God is Spirit: To Know and Love Him, part 6
God is Not a Creature
God is spirit. Jesus, in John 4:24, says:
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
You have a spirit, but God is spirit. He does not have a body. He is not extended in space. He is purely spirit.
Angels are created spiritual beings, but God is an uncreated spirit. Angels can only dwell inside the created realm--mostly the invisible creation but sometimes the visible creation when God sends them into it--but they cannot transcend, or dwell beyond or above the created realm. God reveals Himself in creation, but His being is transcends it.
Why? How? God is spirit. He is unlike created things. God is not a creature and does not have any creaturely properties. For this reason, we worship and obey Him, not vice versa.
Understanding the Bible
The fact that God is spirit forms one of the most important principles for interpreting the Bible properly. It enables us to understand Bible verses that talk about God "as if" He has creaturely properties or acts in creaturely ways. If we are to know and love God according to His Word, we must take this issue seriously, approach it humbly, and think about it critically. Going astray on this issue will hinder our knowledge of God and our endeavor to love Him.
1. God does not have the arm and hand of a creature, but God has an "arm" and "hand."
Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power,
your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy.
With a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
God's exertion of power is called His arm. His exercise of authority is called His hand. They describe God's works using a human form that we can understand. It is a type of metaphor that enables creatures to understand the actions of God, who is spirit.
2. God does not have the eyes of a creature, but God has "eyes."
The eyes of the Lord are in every place,
keeping watch on the evil and the good.
Eyes are a human form that help teach us that what happens on earth is not hidden from God. He sees it.
3. God does not have a face like a creature does, but God has a "face."
There are many who say, "Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!"
A face is a human form that helps teach us about what it's like to experience God's favor and goodness. He looks our way in love.
4. God does not have the feet of a creature that he could rest them somewhere, but God indeed has a footstool.
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?"
Resting feet on a footstool is a human form that helps teach us that God rules earth and brings it into submission. God rule; He is not ruled.
5. God does not have the mouth of a creature, but God has a "mouth."
But if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be eaten by the sword;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
A mouth is a human form that teaches how God communicates. He speaks to us.
6. God does not have a body to sit down on a throne like a creaturely king, but God "sits on His throne."
The LORD is in his holy temple;
the LORD's throne is in heaven;
his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.
Sitting on a throne is a human form that teaches how God is the supreme King over all creation. Again, God rules; He is not ruled.
The next three examples are hotly debated. I believe that if we acknowledge that God is spirit and that God is an eternal, infinite, immutable being who is perfect in all His ways, thoughts, desires, and attibutes, then we will also see that these are more truths about God described in human form so that we can understand Him.
7. God does not experience emotion as a creature does, but God has "emotions."
And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
Regret is a human form that helps teach us that God really is displeased with and angry at sin. God is genuinely grieved over sin.
God does not wish He could "go back and do it all over again," so that He can get it right or do a better job. His grief toward sin is real, but it is not creaturely grief. God did not mess up and regret His mistake! Rather, His emotions, or feelings, are described in a human form we can understand.
8. God does not come to know things like a creature, but God "comes to know things."
He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me."
Learning information is a human form that helps teach us that God's covenant relationships with man really do progress from one stage to another. God is genuinely pleased with and genuinely honors and receives true obedience that comes from faith.
Abraham was really converted (there was a change from being under wrath to under grace). Abraham was really brought into covenant with God (there was a change from not having redemptive promises to being a recipient of redemptive promises). Abraham really was tested and tried in His faith (there was change from not have completed the test to having completed the test and being publicly confirmed by God). The change is real. But the change is not "in God!" The change is in Abraham and his covenantal standing with God.
9. God does not change His mind as a creature does, but God "changes His mind."
And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.
Relenting is a human form that teaches us that God really and truly turns His wrath away from sinners with the proper mediation. God turns away His wrath rather than delivers it. This is, in fact, central to the Bible and to undertanding the Christian life.
Before we come to Jesus for salvation, God's wrath really and truly is turned against us because of our sin and guilt. When we come to Jesus for salvation, God's wrath really and truly is turned away from us--because it was turned against Christ on the cross when He died in our place to bear our sin and receive the penalty of our guilt. We were genuinely under judgment, but then there was a change and we are now genuinely unders grace. In this sense we can say God relents: he shows mercy instead and grants pardon on the basis of proper mediation.
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,  who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
1 Timothy 2:5-6
I've been repeating and emphasizing the phrase, "human form." God is described in human form to help us understand His works and ways in the world. This is necessary because God is spirit, and because human forms are the only kind of forms we think in. Do not mistake this language to mean that God has creaturely properties. He does not; God is spirit.
This kind of language in the Bible is traditionally called anthropomorphism. That simply means in human form. Anthropology (do you see anthropo-?) is the study of humans. Morph refers to form. Think about metamorphosis. It is a change from one form to another form.
So, anthropomorphic language is quite simple to grasp. It uses human forms as a metaphor for God and His works. Thank God that He comes down to our level and teaches us about Himself in terms (i.e., forms!) we can understand. If not, we would not be able to know and love Him; and that, after all, is the source of true joy and the purpose for which we were made. "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24).