The late theologian John Webster once said of God, “He is the one who, out of nothing other than his own self-sufficiency, brings creatures into being, sustains and reconciles them, and brings them to perfection in fellowship with himself.” What Webster describes here is a doctrine the church has long believed, called “divine aseity.” Simply put, divine aseity means that God has life in himself. Consequently, God does not derive his existence from any source outside himself. He is not dependent on someone or something to give him life. Unlike you and I, God is not dependent on parents to bring about his life, nor is he reliant on food and water for continued sustenance. Rather, God simply is and has life in himself.
Hearing this definition, you might be tempted to conclude that divine aseity is a rather abstract doctrine. Doctrine can already have the unfortunate caricature of being impractical, and this is even more true for a doctrine which describes God’s inner life. Why should Christians, trying to pursue everyday faithfulness in their journey of following Jesus, concern themselves with a doctrine like divine aseity? I’d like to argue that much joy and clarity is at stake in the doctrine of divine aseity. Here are a few ways this doctrine might impact your day-to-day living:
A Grand Vision of God
There is nothing more practical for Christians than a grand vision of God. Contemplating who God is and what he has done should stir Christians to faithfulness. The doctrine of divine aseity brings into focus the fullness of God’s being in himself. In doing so, the Christian is reminded of the supremacy of God in all things. He is the one who lacks nothing and has everything to give since, from the fullness of himself, he creates out of nothing. Not only does he own the cattle on a thousand hills, but the hills themselves come from him; and he is the “Father of lights” who unchangeably gives “every good gift” to his children (James 1:17).
Extended contemplation on the doctrine of divine aseity should bring Christians to a place of worship at the grandeur of a great God who alone has life in himself.
The Freedom of a God Who Does Not Depend on You
Few lies are as crippling to Christians on mission as the idea that the success of the mission depends solely on their efforts. We often get lost in our own heads trying to formulate the right string of words to somehow persuade someone into the Kingdom of God. Placing this amount of weight on yourself to do the right thing, say the right phrases, or be in the right place is a recipe for insecurity or pride. On the contrary, there is freedom in the truth that God does not need us for the success of his mission. Instead, he has chosen to use our feeble actions to build his never-ending Kingdom.
Aseity assures us that the mission of God depends not on us but on the God who breathed out the stars and tells the oceans where to stop. The same ex nihilio power that spoke the cosmos out of nothing has the power to speak new life into the wayward. Only a God who possesses life in himself has the prerogative to give life to others.
The Grace of a God Who Did Not Need You
God’s life in himself means he lacks nothing. From eternity past to eternity future, there is nothing God needs to complete himself, nothing he’s missing which would further fulfill him, and nothing outside of him which would bring him life. While this might sound like bad news to some, it should be a well of deep joy to the Christian. For if it is true that God is supremely complete in his triune life, it means that he did not save you out of an insufficiency in his own life. Instead, God redeems the unredeemable out of the fullness of his own life and the grace therein. Our redemption flows not out of a need in God, but out of the God of grace.
The story of Christianity is the story of a God who has everything and lacks nothing, graciously laying his life down for those who have nothing and lack everything.
The Day-to-Day Life of Radical Receivers
The question posed above was: “Does divine aseity impact your day-to-day?” Perhaps a better question would be: “Is there any area of your life divine aseity does not influence?” You and I live our day-to-day lives as radical receivers; we live a life of need. From realities as small as our need for food to eat and water to drink to our greatest needs of forgiveness and adoption, we receive all from our gracious God, who has the fullness of life in himself. In contrast to God not depending on anything, you and I are utterly contingent. All our contingencies are met in the grace of the supremely non-contingent one.
Our day-to-day lives reveal that we have needs; may we not grow to despise our neediness. On the contrary, may we press into our frailty as a reminder that our need in all things points to our ultimate need for the One who alone has the fullness of life in himself.
 John Webster, “Life in and of Himself” in God Without Measure: Working Papers in Christian Theology, Vol. 2. (London: T&T Clark, 2016), 213.
Editor’s Note: This article is from the Fall ’20 issue of Midwestern Magazine. The full issue is available free online.