anything else. God is pure being; indeed, his name is Being. When Moses asks God for his name, he answers, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:13–14).

7. God Is Life

For God to create life in heaven and on earth — angels, vegetation, fish, birds, reptiles, animals, and mankind — he had to have life in himself. God had to be the living God to create living beings. The Bible affirms that God is life itself (1 John 5:20), has life in himself (John 5:26), is the fountain of life (Psalm 36:9), and is the one in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Indeed, God says of himself, “As I live forever . . .” (Deuteronomy 32:40).

8. God Is Immortal

Since God lived by himself in an undisturbed life before creation, there was nothing that could take his life. And since what he created is dependent upon him for life, there is still nothing that can take his life. God has life in himself, which means that nothing in heaven or on earth can take it from him. God cannot die. He is immortal. As Paul says to Timothy, “[God] alone has immortality” (1 Timothy 6:16).

9. God Is Creator

The verb create is a rather unique verb in the Old Testament. It occurs about forty times and only ever has God as its subject. In the Bible, only God creates, which is just another way of saying that only God is the Creator. “All the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens” (Psalm 96:5).

10. God Is Omnipotent

If, in the beginning, God the Creator made everything from nothing, then he must be all-powerful. He must be omnipotent — able to execute his will as he pleases. As Paul affirms to the Ephesian church, God “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” Therefore, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever” (Ephesians 3:20–21).

11. God Is Omniscient

If, in the beginning, God the Creator made everything from nothing, then he must be all-wise. He must be omniscient — able to execute his will without instruction or input from anyone. As Jeremiah the prophet says, God is the one “who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens” (Jeremiah 10:12).

12. God Is Sovereign

If God is the all-powerful, all-wise Creator of everything, then after he made the heavens and the earth, he must have remained in control of them. The heavens and the earth cannot escape the sovereignty of God because they were created by God and remain dependent on God. Thus, whatever unfolds in the history of the heavens and the earth must remain under God’s sovereign control. “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).

Spirit and Word

We can sum up these twelve great truths about God from Genesis 1:1 in a single sentence:

God is one spirit, eternal, infinite, unchangeable, self-existent, living, and immortal in his being, the omnipotent, omniscient Creator and Sovereign of all things in heaven and on earth, of all things visible and invisible.

“God has remained the same in eternity past, and he will remain the same in eternity future.”

This is the God we meet in the first verse of the Bible. And as such, we are called to worship him. Worship is what the living creatures in heaven are doing right now as they sing, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:11). If that is the response of the creatures in heaven as they contemplate who God is and what he has done in creation, then what ought to be our response as his creatures on earth?

However, Christian worship is more than just an unqualified worship of God as the Creator of all. The verses that follow Genesis 1:1 can help us here. After the initial act of creation, the Spirit of God is said to be present (Genesis 1:2), hovering over the waters. And then God speaks by his word to form and fill his creation (Genesis 1:3–2:3). So we might accurately summarize God’s work in creation like this: In the beginning, God created everything from nothing by the agents of his word and Spirit.

The apostle John expands on this truth as he commences his Gospel, stating that it was indeed Christ, the eternal Word, who was present in the beginning with God, working as his agent in creation (John 1:1–5). And the apostle Paul writes of Christ in similar terms:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15–17)

“In the beginning, there was God and only God.”

Thus, what we have in Genesis 1:1–3 is a call to worship God for who he is and what he has done in creation — through Christ and for Christ.

Glory Be

Our worship of God, of course, involves so much more. But the first few verses of the Bible provide us with the beginning and foundation of Christian worship. So, the next time you hear the opening words of Genesis, hear them as God’s call to come and worship him through his Son and Spirit. It’s what the heavenly creatures have been doing since the beginning of creation:

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

(PhD, University of Cambridge) is associate professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, and an ordained minister in the International Presbyterian Church (UK). He is the author and editor of several books, including two collections of liturgies for corporate and individual worship: Reformation Worship and Be Thou My Vision. Jonny is married to Jackie and they have four children.