Born in Aosta, Italy, Anselm (1033-1109) joined a Benedictine monastery in 1060 at Bec, Normandy and eventually became the spiritual head of his order. One day he was out in the garden meditating on Psalm 14:1, which reads, “The fool says in his heart there is no God.” Although Anselm was simply engaged in a routine meditation and devotional time with God, what he wrote following his meditation was so profound that theologians and philosopher discuss it to this day.
“God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived. This definition of God is indeed so true that it cannot be thought of as not being true.”
The point I want to bring up is his definition of God. He wrote, “God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived. This definition of God is indeed so true that it cannot be thought of as not being true.” You can check out his argument later, but for now, like Anselm, we too can focus on this awesome and true God who is more profound than we could ever imagine, who surpasses the definition of all other gods, and who has made himself known to various people throughout history (Hebrews 1:1-2).
The Biblical God is Spirit and is transcendent which means he exists outside the dimensions of his created universe. He is separate and is not a part of the substance of the material world. God is also immanent which means he operates within the universe. He can take shape, cause visible events, and speak His will to His creation. Our knowledge of what we need to know of him would be very inadequate if he did not take the initiative to let us know who he is and what he is like through his revealed names in the Bible, and through the events surrounding those revelations. One example is the revelation of his name to Moses.
The name God gave to Moses during the incident of the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-15) is “I Am” (Hayah), a name joined with the most frequently used name for God in the Old Testament, the name YHWH (Yahweh or Jehovah). YHWH, enhanced by the name “I Am”, means, among other things, “the self-existent one”. Everything that exists outside of God relies on something else for its existence. Not God; he is the one and only self-existent being.
“If you trust me, and if you become one with me and my purposes, I can make you to become like this bush; self-existent so that nothing will be able to destroy you.”
Why would God use a burning bush to reveal his name as “I Am”? For one thing, the burning bush illustrates God’s self-existent nature. The thing that captured Moses attention about the burning bush was not that it was on fire, but that the bush was not being destroyed by the fire (Exodus 3:1-3). At that moment, the bush was like God – it was self-existing. It is as if God was demonstrating to Moses, “If you trust me, and if you become one with me and my purposes, I can make you to become like this bush; self-existent so that nothing will be able to destroy you.” Indeed, this is what the apostle Paul was saying when He wrote that nothing, not even death itself can separate us from God’s self-existing love (Romans 8:35-39). This is what Jesus, also the “I AM” of timeless existence (John 8:58), demonstrated about himself. He is the self-existing life that cannot be destroyed. He said, “Destroy this body and I will raise it in three days” (John 2:19:21). He can give this kind of life to all who trust him (John 3:16).
Thus, God was telling Moses that by trusting Him as “I Am”, he was able to free the Hebrews from their slavery and lead them into his self-existing realm. God’s intention is to create a new people made up of all peoples of the earth, who can never be destroyed, and whose ultimate destiny is an eternal dwelling prepared for them (John 14:1-3; Hebrews 11:13-16). They will never be God, but he can bring them into his own self-existence and keep them in an eternal state, as demonstrated by the burning bush. This All-Mighty and eternally existing God certainly meets Anselm’s definition of God: “nothing greater than this can be thought”.
The whole Bible is about God revealing who He is, and when we read it, we learn what he wants us to understand about him, how He wants us to relate to him, and how he instructs us to live our lives.
The whole Bible is about God revealing who He is, and when we read it, we learn what he wants us to understand about him, how He wants us to relate to him, and how he instructs us to live our lives. Many people in the Scriptures have given names to him based on what he did for them. These names are personal reflections of what they know of him based on his actions and the character exhibited to them on particular occasions. We too learn who God is as we read the testimonies of what others say about him, and as we experience him for ourselves (Jeremiah 9:23-24). We are called to learn of God, for Jesus said, “Come and learn of me”. When we personally experience his revealed character, we will trust him, we will love him, and we will become like he is by being eternally restored and conformed to the qualities of God-likeness. We will never find the end of Anselm’s definition of God, but the names God has allowed us to know and experience are all we need for an abundant and rewarding life of fellowship with him, both in this world, and forever in the world to come.