ST. ANDREW’S OCCASIONAL PAPERS
- Who is God?
For many hundreds of years, millions upon millions of Christian people have worshipped God. Yet how many have sat down and thought out exactly whom they are worshipping? Stained glass windows and other paintings have shown that many artists think in terms of an old man reclining on a cloud, but, of course, that picture is far removed from the truth. So just who are we referring to when we speak about God?
It would be convenient if we could turn to the Bible and find an accurate and concise definition of this Supreme Being, but there is none. What we can find, and what we will explore together, are a series of hints as to the nature and character of God. The Westminster Confession, used by some Free Churches, lists around thirty words and phrases that can be applied to God and backs most of them up with Bible references. We will not attempt to be as exhaustive as that, but, at least, we can investigate some of them.
- God is eternal
There is no doubt that we are people governed by time, even if we respond differently to its demands. However God stands outside time. He created time and He knows how we live under its relentless pressure. But He is not subject to it and therefore is the same yesterday, today and forever. God was there in the beginning before the world was. He is there now as the world continues on its course. He will still be there when the life of this world is over.
It is wonderful that we have an eternal, unchanging God.
- God is the Creator
“In the beginning God created…..” At one time I took the first chapter of Genesis as literal truth, as a series of events taking place in seven periods of twenty four hours. Now I would prefer to see it as a story revealing that God was in control of the evolutionary development of our universe and us within it. I can go along with the latest scientific theory of the “Big Bang” as long as God is seen as the One in charge. In fact, provided God is seen as the Master Creator, the process by which He creates seems to me to be secondary.
When we speak of God as Creator we are acknowledging that everything we see around us was put there by God. Now that does not mean that everything has remained as it was when it was created. Humankind has been in rebellion against the Creator from the day when Eve and then Adam took a bite of the forbidden fruit, and this rebellion has marred the earth that God created. As Paul; puts it so vividly, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time”[Rom 8:22].
It is wonderful that we have a God who made all things well.
- God reveals Himself
God could have created this world, “wound it up,” and then sat back to watch. But, instead, He chose to get involved, to “get His hands dirty”! So God interacts with the world He has made and the people He has put in it. He has made Himself known to some human beings through dreams or visions. Jacob, on his travels from Beersheba to Haran stopped for the night at Bethel and in a dream “Saw a stairway resting on the earth with its top reaching to heaven….. There above it stood the Lord, and He said…..”[Gen 28:10-13]
Later God spoke through a variety of prophets, beginning with the greatest of them, Moses [see Deut 34:10]. Finally God revealed Himself in His Son, Jesus Christ, “who is the image of God” [2 Cor 4:4].
It is wonderful that we have a God who is prepared to enter into communication with us.
- God is infinite
How often have you used the excuse, “I cannot be in two places at once!” But God can!
We tend to try and limit God, to confine Him within some boundary or other of our own making. But, whenever we try this, God will always “break free.” One just cannot set limits to God. His presence, His knowledge, His love are all without limit.
It is wonderful that we have a God who has no limits.
- God is holy
When God revealed Himself to Moses at the bush which was in flames in the desert, yet was not burnt away, the first instruction God gave was for Moses to take off his sandals “for the place where you are standing is holy ground” [Exod 3:5]. This meeting place was given over to God’s service and therefore separated from the common ground. Thus the idea of separation from the contamination of the world is at the centre of the idea of holiness.
It is wonderful that we have a God who is untouched by evil.
- God is good
This may seem obvious but other, man devised “gods” have certainly not been good and have, for example, demanded human sacrifice, something God “did not command nor did it enter my mind” [Jer 7:31]. God is our standard of goodness and surely the test of any action of ours is, “could we, with a clear conscience, perform it in the presence of God Himself.”
It is wonderful that we have a God that is good.
- God is Spirit
This profound truth was announced by Jesus as He spoke to the Samaritan woman by the well at Sychar [John 4:24]. Although God has created all the material universe, God Himself is not material but spiritual, in contrast to human beings who are a combination of body (material framework), mind (with which we think and reason) and spirit (with which we appreciate the things of God).
It is wonderful that we have a God who is Spirit.
- God is personal
In view of all these wonderful words we have used to hint at the nature of God, we might think that God is too grand to bother with individual men women and children. But this is just not so, did not Jesus say that “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered”[Luke 12:7]. Then, again in earlier centuries God spoke “to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” [Ex 33:11]. Thus God is personal and we can, even now, speak freely to Him in prayer, knowing that He hears each one of us.
It is wonderful that we have a God who relates to each one of us individually.
- God is love
Again it is St. John who twice makes this most fundamental statement about God [1 John 4:8,16]. Love is a word which has so often been debased in worldly use, but in its basic meaning the one who loves wants the best for the one loved, whatever the cost to the one who loves . So God always wants what He knows to be the best for us (not necessarily the same thing as we think that we want for ourselves!). Above all God wants us to enter into fellowship with Him and He has made this possible at a cost too great for us to fully comprehend, in the death of His one and only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no greater love than this. Again, as St John says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” [1 John 3:1]
It is wonderful that we have a God who loves each one of us.
- God in Trinity
The Old Testament began the revelation of God the Father, something which Jesus completed. The New Testament also revealed Jesus as the Son of God but just as much God as the Father. Did not Jesus say “I and the Father are one” [John 10:30]. Later Jesus also accepted Thomas’ acknowledgement, “My Lord and my God” [John 20:28]. Finally at Pentecost the disciples became aware that God was also active among them in the person of the Holy Spirit. Three persons, one God; something that we can never fully comprehend. No analogy is without fault, especially if it is pressed too far, but I prefer the picture of a board of directors of a company, where the decisions are those of the board, but each member of that board has his or her own area of responsibility.
It is wonderful that we have a God who is One, yet revealed to us in three persons.
We have found many hints about the nature of the God we worship, but we are no closer to defining God. Indeed how could we, the lesser and the weaker, define the infinitely greater and stronger? But one thing we know above all is that God, in all His triune majesty as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, loves each and every man, woman and child that has ever walked on the surface of this world. We also know that God has done everything necessary to remove every barrier between the Godhead and humanity, and that He knocks on the door of every human heart [Rev 3:20] pleading to be let in. Yes, pleading, because despite having enough power to create and run the entire universe, He will not go where He is not freely welcomed.
It is wonderful that we have such a wonderful God.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. © 1973,1978,1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder and Stoughton, a member of the Hodder Headline Group. All rights reserved.