What in the World is God? Part 6 – In the Image of God: Personhood

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

Doodle GodAttributes of God can be enumerated in many ways and different lists come from scholars of various stripes.  Some of the lists, such as mine, are pretty basic and others include almost any activity of God.  My view leans toward looking at His essential nature rather than the way He interacts with us; e.g. mercy or mercifulness is included in many lists as one of His attributes where I consider it more an expression of His attributes of holiness and love, discussed in last week’s blog, June 25, 2018.

Besides this, there are likely attributes, that is, essential characteristics that are inherent in being God, that we will not nor cannot understand at our level of development and may never fully grasp even in the eons of eternity.  Remember always, He IS God, the Uncreated, and we are merely His creatures, created for His pleasure and glory (Revelation 4:11).

Consider Genesis 1:26: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”  So a clue to understanding what we are able to about God is found in looking at humankind and considering what we “look like.”  Clearly, as we have shown from Scripture (see June 17, 2018), God is a Spirit so this reference does not refer to hands or feet or body shape.  Yet He is not an impersonal spirit as some would construe, but He is a Person, with personality and intention to know and love and guide us.  Personhood is often overlooked as one of His attributes, and though He goes far beyond mere personality, our understanding of Him begins there.

We, too, are spirits as much as we are physical bodies.  A human is not one or the other, but as created in God’s image, our bodies carry in them the image of God in our spirits.  Our spirits consist mainly of mind, emotion and volition, and this gives us our reference for understanding that God is intelligent, emotional and willful.  As He is the designer and Creator of all that exists, we recognize that when we pray we are addressing a mind that encompasses the entire universe down to the detail of quarks and DNA and more.  Thus His omniscience is more than simply an awareness of existence, but a personal knowledge of each individual in His creation.

When we think of who we know, our minds can easily grasp the dozen or so close friends of our inner circles.  If we expand our view, we can think of hundreds of people we know by name and to whom we would say “Hello” in passing.  Further out, we can grasp the identities of perhaps a couple thousand people in an auditorium, but we cannot “know” them all.  Beyond this, the individuals become “lost in a sea of faces,” unidentifiable and unknowable to our small minds.  Yet, He knows each one, from the formation of the embryo in its mother’s womb to the old man resting down into his coffin (Psalm 139:13).

Very importantly, He feels.  Even before He came down into His creation in the form of Jesus, the God-Man, He felt the pains and longings of His people and wanted to develop a relationship with every man and woman. (Psalm 67; Ezekiel 18:23).  When God came to walk with Adam and Eve after they had disobeyed His simple command, He asked, “Where are you?”  When Adam identified his location, God then asked, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Genesis 3:8-11)  He was not lacking in knowledge, but rather giving opportunity for Adam and Eve to confess and turn from their disobedience, because He loved them and knew the only way to build the relationship was to be open and communicate.

He still desires that relationship that is more than just a formality.  He takes no joy in our subservient obedience to duty or regulation.  In fact, most of Jesus’ conflicts were with those who followed all the rules!  He feels love for His creation, both man and beast, both living creatures and the environment.

His emotions also extend to anger, disgust, grief and sorrow, but also to joy, delight, anticipation, calmness, and pity.  His experience of these emotions is something we can barely begin to understand, but each of these is mentioned at various times throughout Scripture.  We who are created in His image bear this emotional stamp and feel as well, although our emotions are often warped somewhat by the sin in our lives or in the world.

Most importantly, He is volitional.  He makes a decision and acts on it!  When the Bible says He never changes (James 1:17) it is referring to His character, not His activity.  At some point in time past, He said within the Trinity, “Let us make man in our image,” and He acted on it.  Adam and Eve, faced with a choice of trusting their Creator or the tempter who questioned His simple command, made their choice and acted on it.

Every day, you are faced with a myriad of decisions from what time to get out of bed to how to respond to others’ treatment of you.  Sometimes you must cooperate in decisions to act by voting, sometimes you must act alone, but you and I act!  We are volitional, willful, and express something of the attribute of God when we make decisions.  Again, many of our decisions are warped by sin, but it remains a reflection of His divine Spirit in us, that we are made in His image.

So when you consider What in the World is God, look for His interactions with you!  You matter to Him as much as Jesus, His own son does!  His holiness and love, expressing through His omnipotence and omniscience and omnipresence, offering guidance to us to let His Spirit lead us in our thoughts, emotions and wills, brings us into communion with The God Who Is There.

Keep in mind that my short list, barely begins to dust the snow off the top of this iceberg.  “He is great and greatly to be praised.” (Psalm 145)

 

 

 

 

 

In a couple of weeks, , we will again look at how God loves us.

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 1

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

Doodle GodWhat in the world is God?  The question is posed somewhat tongue-in-cheek.  The gut level response is that it should read “Who,” not “What.”  However, it is not entirely in jest, because God is not a man; He is not a cow or an elephant; He is not a Bhudda or Mohammad or Vishnu or Brahman; He is not a cast metal statue or stone carving; He is not even really a “he” or “she.”  In fact, He is not very much like us at all; He is “something” so completely different from us that the “what” question is as reasonable to ask as the “who” one.

While it is impossible for humans to fully grasp who or what God is, Paul claimed that what could be known about Him begins with a clear understanding of the order of the universe: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1:19-20)

Some skeptics will claim that ignorant aboriginal people, not understanding phenomena such as lightning, thunder, earthquakes, floods, etc., “invented” God to explain what they could not understand.  However, this is contrary to the human mind, even a “primitive” one.  We look for understanding of the unknown from what we know; we build our interpretations on foundations of fact to which our minds are accustomed.  A “primitive man” (if there ever was such a one) would no more likely invent a god to account for unexplained phenomena than a modern man would invent a phegallicur to explain his smartphone which he does not understand.

First Church of PhegallicurA phegallicur is something that simply does not exist, and as far as I know has never been named before this blog.  I hardly expect a religion of Phegallicurism to develop because so many people do not understand how their phones work and I “discovered” this word.  (If you choose to start such a religion, I expect some honorarium and at least a plaque praising my discovery. 😉)  And people in ancient times would not have invented religion for the same reasons.

The revelation of who or what God is must come from Him because He is so different from us.  Thus, He appeared to the first man and woman and began to reveal Himself gradually to them, to allow them time to grow in trust and love.  Human refusal to cooperate with the trust He desired resulted in the development of many perversions of religion, false teachings that have denied the nature, behavior and attributes of The God Who Is There as He has revealed Himself to be.  Essentially every false religion is based on an attempt to excuse some way in which the founder of said religion would not cooperate with the truth that was self-evident in the creation, truth to which God will lead the truly seeking heart (Deuteronomy 4:29; Jeremiah 29:13).

To discover what God really is becomes vitally important even before we begin our quest, because He has revealed Himself as the source of everything good: the source of life, light, joy, peace, etc. (James 1:17).  The alternative to knowing God is hell, separation from all that is good, and the evidence is very scarce that we get a second chance as reincarnation teaches.  Even if one was to accept the basic idea of reincarnation, why waste time recycling through multiple miserable lives and not go for the very best now?

ResurrectedWe have no clear evidence of life beyond this one except for the resurrection of Jesus, called the Christ or Messiah.  If one investigates this evidence he or she will find it overwhelming that Jesus did arise from the dead.  And that changes everything.  It changes how I view God.  It changes what I may think He is.  It changes how I treat my wife, family, friends.  It changes how I behave in relation to what I think may be good for me vs. what He says is good for me.  It changes everything!  This change is so radical, Paul even calls us new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17)!

Earth Asia.jpgThe other part of my question introducing this blog is significant as well: “in the world.”  God is not part of this world, yet He is here, in the world.  Our understanding of what and who He is will affect how we view what is happening in this world, because He is the Creator of it and has much to say about our affairs here.  We will examine over the next few weeks several of God’s attributes, not as simply an academic exercise, but as a personal attempt to get closer to Him, to know Him more fully, and conform more to the “image of Christ” (Romans 8:29).

Note that the use of “image” here is not to convey an idea of setting up a statue or physical likeness of Jesus, but to find out His priorities, His desires, His willingness to reach out to you and me, His longing for fellowship with us.  I do not mean by “longing” that He lacks in any way if we do not come into relationship with Him.  One of the faults of the 20th century American church that is carrying over into the 21st is that somehow we “complete” God like the heroine in Jerry McGuire.  One of the first things we will discover as we begin to know Him, the One True God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (John 17:3), is that He is fulfilled by His existence.  We need Him; He does not need us.

A final note as I embark on this study of What In the World Is God?: I have studied the Bible for many years, even before I began living it.  And as I have been trying now for many years to live it, I feel woefully inadequate to live what I already know.  So like Bob Goff in Love Does, I do not wish to do another “Bible study,” but a “Bible doing.”  My hope is that as we examine what and who God is I will “do” differently than I currently do.  And if you join me in this, that you too, will decide to “do” differently than you currently do.  We are not saved by knowledge alone, but by faith that results in obedience to His will (Matthew 21:28-32), to what and who God is.

Next week, , we will look at what is a “Trinity.”