33. God with Personality

Getting to Know God Meditations:  33. God with Personality

Mt 19:26    Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Num 23:19  God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind.

What a Mix! When we try to get a handle on just who God is, it is an impossible task. Yes, we can see the things – the many things – the Bible says about Him but even then so much of the time we are like people gazing in the jeweler’s window and perceiving lots of rings with little pieces of clear glass in, some sparkling, some not so much. To the uninitiated they are just that, colorless glass but to those in the know they are amazing diamonds. I once had the privilege of interviewing a jeweler who knew all about these things. He showed me a color grading kit, because diamonds have different colors varying from pure white (the most expensive ones) through a yellow-brown series. In his kit I could just distinguish the difference from one on the left to the tenth one on the right, but only just. He explained how jewelers like him have to go through a test where they are given 360 different colored diamonds and have to put them in order. He modestly acknowledged that at his last test he had got four wrong which is “considered quite good.”  I say all this because I believe it is sometimes like this with the Bible. One person looks and sees words, another sees and is deeply moved at the wonder.

God beyond us: Jesus, in our first verse above speaks of his Father in heaven for whom nothing is impossible.  In our scrabbling for understanding we are not sure what that means, but when we look at the context we grasp just a little.  In Numbers 23, the seer, Balaam, declares a truth about God. He’s not like us, He always speaks the truth and doesn’t randomly change His mind. (Whenever it appears that He does, it is always because the situation has changed, repentance has been seen.) No, God is very different from us and that is what makes Him scary. And yes, the marvel of the Bible is that in it we find human writers desperately trying to convey truth by the use of words and the use of many different word forms, that we referred to in an earlier study.

Personal Actions: We find again and again God is spoken of in terms of human actions. Let’s have some illustrations of this:

  • “the Lord said….. I will know.” (Gen. 18:21) A basic aspect of personality is knowing, of being aware. God knows, He is aware of every situation
  • “But God remembered Noah,” (Gen 8:1) Recollection, remembering, is an ability of the human mind and that comes from God whose knowledge includes looking back from the present and seeing what was – He ‘remembers’.
  • “God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham.” (Ex 2:24) Hearing is one of the five human senses, and so the writers seek to convey that sometimes God’s actions are prompted by His observation of us, what He ‘hears’ us doing. “I have heard them crying out.” (Ex 3:7b)
  • “And God saw that it was good.” (Gen 1:10) But it is not only hearing, this knowledge is also expressed as ‘seeing’.
  • “The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people.” (Ex 3:7a) It is this ‘seeing’ that sometimes seems to prompt Him into action, His awareness of the right time to act.
  • “The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said….” (Gen 8:21) All these things are expressions of living personality that is conscious and so when there is a smell, God ‘smells’ it.
  • “May God arise, may his enemies be scattered.” (Psa 68:1) God moves, God acts, He is not static.
  • “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden.” (Gen 3:8) In the earliest phase of history, the closeness of God in the Garden meant that His movements in the material realm created sound that could be heard.
  • “I will walk among you and be your God.” (Lev 26:12) His close movement, suggesting intimacy, indicates His presence among His people.
  • “Enoch walked with God…” (Gen 5:24) A picture of two walking together suggests intimate ongoing fellowship.
  • “The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces.” (Isa 25:8) An action attributed to God to convey His activity or removing the need for tears.

Each of these ‘action’ descriptions seeks to convey the life that is the God that is there and interacting with us in this material world. When you read your Bible, watch out for more of these.

Personal Emotions: But the descriptions of God go beyond actions, they also include feelings, emotions, all indicators of personality. Here are a few:

  • “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” (Gen 6:6) Instead of a hasty God of judgment as some would convey, we see God is moved and troubled and anguishes over our folly as a human race, and that has at times stirred regret in Him, but never such that He has wiped us out!
  • “How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the wasteland.” (Psa 78:40) Again and again comes this sense of God grieving – which conveys being heart-stricken, if not heart broken by our folly. “Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit.” (Isa 63:10)
  • “They pour out drink offerings to other gods to arouse my anger.” (Jer 7:18) Negative behaviour creates negative responses, right responses. “He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath.” (Psa 2:5) Wrath is anger stirred intro action
  • “do not erect a sacred stone, for these the Lord your God hates.” (Deut 16:22) Things that warp or twist us and make us less than we are designed to be, creates this strong negative response in God.
  • “as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.” (Isa 62:5) On the other hand, there are times when good things happening create strong good responses in God.
  • the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh 8:10) Delight or pleasure or happiness is often seen as an expression of God: “Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit.” (Lk 10:21)
  • “Enter into the joy of your lord.’” (Mt 25:21) In the parable, the lord is God. Jesus also spoke of his joy: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (Jn 15:11)
  • “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Ex 34:6,7) Compassion gentle kindness, love, forgiveness all expressions of God’s emotions in respect of us.
  • “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) The motivating force, behind the coming of Jesus and his death on our behalf, was love.

Thus we have a variety of emotions that are expressions of personality, that we see in God.

And So?  Here is a storehouse of resources for meditation. Reflect on the wonder of these things, that we have dealings, not with an impersonal force, but a Being with personality (hence my earlier description of ‘spirit’ as ‘force with personality’.) You see it is very easy to read the Bible or talk about God in it, and for it to be mere words, words that convey little, impact even less, but the reality is that we have been given this book that records in the most incredibly uniform way that this Being that we refer to as God, is a being with personality who communicates with human beings who also have personality.  It is person to person that we find again and again throughout the pages of this book. Our actions, our feelings, are tainted by sin – this self-centred, godless propensity to get it wrong – but God’s actions and God’s emotions are never ‘wrong’, they are the perfect expression of a perfect being and perhaps that is something we ought to consider in more detail in the next study.

27. Redeemed From (3)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 27. Redeemed From (3)

Eph 2:1-3    As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.

Following ‘Passion’?  I’m never quite comfortable with our interpretation of Paul’s words in verse 3 above even with, “We all lived like that in the past, and followed the impulses and imaginations of our evil nature,” (JBP version) and even less with, “You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat,” (Message version), or “All of us used to be just as they are, our lives expressing the evil within us, doing every wicked thing that our passions or our evil thoughts might lead us into.” (Living Bible). What these various paraphrase versions show us is that we struggle with the idea that Paul is seeking to convey here. Now when you look up synonyms for ‘passion’ you do come across such words as craving, desire, or appetite. The various paraphrases above also use such words as ‘impulses’ and ‘felt’, both implying responses to feelings.

Going on feelings? Christian preachers or teachers often say ‘don’t go on your feelings’ and that is what this is all about, but when Paul says in the NIV “gratifying the cravings of the flesh” he is implying something more than just feelings; he is directing us towards thinking about desires that stem from physical or bodily expressions so, for example, we get hungry because we haven’t eaten for a while. Sexual drive can also be linked to physical state. Now psychologists often distinguish ‘desire’ from ‘emotions’ for ‘emotions’, they say, arise from a person’s emotional state.

So we have two ideas here which come out of Paul’s writings: motivation by physical gratification and motivation by mental state, and both of these, implies Paul, are things that should be consigned to past history. However our studies in redemption have suggested that so often God’s work in us has to be an ongoing process because, although our identity has changed, and we now also have a new power source, it is so easy to allow these things of the past to still ‘echo’ in the present and hence Paul had to instruct us to Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” (Col 3:5) i.e. you make an effort, an act of will to do this. The teaching is clearly that the old is still there waiting to rear up and we have to positively put it down.   Now when we moved into the fifth Part, I thought of our sub-heading as ‘Practicalities’ but changed it to ‘Nuts & Bolts of Redemption’. These things, the nuts and bolts of our lives, have very practical outworkings in our lives.

Physical Desires: We shy away from such words as ‘greed’ or ‘gluttony’ but they are words that fit when it comes to physical appetites. However, as Christians, perhaps we should call a spade a spade and call these things ‘lack of self-control’. Food: Obesity is the Western pandemic and is clearly (in the vast majority of cases) a consequence of lack of self-control. But that lack of self-control may have two origins. First, it may just be giving way to greed: I like this and I want more and more and more. Second, it may be what we call ‘comfort eating’, it is a way we deal with mental anguishes (I feel rubbish about me) and seek to bring physical pleasure to compensate for the loss of mental peace.  The first needs simple self-control, the second needs a reality check about identity, realizing afresh the truth about ourselves, loved by God and special to Him, people with purpose in life. All of these things need working through and really taking on board.

Drink: So far we have been considering desires that focus on food, but they can equally apply (if not more so) to alcohol. Now I don’t have a problem with drinking alcohol within limits (though I rarely drink) but I am sure there is a common assumption (and it appears in Christian circles) that alcohol creates a social environment that promotes sociability. There may be an element of truth in that but there are at least two difficulties with it. First, it is false that you cannot be sociable without alcohol and if for you it is true, then you have a personal identity problem again. Second, regular drinking (‘to be sociable’) becomes a pattern and a pattern often develops into a bondage and that brings about what we call alcoholism and all the health and social problems that go with that. In passing, may I note that in all these sorts of things there is so often deception here, for the individual strongly denies that there is a problem, and nowhere is this more true than in the case of sex.

Sex: All of these things we consider here, that God is seeking to lead us away from, are excesses of things that He gave us as a gift to be used within confines. Sex, the Bible reveals, is for within a lifetime committed relationship. Now I am aware that when we say that in the Western world it is like calling for light in darkness, it is so alien, but merely because the world casts off God’s design criteria, that should not be true of us Christians. It is almost impossible to watch TV without being bombarded by the philosophy that sex is all right with whoever you like, whenever you like, and however you like, and becomes no more significant than eating a cheese sandwich. The result is to debase sex and create whole rafts of relationship problems and where to speak of love is banned except after the relationship based on sex has existed for a long time (watch long running historical ‘soaps’ such as ‘Friends’ or ‘Big Bang Theory’ to see the truth of this.) Deception reigns! Fortunately voices are gradually (if only occasionally) being raised by newspaper or magazine columnists that this approach is having disastrous effects, and we will have to face some of these things as we progress down the path of redemption. For some, sex comes by computer screen and is called pornography but all that does is stimulate mind and body in ways that are less than God had in mind with His design for couples.

Wandering in the Desert: My feeling about all these things that are rising up in the Western world, is that they are expressions of life in the wilderness or the desert, life that is arid and where people are resorting to things outside the parameters of  God’s design for human beings, to try to make sense of this crazy godless world, and try to find pleasure in it, yet trying by eating more and more, or drinking more and more, or having more and more sex, simply works on what economists call ‘the law of diminishing returns’. As any junkie would tell you, you need more and more to get the same pleasure. But we’re not meant to live in deserts; the truth is that at the edge of every desert is a wonderful world that is lush and green and full of good things. This ‘desert living’ is what God seeks to deliver us from and so perhaps we should move on in the next study and move away from the depressing area (when you have eyes to see it) of the desperate scrabbling for pleasure and meaning that is so prevalent in modern Western society. So let’s move out of the desert and see the world that the Lord seeks to deliver us in to.

And So? But before we do that, let’s go right back to the beginning and remind ourselves what Paul has been saying: don’t base your life on desires or emotions, there is a better way. It is a way that is first and foremost founded on a relationship with the Lord and out of that relationship we live according to His design parameters and know His blessing in all aspect of our lives. His word, His will, His way, His wonder, and all these bring light and life and blessing and goodness, and that is what He is working to lead us towards in this path of redemption. He HAS redeemed us from that old life of self-orientation, of self-pleasures, self-concerns, self-desires, self-based-emotions, and He is now in the process of redeeming us on a daily basis into a new world. We’ll see more on to that in the next study.

62. He Cares

Meditations in 1 Peter : 62: He cares for you

1 Pet 5:7-9 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

We live in a worrying world. It seems to be endemic to this part of history and easy communications and the media may have much to do with it. Two hundred years ago you would not have heard what was happening a hundred miles away, let alone on the other side of the world. By the time news arrived it was usually months old and you couldn’t do anything about it and, anyway, you were still there so whatever it was couldn’t have been that important!  I have recently been reading the biography of a famous reporter who lived through the years of the Cold War. We tend to forget the worries about ‘the Bomb’ or Cuba or the Russians that abounded then. Today the news often covers the deaths in Afghanistan and there are many worried parents and loved ones back here who wonder whether the one they know will be one of the victims of a sniper’s bullet or a roadside bomb.  Writing in the years following financial meltdowns in the City of London and in America, the threat of loss of pensions and loss of jobs is a very real anxiety for many. No, we live in an age of anxiety!

Now our verse above is one of those that can be taken right out of context and it still holds true, but actually when you look at the verse before and verse after, you see there is a linkage between them: Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” At the beginning is the (possible) anxiety of holding a right balance in your attitude and outlook before God, and in the latter one we’ll come to in a subsequent meditation, there is the concern of having to cope with attacks from the enemy, which are very real. Those two concerns – rightly relating to God and combating the enemy’s tactics – are real concerns in whatever age. Today we may have more concerns and worries (certainly different sorts of worries, real or imaginary) than two hundred years ago, but in whatever age we live, these two things are genuine concerns to be worked through.

Now there are two parts in the verse to be noted. To start with, “Cast all your anxiety on him.” Even within that there are three things to note. First, this general picture of casting something on someone else. Today, bluntly speaking, we might say, “Dump it all on Jesus.” However we see it, it is an action that we have to carry out, something to be done as an act of will. The apostle Paul said it in a slightly different way: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil 4:6), i.e. get rid of your anxieties by giving them to Jesus – pray! It is an action, something you have to do.

So to the second thing: actually Peter doesn’t say “anxieties”, he says “anxiety” and that is slightly different. Anxieties are the individual worries – and yes we are to give them to Jesus – but “anxiety” is an attitude or way of thinking, a more general thing. Some of us take worrying to an art form!  We have a general approach to life where anxiety is constantly there in the background. We are unsure of ourselves and we are unsure of God and so we worry. It isn’t over anything specific; it is a general thing.

So, says Peter, put this attitude to rest by taking it all and putting it on Jesus or seeing it all in the light of all you know about Jesus. This is the third thing which will lead us on in a moment to the second part of the verse.  Focus on Jesus and realise that you don’t have to worry about what the Lord thinks or feels about you and your life. Hold to the truth:

  • Jesus died for you (Jn 3:16) and
  • so now you are a child of God (1 Jn 3:1), and
  • Jesus intercedes for you when you get it wrong (1 Jn 2:1) and
  • he is with you and will never leave you (Heb 13:5) and
  • Jesus always remains the same (Heb 13:8) and
  • will provide all you need (Phil 4:19).

Let these truths about Jesus melt away your general anxiety, your worry about not being loved or cared for. Rely on the truth and not your feelings. Bring your feelings in line with these truths, but daily declare these truths as an act of faith.

This takes us on to the second part of the verse: “because he cares for you.” Now that is so obvious that it shouldn’t need commenting upon – but it does! Now if we accept that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) – and the whole series of references we quoted just now suggest that is true, then everything we know about love suggests that it also involves ‘care’. In an earlier meditation I defined love as warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings for others or, as the Bible portrays it, selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good-will towards all others. Now if that is so, and I believe it is, then that good-will towards others will involve caring for them, looking for their well-being – and God cares for us because He loves us.

Briefly what does it mean to be cared for? It means, first of all, feelings of concern and desire for your well-being. First of all, God feels for you. Second, it means He takes action to secure your well-being. If you are a mother and care for your child, or you are an adult child who cares for your aging parent, you will do things as the expression of your caring for the one who is reliant upon you, to secure their well-being. THIS is why you do not need to be anxious; because God is there, looking after you and working to secure your well-being. Declare it and thank Him for it!  Hallelujah!