Hear, O man. The appearance of God is ineffable and indescribable, and cannot be seen by eyes of flesh. For in glory He is incomprehensible, in greatness unfathomable, in height inconceivable, in power incomparable, in wisdom unrivalled, in goodness inimitable, in kindness unutterable. For if I say He is Light, I name but His own work; if I call Him Word, I name but His sovereignty; if I call Him Mind, I speak but of His wisdom; if I say He is Spirit, I speak of His breath; if I call Him Wisdom, I speak of His offspring; if I call Him Strength, I speak of His sway; if I call Him Power, I am mentioning His activity; if Providence, I but mention His goodness; if I call Him Kingdom, I but mention His glory; if I call Him Lord, I mention His being judge; if I call Him Judge, I speak of Him as being just; if I call Him Father, I speak of all things as being from Him; if I call Him Fire, I but mention His anger. You will say, then, to me, Is God angry? Yes; He is angry with those who act wickedly, but He is good, and kind, and merciful, to those who love and fear Him; for He is a chastener of the godly, and father of the righteous; but he is a judge and punisher of the impious.
Theophilus of Antioch, Ad Autolycus, 1.3.
I love this description of God. Written in the second century, it comes from Theophilus’ Ad Autolycus, an apologetic document defending the Christian faith to a pagan friend. It’s beautifully written, and Theophilus pens it in response to the mocking scoffer who cries: “If you see God then, explain his appearance to me!”
And Theophilus does. And he does so in a brilliant way.
I don’t want to say too much about this description, read it again, it’s a beautiful piece of writing and I think it really speaks for itself. But I do want to say two things about how it is that Theophilus answers his friend.
He does so by pointing him to the God we meet in Scripture.
The was Theophilus describes God here is beautiful, and it is done so it leans on Scripture. To pick but a few of Theophilus’ lines.
In speaking of God’s unfathomable greatness he evokes the praise of Psalm 145:3. In describing His glory as Light and Word he reflects the Gospel account of John 1:1-4. As a God who judges justly, and who is angry with the wicked: Psalm 7:11. As the Father of the righteous? 1 John 2:1.
The way Theophilus describes God is by speaking of the God of Scripture, and this is exactly how we ought to speak to those who come against us and the God in whom we believe. God doesn’t want us to defend Him. When the disciples saw the Samaritans opposing Christ, they turned to Jesus and asked:
“Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”
But Jesus turned and rebuked them.
God doesn’t call us to defend Him. That’s not to say we shouldn’t respond to accusations against Him, to abuse or slander. But we respond by representing Him. That is what we are called to do.
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 5:20.
The Gospel calls us to represent God, and to do that by appealing on God’s behalf: be reconciled to God. Our instruction is to respond to opposition by sharing the Gospel in love with those around us. And this is because of our second point, the second way Theophilus shares about God here.
Theophilus shows the beauty and awesome wonder of God by dwelling on His Character.
Theophilus’ description of God makes us stop and go “Wow.”
He uses Biblical language to paint a picture of who God is. But he doesn’t try to sell him, or add to him, or dress him up with anything else. Theophilus lets God’s awesome character speak for Himself. Our God is beautifully attractive. We don’t need to add to Him and His Gospel with human ‘goodies’ or incentives. What can we add to a God who is this amazing?
Theophilus’ description of God silences his opponent because the awesome wonder of God is dazzling. But it’s not a perfect description. The greatest picture of God is found in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Christians, keep your eyes on Him. Unbeliever? Explore who He is in the pages of the Gospels.
This is a beautiful description of God. But to explore the greatest picture of who God is, turn to Matthew chapter one and just start reading.