Getting to Know God Meditations: 21. God of Mystery
Psa 97:2 Clouds and thick darkness surround him
Isa 6:5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
Ezek 1:28 This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell face down.
Lk 5:8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
Rev 4:2 At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.
Conflict: There is always a conflict between theologians, between those who say that God is beyond knowing and those who say He has revealed Himself to us so we can know. I like the theologian who said that in the Bible we have incomplete knowledge, but sufficient knowledge. The fact is, as we have been seeking to show in these studies, that the Bible does reveal a lot about God; a lot but not everything by far.
Human Limitation: I think I did hint at this in an earlier study but if we go along with the philosopher’s definition of God as a unique Supreme Being greater than anyone or anything we know, then it is not surprising that we struggle to understand Him. Similarly when Jesus said, “God is spirit,” (Jn 4:24) we all nod wisely but rarely does anyone ask, “What is spirit?”
Struggling to understand: My own weak definition is ‘energy with personality’, but I know that still doesn’t answer the question. It is something we accept because we can’t wrap our finite minds around something that appears infinite, for infinite goes beyond the bounds of material existence. We know about radio waves; they are all around us, they are what makes my radio, my TV, and my phone work. We cannot see them but physicists speaks of short wave and long wave and so on, and so they are all around us. Now suppose there is an energy all around us – everywhere but distinct from us and from every material thing – an energy that has personality, an energy that can move and change things in the material world, a personality that exhibits love, goodness and so on. Is that God?
God’s Attributes: I have steered clear of the attributes of God so far in this series, but theologians say the Bible shows God to be infinite (everywhere), everlasting (no beginning or end), all powerful (able to change anything in the material world), all knowing (conscious and aware of everything), all-wise (understanding everything in both the material and spiritual realms) and much more. But don’t these things fit into my definition of spirit as ‘energy with personality’? I don’t understand it but it seems to work. Well, it does for me!
More than the Greeks and Romans: Two of the world’s earlier major civilisations, the Greeks and the Romans, sometimes come over as a daft superstitious bunch. Both civilizations had their ‘gods’ but they were clearly of human imagination in that they exhibited all the human foibles and failures and were just more powerful versions of humans. More than that, to quote one historian, “pagan gods required only propitiation and beyond that had no interest in what humans did.” The God of the Bible is nearer the philosophers’ concept (resurrected last century in liberal theology circles) as ‘the ground of all being.’ But that is too impersonal because my definition speaks of personality (with thoughts, feelings, and behaviours) because the God we find revealed through the pages of scripture both feels and acts and communicates rationally.
Revelations: Now most of the ‘encounters’ we have so far referred to in these studies come in the form of God ‘speaking’ to individuals (even if on one occasion there was a burning bush as a means of attraction) and so all we can do is go by the nature of the encounter and what is said by God in the encounter. Perhaps we will examine that more fully in the next study. However there are also instances (not many) where in visions there are revelations of heaven and of the presence of God. The Psa 97:2 reference – Clouds and thick darkness surround him – probably refers to the experience Israel first had with God at Mount Sinai where we read (Ex 19:16-18) that there was thick cloud or smoke covering the mountain, perhaps a simple demonstration that said, keep your distance.
Isaiah had a revelation of God (in some measure at least – see Isa 6) but no description of God is given – just Isaiah’s horrified response as he becomes aware of God’s holiness. Perhaps we might say the same thing occurred when the apostle Peter had an encounter with God in the form of Jesus (although he didn’t realize it at the time – see Lk 5:1-11) which left him shattered – this ‘man’ knew more than him and could miraculously do more than him, this was more than a mere man, and that sacred him silly. He became aware of ‘holiness’ which simply means being perfect and utterly different from anything else in Creation – and that IS scary.
Ezekiel is another who had a vision of the coming of God (see Ezek 1), in what is arguably the weirdest vision in the Bible (see it with Ezek 10 for more explanation). What is amazing about this ‘vision’ is the use of the word ‘like’ twenty times. He couldn’t say ‘this was’ but ‘this was like’. The reality defied description. Similarly when the apostle John has his visions that make up Revelation, we see there the same thing, the use of ‘like’ seven times in the much shorter chapter 1. The word ‘like’ appears fifty times in the book of Revelation so my concordance tells me.
The apostle Paul also gives us a hint of the mystery of God when he declares, “God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honour and might forever.” (1 Tim 6:15,16) In verse 15 he exalts God as the only Ruler – note ‘only’ and capital letter ‘R’ – one who is above all other rulers, King of kings and Lord of lords – note the capital letters – who alone is immortal; when everyone else dies and decays, He alone remains utterly unchanged, and who lives in unapproachable light, implying He can never be seen or approached, He is THAT different.
In each of these encounters and descriptions, there is this sense of a totally ‘other’ God, a Being so incredible that human reason could not cope with it and thus human description failed. There is something about the greatness and what is referred to as the ‘glory’ of God that makes human encounter terminal, likely to be destroyed by presence not intention. Perhaps it was that which God wanted to convey when He gave Israel the plans for the Tabernacle (Ex 26) where there were two areas referred to as the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place (26:33), the latter being a place where the ark of the covenant was kept and only the chief priest could enter once a year after special sacrifices had been made. Again, the message was, keep your distance, God’s presence is dangerous!
And So? Let’s be grateful for the revelation of God throughout the Bible that, for most of the time, is manageable, but let’s remember that that is just His grace in seeking to communicate with us in ways for the most part we can handle. Let’s also never get so clever that we think we’ve got it all wrapped up. I suspect that the iceberg analogy is applicable: nine-tenths of it is below the water and cannot be seen, its enormity is hidden. So with God. Let’s conclude with Job’s conclusion that we saw early on: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5,6) The ‘seeing’ reference was either a vision or seeing in the sense of understanding. May our understanding be built out of all that is found in the Bible, while also realizing that although it is sufficient to build faith, it is incomplete. Humility is an outworking of this understanding. May we have it.