Attributes of God - Infinity

“To infinity, and beyond!”

This is one of the most well-known lines in all animated films. It is the catchphrase of the Space Ranger, Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story film franchise. But if you’re around kids who like to ask a lot of questions, you might have heard, “How can you go beyond infinity?” It’s a good question; one which can’t really be answered. Questions about infinity can be difficult. How does one define something which, by definition, surpasses the boundaries of any definition?

It isn’t that one cannot define infinity at all. But it generally has to be defined by way of negation, that is, defining it by way of what it is not. At its base and constituent parts, infinite means not finite. That really just tells us what it is not. Working from this, we know that a finite being is, by definition, limited. An infinite being is, therefore, unlimited. To be infinite is to be without boundary, without limit, without measure, and without restriction. Again, these are all things that the infinite is not. Geerhardus Vos tries to help us wrap our minds out this incomprehensible concept by acknowledging, “our thinking cannot comprehend the infinite. Yet behind the finite we comprehend, the infinite exists. This may be inconceivable to us, but in God it is a reality.”[1] So, to put it positively, for God to be infinite means that God is his attributes in an absolute sense. God is the fullness of perfect being.[2] God’s infinity is the attribute whereby God possesses within Himself all perfection without limitation or restriction.[3]

Infinitude is the very makeup of a perfect being. Augustine wrote, “The truest beginning of piety is to think as highly of God as possible; and doing so means that one must believe that he is omnipotent, and not changeable in the smallest respect; that he is the creator of all good things, but is himself more excellent than all of them; that he is the supremely just ruler of everything that he created; and that he was not aided in creating by any other being, as if he were not sufficiently powerful by himself.”[4] Every attribute of God is essential to his perfection. If one is subtracted, then God ceases to be perfect. And infinitude is key to the perfection of each attribute. God’s infinite power is his omnipotence. God’s infinite knowledge is his omniscience. God’s infinite wisdom is his omnisapience. God’s infinite presence is his omnipresence. God’s infinity applied to time is his eternality. For God to satisfy Anselm’s definition that God be something than which nothing greater can be thought, he must be perfect in all his attributes. For God to be perfect in all his attributes he must be infinite.

The infinity of God is similar to other attributes of God in that it touches upon all the other attributes. The infinitude of God is reflected in his simplicity. God is simple, meaning he has not constituent parts. Anything made of constituent parts is necessarily limited. Those parts are, by definition, limited by boundaries which denote that one part is not some other part. No coalition of finite properties could ever yield an infinite being. For God to be simple, he must be infinite. For God to be infinite, he must be simple.

God’s infinitude has a tremendous bearing on the understanding of the magnitude of our sin. It is easy for us to look at our sin and think it is no big deal. We are quick to compare our sin to someone else’s sin. I may have lied a little bit, but at least I didn’t murder anyone. Our standard of holiness is usually someone who is just a little worse than ourselves. But if we compare ourselves to the infinite holiness of God, our sin becomes a gross affront to God’s perfection. It should stop us in our tracks and cripple us with fear because we realize that there is no way we can atone for such a sin. But, thankfully, God is not only infinite in holiness, he is infinite in mercy and grace and kindness. “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him” (Ps 103:11).

When we talk about God’s infinity we are speaking about the fullness and perfection of God. Herman Bavinck accurately summarizes, “God is the real, the true being, the fullness of being, the sum total of all reality and perfection, the totality of being, from which all other being owes its existence. He is an immeasurable and unbounded ocean of being; the absolute being who alone has being in Himself. Now, this description of God’s being deserves preference over that of personality, love, fatherhood, and so forth, because it encompasses all of God’s attributes in an absolute sense. In other words, by this description, God is recognized and confirmed as God in all his perfections.”[5] As the Psalmist says, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable” (Ps 145:3).

[1] Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, 10.

[2] Barrett, None Greater, 46.

[3] Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, 9.

[4] Quoted in Barrett, None Greater, 45–46.

[5] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2.123.

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