6. God of Interaction

Getting to Know God Meditations:  6. God of Interaction

Rom 5:6   You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

Questions?  We concluded the last study by saying we would see how the purposes of God, that are revealed in His activity throughout the Bible, are weaved into the activities of mankind. I believe this is something that is very important for us to understand because I often hear questions being asked that start with, “Why didn’t God…..” and go on to ask why He didn’t explain more, or why He do more to bring changes that we can see now needed to come – and yet He didn’t. Why didn’t He?  I’ll answer that in a moment but can we note that even in asking such a question we are implying we believe in a God who can interact with this world, who can speak into it and act into it.

Why didn’t He tell more? That is one of the frustrations I hear people expressing.  Why didn’t God explain to Abram what He was doing, tell him who He was, and so on? Well I’ve already answered that in two ways: first, relationship doesn’t need definition, second, to do with this ‘doctrine of divine accommodation’ that I spoke of in the previous study, that God communicates with humans at a level which they can understand at their present stage of development. The funny thing is though, that sometimes, contrary to what we’ve just said, He seems to reveal more than the person needed at that time, for example, in Abram’s case we find God telling him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.” (Gen 15:13,14)

The plan for the family: So why did He tell Abram that? I suspect there are two answers. First, to encourage Abram with the knowledge that God had an ongoing plan for his family that stretched way into the future and, second, for the sake of those future generations who would have this passed on to them down through the family tree, as an encouragement to them that everything was going according to the Lord’s plan.

Combination of Factors: But note two additional things in all this: first, that God did not make this happen – Israel ending up in Egypt needing deliverance. It came about as a consequence of two things, a natural outworking of the Fall, the world going wrong, a famine, and also by human choice – Israel chose to stay in Egypt in their lush surroundings after the threat from the famine had passed.

The Time Factor: The second thing to note, is the time factor in all these things. Years would pass, families would grow and change, there would be human interactions that were good, bad and indifferent, i.e. life would go on with no apparent big changes. But then He shared something else with Abram: “the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (Gen 15:16) which no doubt at the time meant nothing to Abram but in the fulness of time it would be seen that those things going on in the land where he now was, would so deteriorate morally and spiritually.  The Amorites, one of the tribes who lived in Canaan – and thus shorthand for the occupants of Canaan – were a part of this and if God did not intervene to halt the downward spiral it might spread further abroad infecting more and more people with the superstitious fear-based occult activity that even drove the occupants to worship ‘gods’ and sacrifice their children on altars to these gods. God would take the need to deliver Israel out of Egypt and take them back into Canaan and combine it with the need to bring an end to all this pagan horror by driving those nations (tribes) out of the land. Only after that four hundred year period of time had passed would the nation of Israel be strong enough to achieve that.

Revelation & Timing: So we see that God holds back on handing out too much knowledge that will not be understood by the people of the time, yet gives an indication that He knows all that will take place in the affairs of mankind and what will happen on the planet, and will weave His purposes into all of that. I hope we have started to see that God works into human affairs but does not make them happen but will use what is happening to continue His purposes which we will soon go on to start considering.

Spreading the Gospel: the ability to spread the good news about Jesus Christ and what God had done through him, is a classic example of this same thing, God pursuing His purposes (in this case to spread Christianity). Christian writer and evangelist, Michael Green, in his book, ‘Evangelism in the early Church’, suggested nearly half a dozen things about the world that made the period two thousand years ago, following the death of Christ, almost certainly the best time for the spread of the Gospel.  The fact of pax Romana, ‘a time of peace unparalleled in history’, the fact of the amazing road system that the Romans had created, the wide common use of the Greek language, the existence of many false religions in existence that people were only to eager to abandon, the spread of Jewish culture which Christianity flowed through first, a culture found all over that area, all of these things contributed to the amazing spread of the Gospel and the growth of Christianity that say this was not by chance, this was by design, this was God working into the human activities of that time to ensure the news of His Son were spread so easily, so quickly and so widely.

The Conundrum of Slavery: There is a question I often hear, the answer to which fits in with this particular study and which I would thus like to mention briefly; it is the question of slavery. Why, say some people, didn’t God condemn slavery. The answer is not stated specifically, but I believe from what is stated clearly we can deduce the following. First, God does not force the world, force nations or force groups or force individuals to act in specific ways, and therefore, if He was to work to change slavery activities, He would have had to impact many if not most primitive nations because slavery has always been worldwide. Yet, His revelation as we have been noting, was to and through one nation, Israel.

When we see his laws for Israel in respect of slavery we find that the Law given to Moses regulated what was an existing practice in the world but forbade Israelites to be slaves or make slaves, to accept slaves from other countries but to treat them well. A slave fleeing to them was to be given refuge. Contrary to much that is spoken about slavery in the Old Testament, there is a caring and concerned element in the Law that helped slaves coming from the surrounding world. Those who worked for another within the society were cared-for servants. In the New Testament, although slavery is seen in the world, when a specific believing slave returned to his Christian master, that master is put under severe pressure to accept him as a brother. (See the book of Philemon).

We might suggest that slavery was just one of many practices that God did not approve of in the world, but He recognized that He would have to wait until the time was right when a group of Christian believers would arise who would hold sufficient positions of power that they could speak into government and change the law and abolish slavery. (What is tragic is that in the world at large today, slavery is as prevalent as it ever has been). This subject, like other similar ones, hinge on this doctrine of divine accommodation and God’s refusal to force mankind to comply with His wishes. We must also recognize that, as we have said before, God does not force His will upon humans having given us free will so, yes, there are many things going wrong in the world, but that is the cost of free-will that enables us to be what we call a human being.

And So? To summarize, we have been noting that:

  1. God speaks at a level that mankind at any particular point in their development can understand. Historian Rodney Stark comments, “As St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote in the fourth century, God is so “far above our nature and inaccessible to all approach” that he in effect speaks to us in baby talk, thereby giving “to our human nature what it is capable of receiving.”
  2. God interacts with humanity, weaving into our activities His plans and purposes. He does not force us to act as we do, but He works into what we do to bring about His end objectives.

7. ‘Jesus is God’ Questions

Meditations in Hebrews 1: 7.  ‘Jesus is God’ Questions

Heb 1:3  the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being

The previous meditation, I believe, said right things but left me feeling incomplete. The subject of the Incarnation, God coming in human form is an enormous challenge.  It is not something that can be categorically proved but has to be accepted by faith in the tremendous mountain of evidence that there is that points to this conclusion.

And yet people of his day struggled with Jesus and even more got very hostile whenever he approached the subject, inferring that he was God’s unique son. Today similarly people either shy away from thinking about Jesus or try to explain him away as just a good teacher or a good miracle worker who lived and died two thousand years ago. Challenges to the belief in the resurrection come from various quarters.

Questions are asked, difficult questions. For example, how can God who fills the Universe fill just one body? I don’t know, but He did. Or, was Jesus always God or did he start at some point? Yes, that is easier, for John records him speaking of coming down from heaven where he had always existed. Or there is, did Jesus know everything like God knows everything? I believe the answer to that is that he knew everything the Father released into that human mind by His Spirit which was therefore not the sum of all knowledge but the sum of knowledge that surrounded that one being. Or there is, how can God be limited in time and space? He, as God isn’t, it is just that as Jesus was one body, the Spirit allowed God to express Himself in this one body while still being God who inhabits the entire universe.  Or there is, how could Jesus be free from sin? The answer has to be because he was ‘conceived’ by the Holy Spirit.

Let’s look again at the ‘Son’ parts of that Athanasian Creed we quoted previously: the Son uncreated… the Son infinite…., the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal…. So the Father is God, the Son God, and the Holy Spirit God; and yet not three Gods but one God…. The Son is of the Father alone, not made nor created but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and the Son, not made nor created nor begotten ….our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man. He is God of the substance of the Father begotten before the worlds, and He is man of the substance of His mother born in the world; perfect God, perfect man subsisting of a reasoning soul and human flesh; equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, inferior to the Father as touching His Manhood. 

Some may struggle with that word inferior in respect of his manhood. An interesting and, I believe, helpful analogy I have heard, uses the Meal Offering in Lev 2 which comprised fine flour, representing the perfect humanity of our Lord, which was mixed with olive oil which stands for the Holy Spirit and therefore divinity. In this offering the two were mixed and there was one cake and yet within that cake there are two distinct materials even though we cannot see them except as the one mix. So the divine nature that is Christ comes from heaven and joins himself to a human body being formed by the work of the Spirit within Mary. Divine and human that cannot be observed separately when you view the man.  Jesus himself gave us a clue about this when he said, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (Jn 5:19)

But all of these questions hide a fundamental truth: in Jesus Christ the glory of God is hidden from those who are perishing but seen by those who are hungry for God. For example, Jesus spoke about ‘signs’ and the Jews asked for signs and yet these signs had already been provided by Jesus, miracle after miracle. If you have a mind closed against miracles, you will see it but not believe it; you will rationalize it and explain it away, as real as it was. Jesus came revealing the love and goodness of God and the Jews focused on trivia. For instance, the story in John 5 of the man at the Pool of Bethesda who Jesus healed. When the Jewish thought police, the Jews who were probably Pharisees, saw him they complained that it was the Sabbath. Again and again they missed the shear wonder of the miracle because their man-made interpretations of the Law clashed with what happened so they missed the glory.

In heaven, his glory had been, and now is, clearly seen but for his period on the earth in this human form, the glory was hidden except to those with hearts wide open, and even then, it was limited. Perhaps we should note more fully the Hebrews’ writer’s words – “the radiance of God’s glory”.  Perhaps this is more like the reflected glory that Moses had when he came out of the presence of God. Every time Jesus spoke or performed a miracle he was revealing the glory of God; it was God expressing Himself in the material world but that glory would only be seen with the help of the Holy Spirit in hearts that are wide open to Him.

Note also “exact representation of his being”.  We will not see the fullness of God until we get to heaven but Jesus exactly or perfectly represented Him. No, he wasn’t the fullness of God. Let’s use another analogy. Imagine electricity coming out of a powerful generator. Then see it being scaled down through transformers so it can be used to light a light bulb. It is still electricity and if you touch the bare wires you will know it, but it is nothing like the enormous power that comes from the generator that will light an entire city – but it still is electricity.

This is God in the flesh we are talking about and that statement alone marks out Christianity from any other world religion.

6. Questions

Short Meditations in John 2:  6. Questions

Jn 2:9,10   the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

Wherever Jesus was and with whatever he was doing, there was always a consequence that we sometimes miss or take for granted – questions were raised. For example at the beginning of his ministry in the Nazareth synagogue, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.” (Lk 4:22)  Then when he went to the Capernaum synagogue and taught and cast out a demon, “All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!” (Lk 4:36) and then when he healed the paralysed man on a stretcher and proclaimed him forgiven, “The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Lk 5:21)

Again and again we find that the things Jesus said and did caused comment and raised questions. When God steps into life and changes life and circumstances, it is not surprising that people question and wonder. When God speaks it challenges people: “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” Lk 1:29) As with Mary, so with the birth of John the Baptist: “Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.” (Lk 1:66) As it happened in the New Testament, so it also happened in the Old: “But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?” (Jud 6:13)

When God speaks and acts our ideas are challenged and no more so than at this wedding. When the Steward or master of the Wedding Banquet was presented with the new wine that tasted old and good, he was perplexed. Most people used the good wine first and then when people had drunk a lot and probably didn’t care so much, they brought out the cheaper wine, but in this place the situation was reversed. The wine that was brought out now was best quality. What was this all about? Of course the bridegroom would not know – but we do. To the embarrassment of many, Jesus made the best quality wine!

65. Freedom

Meditations in 1 John : 65 : Freedom

1 John  5:18-19    We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.

Perhaps one of the reasons that cynical unbelievers reject the Gospel and the teachings of the New Testament is that it is so explicit in its revelation, and it is ‘revelation’ for we could neither know it nor teach it if it had not been revealed by God. The other thing about it, which is often missed, is that it answers the questions of the world and, in fact, without it these questions go unanswered, such questions as what is evil, why is there evil in the world and why do we need laws to protect the poor and weak, why do people do wrong, and why are people self-centred?

These questions respond to a state of affairs in the existence of life on this world that is highly questionable. In personal terms, why is it that I have aspirations to be good yet so often fail to be so? As the apostle Paul wrote, I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Rom 7:15) and “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.” (Rom 7:18,19) This doing evil that he spoke about is what the Bible calls ‘Sin’, that propensity to be self-centred and godless resulting in wrong living, resulting in individual sins, individual acts of wrong doing and that, we find, we are stuck with and cannot break away from. Why, the earnest seeker might ask, am I like that? Why is life like this?

It is to these questions that the Bible speaks and explains we are all sinners because we were born tainted with this propensity called Sin. It was because of this that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came and died on the Cross to pay the punishment for our wrong doing and offer us a new way of life as children of God empowered by God’s Holy Spirit. Paul again described this: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins,” (Col 1:13,14) explaining that there are two rulers and that the individual lives either under the domination of Satan or in the freedom of the kingdom or rule of God. Those are the ONLY two options.

When we come to Christ we are delivered out of that dominion of darkness and, as John now says, “anyone born of God does not continue to sin.”  i.e. anyone under the rule of God no longer is driven by that old power called Sin, is no longer self-centred and godless, but is Christ and God-centred and is led by God into right living.

But John also picks up this other aspect that was referred to in Paul’s verse as ‘the dominion of darkness’, the domination by Satan, when he says, “the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.”  Satan is still there domineering over unbelievers, and wanting to lead astray the children of God, but Jesus is there, seated at God’s right hand ruling, and he protects and guards the children of God, and his Holy Spirit within us is there countering the lies of the enemy. All we have to do is listen to Him. The enemy can no longer pressurize us into going his way and disobeying God and doing wrong; we have been freed from that and from him.

When John goes on, “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one,” he is, like Paul, making a distinction between the children of God and the rest of the world. The children of God, Christians, are under God’s protection and are no longer under the control of Satan and so, as he said earlier, do not have to sin, but the rest of the unbelieving world still are under Satan’s sway and so he is able to make wrong suggestions to them (as he did to Eve – Gen 3) and lead them astray and into wrong living.

This is one of the fundamentals that the world does not like, this claim that it is being led by the nose by an evil force, even though it cannot break free from self-centredness and godlessness and thinking, saying or doing wrong things. Indeed this way of life is so common that the unbeliever doesn’t even think about it. It is so normal to think badly about others, to speak badly about them or to them, and to do things that are utterly self-centred and harmful to others, that that is all they know and expect. They might consider it normal – accompanied by the stress, worries and anxieties that go with that lifestyle –  but that is a long way from God’s design for humanity

Sadly in recent decades in the West, standards in the Christian community have fallen and so often it is difficult for the world to see the distinction that should be there. So we see divorces, we see drunkenness, we see over-eating, we see self-centred materialistic lifestyles, we see angry upsets and divisions, and it is no wonder that the world fails so often to see the distinctive lifestyle of love and goodness that should characterize the Christian community.   It is time for it to change! John reminds us, we are children of God, different (or we should be!) from those who are under the control of the evil one. Check it out: are you?



27. Chastised?


Psa 80:12 Why have you broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its grapes?

In the psalms especially we find some amazing truths about spiritual life. The psalms are full of human experience and experience that touches on God. We take it for granted but the psalms are all cries to God, prayers if you like. Some of them appear more like straight declarations and others like pleas from the heart, but they all speak of the human experience with God. Some of them are powerful praise while others seem almost whimpers of the down trodden. Perhaps because they get referred to so much or read so much in church services, we take them for granted but they each say something significant about the human condition and the human experience of God.

As we come to the end of this short series, it is something to observe, this matter of prayer that arises in the human heart in the face of conflict. Especially, in the light of this particular series of meditations, it is important to note that these prayers are not merely declarations of love, but many of them are cries from the heart that involve questions. The Hebrew psalmists are not afraid to ask questions of God. Perhaps it is a measure of the depth of their anguish that they are past caring, or perhaps it is a case that they have come into such a depth of relationship with the Lord that they know they can ask things of him. It would be many centuries later that a church leader by the name of James would write,If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (Jas 1:5), but that is what the psalmists are so often doing.

What seems even more incredible is that the psalmists are not afraid to ask these questions of God, even in the face of God’s apparent anger and judgment. We’ve recently been looking at psalms written during the Exile where many thought God had given Israel up. In this psalm today there is a sense that God has acted powerfully against His people. You might think that the psalmist would be too scared to speak to God on such issues, that he might think he would become a focus of God’s anger, a target for his judgment, but there is no such reticence apparent in these psalms.

In this psalm the psalmist acknowledges that God’s anger burns against his people (v.4) and the Lord has made them a source of mockery for their enemies (v.6). He speaks of Israel as a vine (v.8) that God brought out of Egypt and planted in this land. It grew and spread (v.11) and indeed, by what follows, Israel is pictured not merely as a vine but a walled vineyard, well established. Walls speak of protection, stability and security. But then we find,Why have you broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its grapes? Boars from the forest ravage it and the creatures of the field feed on it.” (v.12,13). The question here for God is, why have you taken away our protection, our stability and our security so that we have become prey of all and sundry? But it is worse than that; it isn’t merely the removal of security and protection, it is the destruction that has been wrought as a result: Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire; at your rebuke your people perish.” (v.16)

Three times in this psalm the psalmist cries,Restore us, O LORD God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.” (v.3,7,19) and yet no acknowledgement of sin or reason for God’s judgment is given. The nearest thing to a clue why this has happened is found in verse 18 when, after the Lord’s restoring work is done, he adds, Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name.” with the implication that they had turned away from God and needed reviving. Perhaps the fact of the psalm is evidence of contrition but otherwise there are no such signs in this psalm. It is simply a plea to God to come and restore the fortunes of Israel. It is an acknowledgement that only the Lord can do this, otherwise they would have done it themselves and this psalm would have not been needed. They are in a state where they acknowledge God’s anger (v.4) and acknowledge that He has brought them to tears (v.5) and made them a mockery (v.6). He has broken down their security (v.12) and brought great destruction to them (v.16).

Yet the Lord is still the “Shepherd of Israel” (v.1) and therefore the plea is to bring a redeemer: Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself.” (v.17). This is a somewhat enigmatic verse, unclear as to whom he refers. Is it the Lord’s anointed on the earth, the king in the line of David, or is it the one who sits at the Lord’s right hand, the one who will one day come to earth to be the Saviour of the world? Whoever it is, there is an acknowledgement of need for one to come and save them. In this respect this is a psalm of pure reliance upon the Lord.

The question here,Why have you broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its grapes, seems almost rhetorical. It seems it is not so much asking for a deep answer, as simply part of a plea for God to come and restore. Sometimes it seems it is better not to worry about answers to questions but instead look and call for the presence of God to come and do the transforming work that only He can do. Sometimes we just have to trust that part of the restoring will involve putting right whatever caused the downfall. Sometimes the childlike call to God is just that, childlike! Children aren’t so much concerned with the details as the need to be restored to daddy. Knowing Him and knowing a closeness to Him is surely the greatest thing we can ask for. Let’s not be afraid to ask Him for wisdom about the questions that arise in our minds in the face of difficulties, but let’s ensure our greatest desire is not self-centred comfort, but to know Him and to be able, with His help, to do His will at all times.