What in the World is God? Part 5 – Holiness and Love

“Humans explaining the nature of God is like an ant trying to explain who dropped the sugar.” Trish O’Connor

Doodle GodWhen Isaiah saw the angels around the throne of God (Isaiah 6:3), they were not crying, “Love, love, love.”  Yet when John identifies God in his first letter, he says nothing about God being holy.  Some have misconstrued this dichotomy to suggest that the God of the Old Testament was a meany who wanted to kill anyone who got out of line, and the God of the New Testament is a nice guy who just wants everyone to go to Heaven.

But God is a Unity.  The Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4 is clear:Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”  The New Testament reaffirms this Unity both in the author of Hebrews description of Jesus, “the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) and by His half-brother, James, describing God:the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17).

Do a simple word search on love or forgiveness in the Old Testament and you will find many references to God’s great love, for example Numbers 14:18-19: ” ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love.”  Then John, one of Jesus’ closest friends and disciples said, “God is love” (1 John 4:8).  Yet when you get to John the Beloved’s apocalyptic Revelation, the angels are still there, crying, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty” (Revelation 4:8).

How many people would want to see a merciless murderer like Adolph Hitler or Charles Manson getting a welcome and a mansion in Heaven along side of Mother Theresa or Billy Graham?  Something inside us cries out for justice, the human expression of God’s holiness.  Rarely do you find an opponent to the death penalty among a victim’s surviving family.  However, what kind of loving God would we serve if He meted out justice even to the penitent?  Again, our human instinct for mercy, one of our expressions of God’s love, is repelled by punishment of one who is truly sorry for his actions that have caused others pain.

Moses declaration in Numbers sums it up very well: “steadfast love, forgiving . . . but by no means clear[ing] the guilty.”  Humans cannot seem to have it both ways.  We must either be loving and forgiving, or we demand holiness and justice.  Fortunately, we are not God.  As the Creator of all, holiness and justice line up with the way the universe is supposed to be.  And as the Creator of all life, His holiness is reflected in His love, which is able to forgive when things do not line up as they are supposed to be.

That forgiveness is not unconditional, however.  It is based on sincere repentance that results in a changed life, realigning itself with the holiness of God.  But even our efforts at repentance often fall short of what we are supposed to be (Romans 3:23), yet God is merciful as long as the direction of our life is towards Him and not continuing or indulging in our sin (1 John 1:5-10).

If you wish to understand the holiness and love of God, you have no further to look than the Cross on which Jesus died.  His death was not some kind of victory by the devil, as though that liar was owed any debt, and won his dues by killing Jesus.  Rather Jesus’ death was to pay for the offense against God’s holiness.  It was The God Who Is There who was separated from us by our sin, and His holiness demanded justice, but His love allowed Him to take the punishment we . . . I . . . deserved.  So before one gets the notion that God is somehow a softy on sin in the New Testament, look at what He did to His own Son! (Isaiah 63:14)

The reason for the confusion over some of God’s actions in the Old Testament is the result of cultural and societal differences in modern times from the practices in ancient times, including not understanding God’s purposes for His revelation of Himself through a chosen people (Deuteronomy 7:7-10).  The most important issue in understanding the God of the Bible is to come to Him in faith (see April 19, 2015 and July 17, 2016), trusting that He is both holy and loving, and searching the Scriptures to understand why He acted as He did in circumstances far removed from our modern “sensibilities.”

Holiness is not natural to man, nor is loving in God’s sense of it.  Holiness can only be imputed to humans when we are touched by the divine Presence and experience His holiness being lived through us.  In the same way, loving with God’s love is not possible for us alone, but only as we come into communion with Him, so that He can love others through us.  At best we will botch both up at times, but as we continue to walk with Him and allow the Holy Spirit to change us, we will begin to experience how to love as He loves, and to be holy as He is holy.

Next week, , we will look at why he interacts with US!  We are made in His “image.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHeEytocJVY

 

What in the World is God? Part 4 – Omnipresence and Omniscience

“Humans explaining the nature of God is like an ant trying to explain who dropped the sugar.” Trish O’Connor

WDoodle Godhat in the world is God?  He is a Spirit, not just spirit with a small “s,” but a Personality who exists in spiritual form, that is to say no “form” at all.  Jesus announced this to the woman at the well in John 4: God is a Spirit (a spiritual Being) and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth (reality).” (4:24 Amplified Bible)   Some have argued from the Greek, “pnuema o theos” that “spirit is god,” or rather spirituality is all that is required.  There is no “Him” in this spirituality but only a vague sense of “something bigger than me,” some type of Buddhism or Star Wars theology that says we are all part of the “spirit of god.”

If this text were the only one about God’s spiritual nature, this would be open to debate.  However, Jesus was dealing with a woman who was using her version of “new age theology” to argue about details of what church to attend.  He drew her instead to the truth that God is not dependent on locations and buildings.  He is not a statue or artifact or relic.  He is One looking for hearts devoted to Him and willing to be His friends.  (As an aside, this is one of those times that Jesus gives grief to those who claim He was a nice guy; here he lays claims to the title Messiah in plain Aramaic, the common language they would have been using; and when the townspeople describe him as “the Savior of the world,” He gives them no rebuttal.)

It was this same Spirit who was on Elijah when Elisha asked for the heir’s privilege (2 Kings 2:9) and on Isaiah when he foretold of Jesus suffering (Isaiah 61-63); it was this Spirit who told Ezekiel that He would act to vindicate His holy name (Ezekiel 36:22-23) and who was in Daniel to give him understanding the magicians of Babylon lacked and caused Nebuchadnezzar to praise (Daniel 2:20-23; 4:9, 34-35); it was this Spirit who stirred men’s hearts to obey Him in Ezra’s day (Ezra 1:5); this was the Spirit that was in the apostles, unschooled men, when they argued effectively against the greatest minds of their day (Acts 5:29-32); it is this Spirit promised to us to help us in weakness, reveal the mind of God, intercede on our behalf, and work everything out for our good (Romans 8:26-28); and it is that same Spirit who speaks to the churches until the end of our time (Revelation 2:8-3:22).  He does not hide in metaphysical jargon, but is a Personality who wants us to be friends with Him.

That He is a formless Spirit allows Him to be everywhere at one time, omnipresent.   David understood this when he penned the beautiful worship poem:
“Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to Heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,’
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.”  (Psalm 139:7-12)

Corrie ten Boom recognized this as well when she said, “There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.”  What a wonderful God we serve that He is always with us no matter where we are, no matter what the outward circumstances are.  (See August 20, 2016 and August 27, 2017.)

Add to His Presence everywhere that He knows everything about His creation, omniscience.  The whole of creation is His idea and He is actively involved inhabiting the scientists’ Colossian Space (Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3).  DNA and quarks are not confusing to Him, and He understands the stuff of the universe of which we have not yet dreamed!

Beyond this, His mind is so vast and comprehensive of all that exists that He even knows the end from the beginning (Ecclesiastes 3:11; Isaiah 46:9-10; Revelation 21:6).  Now I differ from what some take this to mean.  Many, if not most, think of God as existing somehow beyond or outside of time, as though time would be a constraint on Him.  It is my view that time is to God as love or holiness is to Him.  He is not constrained by time any more than He is “constrained” by love or holiness.  Time is simply what it is, the passing of one age to another.

Before He created any other creatures, time had no meaning, as He always existed forever past.  In the same way, before He created light, dark had no meaning.  But even then, that does not mean He was somehow “outside of time” just as it does not mean He was sitting around in the dark! 😉  At the time He began creative activity (as far as we know), creating the angels, time became measurable.  (We do not know if He created other beings or worlds or “stuff” before creating this universe; maybe Hawking was onto something about God’s creative streak with parallel universes, but this theory is immaterial to living here in this universe.)

His perception of knowing the end from the beginning does not mean He has been there in the future.  It just means His mind comprehends all that exists so thoroughly that nothing in the created universe can surprise Him.  Not war in Heaven (Revelation 12:7), not Adam and Eve’s fall (Genesis 3:15), not yours or my sin or submission to Him (Psalm 139:1-4).  His omnipresence provides Him with more information than any creature (including the devil) and He “[knows] the end from the beginning.” (Isaiah 46:10)

So what does His omnipresence and omniscience mean to us here and now?  Read David’s Psalm again.  In fact, this is one of those to memorize.  The entire Psalm 139 is only 24 verses.  Or if that seems a bit much for you, try verses 7-12.  Then if you ever find yourself doubting that He is God, go back and rehearse these lines.  He is here and He is not silent. (See October 2, 2016 , February 12, 2017 and April 23, 2017.)

Next week, , we will look at His holiness and love and how they interact.

 

What in the World is God? Part 3 – Eternality and Omnipotence

 

“Humans explaining the nature of God is like an ant trying to explain who dropped the sugar.” Trish O’Connor

Doodle God“YAHWEH our God, YAHWEH is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4) The I AM revealed Himself to Israel as a unique God in a time of religious pluralism when people around the fledgling nation had changed the idea of God to something more manageable to their minds and acquiescent to their desires.  They had gods for the sea, mountains, and plains; gods for their crops, food, and sex.  Lots of gods, none of whom was very powerful; often many of them in contention with each other.

So when God revealed Himself to Moses and Israel, He wanted to establish that He was not an invention of man, but to take them back to the beginning.  When asked for His name, this nameless one communicated to us with language we could understand, and He called Himself, the “I AM WHO I AM.” (Exodus 3:14)

Each of us had a beginning, a cause that made us.  Our parents at some time had conjugal relations and thus we came into existence.  Going back in history through grandparents, great-grands, etc., to ancestors in ancient time, every person could say “I am because of my parents,” all the way back to Adam and Eve.  In fact, everything in the universe had and has a “cause” which brought it into being.  Even the “gods” around Israel had their beginnings in ideas men had and the statues men had made.

In Part 2 of this series, I referred to God as “the First Cause.”  This is a term used first by Aristotle to describe the initiation of all other phenomena in the observable world (“Don’t be impressed, you can look it up!” Steve Elliott 😉).  The alternative to First Cause is that “causes” extend back into eternity past, negating a “need” for God.  However, within just a few centuries we can see a progression in the events on Earth that suggests a starting point and an ending point.  This lines up with the Bible that tells us directly, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)  Furthermore the Bible teaches that history on this earth has a terminal point, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” (Revelation 21:1)

The issue for us is whether to believe the Bible or not, and I have addressed its reliability in several previous blogs (beginning with June 28, 2015) with the conclusion that there is no book in history that has been more reliably preserved and translated than the Bible.  Central to the question of believing the Bible is whether Jesus arose from the dead, also a subject of several blogs (April 19, 2015, August 16, 2015 to name a couple) and that conclusion is that there is more historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus than for George Washington being the first president of the United States.

If we begin with these assumptions, that the Bible is true, and that Jesus arose from the dead, the identity of the First Cause becomes very important to our lives, not as a theological question for intellectual debate, but as a practical consideration of how we are going to live day to day in our short time spent here.

Attributes of God are not parts of who He is.  They are facets of His unity.  He is not at one time, judgmental and just, then changing to be kind and merciful at another.  His justice and love, truth and grace, judgments and mercy, all flow from one fountain of One Who Is.  We will explore a couple of these attributes and others in the next couple weeks.

The First Cause argument for the existence of God carries with it several ideas that become important for the foundation of our lives.  When we look back in time and find that He was already there, we conclude that He was always there, i.e. eternally existent, a necessary condition for a First Cause.  As Eternality is an attribute of God, it is not something that He can lose, thus He will always exist into eternity in the future.

If He is First Cause, He is unique and alone in this status.  There cannot be two First Causes.  And as the First Cause of the universe, He is all powerful, or Omnipotent.  He created all that exists, spangling the sky with stars and galaxies, exploding them outward to catch up with the light He had created (Genesis 1:3-5; 14-19).  He formed the earth from His ideas and sat it in the cosmos at the precise location to support the lives He would go on to create here.

His Eternality and Omnipotence go hand in hand in that one who was not eternal could not be omnipotent.  Conversely, one who was not omnipotent would not be able to guarantee his eternality.  Like facets on a sculpted jewel we see these characteristics of what He is.  And we will see in the next few weeks other facets that all blend together to reveal what we are able to grasp of The I AM.

There may be attributes of God that we cannot know about until we see Him “face-to-face” (1 Corinthians 13:12), and even then, there may be characteristics of the Divine that will continue to elude us through all eternity.  I note again, He is God, and we will never be what He is, nor able to fully comprehend Him.

This begins a frightening prospect for the person who does not know The God Who Is There.  To realize there is Someone who lives in eternity and holds all power in His hands creates in the untrained heart a great fear as we come into His presence.  But in the heart of one who has become acquainted with I AM, this fear is mingled with adoration for One in whom we can have complete confidence that He will always be there, or rather here, for us (Psalm 16:8) and there is nothing too hard for Him. (Jeremiah 32:27)

Next week, , we will look at additional characteristics of God.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jP2nz6PG8KM

 

 

 

 

 

What in the World is God? Part 2 – The Trinity

“Humans explaining the nature of God is like an ant trying to explain who dropped the sugar.” Trish O’Connor

Doodle GodIn spite of Trish O’Connor’s quote, we all at one time or another try to understand God and most of us try to explain our discoveries to others.  These blogs are no different.  I certainly do not have all the answers, and like Rick Warren once said, “When someone thinks he has all the answers, you have to wonder if he knows all the questions.”

Yet God has revealed Himself to us and has been trying to get our attention since the beginning of time, to get us to trust and love Him.  And this is not a secret (1 John 1:1-3).  The things God has revealed about Himself were not done in a corner or revealed to special people in caves with special lenses required for reading.  God has continuously revealed Himself to any and all who wanted to know Him.  But as we noted before, He is very different from us.  Even the designation “He” tends to obscure just how different, as we tend to think of “Him” as a grandfather in the sky.

Why this matters is that “we tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God.” (A.W.Tozer)  Thus we will become generous or legalistic, or cruel or kind, or pure or immoral, depending on the image of God in our minds.  This process was described by Paul: “Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” (Romans 1:21-23)

However, idolatry should not to be construed as just worshiping a statue or physical image.  “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5: Ezekiel 14:3) Anything that takes first place in our hearts over The God Who Is There is an idol; this is what we live for, what we worship, what we want most in life.

So what is God, The God Who Is There?  The dictionary’s first definition is “the one Supreme Being, the creator and ruler of the universe.”  This gives us a starting point for discovering what He is, but we need more information, available only in the historical record of the Bible, to understand more fully what and who God is.

Now books, and voluminous ones, have been written discussing the Trinity and the nature of God, so do not expect any great revelation here today.  This discussion is only intended as a starting point for us to consider our “mental images” of God and to draw us to consider how difficult it is for us to even begin to comprehend the incomprehensible.  How does an ant explain who or what dropped the sugar??

The Bible presents the One True God as revealing Himself to Moses and the fledgling nation of Israel as The I Am That I Am, or Yahweh.  He declares Himself to be ONE (Deuteronomy 6:4).  Yet in Genesis 1:26-27 He said, “Let US make man in OUR image . . . in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”  Both psalmist and prophet refer to God’s Holy Spirit as someone somehow distinct from God (Psalm 51:11; Isaiah 63:11).  When Jesus arrived on earth, He was “conceived . . . from the Holy Spirit” (sometimes called the Holy Ghost). (Matthew 1:20)  When He was baptized by John in the Jordan River, we see Jesus in the water, the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, and the Father speaking from above (Mark 1:9-11).

Now the question comes, Are we tri-theists?  Do we believe in three Gods?  Absolutely not!  As God spoke to Moses, He is One.  Then how do we justify Jesus’ claim to be God (John 10:30) and the recognition of the Holy Spirit as God (Acts 10:38)?

Some defer to “modalism.”  A man may be a dad, a brother and a son all at the same time . . . but that man is only one man, not three individuals.  Some claim there is “Jesus only,” and that He shows up at times as Father or Son or Holy Spirit.  However, these ideas fly in the face of various scriptures that show three individuals.  Some claim the Three-in-One is not One at all.  Some of these absurdly claim God the father had sex with Mary in order for Jesus to be born, but that would make Jesus less than the Father, and Jesus a created being,

The whole temperament of the Bible claims the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all the One True God, existing somehow in three persons.  Hard to grasp?  Of course, it is. He IS God!  To be able to comprehend and explain what He is we would have to be greater than Him.  As the Uncreated One, The First Cause of all that exists, he exists apart from His creation, over and above anything we will ever be able to grasp fully, even in the ages of eternity.  He will still be the Uncreated One and we will still be, however elevated in ages to come, mere creatures created for His joy.

Paul Little penned it this way: “Faith in Christianity is based on evidence. Faith in the Christian sense goes beyond reason but not against it.”  Though we do not fully understand the triune nature of God this does not make it unreasonable in the face of the evidence presented in the Bible.

There is a small risk here: sometimes we begin to think and behave as tri-theists, as though there was a conflict between the Father and the Son, or between the Son and the Holy Spirit.  They, He, It is One, and we would do well to preface our prayers, “Holy One, whom You know Yourself to be . . .”  Now there are times when I need the proximity of a Brother.  Other times I need the counsel of a Father.  At yet other times, I need the mystery of a Holy Spirit who speaks in languages I have not learned.

God’s mercy is great enough, that if we call on His name, be it Father, Jesus, or Holy Spirit, He will understand our limitations and give grace to help us and guide us into all truth (John 16:12-15).  Next week, , we look at more of The God Who Is There.

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
  Isaiah 9:6

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next week, , we will look at come of God’s characteristics that make sense.