They're good discussions, generally. But often there is the tension that who you think God is, is sometimes very different from me, even if we call him the same name. It often seems that the god other people are supposedly serving is a porcelain figurine that is merely pleasing to the eye.
My God, unfortunately, is not so compliant. In fact, I find him downright scary if I really think about it. Meaning of course that I don't think as much about him as I should!
God must be bizarre to our perspective ... by definition he must be really incomprehensible. If not, well I suggest than he's not really worthy of the title "God." The ancients conveniently gave their gods useful names like Zeus which differentiated one from another. Today we make Hollywood movies about these gods.
However, the modern equivalent seems to be much harder to discern. The gods of today are rather like the Smiths of England, the Christensens of Denmark, or the Johanssons in Sweden. The name is the same, and found everywhere, but the behind the name is something very different.
And so in the churches of the world people seem to worship a range of gods under the common name of Jesus.
So who is my God? What is his nature? Well, I sat down and wrote down what I understand about my God, and here's my list. With each I've included some of the conundrums and contemplations that come to mind. I'm writing from experience, from what the Bible tells me, and not from other people's opinions. This is what I've learned and experienced! Each of these characteristics are those of a person, not an object. Each attribute deserves a book in and of themselves ... but one has to start somewhere.
- Holy. What does this really mean? How can I understand holiness? There seem to be four definitions for this: “to be set apart”, “perfect, transcendent, or spiritually pure, and evoking adoration and reverence”, evoking “veneration or awe, being frightening beyond belief”, “filled with superhuman and potential fatal power.” Compared to what I know myself to be, this is something I have a poor perspective of. Yet the bible says we must also be holy! Likewise, if that's what holy means, then this world is decidedly unholy.
- Perfect love and perfect justice. Love and justice cannot be separated. God cannot be perfectly loving while being unjust. Likewise, he cannot be perfectly just without being loving. This has major implications for my relationship with him -- how do I stand in his love and his justice? Beyond myself, this is encouraging for those who have never heard of Jesus, for justice cuts both ways; for the innocent and against the guilty. This is not about fairness which is a human idea. God is not fair, he's just. So this also means that not everyone will be welcomed by God! And it also means not all behaviors are ok. And "tolerate everything but intolerance" is not an acceptable philosophy. Awkward.
- Creative. Fairly obvious, I would think. anyone who can make this universe, let along me, must be pretty creative by any measure. The imagination is mind boggling; inventive, innovative, surprising, and we're supposedly made in his image! So how is his creativity displayed in me?
- Relational. This is so fundamental. If my God is not relational, then quite frankly, what's point? But according to the Bible he is relational within himself (the trinity), with other heavenly creatures, with his creation, and with me if I let him.
- A King. One who leads a country and is the most senior without equal. My God has a kingdom, and he makes a claim to one day include this world that sits in rebellion. If I claim citizenship of his kingdom, then I'm in opposition to the rebels. Does that make me a terrorist or a freedom fighter? Depends on your point of view, but for me I serve under his authority and rule.
- Sovereign. An awkward term meaning one that exercises supreme, permanent authority. That's not something readily welcomed in this day's culture, where the individual and free will is paramount in our ambitions. So how do I balance this with my free will? It seems to me it is like the referee in a football match; I am a player with an objective, but the referee has ultimate authority of the rules of the game, of how long we play, when we stop, and what the sequence of events will be. This also touches on really awkward subjects of pre-destination and election, and let me say that I think the Calvinist interpretation of these misses the mark.
- Omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent. Ah, those familiar words that no-one really comprehends. If God is these things, then why does he seem so distant and invisible? So he's there all the time, with unlimited power, and knows everything, and he chooses to stand back? Why? It seems that God reveals just enough that those who seek will find, and those who don't, won't. Why does he not reveal himself so fully as to be undeniable? Well, I have my thoughts on that question, but it'll take more space than I have here to explain.
- Generous. He gives sacrificially, he gives generously, and to all who ask, out of the endless treasures of his infiniteness. Yet none of this seems to be matched by our human experience of asking God for things - I still don;t have that personal jet airplane! Yet this same God says we must ask, and he will give to all who have faith. Hmmm, doesn't seem like it, does it? And this God of giving then asks us to give ... in the same way! Tricky.
- An alien God. How weird is that? But by this I mean his ways are not my ways, he is not made according to what I think he should be, I am made according to what he thinks I should be! If God is God, I dare not humanize him.
- A God of mystery. How does one comprehend the incomprehensible? By definition he is incomprehensible. That's not a cop-out, just logic. I'm finite, he's infinite, so I cannot fully understand him. Like magnetism and gravity, we don't really understand these, but we know they exist. Or try love, how weird is that? Or a kiss: pushing moist flesh together and sharing some saliva ... you think that makes sense?
- A God of grace. Patience is a virtue, Virtue is a grace, and Grace is a little girl who wouldn't wash her face. Yes? No! Grace of all topics deserves a huge discussion. For me, grace means the empowering presence of God who enables me to be what he created me to be, and to do what he calls me to do.
- An uncreated God. Logic again. If God was created, then who created him? And then he also can't be God. God must be uncreated and not bound by time. Unfortunately we don't have the language to explore that (see the discussion of time towards the end of this article).
- One God. Related to Sovereign and King. There can be no equal if he is sovereign; all is his creation, and the dualism of todays philosophy is wrong. But then did God create evil? This ties back into a uncomfortable discussion of free will and suffering with an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God. I think the atheist solution here is intellectually weak, and while the idea of one God is disturbing, the God of orthodox Christianity makes sense of our experience.
- Unchanging and immutable. If God is perfect and holy, how can he change? That would mean changing perfection. This means that we have to take all his attributes together or not at all; God is God, and not a supermarket where we pick what we like. There are a number of attributes of God's nature we'd rather not deal with.
- A wrathful God. If God is love and justice, then it naturally follows that all that is unholy would be things he hates, and there is necessarily wrath and anger against that which is hated. Like the previous point, if we want God as God, we have to take this as well!
- A God who disturbs. Are you disturbed yet? This God I'm discussing is disturbing on so many levels, yet we try and parcel him into the God of our preference. We get eloquent expositions of the theology of liberalism, liberation, prosperity, feminism, environmentalism, sexuality, etc., etc. God most certainly will have a position on each of these (how does God see climate change, same sex marriage, and the abuse of capitalism?). But these positions don't define God. Just as my position on each of these doesn't define who I am, but rather flows from who I am.
- Righteousness. Such an archaic word, isn't it? It really means acting in accord with a standard. In this case it means acting in accordance with his own nature and not denying who he is. Of course the standards of his nature are pretty high ... perfect love, anyone? And that's really disturbing, because what does righteous mean about me when it comes to standing before perfect justice? See why I say God is scary!
- Faithful. By now you should be getting the picture. If God is all those things mentioned above, then he must be completely faithful in all that he promises. But why then do I struggle to trust God? How hard it is to exercise faith in him, and how easy it is to to stay within the boundaries of my own strength.
- A moving God. Sounds odd - a moving God. He is a creative God who is acting according to his nature, not a distant observer of some game he set in motion. He is forever doing something innovative and new, constantly surprising me. So as long as I stand still, I would grow apart from him as he moves ... I need to keep in step with him.
- A worthy God. I imagine some people will struggle with this amidst all the suffering and troubles we experience. But a worthy God simply means that that he is worthy of having it be said what he is. Gravity is worthy of the statement that gravity pulls. Saying I have a worthy God simply means that he is worth ascribing the characteristic of his nature because he is in full accord with them! To say otherwise would not be worthy.
- A scary God. Self evident, and yet so many in society seem to serve such a scaled down version that there is nothing left to be frightening. I'm not talking about scary as in a horror movie, but scary in that it is something so much bigger and more powerful than me that I certainly should be scared. Like standing in front of a lion, or an elephant. I have no power of control, I am exposed and vulnerable, and if I'm not scared than frankly I'm dimwitted and stupid. He's a God to be feared in the right sense of the word, not a tame God, and not a God in anyway to be manipulated or controlled.
- A God of intimacy. This one is wonderful, and scary. Imagine a lion wanting to be relationally close to you, and yet one swipe of a paw or one bite of the jaw and that's it over for you. Yet my God wants intimacy with me, and more so than any human level of intimacy. He is one who deeply desires the relationship with me.
- A God who relinquishes absolute authority (for now). In the name of relationship, God gives me free will. For only if I have free will can I choose his relationship, and when I do the relationship is then that much more meaningful and deeper. And he desires intimacy! So he gives free will and bears the consequences for his purposes. It's hard to understand when we see some of the consequences of free will, but the alternative is to be a robot.
So how's your god doing?