39. What is God like?

PART FIVE: Key Questions

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 39. Q.1. What is God like?

Acts 17:27   God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.

A Surprise:  I thought we had finished this series but as I was praying early morning I sensed that we should, before we finish, confront some of the key questions that confront believers and seekers alike, questions about God, the Bible, Suffering, Unanswered Prayer, Identity and Death and what follows. These seem to be the subjects I find being laid on my heart for us to deal with before we complete the series. The purpose of these pages, I believe, should be so that we ourselves may be assured and that we may communicate that assurance to others. It is first an intellectual assurance and then an assurance backed by spiritual experience. We may have covered a few of these issues in small ways in the previous studies but I hope each of these will be a resource in itself. We start with God Himself.

What is God like? I have taken our starter verse from the apostle Paul’s message to the Greeks of Athens on Mars Hill. He was waiting for some of the other apostles to arrive (Acts 17:16a) and while he was there, apparently wandering round Athens, he was struck by the number of idols there were in the city (v.16b) and this grieved him. Now if we don’t rush past this, it is legitimate to wonder why Paul should be grieved over the fact that there were idols all over the place. Well it was a strange thing because this city was the centre of a nation that had been known for its intellectual culture, it’s big thinkers – e.g. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle – people who worked on reason and intellect, and yet despite all this, they are a superstitious people who have idols to the gods. But superstition is about believing in the supernatural or supernatural influences at work in the world so when Paul “stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus” he was able to say to them, “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.” (v.22)

Many people today submit to the idea of ‘materialism’, the belief that nothing exists except physical matter, yet that does still not sit comfortably with very many of us for there seems to be something in each one of us that senses something more, as Solomon wrote of God, He has also set eternity in the human heart.” (Eccles 3:11). Now I have written extensively on who God is according to the Bible in a previous series, “Getting to Know God”, and so this is very much a summary.

God the Communicator: Our starting point has to be the fact that the Bible reveals so much about God and indeed the claim is that it is inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16), which we will consider in the next study. That claim in itself is enough to suggest that if God inspired this book then He must be a God who desires to communicate much to us about Himself. But there is more than that sense behind the very existence of the Bible, there is what we find in it. Again and again and again we find such words as, “God said.” So He communicates through specific words He speaks, either out loud or into the minds of various people, but He also appears to inspire men to speak out what they are sensing He is saying. These are the Prophets. But then there are things taking place that are attributed to Him which reveal Him, reveal His nature, reveal His power and reveal His emotions and ways of thinking. All of this is communication. This God is a communicator. The peak of this communication comes with the arrival of His Son, Jesus Christ. The writer to the Hebrews was to write, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Heb 1:1,2). That “by his Son” may, in the light of what we find in the Gospels, be taken to mean what the Son said as well as what the Son did. Indeed everything he did was designed to reveal something about God. He was God’s purest means of communication, if we may put it like that.

Almighty God: The testimony of the whole Bible might be summed up in Paul’s words there to the Greeks: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.” (Acts 17:24,25) i.e. this God is the Creator of all things, is greater than anyone or anything else we know of. He is the provider of all life. The attributes of God you will find in that previous series, “Getting to Know God” include the fact that He is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, eternal, loving, goodness and so much more. The Bible tells us so much.

Relational God: But this all-powerful, Creator, Sustainer of the world, is not an impersonal ‘force’ but a Being with personality, a being who communicates, a God who desires relationship with mankind. Paul, speaking of this and His work in establishing the world as it is, continued, “God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him.” (v.27). In our goals at the beginning of this study we said it is that we have first an intellectual assurance and then an assurance backed by spiritual experience. We can read the Bible, study it in depth, find out all about its origins etc., and become completely assured as to it veracity, its authenticity and accuracy, but that merely remains an intellectual exercise. The Bible reveals that God’s desire is that we respond to His overtures and enter into a living, two-way relationship with Him through the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

But Me? The question that many people find they have is expressed as, “Me? I understand all you are saying but can that apply to me? Can I be good enough to encounter this God? Why would He want to do that anyway?” and the answer is found in three little words that the apostle John wrote: “God is love.” (1 Jn 4:8,16) with everything that the word ‘love’ means. The apostle Paul was so overwhelmed by this concept that he wrote, “I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love.” (Rom 8:38,39 Message paraphrase version) i.e. nothing but nothing but nothing can keep God’s love from you, to which we might add – except you yourself.

This series has been all about uncertainty and, yes, many people are uncertain about God Himself, but that is because they have never taken on board the wonderful things we find in the Bible, and especially the New Testament, and responded to it. Yes, you can read it, but for it to ‘go live’ it needs responding to. In fact, every time we want the Bible to ‘go live’ for us, we need to pray and after we’ve read it, to pray again. This is us making contact with the author of the Bible, the One behind all things. The Book is not there merely to be read, it is there to open a door for us into God’s presence. That is what these studies have all been about. But that leads us into the next study which is the answer to the question, “Can I trust the Bible?”

2. Objectionable

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 2. Objectionable

1 Cor 1:23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles

Again we start our focus on the Cross, the crucifixion of Christ, through the eyes of the apostle Paul. Yesterday I suggested that we will find a distinction between the events (crucifixion) and the significance or meaning (the Cross) as we go on. For the moment we are seeing Paul’s focus on the events, the actual putting to death on a cross of Jesus Christ. Yesterday we saw him saying this was absolutely at the heart of the gospel, with the implication that without it there would be no gospel. No death, no Saviour.

But here, a little earlier in his letter, we see him making an equally strong declaration, but it is in distinction to those who come from a different perspective: “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom.” (v.22) The Jews had their Old Testament (as we would call their scrolls today) and had set views or interpretations, so demanded that Jesus perform signs to show he was their Messiah conforming with their understanding, while Greeks exalted in their wisdom or intellect and wanted reason.

For both groups, crucifixion was an anathema, a loathing. The Jews saw such a death as a proof of a cursed person (Gal 3:13) – and so no way could Jesus be the expected Messiah, the anointed and blessed of God – while the Greeks saw it as pure folly to talk about a condemned criminal being executed being a means to finding meaning and purpose in life. For both the religious and the intellectual this whole idea was preposterous.

Paul almost implies, ‘I don’t care what you think, this IS God’s method of bringing salvation to the world. You Jews may stumble over this, rejecting it as crass insensitivity to suggest that a crucified man can be our saviour, and you Greeks may scratch your heads and rumble on about it being pure nonsense, but this ‘crass insensitivity’, this ‘pure nonsense’ is the way that God has decreed to be the way people can be saved, it is the only way for meaning and purpose to be truly achieved.’

Which leaves us pondering on how we, ourselves, view the crucifixion, the Cross of Christ? Are we embarrassed by it? Do we try and convince people of their needs for a relationship with God without any reference to the Cross, the crucifixion, Jesus dying for them? Until we do include it we are preaching only half a gospel, which in truth is no gospel.

So, do we include the facts of the event – Jesus’ death on a cross – and do we include the significance that we will go on to see in later studies – it was to take your sins and mine and declare us free of guilt and thus acceptable to God. That is the Gospel. Worship Him.