Revive Our Hearts Podcast

None Like Him, with Jen Wilkin

Leslie Basham: When was the last time you were blown away by God’s character? Here’s Jen Wilkin.

Jen Wilkin: Knowing who He is increases our love for Him. It’s a non-negotiable that to know Him is to love Him—in a way that human relationships can only shadow.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, co-author of True Woman 101, for Friday, July 7, 2017.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: When you get to truly know God, everything else will fade into the background. We cover a lot of different topics here on Revive Our Hearts, but I’m convinced that no topic is more important than getting to know God Himself!

Decades ago, a well-known pastor and author named A. W. Tozer said it this way: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” That’s because what we know and believe and think about God determines everything else about us.

Today my friend, Jen Wilkin, will help us get to know God better. She’s written a book called None Like Him. It’s all about different attributes or characteristics of God. Our team connected with Jen at one of the Gospel Coalition Conferences.

The team was in a convention center meeting Revive Our Hearts listeners and conducted the interview there—so you’ll hear the convention noise in the background. But I hope you’ll let that noise and other noise that may be around you today fade away as Jen helps us focus on God Himself.

Leslie: Thanks, Nancy. Jen’s book, None Like Him, explores ten attributes of God. One of the chapters describes God as self-existent. The chapter is subtitled "The God of Infinite Creativity." We asked Jen what this means and . . . why does it matter?

Jen: “Self-existent” is one of the lesser known or less familiar attributes. Most people have a hard time knowing what the point is when you bring up a term like that. And Scripture doesn’t ever call God self-existent.

I think the easiest way to start thinking about it is to point back to His creative work in Genesis 1. The fact that God is self-existent is saying to us that, before there was anything that we know about—any of the things that we can see or taste or touch or smell or hear—when there was nothing, there was God. He precedes all things, which means that all things proceed from Him.

At first you can say, “Well, sure, I mean, I get that. That’s fine . . .” Until you start thinking about what it means to weigh the origin of a thing or a person.

If you were to go to an art auction, and a piece of art came up for sale that we didn’t know who had painted it, you would only be able to get so much money for it. But once you know it’s a Rembrandt, the price goes through the roof, because origins matter! They determine the value of a thing, and they also determine—this is a little obvious—who the owner is.

Seeing God as self-existent helps us to understand our own origins differently. “He’s my Maker,” which means that I owe Him my obedience and my worship . . . not because I sinned against Him. It's not because I prayed a prayer, it's because of the very basic fact that He created me. I owe Him those things.

On top of that, He’s worthy of my worship because He’s the source of all things. I look at all the things that He’s the source of, and they have intrinsic value because He made them. I can’t treat His creation the way that I would have before.

I can’t treat people created in His image the way I might have before, left to my own devices. Everything takes on a heightened importance because of who made it.

Leslie: So God’s self-existence contrasts us, as created beings, with God—who wasn’t created. In the book, None Like Him, Jen says unlike everything God has made, He Himself has no origin. No one gave Him life. He did not begin to be. He has simply always been.

Before He created everything we know, and billions of things beyond our capacity to know, He was existing in completeness. He is self-existent, depending on nothing or no one to imbue Him with breath. I think that’s a pretty clear example of how learning these attributes of God will fuel your worship!

We asked Jen what God’s self-existence tells us about human creativity. Human works can be good and give God glory, but He works in a whole different category of creativity.

Jen: I always think about Pinterest and its popularity when I think about the creativity of God. Anytime you go to a party now (like a kid’s birthday party or a baby shower), you’re going to walk in, and it’s going to look fantastic!

I mean, ten years ago we were just hacking things together like complete idiots, and now you go in to someone’s house, and you just never know what wonder is going to be waiting for you! Human creativity is like that.

I mean, if you think about anything—any display of creativity, whether it’s architecture or art or even writing—it is something that a human has taken existing elements and rearranged them to make something that the rest of us couldn’t have conceived of. And that’s a beautiful thing! That is human creativity.

But human creativity—again—is just a shadow. It’s just a hint of the creativity of God who starts with nothing and then there is something! Any of our creativity can only be derived, but it still is a beautiful expression.

If you think about all of the different people that you know, and all of the different gifts that they have and how each of them is a tiny expression of something that is true about their Maker, you can maybe make a tiny start at wrapping your head around the infinite creativity of God!

Leslie: Jen Wilkin has been showing us why it matters that God is self-existent. She also unpacks what it means that God is self-sustaining.

Jen: This is a big attribute for women to understand. I think it’s a big attribute for any human being to understand. Most of us in the United States grew up with this idea of, “I need to be self-made; I need to be self-sufficient. I should need nothing outside of myself. I should pull myself up by my bootstraps.”

That’s a concept that is foreign to the Scriptures, and it’s foreign to the character of God. God creates Adam and Eve in the garden with needs. They don’t start to have needs after the fall, and so that means that it must be good (God pronounced it “good”) that we were created to have needs.

And of course, it doesn’t take a lot of thought to figure out that that’s probably because we would then turn to Him to meet those needs—and that’s the way that that relationship was designed to work.

When we spend our days looking for ways to diminish or throw off needs that are just basic human needs, what we can be doing is ascribing to our self something that’s only true about God.

It’s logical that God needs nothing if He at one time existed without any of the things that we perceive to be most necessary. He doesn’t need wealth; He created all wealth. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills because He made them—but He didn’t need them, because He existed before they did. He will exist for all time without anyone giving Him life or sustaining His life.

And so, for us to acknowledge, “Okay, my needs are not a sign of some weakness that I need to cover, they are a sign that I’m created to need something transcendent—Someone Transcendent—then we begin to stop pushing down and spending all of our time trying to meet needs—particularly needs that only God can meet. We begin to rely on Him to be our Sustainer.

Leslie: In the book, None Like Him, Jen says that although God created and sustains all things, God is Himself created and sustained by none. For all eternity, He is perfectly provided for, in and of Himself, needless of any aid, unflagging in strength, never hungry or thirsty, experiencing no lack.

Nothing and no one outside of Himself offers aid to Him. Because He created everything, nothing He has created could possibly be needful to Him for His existence . . . and that includes us! God didn’t create us because He was lonely and needed us, but He chose to create us and love us.

And we are the opposite. Learning about God as self-sustaining just shows how much we’re not self-sustaining! We’ve been created to need God, and to need rest—and trust Him to keep the world going while we sleep.

Jen: So, as I was walking over here for this interview, I walked by about five different coffee shops just to get here. I think it’s a sign in our culture of how we have sort of a disdain for rest. We feel like rest is for lazy people, and so if I can just keep plugging myself full of caffeine, think how much more productive I will be!

But rest is a good and right limit. It is a need that the Lord has placed on us—probably one of the most obvious ones. So, anytime you know someone who’s like, “I don’t need sleep. I’m fine!”—it’s probably a pretty good indication that they have made an idol of not needing rest.

Leslie: And what does so much focus on caffeine tell us about whether we’re embracing our need for God-given rest?

Jen: Caffeine diminishes our sense of limited-ness. It makes us feel like we have extra room for productivity. But sooner or later—and I say this, honestly, as “the chief of sinners” right now, in this category. I love caffeine! But, I’m also aware that I can commit myself to more than I need to because I’ve given myself a false sense that I have more capacity than I do.

When we live within the boundaries that God rightly and graciously ordains for us, then we are more productive. We’re more able to do the things that He’s given us to do, because we’re doing them within the borders that He has ascribed.

Leslie: We’re hearing a conversation Jen Wilkin recorded with our team at a women’s conference. (You can hear our friends, the Gettys, warming up there in the background.) Jen’s written a book called None Like Him: Ten Ways God Is Different from Us. We just explored one of those ten: God’s self-sufficiency.

Now, let’s explore what it means that God is infinite.

Jen: God is without measure; there are no limits on His Person, on His character. And so, probably the simplest way that we see this is that we know God is Spirit. . .so He’s not limited by a body. You and I are limited by our physical bodies. We can’t be in more than one place at one time.

But He’s also not limited by time. He can exist in the past, the present and the future. . .and He exists outside of time as well.

Leslie: Jen says each of the attributes of God we’re looking at illuminates a temptation we face. So when we look at God being infinite, we’re tempted to use tools and methods to make us feel infinite—or to make Him finite.

Jen: I think that we use measurement, systems of measurement, as human beings to quantify and to track and to bring things down to size. And so, we even have an expression where—when we meet someone—we “take their measure.”

We try to figure out how often that this person (usually relative to ourselves, right?) . . . When we seek to quantify God by saying, “He’s this, but not that . . .” When we imagine a God who is limited by time—as we are—who is limited in space—as we are—we change Him from who He is to who we want Him to be.

And so, anytime that we downplay or diminish who God is, it usually has to do with removing an area of His infinitude and making Him more like us, because we are just a set of limits that walks around. Everything about us is limited, and everything about Him is unlimited!

Leslie: So when you start to grasp what it really means that God is infinite, what is the right response?

Jen: Once we realize that God can’t be measured, we come to a place where we have to relinquish control. He’s not able to be brought down to size, and that’s an absolutely terrifying thought to the unbeliever, but it’s an enormously comforting one to the believer. 

This Infinite God has set His favor on His finite creatures. So then, you can relax, and you don’t have to be so concerned with all of the measures that you have been placing against yourself to establish your own personal awesomeness. You can rest in the fact that a God who defies all measures of awesomeness calls you His!

Leslie: So, God is infinite. Another attribute Jen Wilkin explores in her book None Like Him is that God is incomprehensible. He’s the God of infinite mystery.

Jen: Incomprehensible is important for any Bible student to wrap their head around. I think we come to Bible study and feel like, “Okay, eventually I’m going to get this.” Like, “I’m going to nail the knowledge of who God is!” And, because God has no limits, it means that there’s no limit to His character.

We have this list in the book. I chose ten. Then there are more that are His communicable attributes—that we don’t even talk about in this book. If God is infinite, then it means the things that are true about Him are infinite in number—and we only know a handful of them that are given to us in Scripture.

So people hear that and they think, Well, great. I’m just going to give up. There’s too much. How can I, why would I even make a beginning of this? But, of course, we make a beginning at it because this is our joy! We want to know this God who saves, this God who creates and ordains our days. We want to know Him!

Though we can’t know Him fully—because He’s infinite and we’re finite—we can know Him to a level that is sufficient for all life and godliness, and that is a huge thing! That’s a privilege, and that’s something that’s worth spending our days on.

I think one of the things that’s most interesting to me about His incomprehensibility is the idea that when we are with Him—in the new heavens and the new earth . . .

I grew up with this conception that I would finally know everything there is to know about God, but I’m realizing that eternity is this infinite opportunity for finite creatures to reach out and grasp ever-increasing knowledge of the Lord, that we will never reach the end of!

Leslie: It reminds me of Proverbs 25:2, “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” 

Jen: Absolutely! I love that particular verse, and I always love the one where David says, “I do not concern myself with things that are too lofty for me” (from Psalm 131:1, KJV). In other words, we’ve got enough to keep our pea-brains busy and active and going about the business of sanctification for these seventy or eighty years that the Lord grants.

And then, when we are freed from the limit of time—when we enter into eternity in a fuller sense than we are now—we will have ten thousand years, and ten thousand beyond, to explore His perfections.

Leslie: Among those who follow Jesus, it seems like some stress God’s mystery: “We can’t ever fully know Him.” So the danger is, some of them are tempted to stop trying to know Him. And others stress what we can know in the Bible. They can be so caught up in trying to be right, they can miss the mystery of the story. How do you balance these?

Jen: Well, I think you have to kind of live in the area in-between. Know that you always end your study knowing there’s more, but you will always end your study with more of Him than you began with. That’s a good place to be in; that’s a beautiful thing.

If you think about it with a human relationship—your most positive experience of a human relationship, the person you love more than anybody else—your love for them has grown as you have learned more about them. Every new thing that you learn (well, because we’re humans, not every new thing, but when you learn new things about them) it increases your affection for them. And this is true of God as well.

I never want to talk about learning about God’s character without connecting it to knowing who He so that it increases our love for Him. It’s a straight line. It’s a non-negotiable that to know Him is to love Him—in a way that our most positive human relationships can only shadow.

Leslie: That’s Jen Wilkin helping us understand an attribute of God—that He’s incomprehensible! She writes about ten attributes of God in her book None Like Him. Now, it’s popular to write books with titles like “Ten Practical Ways to Do (this or that).” So, why did Jen decide to take on this project that seems weightier?

Her first book was called Women of the Word, all about getting women into Bible study. We asked why she followed up with attributes of God in None Like Him.

Jen: Actually, when I was thinking about which book I wanted to start with, it was kind of a toss-up between writing the content of None Like Him and what I did with Women of the Word. My publisher ended up making the decision for me. So then, when they came back and said, “Let’s do this again,” I knew exactly what I wanted to do next!

It’s a natural fit because my study method. One of the things that I ask women to do is to look for God in the text. I’ve just learned through the years that that is an acquired skill. It’s really hard.

They know certain things about His attributes—like, they may know that He’s omniscient—but they haven’t necessarily mediated on it enough to be able to see it when they’re reading. So I wanted to write almost like a companion piece, so that when they do read (trying to place God first), they have a roadmap for finding Him there.

Years ago I taught a study on the attributes to a group of women, and the content just jumped off the page every time I stood up to teach it. It became apparent to me that this is something that’s not talked about very often . . . with women in particular.

It tends to hide in systematic theology texts and it doesn’t get out and walk around much. Because I’m a woman who will read a book that’s written by a man, I was getting some exposure to some things that I knew other women just might not, because they tend to gravitate toward books that are written by women.

So it felt like a really good opportunity to serve up these beautiful truths to people who might not otherwise come across them. Out of the study that I taught came, really, all the practical pieces.

That was where I began to make a connection between, “Oh, because this is only true of God, it’s probably one of the first things I’m going to reach for when I want to form an idol—fashion an idol."

So being able to look at behaviors and realize the reason I love my cell phone (my smart phone) is because I want omniscience—and I think I can handle it! That doesn’t mean the smart phone’s evil. It means my heart is! So to be able to look at that and ask, “Why do I want limitlessness when I’m not designed for it?”

You think about all of the issues that women, in particular, have with anxiety. I could see in my own life how so much of that was driven by this yearning to have a level of control that is not even appropriate to my creatureliness.

Leslie: Some of the attributes Jen writes about in None Like Him are familiar to those who have grown up in church . . . like, God as omnipotent (or all-powerful), or God as omnipresent—everywhere all the time.

One challenge was to make these familiar attributes come to life.

Jen: I think that was the most joyful part of the writing. It’s exciting to me to know I’m going to take something that people feel is a known quantity . . . I would say that, typically, that’s my approach to teaching the Scriptures, too. People think they know the story already, and then you’re able to say to them, “Oh, yes, but now really think about this,” or “See it with completely fresh eyes.” So that was, for me, enlivening. It made me want to sit down and write—and I don’t always want to sit down and write!

Writing is hard for me, and it was hard book to write because you’re tackling an infinite attribute, and you have a finite number of words to place around it. The language you can use is limited, the space you have is limited. So part of the fun—although it was a challenge—was to think, What are the most beautiful pieces of this, and how can I best present them in the space I have?

Leslie: Jen Wilkin hopes that when women read about the attributes of God, they’ll be inspired to fear the Lord and worship Him.

Jen: I think the thing that’s missing in the lives of many women today is a sense of awe around the Lord. We always live in the tension that’s introduced to us at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer where He is “our Father.” He’s near, and He is a comfort, and He is familial and personal.

But then, immediately after saying He’s our Father, the Lord’s Prayer says He’s in heaven. He’s transcendent. He is worthy of right reverence. What I sense we lack more at this stage in the church is the reverence piece.

We understand that God is our Father; we like the snuggly-daddy God image. And I like it. I’m not trying to do anything to diminish that, but I want to balance it with “He is our Father who’s near, but He’s also worthy of our awe.”

That’s where we begin to worship, when we realize, “How can it possibly be that this God who is seated between the cherubim calls me His child?” Then, your identity issues . . . The emphasis shifts from “I’m a child of God,” to “Behold this God!” I mean, you become almost forgetful of self as you begin to gaze at who He is!

Nancy: There are so many messages and topics vying for our attention, but there’s nothing more important to fill our minds with than God Himself! Jen Wilkin’s recent book, None Like Him, will help you do just that.

It’s kind of like a systematic theology book that explores different aspects of God’s character, but it’s written in Jen’s approachable, warm style. We’d like to send you a copy of that book when you support Revive Our Hearts with a donation of any size today.

Be sure to ask for Jen’s book, None Like Him, when you call us at 1–800–569–5959, or visit us at ReviveOurHearts.com to make your donation and request your copy of Jen’s book.

Leslie: On Monday, Jani Ortlund will help us embrace missional mothering. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to remind you of the wonder of who God is. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

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