2.2 God is a personal being.
Whilst I believe God is an actual personal being, it's evident
that the Hebrew Bible does use anthropomorphisms, i.e. speaking
of God as if in human form. We need to see this in the context of
Hebrew thought and language, which tends not to use abstract terms
but rather uses language which alludes to physical body parts- e.g.
'look' becomes 'to lift up the eyes' (Gen. 22:4), anger is 'to burn
in the nostrils' (Ex. 4:14), to reveal smething is to 'unstop someone's
ears' (Ruth 4:4), to be without compassion is to be 'hard hearted'
(1 Sam. 6:6), stubborness is to be 'stiff necked' (2 Chron. 30:8),
to prepare oneself is to 'gird up the loins' (Jer. 1:17), to determine
to go somewhere is 'to set one's face' (Jer. 42:15; Lk. 9:51). 1
Tim. 6:1 speaks of " the name of God and the doctrine"
[R.V.]- as if the things of the name of God have a doctrine / teaching
associated with them; and it's these things we wish to now explore.
Faith In Prayer
Many times the idea of " Your father which is in heaven" is
used in the context of faith in prayer being answered (Mt. 7:11; 18:19;
21:22; Mk. 11:24; Jn. 14:13; James 1:5,6,17 etc.). It's as if the reality
of God actually existing in Heaven in a personal form should be a powerful
focus for our prayers.
Be Like God, Manifest His Image In Your Body And Life
This means that we have the highest imperative to develop into that which bears God's moral image, seeing we are made in His physical image- for God is a personal being. Exactly because " Thy hands have made me and fashioned me" , David asks for strength to put on His moral image: " Give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments" (Ps. 119:73). The reality that He truly exists in a bodily form is almost terrifying when first grasped: " An 'impersonal God'- well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads- better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap- best of all. But God Himself, a personal being, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband- that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him?" (1). Our Sunday School Christianity may well have been no more than kids spooking around with each other after an evening meeting. But the personal reality of God is startling and gripping and eternally demanding.
I think it is worth all of us pausing to ask the most basic question: Do we really believe that God exists? " Those who say that they believe in God and yet neither love nor fear him, do not in fact believe in him but in those who have taught them that God exists. Those who believe that they believe in God, but without any passion in their heart, any anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair even in their consolation, believe only in the God-idea, not in God" (2). The Jews must have been shocked when the Lord told them to " believe in God" (Jn. 14:1 RVmg.). For there were no atheists amongst them. What Jesus was saying was that their faith was in the God-idea, not in the real God. For if they believed the Father, they would accept His Son. We must ask whether we feel any real passion for Him, any true emotion, any sense of spiritual crisis, of radical motivation… The majority of our community have been taught belief in God from loving parents and caring Sunday Schools. And because of this we do need to consider whether our 'faith' is in the 'God-idea', or in the real and personal God who demands our all. Consider how the prison keeper " rejoiced greatly…having believed in God" (Acts 16:34 RV). He was unlikely to have been an atheist [atheism wasn't very common in the 1st century]. But he grasped for the first time the real import of a real and relevant faith in the one true God as a personal being.
Seeking to imitate the Father, God as a personal being, isn't always a recipe
for an easy life now for us as humans. The word Shaddai is
rooted in the word shad, meaning breast, and has the sense
of fruitfulness. Thus " God said unto [Jacob], I am God Almighty
[shaddai]: be fruitful [like me] and multiply" (Gen.
35:11). It seems Jacob sought to obey this by invitation to be like
God by having a child in his old age by Rachel- and yet, perhaps
due to her age, she died in that childbirth, in that seeking to
imitate the Father.
Job 31:17,18 reflects Job’s understanding that because God
had been a Father to him, from his youth, therefore he had always
tried to be a father to others, e.g. by caring for the fatherless.
This is what ‘God manifestation’ is about in practice.
Whatever is true of God we must strive to make true of us. If God
is manifested in us, then our aim should be for His positions,
thoughts and feelings to become ours. And yet tragically humanity
so often puts it the other way around- human religions seek to demand
that 'God', or their version of Him, has their feelings
and attitudes and ideas. They wish to create God in their image;
rather than accept they are created in His image. Jonah
was like this in Jonah 4:2,4. Jonah complains that God is "slow
to anger", but Jonah sits there angry; and therefore God challenges
him as to whether he does well to sit there so angry. The implication
is surely 'If I'm not angry, then neither should you be- walk in
step with Me and don't go your own way'.
Inspiration To Dynamic Living
In passing, I would argue that the false trinitarian notion that there are three ‘personas’ in the [supposed] trinity has led to a denial of God the Father being a real, live person, with all the unique individuality which attaches to a ‘person’. The fact that God is a person means that who we are as persons, our being as persons, is of the ultimate importance. It has been observed, in more sophisticated language: “To predicate personality to God is nothing else than to declare personality as the absolute essence”(3). Thus who we are as persons, who we develop to become, is indeed the ultimate issue. And further. Having a personal relationship with a personal God means that we in that process develop as persons after His image; for there is something magnetically changing about being in relationship with Him. We are changed from glory to glory, by simply beholding His face and inevitably reflecting the glory there, which glory abides upon us in the same way as it stuck to the face of Moses even after his encounters with the Angel of Yahweh (2 Cor. 3:18-21 RV). And yet we live in a world which increasingly denies us ultimate privacy or isolation; the loudness of the world is all permeating, all intrusive, to the point that Paul Tillich claims: “We cannot separate ourselves at any time from the world to which we belong”(4). And at times, we would all tend to agree with him. We just can’t seem to ‘get away from it all’ and be with God, no matter where we go on holiday, with whom we go, even if we slip off for an hour to be quite alone in the local park. But ultimately, I believe Tillich was wrong. We can separate from the world’s endless call and insistent pull, even if we’re stuck with an unbelieving or unhelpful partner, sniffly kids, long hours at work, the TV always on, the phone always ringing. Because we as unique and individual persons can personally relate to the personal God and His Son, thus finding the ultimate privacy and isolation which being human in this world appears to preclude. But further, it’s actually in the very razzamattaz of our mundane, frustrated experience in this world that we can come to know God, and in which God reveals Himself to us. And how does all this happen in practice? To experience God is to know Him. So often the prophets speak of ‘knowing God’ as meaning ‘to experience God’. Because God is love, to love is to know God (1 Jn. 4:8). Quite simply, how deeply we have loved [and I am speaking of ‘love’ in its Biblical sense] is how deeply we have known God- and vice versa. And that love is worked out in the very earthliness and worldliness of human life in practice.
(1) C.S. Lewis, Miracles (New York:
MacMillan, 1947) p. 96.
(2) Miguel Unamuno, quoted in Philip
Yancey, Reaching For The Invisible God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,
2000) p. 184.
(3) Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence
Of Christianity (San Francisco: Harper, 1974 ed.) p. 97.
(4) Paul Tillich, The Shaking Of
The Foundations (New York: Scribners, 1955) p. 53.