Appendix 2: Excitement With God
I was once encouraging a depressed woman to pray. 'Do you pray?" , I asked. " Yes" , she replied. " But it's as if one part of my brain prays to another part of my brain, a black box that I call God or Jesus" . And I knew just what she meant. Like the Pharisee who prayed with[in] himself. The real, living God and active Lord Jesus can be so distant from us. Just propositional truths which we have learnt and know and repeat. We do not fully understand their ways- especially in view of recent calamities amongst us- and we can resign ourselves to this to the extent that God seems far away. Just an idea which we believe in. Yet, God has feelings! He is real, there, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord. And the passion of the Father and Son, their extreme sensitivity and perception, is what structures our moment by moment life before them. It is this which I want to talk about.
2-1 God As A Man In Love
Israel is so often set up as the bride of God (Is. 54:5; 61:10; 624,5; Jer. 2:2; 3:14; Hos. 2:19,20). This is why any infidelity to God is spoken of as adultery (Mal. 2:11; Lev. 17:7; 20:5,6; Dt. 31:16; Jud. 2:17; 8:27,33; Hos. 9:1). The very language of Israel 'selling themselves to do iniquity' uses the image of prostitution. This is how God feels our even temporary and fleeting acts and thoughts of unfaithfulness. This is why God is jealous for us (Ex. 20:15; 34:14; Dt. 4:24; 5:9; 6:15)- because His undivided love for us is so exclusive. He expects us to be totally His. Just as Israel were not to be like the Egyptians they were leaving, nor like the Canaanites into whose land they were going (Lev. 18:1-5; 20:23,24). We are to be a people separated unto Him. When God as a man in love said that " I have been broken with their whorish heart" (Ez. 6:9 RV), He meant it. Sinful man broke the heart of Almighty God. The tone of God's speeches in Jeremiah varies wildly, moving abruptly from outraged cries of pain to warm entreaties of love, and then to desperate pleas for a new start. He is responding like a jilted lover, who gained His Israel by wooing them in the wilderness. He felt the pain of Israel's rejection, and went through very human-like reactions to this. The book of Hosea shows all this lived out in a real human life. Hosea was representative of God, and yet he married a flirt [and worse than that] called Gomer, and in their life together they portrayed graphically the pain of God's relationship with His people. The image of God as a man in love, as the wounded lover which we meet in Hosea and Jeremiah ought to deeply impress us. God can describe Himself in absolute verisimilitude as being pressed down underneath Israel " as a cart presseth that is full of sheaves" (Am. 2:13 RV). In this we see the humility of God, the extent to which He risked His feelings for those He created…and the hurt He thereby received. The God who created all of existence subjects Himself to such humiliation from His creation. One is almost haunted by the reality of a God who lets our response to Him count that much. It inspires us to implore Israel and all men, on our hands and knees, to not reject the love of God, as a man in love, which is in the Gospel. And it unceasingly challenges us to ourselves respond to that love as we ought, hour by hour in daily life. To respect His feelings. We run the risk that our study about God, our necessary defining of Him in doctrinal propositions, is almost a taming of God into words and concepts…to the point that we can fail to see Him as a real person, and so lose the force of the passionate relationship with Him which God seeks from us above all else.
Jeremiah contains many examples of the passion of God as a man in love for His people. He tells Jeremiah that he is not to pray for the people, because He will not hear him. Yet finally the people come to Jeremiah and ask him to pray for them; and he does so. And God hears him, because " I repent me of the evil that I have done unto you" (Jer. 42:7,10). Here was the God who cannot repent, repenting. Like a loving Father punishing His child deservedly, He stops half way through and feels He is being too hard. He punished Israel less than their iniquities deserve; and yet He seems to feel in passages like this that He has punished them too much. " Israel is not forsaken, nor Judah, of his God...though their land is full of guilt against the Holy One of Israel" (Jer. 51:5). God had promised to forsake them if they sinned. They sinned. Yet He couldn't bring Himself to fully forsake them. The shame of it all was that even with a God like this, the people stubbornly refused to accept Him, even after He had repented of the evil done to them.
It is hard to really believe that God feels so positively towards us. That when you summoned the courage to preach the Truth to that man in the office, when you curbed your tongue in a domestic disagreement... you touched the heart of Almighty God, with joy. This thought alone is enough to transform human life and behaviour, if it takes deep lodgement within us. We all struggle with inadequacy. I used to think I had a far higher dose of it, and was better at hiding it, than anyone else I knew. But as one gets to know people better, it becomes apparent that inadequacy and a lack of full acceptance of ourselves is a major human trait. We feel inadequate as employees, students, parents, partners...fearing we won't make the grade. And we tend to feel the same way before our God too. But in Christ, clothed with His righteousness,we need not feel like this. Indeed, we should not. We have tended to misquote a number of Bible verses to justify our feeling that we can never please God- e.g. Is. 64:6 " All our righteousness are as filthy rags" . Yet the context is clearly speaking of the wicked within Israel, whereas the true people of God do righteousness which pleases Him. We can and do please God! The wonder of this should never cease to impress us. J.R.R. Tolkientruly observed: " ...the chief purpose of life, for any one of us, is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis: ...We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendour."
The God Who Really Is
One of the greatest false doctrines of all time is the trinity- which claims that there are three " persons" in a Godhead. Trinitarian theologians borrowed a word- persona in Latin, porsopon in Greek- which was used for the mask which actors wore on stage. But for us, God doesn't exist in personas. He exists, as God the Father. The real, true God, who isn't acting, projecting Himself through a mask, playing a role to our eyes; the God who is so cruciallyreal and alive, there at the other end of our prayers, pulling at the other end of the cord... What we know of Him in His word is what and who He really is. It may not be all He is, but it is nevertheless the truth of the real and living God. And this knowledge should be the most arresting thing in the whole of our existence. So often the prophets use the idea of " knowing God" as an idiom for living a life totally dominated by that knowledge. The new covenant which we have entered is all about 'knowing' Yahweh. And Jer. 31:34 comments: " They shall all know me…for I will forgive their iniquity" . The knowledge of God elicits repentance, real on-your-knees repentance; and reveals an equally real forgiveness. Day after day. Night after night. It is possible for those in Christ to in practice not know God at all. Thus Paul exhorted the Corinthian ecclesia: " Awake to righteousness and sin not: for some have no knowledge of God" (1 Cor. 15:34 RV).
For all these reasons I can only accept that when we read of God as a man in love, feeling and acting emotionally, being provoked to anger, being grieved at His heart, desperately believing that " surely they will reverence my son" , well, this is the real God. Not just idioms and figures of speech and God presenting Himself in human language; but the real God, whose heart really and truly bleeds. Each of the prophets which God sent He had arisen early to send (Jer. 25:4). Before the days of alarm clocks, to get up early in the morning was an act of the will. God made 'effort' and put special determination into every word which His prophets spoke, And we should read those words with this in mind. I am aware that men have created a fancy word, 'anthropomorphisms', to try to explain away how and why God is described in such human terms as He is. In other words, God doesn't really have a hand just because we read of His hand, nor really have a heart / mind because we read of His heart, nor really feel surprise and pain because we read of Him experiencing this. It's all, we are told, 'anthropomorphism'- God being spoken of as having human attributes although actually, He doesn't. God as a man in love is only a vague figure, on this reading. Maybe I am too primitive, simplistic, somehow like a farm kid coming in to talk with the big city theologians. But, for me, all these images of God which we meet in Scripture point to a strong reality behind them. There must surely be a congruence between them, and who God really is. Otherwise, the person of God Himself remains a total mystery, and His word is not His true self revelation. I cannot accept this. We are made in God's image; we know the feelings of an angry parent or a spurned lover, and when God uses these images about Himself, I believe this is how He really feels. He's not just playing with words. This is how He really is.
Our brethren have often and so rightly pointed out to us that we are just as much at risk from idolatry as were Israel. Our worlds, our lives and hearts, are full of potential idols. And what, in the most fundamental essence, is wrong with idolatry? It seems to me that idolatry trivializes this wonderful God of whom we have spoken. It makes the Almighty Jehovah of Israel into a piece of wood or stone, or into a smart career or new house. And so anything that reduces the majesty, the surprise, the passion, the vitality in our relationship with God is an idol. Time and again in our lives, God is edged out by petty distractions- a car that needs repair, a leaking gutter, a broken window. One could almost weep for the frequency and the way in which all this occurs, so tragically often.
In Hosea 11, God likens Himself to Israel's father, teaching His little child
to walk for the first time. As the child 'makes it' into the Father's
arms for the first time, there must be a tremendous excitement
for the Father. A few uncertain, jittering steps- and He is thrilled
and telling the whole world about it with joy. No matter how clever
or powerful that man is in the world. And so this is how God was
with His people, it's how it is with us too as we take our first
unsure steps after baptism. He has the capacity for thrill and excitement,
just as we do, who are made in His image. Remembering how He had
felt towards His child Israel in earlier days, God cries out with
a stab of pain: " How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I
hand you over, Israel?" . The memory of Israel's childhood
was just too much. It made God change His mind with regard to totally
rejecting His wayward son. He had told them that they had an incurable
wound- but, He then decided to cure that wound (Jer. 30:12,17).
The Struggle Of God
The internal struggles of God often aren't recorded in the Bible's
historical records. Reading Exodus, we would never imagine the kind
of internal struggle referenced in Ez. 20:8,9 where we read of God
decided to pour out His fury upon Israel in Egypt because they refused
to part with their idols; and yet "I wrought for my name's
sake... wherefore I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt".
And how often does He struggle over us, and we in our smallness
and insensitivity just wander onwards in our half-committed lives...?