Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Difference Between God As He Is & God How We Want Him To Be: Part 2

[Continued from Part 1.]

I've been listening through Exodus-Deuteronomy lately, and I've found that the Old Testament is a great place to start on discovering who God is. This portion of the Bible is full of revelations about the character and nature of God. It also contains the early interactions between God and humans, cluing us into how the Creator relates to and views the created.

I feel like sometimes there's a lack of focus on the study of the OT; that a lot of people prefer to focus on New Testament passages. These are obviously essential, but it is equally important to not leave out the Old when looking into the nature of who God is.

Granted, we are not under the laws that governed the Israelites in the OT (we are under the New Covenant because of Jesus' death and resurrection), but there is much that can be learned about God from the OT. So in short, it's important not to ignore this portion of the Bible and to include it when studying.

I've found Exodus-Deuteronomy very revealing because they contain the laws and practices for God's chosen people. These books also include a lot of instances of when God spoke to people (namely Moses).

If you've read these books, I'm sure you've noticed the sometimes seemingly bizarre laws that were in place. While we're not going to go into the why's and reasons, I do think these laws can give us good insight into the person of God.

Without going through everything--because it would take way too long and turn into a book instead of a blog post--I do want to point out a few important things. These especially relate to attitudes surrounding the conflict I mentioned in part 1 (God's attribute of love coupled with the fact that people can go to hell).

First, I want to start by citing a few passages that speak to the fact that God has always existed, and in that, He is always the same. These help us remember that God is unchanging, so God whom we worship today is the same God whom the Israelites worshiped in the wilderness.

In Malachi 3:6, God says, "I the LORD do not change." In Psalm 90:2, the psalmist declares, "...from everlasting to everlasting, you are God." What this tells us is that God--His nature and attributes--have always been and will always be exactly the same.

This brings us to the revealing passages of the OT that clue us into truths about who God is. Many of these truths can be uncovered in the laws God put into place. These laws were set in place to govern the people in their relationship with God, to make them right with Him.

Along with the laws, you will find that punishments for breaking the law are listed. In fact, death was a primary punishment for disobedience in many instances (often by stoning). This can be seen in passages like Ex. 21:16, Ex. 31:14, Lev. 20:27, Lev. 24:14, Num. 35:17, Deut. 17:2-6, Deut. 21:20-22, and Deut. 22:23-25.

These laws indicate what was important to God. Not only did He expect certain behaviors, but He expected obedience. Disobedience was not overlooked or ignored. Sins were punished. A lack of obedience led to death, or in other instances animal sacrifice. In either case, blood had to be shed as a way of atoning for the sin that was committed.

Also, a theme you will see often throughout the laws listed in Deuteronomy is a purging of evil. God gave instructions to the Israelites for the proper response to sins committed. Repeatedly after instructions were given, God would state, "You must purge the evil from among you." (See a verse list here.) God didn't tolerate evil among His people--He wanted it extracted before it had a chance to spread.

All this indicates the fact that God is just. He will have justice and will enforce consequences. And since He is the same yesterday, today and forever, He will continue to be just. Those who live in rebellion, whose sins have not been atoned for, will not escape His wrath.

Today, we are no longer under the law because of the death of Jesus. OT sacrifice and bloodshed points to the sacrifice of Jesus, which atoned not only for all sins previously committed, but all sins that would ever be committed. God's justice was poured out on Christ when He was crucified on the cross. Therefore, if we chose to believe in Jesus--that His sacrifice atones for our sin and that He is the only way to God--we are free from the wrath of God and the punishment of hell. (There is much more that can be said on the death and resurrection of Jesus, but for this point I will be keeping it short.)

This means that if we reject Jesus, God will not have mercy on us. John 3:36 states, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them." This verse stands in strong opposition to those who state that all people will go to heaven, and indicates otherwise. (The book of Romans also speaks multiple times of the wrath of God.) God will not ultimately save all people from hell, for this would go against his nature. Those people who do not believe in Jesus will not have eternal life.

This truth seems to be a hard one for people like Rob Bell to understand and buy into. They question how a loving God could allow people to go to hell, and why He wouldn't keep them from it. They think that God being loving means that He would ensure that all people spend eternity in heaven after they die, and that no one suffers in hell. But they leave out God's justice, and the reality of free will.

The truth is, all people have the freedom to make their own decisions. This goes back to the Garden of Eden and Genesis 1-3, where we see that since the beginning of the existence of humanity, we have been given the freedom to obey God or disobey God. God has never forced anyone to obey Him--if He did, we would still be perfect today.

But with freedom comes consequences. It's a cause-effect relationship. We do what we want, and thus suffer the outcome. We can choose to ignore the laws of society, but we'll end up in jail. We can choose to reject and ignore God, but we'll suffer the consequences.

The bottom line is, God cannot go against His nature. This is something we have to understand as we seek to know who He is. He is not like us in our fickleness. We have changes of heart, act different ways, go against our word. God in His perfectness is bound to who He is and what He says. He can never and will never go against His word or His nature.

Ultimately, this gives us comfort as we remember Malachi 3:6, "I the LORD do not change." What is left then is for us to pursue God with our entire being and to discover who He is.

1 comment:

camille nicole said...

Well done, love.
I've been reading through 'Mere Christianity" again, and C.S. Lewis talks about how we want a Good God. However, good has to be defined as completely just and fair, otherwise, He wouldn't be good and we wouldn't be satisfied...this goes along with the same point of being loving. God is loving because He is completely just and fair...
I miss good theological discussions like this. And you. : )

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