A long time ago, a man who was once a prince, stood on the side of a mountain and listened as God revealed to him his purpose in life. Awed and perplexed the man asked, “Who should I say sends me?” Even though that man received what in many ways was the definitive answer, each one of us must ask the same question. Who should we say sends us? If God is our answer, then we must ask, who is God?
The dictionary describes God as “the ultimate reality…the Being perfected in power, wisdom, and goodness who is the ruler and creator of the universe” and if we accept that definition, how then, can we know God? Surely a being of ultimate power and wisdom would not want to hang out with the likes of humanity? The problem with that line of thinking is that we are thinking like us…and not thinking like God. Pastor and author Chip Ingram tells us, “ Left to ourselves, we human beings regularly stumble into three gaping errors as we are learning to think accurately about God: 1. We tend to assume that God is just like us. 2.We tend to reduce God to measurable and controllable terms. 3. We tend to overlook the obvious and significant ways God has revealed himself to us.” So, as we look to the ways that God has revealed himself to us, there is no better place to turn than the Bible. In trying to understand who God is, let’s look at what scripture says and consider the three “ultimate” descriptors given in our dictionary’s definition: Power, wisdom, and goodness.
The very beginning of scripture shows us God’s power in creation. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” demonstrates that God is self-existent and was before anything else was. The universe was literally spoken into being! God’s creative, destructive, and restraining power is shown throughout the Bible. God’s destructive power is shown to us as the Book of Genesis tells of God’s wrath kindled against Sodom and Gomorrah, “Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah-from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities-and also the vegetation in the land” But even in that awesome display of God’s cleansing power the quality of mercy was not strained, as even then, the righteous were saved. But even while God’s power is manifest in awesome ways in the physical realm, perhaps the greatest display of God’s power comes in what he does for us. David the psalmist tells us to:
“Proclaim the power of God, whose majesty is over Israel, whose power is in the skies. You are awesome O God in your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people”
In other words the ultimate expression of God’s ultimate power is in God’s relationship with us…his people. It is possible to have some esoteric knowledge of God’s power from reading the Bible or from oral tradition, but real knowledge, gut knowledge if you will, of God comes only through relationship with Him. God’s character is then revealed to us as he “gives power and strength” to you and I as we seek to know Him.
God’s wisdom is reveled to us through relationship as well. King Solomon wrote in the Book of Proverbs, “For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” The primary source for this revelation of wisdom from God is his Word. We are literally given, through scripture, an instruction manual for how to live our lives, how to treat others, and how to be good stewards of what God has given to us. We also have the secondary examples of God’s wisdom in creation. In how things work together in symbiosis, in how weather, the tides, and even things as slow moving as continental drift teach us the “music of the spheres” and reveal a tiny portion of the wisdom contained in the mind of God. In addition to wisdom revealed in these ways, I personally believe that God still speaks to us through the power of the Holy Spirit. I realize that some theologians might argue that God’s lips are sealed, but King Solomon and I would disagree. God provides each one of us wisdom through the power of the Holy Spirit acting and working in us day-to-day. To say otherwise limits God, and that’s always a foolish thing to do!
Lastly, (and I believe most importantly) we turn to God’s character revealed in his Goodness. The Word says that we should, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever.” Herein is the relationship that drives everything else whereby we understand that God’s goodness is because of his love. Now while we might scratch our heads and say, “Well of course!” we should not be so quick to assume that we understand so completely. God is good because that is who he is (remember our definition?). God is the ultimate reality of good, so we come to understand that while God might be good to us because that is his nature, he is good to us because he loves us…and therein lies a world of difference. The Bible tells us definitively that God is love. Just as he is the ultimate arbiter and reality of good, He is the same in love. God’s goodness and love is then manifest to us through relationship. God said, “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come to be your God.” In other words, God designed it to work this way. In His wisdom he established relationship and love as the channels on which we might “receive” the God signal.
So we see that we can know and experience who God is though scripture, through experience, through understanding and wisdom, and through observation. But our primary source for understanding who God is, is our relationship with God. It gives us a “beginning place” for our understanding of who God is, and not ability to answer that question definitively. It would seem an impossible task to capture the essence of the infinite with a few words. It is true that we can talk about God’s nature. We can see as we stand on the shoulders of those that have considered this question before us, and by searching the scriptures, that God is good, that He is just, that God is faithful and forgiving, constant and caring, and that he truly loves us. We can learn through study and observation that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. We can say with confidence that God desires relationship with us and even call us out to be set apart to serve Him. But even as we list the aspects of God’s character and explore the glory of His nature, we realize that each one of these things is worthy of a much more in-depth study…and our few words seem even more inadequate. We come to realize in our struggle to define God…to know God better…that we could each spend our lifetime, even eternity, seeking God and learning of His infinite grace and love. So even though I do not know enough, even though I look at this insufficient media of language and letters and shake my head in frustration…I can tell you what I believe.
I believe that God has always been…that He is self-existent and that if we must assign a purpose to the existence of God that it would be to glorify himself. I believe that God spoke the entirety of our universe, from the tiniest mote of dust to entire galaxies into existence with a word. That He is the Creator of all things. I believe that God created the hosts of heaven, and all the angels. I believe that He created mankind…you and I, for one purpose…to glorify Him. He created us to live in love and relationship with God, and one another, and thereby to glorify God. I believe that God created man to be in perfect union with Him, and that through man’s disobedience that the prefect union was broken. I believe in the Trinity…that there is one God, in three distinct persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe that God is just and merciful…that there will be an ultimate justice and reckoning at the end of all things, but that God has shown us mercy by giving Himself in the person of Jesus Christ for our sin. I believe that God is alive and active in our day-to-day lives. That He is knowable, and that He desires relationship with us. I believe that He is the Alpha and Omega. That our God is the beginning and end, and that everything will be reconciled to Him.
In his hymn, God is Here, Freed Pratt Green wrote this verse:
“Lord of all, of church and kingdom, in an age of change and doubt keep us faithful to the gospel; help us work your purpose out. Here in this days dedication, all we have to give, receive; we, who cannot live without you, we adore you! We believe!”
It seems that Mr. Green also understood the idea of knowing and loving God was best realized through relationship and particularly the idea of community. As each one of us struggles on the way of sanctification, on our way to becoming more like Jesus, we must all answer the same questions…and we must answer those questions together as well. I believe…we believe…and God is here.