Ever the Same
God the Father
By David B. Smith
Okay. If God exists, what is He like?
December holidays provide us with two vivid sensory experiences that may instruct us about His nature. A sing-along version of Handel’s Messiah. And paying ten dollars to see the latest installment of The Hobbit.
The Love of God. The Bible tells us many wondrous things about God the Father. Greatest of all is that He passionately loves all seven billion of us. God so loved the world isn’t a sterile corporate statement. We read about His awareness and involvement with our formation in the womb (Isaiah 44:2). The Message paraphrase adapts the familiar “sparrow” metaphor lovingly shared by Jesus: “What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to YOU, down to the last detail – even numbering the hairs on your head! You’re worth more than a million canaries” (Matthew 10:29-31).
The infinity of God. It is challenging, even for the keenest mathematician, to give adequate expression to the idea of infinity. Admitting our lack of appropriate metaphors, we simply knock a numeral eight on its side – and let that be our emblem! But the Bible uses human words to describe a heavenly Father who is infinite in every way. His existence is “from everlasting to everlasting”; the college professor would illustrate that with (-∞, ∞), but consider what this means. God has always been. And everyone who embraces Him as their Father and Redeemer and Lord will enjoy an infinite future eternity basking in the imaginative and infinitely creative mind of this loving Host and Provider. Again from the Message: No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this, Never so much as imagined anything quite like it — What God has arranged for those who love Him (1 Corrinthians 2:9).
Jesus: the Exact Representation: We find God revealed in a number of informative ways; the clearest expression of what God the Father is “like” is by the earthly presence and example and ministry of His Son Jesus, who openly said to those who were with Him: “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). And what was Jesus’ way of dealing with His friends and even His enemies?
A) He served them, washing their dirty feet during a Passover celebration (John 13:5).
B) He fed hungry people even though such a crowd-buzzing miracle worked against His own interests (Matthew 14).
C) He encountered people suffering from various ailments and the Bible consistently uses this expression: He was moved with compassion toward them.
D) He actively sought to rescue and restore them. Bestselling author Bill Hybels writes in Becoming a Contagious Christian about the three parables in Luke 15 — lost sheep, lost coin, lost prodigal son — which seem to make the same point. Why the redundancy? Hybels points out that the context is Jesus creating consternation among the Pharisees and church leaders, offending them by attending dinner parties with hoodlums and hookers. “Jesus said, in effect, ‘I’m going to clear this up once and for all. I never want there to be confusion on this again. I’m going to tell you not one, not two, but three stories — rapid fire — to make sure everybody understands who really matters to God.’”
The abundant Giver. God bestows gifts and abundance and happiness. We often have a picture of God wanting to forbid our good times and deprive us of pleasures. Not so! Heaven is a place of happiness; the original Eden was a garden of pleasure. God is the creator of appetite and good food, of friendships, of marriage and sex and emotional tenderness. Jesus eagerly accepted party invitations; He enjoyed wedding feasts. He seems almost to describe the Father as an “anti-thief,” who, instead of coming into your home to steal your goodies, instead arrives and brings expensive paintings for your walls, gourmet treats for your fridge, and a bag of brightly wrapped packages for your Christmas tree. “The thief comes,” He told His followers, “only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Have it more abundantly, says the King James.
In the clever satire, The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis has one devil writing to his protégé, Wormwood, about the severe disadvantage of battling against a God who so eagerly loves His subjects and creates a world of vivid physical pleasures for them to enjoy. In the Old Testament, God encourages the Children of Israel to follow His commandments and blueprint for a long and successful life, promising them: I will put none of these diseases upon you. Peace and prosperity have always been God’s desire for the worlds He creates.
What about the flashing sword? With this twinkling celestial resumé, why, then, does God continue to have a reputation as a stern and vengeful Deity? In the Hobbit franchise, actor Benedict Cumberbatch lends his sinister, mountain-shaking voice to Smaug. This fearsome dragon jealously guards his treasure trove, ready to snuff out entire populations with his fire breath or the deadly force of his tail. Does God’s Word reluctantly offer this as the other face of God?
Along with His everlasting love, God is an infinite Jehovah whose holy character and cosmic kingdoms are extensions of His own tender but muscular protection of His creation. God doesn’t make rules simply to make rules, or to fence us in, or to express personal pique. His commandments are a straightforward statement of His own unchangeable being; they are as He is. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis observes that we think God somehow “invented” the Christian religion to be a certain way, and “not His statement to us of certain quite unalterable facts about His own nature.”
So the Bible’s portrait of God as reacting strongly against sin is a case of “keeping things real.” Sin and rebellion are scourges that separate people from one another, that divide kingdoms and hurt the innocent. So God isn’t wanting to say, “If you sin, I can’t hear your prayers”; instead, He is pointing to the hard truth that when we choose a life independent of Him, He is able to do very little on our behalf. Does God wish to destroy any man or woman? No, the Bible plainly says so. He wants us to live. But reality is that life away from the Lifegiver is a choice for slow suicide. One writer describes God’s wrath as nothing more than a parent’s wild indignation when an enemy causes the beloved child to suffer pain.
Even on the cross, Jesus cried out to His own Dad: “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken Me?” And, still keeping it real, God permitted His own Son to feel the anguish of sin separation.
A sing-along Messiah is a true Christmas joy. I wish everyone could taste the exquisite thrill of being with a thousand people singing about God the Father’s great gift to our world: For unto us a Child is born. And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. And speaking of sideways eights, Isaiah goes on to confidently add: Of the increase of His government, there shall be no end. But the reality is that even Handel’s glorious oratorio can’t be adequately felt unless we choose to be in relationship with our heavenly Father.
View related article: Ever the Same
David B. Smith writes from California. (3 of 28) His web page is Copyright © 2014. Click here for content usage information. Biblebay