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Who is God?

A sermon by Rod Benson

Who or what is God? How can I know if there is a God? And if there is a God, how may I come to know this divine being, so different from me, and so separate from my world, my life experiences, and my inner life? In the postmodern spiritual supermarket, how do I distinguish the true God from the fakes? Whom should I trust?

The God I have in mind today is the living God revealed in the Bible: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who himself is also God, and whose Spirit is also God.

First, let me emphasise that God is not an object of leisurely academic study but a person to be known intimately, who reveals himself to us, as he has done to others for thousands of years, in many different ways. As George Kalantzis states: “We do not discover or analyse God; God speaks to us. It is God who has the authority to tell us what is true and what is not.”[1]

God is personal, and to be trusted. God is good, and will never lie. Overlook this crucial point, and reality ceases to make sense.

Millions of people claim to believe in God. All the church creeds begin with such an affirmation. Jews, Christians, Muslims and philosophical theists[2] all believe in God.

But what does such an affirmation mean? One thing is certain: belief in God does not arise directly from sense perception. I cannot, in any normal, natural sense, see God. Nor can I touch, taste, smell or hear God directly through sense perception. But I am convinced that God is real and personal, and that he knows me intimately and exhaustively, and that he loves me, and communicates with me every day, even though I am merely me and he is the greatest of all possible beings.

If you are a Christian, then you believe in God as he is revealed in Scripture, and you have certain claims on God (e.g. that he will keep his promises), and God also has certain claims on you (e.g. that you will discover his promises, and trust his Son, and obey his commands, and imitate God).

Above all, God wants you to know him, and he helps you in this task in many ways. He makes Scripture known, secures your salvation, unites you with Christ, enables prayer, indwells you, creates the church for your fellowship and nurture, reveals his will, equips you for service, and graciously provides for all your needs.

Talk about God is called “theology,” and “the primary role of theology is to cultivate in us a love for and knowledge of God.”[3]

Theology is also about clarifying and protecting and preserving the truth about God for this generation and the generations to come. Indeed, God calls everyone who follows Jesus “to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 3).

Jesus himself commands us to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20).

That includes what the Bible teaches us about God. What would you say if I asked you to describe God to me?

In talking about God, we often tell stories about what God does (in history, or in personal experience), or we describe what God is like (his attributes or characteristics, such as holiness, love, righteousness, mercy, omnipotence, omniscience, infinity, patience, and so on).

We can classify these attributes in various ways: attributes of greatness and goodness; attributes of freedom and love; attributes which we can and cannot share (communicable and incommunicable attributes).

There is a basic problem, however, in talking about God: the limitation of human language to describe (or, worse, define) ultimate reality, to speak accurately and and precisely about God. Yet I believe Jonathan Wilson is correct in saying that “in spite of the limitations of language and the fact that our words are not identical to God’s reality, our language really does tell us something about God.”[4] So most of our talk about God is analogical. Wilson continues:

At one level, [analogy] is elegant in its simplicity. But it also has depths and complexities that invite reflection … For that reason alone, theology is a practice that can engage our intellectual abilities for a lifetime.[5]

At the heart of the Christian doctrine of God is the affirmation of God’s one-in-threeness, otherwise known as the doctrine of the Trinity.

You won’t find the word “Trinity” in the Bible. Nor does any Christian creed call us to affirm, “I believe in the Trinity.” Yet all the creeds are Trinitarian in shape, calling us to confess our belief in “God the Father … and in the Son … and in the Holy Spirit.”

Christians have always understood that God who came to our world in the person of Jesus Christ is the God of the Old Testament, and so we refuse to surrender our conviction, along with the Old Testament people of God, that there is one God.

But at the same time, the church has always refused to surrender the belief that Jesus Christ is God, and yet separate from his Father in heaven.

After Pentecost, the first Christians began to experience an invisible presence among them, and within them, which they recognised to be divine, and yet not the Father or the Son, and so we have come to confess that the Holy Spirit too is God. Thus, for Christians, alone of all people of faith, God is three and one.[6] As Mike Bird likes to say, Christians have “an affinity for the Trinity.”

Don’t be anxious if you can’t fully comprehend the concept of the Trinity. As Michael Lloyd puts it in his excellent book, Café Theology, if we could easily grasp the idea of the Trinity with our finite, temporally framed minds, affected as they are by finitude, sin, moods, hormones, limited experiences, and the effects of digesting our last meal, we would not be comprehending the infinite, eternal God.[7]

We should expect the God who made our rich, complex, incomprehensible and yet surprisingly knowable world to possess a corresponding richness, complexity, diversity, and delightfully explorable depth. And that is precisely the case when we come to thinking about God.

The doctrine of the Trinity is an idea from beyond human wisdom and ingenuity. We should expect to be baffled as we seek to know the living God. We should expect to be lost in wonder, love and praise. Indeed, if a magnificently true idea about God fails to stretch our minds and instil wonder, it probably won’t stretch us!

So you should expect the biblical teaching on God, and mature Christian reflection on the biblical teaching, to add to your understanding of God, deepen your appreciation of the reality of God, expand your categories of thought, burst open regular modes of thinking, and compel you into realms of fresh insight.[8]

The doctrine of the Trinity – the living God’s three-in-oneness – reminds us of the surest thing there is, the fundamental reality at the heart of reality itself: that the God who reveals himself through Scripture and in the person of his Son is relational, that God is love, and that this pure, perfect, unequalled, unsurpassable, unchanging, unending relationship which exists between the three persons of the Trinity is the relationship from which everything else draws its true purpose, and from which everything that ever exists flows.

It is time to think big, wise, warm, pure thoughts about God. As Michael Lloyd observes:

You can divide up a molecule. You can split an atom. You may even be able to split the quark. But you can never divide up the love that the Father has for the Son, and the Son for the Spirit, and the Spirit for the Father, and the Father for the Spirit, and the Son for the Father, and the Spirit for the Son. That is indivisible. That is the surest thing there is. That is the starting-point – and the goal – of all things. Here we stand on holy – but utterly firm – ground. And the view from here is stunning.[9]

God is love, and God loves you. If you are “in Christ,” the phrase Paul frequently uses as shorthand for the doctrine of our union with Christ, by grace through faith, then the Bible says that you “participate in the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4) – not through rigorous rituals, or harrowing hardships, or generous giving, but simply because God loves you and God’s own unique love “has been poured out into [your heart] through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Rom 5:5).

Furthermore, God does not want to keep you at arm’s length but draw you to himself. If at times you feel isolated, alienated, excluded from God’s presence, know that it is God’s desire to draw you to himself, into his presence, into his kingdom, into his divine reality.

Neither does God want to dissolve your unique personality into God, which is the stated goal of most other religious traditions.

The three persons of the Trinity are utterly one, yet never cease to be themselves in distinct identity and personality:

they are themselves in their relationship with one another. They never dissolve into an amalgam of divinity. They never cease to be three … Their oneness is no threat to their threeness. Their intimacy is no threat to their individuality.[10]

So too with you and me, in our union with God in Christ. Our sin is dealt with, our human nature regenerated, our destiny transformed. Our selfishness is gone, but never our selfhood.

We will forever relate to the Triune God, and to one another in the new creation, as unique and individual and eternal persons.

It is no accident that the Bible, which begins with a simple statement of the reality of God, and the power of God in creating all matter and anti-matter, and everything that exists, described at one point as a “formless and empty” universe, ends with the words of Revelation 22:21, with a simple statement acknowledging the Son of God, whose grace rests with the people of God, in a renewed and perfect universe filled, as it always was and always will be, with the glory and purpose and love of the Triune God.

 


Sermon 671 copyright © 2016 Rod Benson. Preached at Lithgow Baptist Church, Australia, on Sunday 8 May 2016. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).


References

[1] George Kalantzis, “Who is God?” in Gary M. Burge & David Lauber (eds), Theology Questions Everyone Asks: Christian Faith in Plain Language (Downers Grove: IVP, 2014), p. 51.

[2] A philosophical theist is one who believes in “God” but does not link that belief with any religious faith.

[3] Daniel L. Akin et al (eds), A Theology for the Church (revised edn; Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2014), p. 7.

[4] Jonathan R. Wilson, A Primer for Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans, 2005), p. 20.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Wilson, p. 23; see also Michael Lloyd, Café Theology: Exploring Love, the Universe and Everything (third edn; London: Alpha International, 2012), pp. 287-295.

[7] Lloyd, p. 286.

[8] Based on Lloyd, p. 287.

[9] Lloyd, pp. 294-295.

[10] Lloyd, p. 302.

Categories: sermons

Rod Benson

Theologian, researcher, teacher, writer, foodie, husband, dad. Works at Moore Theological College.

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