God’s Back

I mentioned in my recent review of The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton one quote that stood out to me. While several of the characters are trying to figure out a conundrum, the main character, Syme, says, “Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front—.” The whole book has had a variety of interpretations since its publication, but I took this observation to mean that we don’t have the big picture. In trying to figure out the mysteries of the universe, even believing that God is at the helm and wisely and lovingly guides and provides, there are still things that don’t make sense to us.

In trying to understand the book better, I came across this article. It provided much food for thought though I am not sure I agree with every point. But I did take note of the connection it made between seeing the back of things with Moses seeing the “back” of God. After the disastrous incident of the golden calf, and that after all God had done to manifest Himself to His people, He is so angry that we wants to consume them. In Exodus 32 Moses intercedes, and God relents. In Exodus 33, God tells Moses to continue on with the people toward the land He had promised them, but God’s presence would not go with them. The people mourn and Moses intercedes again in one of my favorite passages, pleading with God for His presence with them.

When God promises to go with them, Moses responds in worship, “Please show me your glory.” God replies:

“I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

Then the next day:

The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.

As I pondered these passages once again, this thought struck me:

If this is the back of God – merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love, forgiving sin – what must the front be?

No wonder no one can see His face and live! We’d be overwhelmed!

Besides these verses that refer to His mercy, grace, love, and forgiveness, other passages of Scripture tell us about His wisdom, power, omnipresence, and so many other attributes.

I don’t know exactly what we’ll “see” of Him in heaven, but I do know this: I may not understand everything that happens, I may question why some things have to be and wonder why God does some things and doesn’t do other things, but what I do know to be true of Him helps me to trust Him for what I don’t understand.

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(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Glimpses, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Coffee for Your Heart, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

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What do you know?

I recently read about a young woman’s experience running into a beloved Sunday School teacher she’d had as a child. As her heart swelled with fondness and gratitude for this woman’s ministry in her life, she opined that it’s the relationships, not the instruction that matters.

While I rejoiced in the relationship this woman had with her teacher and the way it inspired her to teach her own students, I was saddened that she downplayed the lessons. Religious instruction matters very much. The epistles are replete with warnings about wrong doctrine and correction thereof. Yet relationships are important, too. They help flesh out the truth and get it from the head to the heart.

I’ve heard the acquiring of Biblical knowledge downplayed because “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth,” according to I Corinthians 8:1.  That’s an example of ripping a verse out of its context and not couching it in the overall setting of the whole Bible. Yes, the Bible warns us against becoming proud of our knowledge, but it doesn’t discourage us from gaining knowledge.

Creation reveals knowledge of God’s existence, wisdom and ways. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” Psalm 19:1-2.

God was angry with Job’s friends because they had not spoken what was right about Him.

God asked Job, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

Job was comforted by the truth of knowing that his “Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.”

The psalmist asks, ‘Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” Psalm 25:4-5

The psalmist urges people to “Give ear, O my people, to my teaching,” including “the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” – information about Him as a means to knowing Him – and to pass that knowledge down to the next generations.

The first few verses of Proverbs say that Solomon gave them, “to know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; to give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels.” By contrast, later in the chapter it says fools hate knowledge.

Paul prayed for people who had “a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:1).

See how many times in 1 Corinthians 6 Paul says, “Do you not know…?”

Paul told Timothy to “Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge'” (1 Timothy 6:20).

Peter tells us to supplement our faith with virtue, knowledge, self-control, and other qualities.

That’s just a small sampling of passages that talk about knowledge. If we also look at passages that talk about leaching and learning, we see that God places great value on them.

I have also heard the argument that it is more important to know by experience than to just know facts: for instance, it is better to spend time interacting with a person than just learning about them. It’s true that many of those passages about knowledge are referring to this experiential type of knowledge. But isn’t it also true that in getting to know someone you learn facts about them, their likes, dislikes, preferences, etc.? Years ago I saw a comical card for a wife from a husband depicting various domestic scenes. I don’t remember the exact wording, but the gist of it was, “I may not do A, B, and C that you want me to, and I may do D, E, and F that you don’t want me to, but I sure do love you, honey!” But living with an utter disregard for a wife’s preferences is not a manifestation of love. If husbands are to dwell with their wives according to knowledge, how much more should God’s people seek to know what pleases and displeases Him?

God has given us His Word, among other reasons, that we may know Him. We learn about Him that we might think of Him correctly and know how to please Him. Yes, just learning facts about Him is not sufficient and doesn’t take the place of knowing Him. But knowing Him without learning His Word makes for a shallow relationship.

God wants us to love Him with not just our hearts and souls, but our minds, to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, to gird up the loins of our minds.

It’s true that knowledge can “puff up” with pride, but rather than avoiding gaining knowledge, we need to remind ourselves that If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:2), and we need to remind ourselves that the purpose of gaining knowledge is to better know the Lord and serve Him and others.

It’s true there are some things that surpass our ability to comprehend, like the love of Christ and the peace of God.

It’s true that if we have all knowledge, but have not love, we are nothing. But that doesn’t mean we abandon knowledge. That verse also says “if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” We obviously don’t abandon faith. But we use knowledge and exercise faith in love.

We do have to be careful to keep things in balance and not become like the Pharisees, who were all academic knowledge and no heart and soul. We shouldn’t stop with just learning facts about God or think of knowledge as an end in itself, but we should acquire knowledge of God through His Word in order to learn to know Him better, to get to know Him experientially, and to show love to His people, our spiritual family, in a way that builds them up in truth, and to answer those who would pervert or distort the faith. Like Paul, we pray that our “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9) and that we might “[increase] in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10b).

That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:2-3

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Inspire Me Monday, Glimpses, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Coffee for Your Heart, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

 

 

Laudable Linkage

Here are a few noteworthy reads discovered in the last week or so:

God of Judgment, God of Grace. Rebekah does a great job of showing that these are not aspects of God from two different testaments, but rather they are both all throughout the Bible, and in the midst God’s judgment are some of the most marvelous displays of His grace.

6 Things I Wish I Had Never Told My Children. I don’t know that I agree with every little thing here, especially the last point (though I agree with what is said underneath it), but it is thought-provoking and a reminder that while we love, nurture, and build up our children, we do need to prepare them realistically for the real world.

Why You Can’t Push Your Kids Into the Kingdom.

The Value of a Life. Should we laugh when our country’s enemies are killed?

A look at the 23 UI changes in iOS 9 that you might have missed. I am sure with each upgrade to a new iOS system for the iPhone or iPad, there is much that it will do that I never know about, so a quick look at an article like this is helpful.

What Is Periscope, and How Do I Use It? I had vaguely heard of this and knew it involved watching people’s videos of what they were doing, but that’s about it. This article explains it all clearly and simply.

Here’s How to Clean Up Your G-mail Inbox, You Hoarder.

And this is adorable:

Happy Saturday!

Book Review: The Knowledge of the Holy

Knowledge of the HolyI read The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer some years decades ago, but The Cloud of Witnesses Challenge inspired me to pick it up again, and I am so glad I did.

“True religion confronts earth with heaven and brings eternity to bear upon time,” Tozer begins. He writes that the church has lost its view of the majesty of God and their awe of Him, and that in turn is having an effect on what kinds of Christians it is producing (if that was true at the time of the book’s publication in 1961, how much more is is true now!) “No people has ever risen above its religion…no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God” (p. 1).

“A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well. It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb the whole structure must sooner or later collapse. I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God” (p. 3).

“The one mighty single burden of eternity begins to press down upon him with a weight more crushing than all the woes of the world piled one upon another. That mighty burden is his obligation to God. It includes an instant and lifelong duty to love God with every power of mind and soul, to obey Him perfectly, and to worship Him acceptably. And when the man’s laboring conscience tells him that he has done none of these things, but has from childhood been guilty of foul revolts against the Majesty in the heavens, the inner pressure of self-accusation may become too heavy to bear.

The gospel can lift this destroying burden from the mind, give beauty for ashes, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. But unless the weight of the burden is felt, the gospel can mean nothing to the man; and until he sees a vision of God high and lifted up, there will be no woe and no burden. Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them” (p. 4).

Tozer’s purpose, then is to help people think about God “as He is in Himself, and not as…imagination says He is” (p. 16), at least as much as we can know about Him from His Word, for we could never comprehend Him totally. He does so in readable everyday language rather than that of a theologian.

“The study of the attributes of God, far from being dull and heavy, may for the enlightened Christian be a sweet and absorbing spiritual exercise. To the soul that is athirst for God, nothing could be more delightful” (p. 19).

After a chapter on the Trinity and on what an attribute is, Tozer then discusses some of God’s attributes one by one, from omniscience, self-sufficiency, and self-existence to His justice, love, mercy, grace and several others. As He discusses each one, he also discusses how they relate to each other.

“I think it might be demonstrated that almost every heresy that has afflicted the church through the years has arisen from believing about God things that are not true, or from over emphasizing certain true things so as to obscure other things equally true. To magnify any attribute to the exclusion of another is to head straight for one of the dismal swamps of theology; and yet we are all constantly tempted to do just that” (p. 123).

“We can hold a correct view of truth only by daring to believe everything God has said about Himself. It is a grave responsibility that a man takes upon himself when he seeks to edit out of God’s self-revelation such features as he in his ignorance deems objectionable. Blindness in part must surely fall upon any of us presumptuous enough to attempt such a thing. And it is wholly uncalled for. We need not fear to let the truth stand as it is written. There is no conflict among the divine attributes. God’s being is unitary. He cannot divide Himself and act at a given time from one of His attributes while the rest remain inactive. All that God is must accord with all that God does. Justice must be present in mercy, and love in judgment. And so with all the divine attributes” (p. 124).

“God is never at cross-purposes with Himself. No attribute of God is in conflict with another” (p. 136).

“Both the Old and the New Testaments proclaim the mercy of God, but the Old has more than four times as much to say about it as the New” (p. 140). (Interesting! Especially as people seem to think the NT is more “merciful” than the Old.)

“When viewed from the perspective of eternity, the most critical need of this hour may well be that the Church should be brought back from its long Babylonian captivity and the name of God be glorified in it again as of old. Yet we must not think of the Church as an anonymous body, a mystical religious abstraction. We Christians are the Church, and whatever we do is what the Church is doing. The matter, therefore, is for each of us a personal one. Any forward step in the Church must begin with the individual” (p. 180).

It’s not unusual for me to think of God as He is or to think high thoughts of Him: that comes with having regular times in the Word of God and hearing His Word proclaimed by faithful preachers. Yet too often my response is something like “Wow, that’s neat!” or a quick prayer of thanks as I go on to the next verse or go about the tasks for the day. Having this sustained time of focusing on what He says about Himself and Who He is has been both humbling and uplifting. I highly recommend this book to everyone.

I wanted to say just a word about reading what some friends have called “deep” books. It’s actually been a long time since I’ve read this kind of book, and I’m thankful to the The Cloud of Witnesses Challenge for encouraging me to get back into them. It works best for me to read a little bit from a book like this after my regular devotional time. It’s not that I couldn’t pick it up at odd times during the day and get something out of it, but personally I just get more out of it by regularly plodding through in the morning before my attention is diverted. For some people other times of day work best. Mere Christianity was a little easier to do this with because the chapters were very short: the chapters here were longer, so some days I was only able to read a few pages at a time. Someone encouraged me once that just fifteen minutes a day in a book will eventually get you through it, and get you through more in a year than you’d think. Neither of these books was hard to read or understand.

I’ll close as Tozer does:

Thus far we have considered the individual’s personal relation to God, but like the ointment of a man’s right hand, which by its fragrance “betrayeth itself,” any intensified knowledge of God will soon begin to affect those around us in the Christian community. And we must seek purposefully to share our increasing light with the fellow members of the household of God.

This we can best do by keeping the majesty of God in full focus in all our public services. Not only our private prayers should be filled with God, but our witnessing, our singing, our preaching, our writing should center around the Person of our holy, holy Lord and extol continually the greatness of His dignity and power. There is a glorified Man on the right hand of the Majesty in heaven faithfully representing us there. We are left for a season among men; let us faithfully represent Him here (pp. 183-184).

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Repost: God Does So Much More Than Just “Show Up”

(With different circumstances in my life right now, I am finding it a little difficult to have my brain working on all cylinders and be awake and alert when I have time to spend at the computer. I have a few posts percolating on the back burner that I hope to get a chance to work through soon. But I thought in the meantime maybe once a week or so I’d repost something from my archives here. I thought about making it a series and calling it “The Summer of Reruns.” 🙂 Seriously, though, sometimes going back over something God has taught or encouraged me with in the past makes for fresh blessings. I hope some of these will bless you as well, whether you saw them the first time or not.)

From October, 2009:

I have seen a particular phraseology going around recently that really bothers me:

“God really showed up.” “Pray that God shows up in a big way.” “I hope God shows up for this event.”

If you have said or written this, please don’t take offense or think I am fussing at you. I can’t remember for sure where all I have seen it. I’m speaking in generalities because I am starting to see this more and more and I want people to realize what it sounds like.

It bothers me for a few reasons.

1. God does not “show up.” He is omnipresent. (See Psalm 139:5-12, Jeremiah 23:23-24.)

2. Making our plans and then hoping God “shows up” is going about things backwardly. We should be seeking His guidance beforehand and all along the way.

3. The phrase “show up” seems to indicate the person wasn’t really expected, or at least his attendance was iffy. “I invited Tom, but I am not sure he’ll show up.”

4. The phrase also seems to indicate the person showing up took the invitation casually and just decided to “show up” — maybe on a whim, maybe because he couldn’t find any better options.

5. When I posted this the first time, someone commented that sometimes we say God “showed up” in a meeting when things got exciting. Sometimes we have more of a sense of His working or we’re touched in a special way, but that’s not to say He is not always meeting with us. Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). We know He is present by faith, not when we “feel” it or when the bells and whistles go off.

I think I know what people mean when they want God to “show up”:

“I hope God really blesses this event/situation in such a way that people see it was something only He could do.”

“I want God’s presence to be manifested in a way that touches people’s hearts and draws them to Him.”

“I pray God’s power will be evident.”

Why not say it that way? It’s more accurate, more reverential, and more glorifying to God.

Here are some Scriptural examples of those desires:

“Help me, O LORD my God: O save me according to thy mercy:That they may know that this is thy hand; that thou, LORD, hast done it.” Psalm 109:26-27.

“O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.” Psalm 63:1-2.

“This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.” John 2:11.

“Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” John 9:3.

“And [Moses] said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.” Exodus 33:18.

“That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the LORD your God for ever.” Joshua 4:24.

“And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.” I Kings 18:36-37.

Laudable Linkage

Here are just a few good reads from the past week:

When Black Friday Becomes a Mission, good for the whole Christmas season.

Is God an Egotistical Maniac? Read this if you don’t read any of the others. This is a thought that is becoming more popular with unsaved, and Christians sometimes unwittingly fuel it by their responses.

A Blank Check. Quote: “A recent lesson talked about giving God a blank check with our lives. It’s a biblical concept. If God is God, and we owe everything to him, we must be willing to follow him wherever he leads. It’s picking up our crosses and dying to ourselves…We push the blank check across the counter to God, only to be miffed if he writes ‘nursery duty’ in the line.” Most of us are called to minister in small ways rather than the big, public ways.

Five Ways to Make the Holidays More Peaceful.

My Epiphany About the Books vs. Movies Question.

And a fun way to kick off the Christmas season: