Aseity comes from the Latin a se, meaning “from or by oneself.” To say that God is a se tells us that he exists wholly "from himself." There is nothing else that causes God to exist; rather, he exists uncaused, "by the necessity of His own Being," to quote Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology. In other words, he is eternally self-sustained and he can't not exist. Our God, scripture tells us, "has life in himself”(John 5:26).
The first scriptural evidence of God's aseity is found at the very beginning of the Bible: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." Creation, we’re told, has a beginning: "In the beginning" when God created. But not so with God. He was there before the beginning, when there was nothing but him, existing eternally in all his perfection from himself and by himself.
Since God's attributes exist as a unified whole (the doctrine of divine simplicity), his aseity extends to them all. Everything that God is comes from himself.
God's love, for instance, is a se love. It is independent, and not compelled or drawn from him by anything within the object of his love (See Deuteronomy 7:7-8.). What’s more, because God exists from eternity as the Trinity, he did not need to create to give expression to his love. His love is eternally expressed fully and perfectly between the three persons of his being. God’s love comes from himself and is complete within himself.
God's knowledge is also from himself and complete within himself. He never acquires knowledge from another source. Even what he knows about creation, he knows from himself. He does not depend on creation, even creation foreseen, for his knowledge of it; but rather, he knows everything about creation because he knows what he is able to do, what he has done, and what he plans to do.
God's aseity applies to his will, too, both in its planning and in its accomplishment. In the context of God's plan for the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles, Paul asks the rhetorical question, "Who has been his counselor?" (Romans 11:34). The answer is no one! God formed his plan independently. In Ephesians 1, we read that it is God himself who "works all things according to the counsel of his will." The execution of his will does not depend on anything outside himself, including the libertarian choices of his creatures.
That God is a se means he needs nothing from us. He does not need our worship; he does not need our love; he does not need our help. He is not, Paul says, "served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). A God who "has life in himself" doesn't depend on us for anything; rather, out of his self-sustained life he gives us life—and everything else we need.
How different from us our a se God is! He needs nothing from us; we need everything from him. He derives nothing from anyone or anything, but our very life, and everything we have, we derive from him. It's in him "we live and move and have our being" (Act 17:28), but he lives "from himself." In this, and everything else, God is in a class by himself.
The doctrine of divine aseity, says J. I. Packer, "stands as a bulwark against" the thought that God is like us.
[E]ndless mistakes result from supposing that the conditions, bounds, and limits of our own finite existence apply to God. ... In our life of faith, we easily impoverish ourselves by embracing an idea of God that is too limited and small.... It is vital for spiritual health to believe that God is great, and grasping the truth of his aseity is the first step on the road to doing this.And grasping the truth of God's aseity demands that we respond to it. Here's my incomplete list of ways to do this.
- consider God's greatness as seen in his aseity and let our hearts sing.
- think about God's aseity and worship him, telling him how great he is because he is the source of everything and needs nothing.
- thank God for giving us our dependent lives from his independent life. And while we're at it, we can thank him for giving us, from himself, everything else we have.
- thank God for loving us with his a se love, for loving us, not by compulsion, but freely, "from himself."
- stifle any thought that we are helping God out or giving him something he needs when we serve or give or worship.
- be confident that God will keep his promises to us, since he does not depend on anything outside himself to carry out his will.
- remember that our spiritual lives are sustained by life from Jesus who has "life in himself." He gives us eternal life, and we will never perish. We can let his aseity give us assurance.
- teach our children and grandchildren about God’s aseity. It’s not necessary to use the word and we don’t have to explain it all, but we can start by asking, “Where does God come from?”
Bonus questions for die-hard theology buffs: In the open-theist's system, is God a se? In the Molinistic system? Why or why not?
Do you like learning about the aseity of God?
You can learn even more from these resources.
- Most systematic theologies have a section on God's aseity. You may have to look under one of the other words listed at the beginning of this post.
- The Solitariness of God by A. W. Pink.
- The Independence or Self-Existence of God by D. H. Kuiper
- Attributes of God - Where Did God Come From? The Self-Existence of God by S. Lewis Johnson.
- Divine Aseity and Apologetics (.pdf) by John Frame. This essay discusses the relationship between God's aseity and our knowledge of him and our knowledge in general.