Remember the biblical sequence we have been studying? The Acts of God Reveal the Nature of God. How do we know God exists? He reveals himself. How do we know what kind of God exists? As he reveals himself in specific acts we learn about his nature or what kind of God is. Today we swing back into the Old Testament and a story I originally used for a sermon on Mother's Day this year where I applied this sequence to 1 Samuel 1.1-2, 6, 8, 10-17, 20, 24-28. (I suggest you read all of chapter 1. 1 Samuel 1.)
In this passage we find the heart cry of a woman named Hannah. Often agony is what describes the pain of a woman who wants children of her own but has been unsuccessful in getting pregnant. And often even the support of a caring husband cannot take away this pain (vs. 8). But look at the way Hannah channels her grief, anguish, and general agony: she prays (vs. 15). Somehow Hannah decides that she will pursue God with her problem. When she does, God responds in action giving Hannah the boy she names Samuel. Samuel is God's answer to the praying woman who finally becomes pregnant. And in return Hannah responds to God's response by a) worshipping the Lord in thanksgiving (vs. 24-27, 1 Samuel 2) and b) dedicating Samuel to the Lord and his ministry (vs. 28).
So, if the acts of God reveal the nature of God, then what does this story teach us about God?
1. God answers prayer
2. God cares for the grieving and the brokenhearted
3. God takes delight & pleasure in our worship (1 Samuel 2)
4. God speaks words of encouragement through his servants (e.g. Eli, 1 Samuel 1.17)
But what if?...
What do we do when God doesn’t respond & the womb stays closed (vs. 6)? And to be honest and realistic about what many Christian and non-Christian women are facing, we have to ask this question. Here's what the biblical text seems to indicate.
1. Share this burden with your husbands (friends if single) & don’t face it alone (vs. 8)
2. Take care of your body by eating well (vs. 9)
3. Pray to the Lord (vs. 15)
4. Grieve well (vs. 16)
5. Trust in the Lord
I used this passage as a way to speak to women on Mother's Day, but the passage has broader application and speaks to us guys too. We hear Christians say God answers prayer, God cares for the grieving and the brokenhearted, God takes delight & pleasure in our worship (1 Samuel 2), and God speaks words of encouragement through his servants. How do we know this? Because the Acts of God Reveal the Nature of God. Once again, as we have been seeing, God acts and we learn more about who God is.
Today I want to take us into the New Testament and the Gospels where we will further develop this sequence that the Acts of God Reveal the Nature of God . Many of you are already familiar with Thomas, one of Jesus’ followers and the man with the most doubt (at least as far as the Scriptures tell us). Thomas was there when Jesus taught on a very important truth, which we will use in building our case that God reveals himself to us.
Listen to Jesus’ significant teaching about his own mission in Matthew 11.27.
“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
Jesus is teaching that he (the Son) knows the Father & the Father knows him (the Son). It looks like this: Father ←---→ Son.
But then Jesus adds this great news: “and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” The complete picture looks like this:
Father ←---→ Son
+ }Through the Holy Sprit
God the Father reveals himself to the Son Jesus Christ. And the Son Jesus Christ reveals the Father to us. Famous theologian Karl Barth puts it this way: The revealing God reveals Himself in the event of revelation (Jesus’ coming) and this has an effect on human persons (when the Holy Spirit comes to live in us). This is a Trinitarian view of our sequence: The Acts of God Reveal the Nature of God.
Thomas understands the first two parts. He knows God the Father knows the Son and the Son knows the Father, but this is where it ends for Thomas. However, read John 20:24-28. Verse 28 is the key. In verse 28 Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas believes for himself. When Thomas puts his hands where the nails were the revelation takes effect on his life. It impacts him and changes him forever. So once again, God takes the initiative, through Christ, and has mercy and compassion on Thomas. Before Jesus ascends into Heaven he chooses to reveal himself again to Thomas. What does this tell us about God, through Christ, and in the Spirit? It tells us that God is on the move towards us and to all people, even people who doubt he exists and is worthy of their followership. Jesus desires that none should die, but that all should live through him!
Last week we said, "On the one hand we cannot know everything about God. But on the other hand God has chosen to reveal Himself to us and because of His choice there is the possibility for us to know God. The main question we are left with is: what does God reveal to us about Himself? How does He become conceivable, known, apprehended? Ultimately, what is God like? “God is _____.” What would you say? The answer to this question, especially when discussing God with a skeptic, or someone who denies God exists (atheist) or is not sure he exists (agnostic) requires some reflection. Today I want to teach you a sequence that was recently introduced to me by theologian Ray Anderson. (Warning: once you learn this biblical sequence it will change the way you read Scripture and speak about God.)
Here's the sequence: The Acts of God Reveal the Nature of God.
The best way to learn is to try and apply theory to practice. So let's do that by reading Exodus 3:1-10. Read the passage in the Old Testament of the Bible and then apply the sequence. The Acts of God Reveal the Nature of God.
In this passage what is the act of God? It is the burning bush (Ex. 3:2,3). Scientifically this made no sense – how did the bush not burn up? In this act God gets the attention of Moses. Once he has Moses' attention, then…
Moses (and by extension, us) learns about the nature of God. God's nature is to know Moses’ name (3:4); God's nature is to come close (3:5); God is Holy (3:5); God spans generations (3:6); God sees misery/suffering (3:7,9); God hears our pain (3:7,9); God comes down (3:8); and God takes joy in providing deliverance (3:8,10). God reveals Himself! Take a look at this list, which captures the nature of God. Now, go back to our question: what is God like? God takes a lot of hits these days. He is perceived to be cold, cruel, irrelevant, and insensitive to our suffering if he exists at all. Well this was not Moses' experience. And it has not been the experience for many of us. God is near, he knows our names, and he hears and responds to our misery and suffering by delivering us.
Theologian Ray Anderson has said, “For the Hebrews no other god was allowed beyond the God revealed to them in His acts…God is the evidence of God.” The Acts of God Reveal the Nature of God. Now that is learning how to think and read theologically!
Here's something to think about: what is God? It's a simple question...or is it?
When you see the question, "what is God?" some of you immediately respond with, "you mean, who is God? God is not an it but a person." Others will want to add an "s" onto "God" so that the question reads, "who are the Gods?" Still others will correct, "no, who are the gods (small "g")? We have more than one god, but none is greater than the other." And still other people will respond, "there is no such a thing, person, or spirit as a god, God, gods, or god. Nothing like this exists." Probably what I find most interesting are Christians - men and women who very much believe in God - when asked to describe what God is. How do we respond? How do we know what God is? Where do we get our ideas about Him or Her or the spiritual being who is God? Often I challenge Christians with this: if a friend were to ask you to describe God, what would you say?
This may be easier asked than answered. So over the next few Monday's let us struggle with a way to think theologically - not theoretically, abstractly, or impractically - about this question "what is God?" As Christians obviously we are going to consult the Bible as our starting point. Some critics will take issue with this, but that discussion is for another series of posts. One of the first things we notice when we source the Bible for an answer to our question is the Bible teaches us that we cannot know everything about God. You did read that right: the Bible teaches us that we cannot know everything about God. Check it out:
Job 11:7-9 – "Do you think you can explain the mystery of God? Do you think you can diagram God Almighty? God is far higher than you can imagine, far deeper than you can comprehend, stretching farther than earth's horizons, far wider than the endless ocean (The Message)."
Psalm 139:5-6 – "I look behind me and you're there, then up ahead and you're there, too—your reassuring presence, coming and going. This is too much, too wonderful—I can't take it all in! (The Message)"
Ecclesiastes 3:11 – “True, God made everything beautiful in itself and in its time—but he's left us in the dark, so we can never know what God is up to, whether he's coming or going (The Message)."
Isaiah 40:28 – “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary and his understanding no one can fathom (NIV).”
God is incomprehensible. As theologian T.F. Torrance said, “We may apprehend God, but we never comprehend Him.” God is a mystery and we must learn to live in the mystery. God is inconceivable and cannot be put in a box, molded and shaped by our image of Him. As C.S. Lewis said: “Every idea of Him we form, He must in mercy shatter.”
And yet God is also conceivable. God reveals Himself. He can be known. We may apprehend Him. Take, for example, these Scriptures:
I Corinthians 2:9-10 – “However, as it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’ — but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit (NIV).”
Matthew 11:27 – “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him (NIV).”
This is a classic "on the one hand...but on the other hand." On the one hand we cannot know everything about God. But on the other hand God has chosen to reveal Himself to us and because of His choice there is the possibility for us to know God. The main question we are left with is: what does God reveal to us about Himself? How does He become conceivable, known, apprehended? Ultimately, what is God like? “God is _____.”
Next week we continue to wrestle with this in Monday's meditation.