The first question was: who is God? This is not so simple to answer as one would like, but with a being as awesome in scope as God is one should really expect no less. I can’t even begin to imagine the thought, ink, paper, books, hours and energy that have gone into defining God and attempting to convey the character and attributes of such an amazing being to others. It is doubtless a daunting effort to give any kind of explanation that touches on the person of God with any degree of satisfaction. Rather than endeavor to explain God in my own terms, I will express His person by means of the Bible as He reveals Himself throughout its pages. As such we shall hopefully receive a picture not only of God’s person but of the progressive revelation of His character as He communes with His people throughout the ages.
Friday, August 17, 2012
God and His Rivals, Part 2
Recall our first canvassing question: who is God, where did they come from, why have they created this physical universe and people it with us, and what do they want from us? Let us attempt to answer them from the Bible and see if they evidence a genuine being that is greater than man’s attempts to parody, or if the God of the Bible falls short of reality.
God was there “in the beginning,” Genesis 1:1; John 1:1. What beginning is Scripture referring to here? The beginning of our universe and all created things. The Scripture asserts that God was already present when material existence began. Not only that, but God was the creative force behind existence; all things came into being by His power and for His pleasure, Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:1; Revelation 4:11. God existed before our universe of space/time. That is why He told Moses that His name was “I AM,” Exodus 3:14; a name Jesus used when explaining to the Jews that He existed before Abraham, John 8:58. John the Baptist likewise testified that Jesus existed before Him, John 1:30. The Hebrew name “I AM that I AM” from Exodus 3:14 brings the connotation of self-perpetuating existence; in other words, God has always been.
It is difficult to explain, much less accept the concept of a self-existent, eternal God. Since you and I are beings of time—we live, grow old and die—we tend to use terms such as “was,” “is,” or “will” indicating what tense of time we’re referring to. Since the Bible is God’s communication to mankind He speaks to us in terms that we can comprehend, and thusly often sounds as though He too was a being in time, presently doing one thing, anticipating another while reflecting on what has been done. But God “is” no matter what time you consider. That was the essence of the gravity in Jesus’ statement when He said to the Jews “before Abraham was (past tense) I AM (present tense).” God is a relational being, and as such communicates in terms we, as finite, time-bound creatures, can conceive of and interact with.
God assures us that He is also unchanging, Malachi 3:6. If what we have previously said regarding God is true then this is entirely natural and only makes sense. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever because time has no hold on Him, Hebrews 13:8. God doesn’t change His views regarding this or that; if He voiced it in Scripture for our learning and taking to heart, then we can bet the bank that He has not reconsidered His views. You see, as a being (the only being) who sees the entire panorama of history from beginning to end and exists on either side where time fails and eternity takes over (Isaiah 48:12), God already knows how our universe concludes, who shall be saved, who shall reject Christ, and how this unseemly tapestry we call existence will serve to glorify Him.
Since God is eternal and unchanging then it is fair to assert that Scripture teaches His plan for the ages, His plan of redemption, was enacted before the first man drew breath on this planet. We find this very thought when we read of the Lamb “slain from the foundation of the world,” Revelation 13:8. Twice Paul writes of God’s redemptive purpose of mankind that was established “before time began,” 2nd Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2. It was seen in embryo prior to the cross in the Old Testament as the saints of that time were saved “through faith,” Hebrews 11:39; Romans 4:3. The saints today are likewise saved by faith; not by looking toward the consummation of the salvation God offers man, but by looking back at its historical realization in Jesus Christ, Acts 2:38; 4:12.
This would require that God possess omniscience and omnipresence: the ability to know all and see all. To create the universe and people it with men possessed of wills that could be set again Him, to erect the cross prior to time and present it as the perfect marriage of justice and mercy, and to write out the consummation of His plans for this present world in Scripture as though they have already occurred (via the Revelation and the prophets) requires God to be all knowing and ever present. It would also require our God to possess omnipotence: the power to perform anything He wills to. This too we find in Scripture, Psalm 62:11; Psalm 139:4, 7; Isaiah 46:9-10; Psalm 66:7; Job 38:4-7.
We return to the beginning, as it were. God is a relational being, as previously stated. God did not learn how to be relational by creating humanity; nor did He need humanity to fill a void in His life by entering into a relationship with us. God is perfect and without fault; therefore God has fellowship in Himself, a relational being in three persons that can share the love and fidelity of a perfect relationship as a model that He intended for mankind to emulate. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons in one being, sharing the same essence; this is not a vulgar creation of the Roman Catholic Church in the fourth or fifth century. No, the Old Testament clearly leaves significant hints that God is a triune God, Genesis 1:27; 11:7; Isaiah 6:8 48:16, etc.
God is a loving God, 1st John 4:8. Having had a perfect relationship of love between the Father, Word and Holy Spirit (1st John 5:7) God is the font from which genuine love pours out. He created mankind in His own spiritual, intellectual image. He gave man stewardship and permitted mankind a will that could elect to love God or choose to reject and even hate Him. Without the gift of free will there could not be a love relationship between us and God; love coerced or love programmed makes us nothing more than automatons. Genuine choice brings with it the possibility of choosing what is not good, but God was willing to permit this so that when a man or woman accepted Christ by faith and loved Him it would be authentic; it would be genuine. God permits the free will that opts to commit evil, for by removing it He also removes man’s capability to recognize and accept the offer of grace and love that embodies the gospel. Without free will it would not matter how many of us existed; God would still be alone in a universe peopled only with creatures that followed their programmed instructions. To do away with evil then, as some skeptics demand, would be to do away with man’s will, individuality, and freedom. They fail to consider that evil is not something simply "out there" to be eradicated; it is within us all, and to rid the world of evil would mean that God would rid the world of genuine humanity.
Lastly, God is a judge, Genesis 18:25. He is our judge in that as the Creator of the universe He is also its ultimate lawgiver. The moral law impressed on the hearts of mankind was given by God as a compass or instruction manual for how men ought to conduct themselves, Romans 2:15. The bad news is that man has transgressed this moral law by sinning. To sin means that we have committed an act that defies the moral order God erected in this universe; to sin equates into an act of rebellion as we attempt to be our own god. As the rightful Creator God is entitled to judge His creatures according to what they know, and how they dispose of this knowledge, Luke 12:47-48; Revelation 20:12. The good news is that God knew and provided beforehand the universal means of receiving forgiveness and new life in the person of Jesus Christ, John 3:16. To Christ is committed all judgment; He became a man to suffer our infirmities, and because He is the God-man He is uniquely qualified not only to be our Savior, but to be our Judge. By becoming a man God has removed the excuses from the mouths of those who might say “you don’t know what it’s like…!” But He does; He was tempted in all ways as we are, and therefore can empathize with our plight, Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:15. This is why every tongue shall be stopped and every knee bow before Christ, Isaiah 45:23; Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:11. If you will not receive Christ as Savior you will still meet Him, only this time as your Judge, John 3:36; 5:27; Revelation 20:11-15.