Indignation, and admittedly fear, welled up in me as I read news this morning of repression, oppression, injustice, vindictiveness and vile wickedness perpetrated by those who have power over others. Some say, “Does God care?” I discovered a wonderful blog this week http://ourrabbijesus.com/articles/mr-spocks-god-mistake-of-western-theology/ where the author addresses the question of whether God is impassive or passionate. She quotes Rabbi Abraham Heschel:
Man’s sense of injustice is a poor analogy to God’s sense of injustice. The exploitation of the poor is to us a misdemeanor, to God it is a disaster. Our reaction is disapproval; God’s reaction is something no language can convey.
She goes on to say–
God is not indifferent or disinterested—he’s an Arab father who is crushed by his son’s apparent lack of love [as in the parable of the prodigal son]. God is a mother bear who roars a warning if you get too close to her cubs. God is a jilted boyfriend who’s beside himself when he spots his true-love on another guy’s arm. Israel’s God is not less emotional than we are, he is even more. (brackets mine)
So how should I respond when I hear about terrible injustices and even fear that the same things might eventually be perpetrated on me or those I love? In Psalm 52, David’s heart cries out against Doeg (see the story in 1 Samuel 21-22) who had betrayed him, predicting how God would one day bring him to ruin, drag him out of his tent, uproot him from the world of the living and shame his memory. Then as David winds down, he calms his own heart with these words:
But I am like a luxuriant olive tree in the house of God.
I trust in the covenant-loyalty of God forever and ever.
I will give you thanks forever for what you have done.
And I will hopefully and expectantly wait for you…
Infinitely high and holy, yet not remote.
Intimate, yet demanding reverence.
Self-revealing, yet beyond comprehension.
No matter how much we study and learn about God, it is just the tip of the iceberg. This is the God whose universe extends way beyond the visible universe 14 billion light years beyond us. (See the link in my previous post.) No matter how powerful a telescope or microscope could be made, we could never approach the limit of God’s incredible creation. Here’s a beautiful description of His greatness:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)
And yet we see this same God becoming a newborn baby in a feeding trough—and later publicly executed as a criminal—to win our hearts and make a way for us to be with Him forever!
I am delighted to love and serve a God who is so great I could never wrap my mind around him—but whom I can embrace with my whole being as I feel His arms around me. What a wonderful mystery!
Jonah is a fascinating book, a masterpiece of literature, and a powerful illustration of God’s character. Let’s look at the characters and their responses to God.
Jonah—a “prophet of God” with definite ideas of his own about what is and isn’t appropriate for him—or God!—to do. (Ironically, he’s the only one in this story who would not cooperate!)
Pagans of two sorts—the ship’s crew and the inhabitants of Nineveh—who readily responded to God when confronted with His power.
Forces of nature (“props”) that did as they were told in order to fulfill the purposes of God—a huge fish, a leafy plant, a worm, and a hot east wind. God used these to both give and remove His protection of Jonah.
I do have to smile as I read about Jonah’s temper tantrum in chapter 4. Like an unhappy two-year-old lashing out, trying to beat up on his longsuffering dad.
But God can take it. His great heart shines through this whole story:
–Dealing patiently (though severely—who wants a ride in a fish’s belly?) with his rebellious servant.
–Sovereignly arranging the affairs of the world to accomplish His purposes.
–Loving and forgiving the wicked and the ignorant: “Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”
What is sinful about sweet tomatoes? Now, the fruit that Adam and Eve ate may be called “sinfully sweet” because God had forbidden it. But tomatoes? Did God say not to eat sweet tomatoes? (My husband might say so in jest, since raw tomatoes are definitely not one of his favorite foods.)
We did a quick search of current usage of “sinful” on the Internet, yielding these results, among others:
Sinful Colors—a line of fingernail polish.
A certain kind of wine: “Delicious! So good it must be sinful.”
A recipe: “Wow, I don’t know if banana bread can get any better than this! Every bite was the ideal combination of sweet and salty! Sinful…fantastically sinful…”
What makes something sinful? Is the advertiser trying to imply —
–that sin is fun?
–that God doesn’t want us to do enjoyable things?
Either of these messages is blasphemous to the character of God who loves us, knows what is best for us, and gives us all good things to enjoy. It also perpetuates Satan’s lie in the garden that sin is fun, tasty, and cool. (After all, you’ll be like God!)
So if God provides you with sweet tomatoes, rich chocolate desserts or yummy banana bread—eat moderately and enjoy . It’s not a sin! On the other hand, if something is truly sinful (offensive to God), it’s better to make tracks in the other direction! Let’s not make the mistake of associating sin with enjoyment.
“Remember that God is All Good, All Wise, and All Powerful.” That was my reminder to my sister as I saw her and her husband into a taxi this morning, going to see a doctor about serious medical issues. Another couple I just got to know both came down with dengue fever yesterday. A friend texted me about multiple family problems. Is there no end to problems?
The morning that my granddaughter died, I confessed to the neighbor that if it weren’t for the confidence I have in my relationship with Christ and the assurance of a home in heaven, I would have no reason to go on living. Not that my life is so bad; it’s pretty good, really. But what would be the use of purely temporal pleasure or satisfaction?
Watching TV in an airport the other day I compared the shallow temporary goals that the programming was appealing to, with the goals that that give permanent satisfaction:
Shallow temporary goal: a perfect body, beautiful and healthy
Satisfying lasting goal: wholeness of soul and spirit
Shallow temporary goal: wealth
Satisfying lasting goal: God’s provision for today and eternal riches in heaven
Shallow temporary goal: admiration and acceptance
Satisfying lasting goal: to be loved and accepted by God
The goal of all advertising and programming is to create discontent. But God’s goodness, wisdom and power produce in me a quiet contentment that equips me to face today and every day.
For a few weeks I helped with the homeschooling of my grandchildren. Among those fascinating things they’re learning, such as the French Revolution and the lives of bats, are the good old “math facts.” They struggle with the same ones as I did at that age, such as 7 x 8 = 56. It hasn’t changed. Why? Because it’s true.
What if a group of kids got together and decided that 7 x 8 = 60? What if they persuaded a groundswell of public opinion to support it, including church leaders, politicians, math teachers, and corporate leaders? Would that make it true? Would architects and chemists change their formulas and begin to base their work on this new “fact”?
Note the rationale cited in this article by Bobby Ross, Jr. dated June 5 on the issue of the Boy Scouts admitting openly “gay” members (emphasis mine):
“Scout leaders, gay activists, religious conservatives and historians of Scouting point to five key factors to explain the shift: 1) a dramatic turnabout in public opinion about the morality of gay relationships and same-sex marriage, 2) a groundswell from corporate leaders insisting on equal access for gays, 3) shifting attitudes inside the two largest religious denominations within Scouting, 4) a steady decline in troop membership and 5) a sense that Scouting’s image had morphed in the public mind from Mom and apple pie to an exclusionary group with a narrowing appeal.”
All of these so-called reasons are human opinions and attitudes. Do questions of right and wrong depend on changing human opinions and attitudes or on God’s unchangeable character and principles?
No one seriously questions the physical laws set in place by the Creator, knowing that the result would be foolish and probably catastrophic. So why are His moral laws considered fair game for being rescinded by popular vote?
If God came to you in person and introduced Himself, what do you think he would say? Incredibly, this actually happened to Moses, and those words re-echo through the pages of Scripture.
On Mount Sinai, Moses had seen powerful signs of God’s presence, including thunder, earthquake, fire, trumpet blasts, and more. But still not satisfied, he begged God for the privilege of seeing His own glory. God did not allow Moses to see His face but he did let him see his “back” as He passed by. This was accompanied by a full introduction to His name and character:
The LORD passed in front of Moses, calling out,
“Yahweh! The LORD!
The God of compassion and mercy!
I am slow to anger
and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.
I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.
I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.
But I do not excuse the guilty.
I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren;
the entire family is affected—
even children in the third and fourth generations.”
This foundational description of God’s character is cited at least seven more times throughout the Old Testament. It is the way He wants us to remember Him. (Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalms 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2)
God’s primary nature is love: compassion, unfailing love, faithfulness, forgiveness, mercy, patience. But He is not a big teddy bear in the sky! He is also holy and cannot tolerate sin and rebellion. For more about God’s love and patience, Israel’s rebellion and then God’s response, read Psalm 78. It’s quite a story!
Is fire good? It’s good under my cooking pot (I like a gas, rather than electric, stove) but not inside a pan of grease. It’s great to have as a campfire, but not loose in the forest. Fire is awesome, powerful, purifying, destructive, fearful, enlightening….
In Exodus, God appeared as fire several times. First to Moses in a burning bush (Exodus 3), commanding his attention and obedience as He commissioned him to go to Egypt to rescue his people. Imagine listening to a fire and even arguing with it, as Moses did!
The next time Moses encountered God as fire was when the Israelites left Egypt (13:21-22). God led them in the form of a pillar of cloud by day which turned into a pillar of fire at night. This fire guided them and gave them light, comfort and protection. God’s presence was actually visible to them.
Thirdly, God appeared as a fearsome, blazing fire that came down onto Mount Sinai (19:16-18) producing thick, black smoke and causing the whole mountain to quake. The terrified people were forbidden to come near, nor did they want to.
Is God a tame God whom we can control like a campfire or a flame under our cooking pans? As the writer of Hebrews says, “Our God is a consuming fire.” No, I can’t control God, nor would I want to. My prayer is that He will control me!
Here’s an article that has more on this topic: http://www.gotquestions.org/consuming-fire.html
Stay tuned for another post on the other side of God’s character which was revealed on top of that fiery mountain.