“In the beginning God” (Gen 1:1)
We are only four words in and already the Bible is confronting us with God’s aseity. Aseity means “self-existence,” a concept hard to grasp in a world where nothing is self-sufficient. Everything we see has a source, a cause, a place and time where it began. Everything has a beginning, except for God.
Even little children understand and expect causation. As a young father, my life is full of questions such as, “Dad, where does the sun come from?” Eventually, and often on a Sunday, it seems, the inevitable question is asked, “Dad, where does God come from?” A sweet little face looks up into mine with simple sincerity, awaiting the answer. “God doesn’t come from anywhere, darling. He has always been.” There’s a brief pause as the reply is met with silent wonder. Even the bright and mighty sun has a source, but God has always been there? For a moment she ponders the imponderable before wandering off in childlike awe. We have no natural category for Someone who never began – for Something that exists all on its own – yet that’s exactly how God is.
When everything else began, God was already there. He is eternally self-sufficient and independent. Only through faith can we embrace Him as He truly is (Heb 11:6). Let’s consider a few more four-word phrases from Scripture that provide little glimpses of our Self-Sufficient God.
“What is His name?” (Exo 3:13)
Moses was a lonely, desert shepherd standing by a burning bush when God broke into his life with a daunting commission: Go tell Pharaoh to let his slaves go. Moses had good reason to hesitate. Years earlier, he had run away from Egypt, afraid for his life.
His response was incredulous: “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exo 3:11 KJV). “I’m just an outcast (Exo 2:15), a lowly shepherd (3:1), a stammerer (4:10), an unwanted hero (2:14).”
God’s reply was a promise, “I will be with thee” (3:12), which pointed Moses to a better question: “Who are you?” The answer came: “I AM [who] I AM … Say unto the children of Israel, ‘I AM hath sent me unto you’” (3:14 KJV).
“I am.” The simplicity of it is striking. It’s the shortest complete sentence in English, containing only two words made up of three letters in total, but when spoken by God in self-revelation it conveys an immense truth.
His name is “I am.” Have you ever introduced yourself simply as “I am”? We always add a qualifier on the end, but for the God of eternity, no qualifier is needed. He simply is – unchanging, independent, underived; self-sufficient, self-sustained, and self-satisfied. “I am.”
As Matthew Henry put it, the best of men can only say, “I am what I am”; but God says, “I am that I am.”
“In him was life” (John 1:4)
As the “I am,” His life is in no way contingent. He doesn’t depend on anyone or anything else. He needs no support from men (Jer 10:1-16). He exists independently in and of Himself (Psa 50:10-12; Act 17:24-25). Every other being receives its life from an external source. We are “living souls” because God gave us “the breath of life” (Gen 2:7), and every day, that life depends on air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, shelter to protect, heat to stay warm, and many other things. This derived-life makes us accountable, as human beings, to the One who gives it to us and sustains it by His power. But no one sustains God! He alone has immortality (1Ti 6:16). He alone has life in Himself (Joh 5:26), and therefore He is accountable to no one.
There can only be one truly unaccountable, underived Being: God Himself. Everything else ultimately derives its life from, and is therefore accountable to, the “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending … the Lord which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Rev 1:8).
“We beheld his glory” (John 1:14)
But our consideration of God’s self-sufficiency would be incomplete without also contemplating the glory of the Incarnation. If God’s aseity is His ultimate independence, His total freedom to do anything He wants, just what has He chosen to do with that freedom? He has willingly come down to earth in the person of His Son, to live a life of perfect dependence and then to die bound by nails on a wooden cross.
At Calvary, we see the mighty Son of God, bruised and beaten by puny, wicked men, whose very lives He sustains (Joh 19:11). Mark the depths of His stoop: In Gethsemane, an angel strengthens Him (Luk 22:43). At His arrest, His captors bind Him (Joh 18:12). Along the road, Simon carries His cross (Luk 23:26). Upon that cross, He thirsts (Joh 19:28). He feels pain (Psa 22:14). He cries out in forsakenness (Mat 27:46).
Our minds struggle to align these scenes with the great truth of His aseity, but one thing is certain: His love was entirely free – unconstrained, undeserved, yet lavished on you and me. In the end, we can only step back in wonder at the mystery: “God was manifest in flesh” (1Ti 3:16).
His mighty, self-sufficient strength was cloaked at Calvary in the garb of apparent weakness for our redemption (2Co 13:4). Yet now, because of Calvary, when we are truly weak, He offers us His great eternal strength, made perfect in our weakness (12:9).
“Who is like Thee?” (Exo 15:11)
On the banks of the Red Sea where their enemies had just been destroyed, Israel sang: “Who is like Thee, O Lord? … Who is like Thee?” (Exo 15:11).
Centuries later, King David “sat before the Lord,” pondering that same question as he marveled at God’s grace toward his house (2Sa 7:18). There he answered it with words that our redeemed hearts still echo: “Thou art great, O LORD God; for there is none like Thee”(2Sa 7:22).
¹Latin: aseitas – “a” (from) + “se” (oneself) + “itas” [Merriam-Webster]