I asked a small group of people, not too long ago, what characteristics of God are overemphasized in our culture. You can likely guess the answers:
God is loving
God is faithful
God is kind
God is merciful
God is patient
All of these things are absolutely true, but if we stop at these attributes, these characteristics, we have an incomplete picture of God. We have a pic of our glorious God fashioned by our culture and not by the Bible…and that’s not a good place to be. It really doesn’t matter what we think God is like unless it’s shaped in our minds by the Word.
A few years ago a rock star preacher had a quote that I really liked that hit on the cultural idea of God but also is pretty bang on in his description of the biblical God. Here’s the quote:
‘You have been told that God is a loving, gracious, merciful, kind, compassionate, wonderful, and good sky fairy who runs a day care in the sky and has a bucket of suckers for everyone because we’re all good people. That is a lie… God looks down and says ‘I hate you, you are my enemy, and I will crush you,’ and we say that is deserved, right and just, and then God says ‘Because of Jesus I will love you and forgive you.’ This is a miracle.’
We are at mark #2 in a series of posts on churches growing towards spiritual health and this mark is biblical theology. Have you ever read a book from a Christian book store or that you picked up at christianbooks.com and things seemed off target? Or maybe you watched a Christian movie that all your friends were talking about and things didn’t seem quite right? Or maybe you listened to a song on a Christian radio station and some of the things you heard were part truths or kinda right but after you heard it, something seemed wrong? That’s often because in order for products to sell, certain characteristics of God are pumped and some are tossed to the side.
I have a file that has many of God’s attributes on it that I downloaded from challies.com a few years ago and I still pull it out from time to time to check if I’m getting the right picture of God in my head. Let me hit on a few of the attributes of God that you may not have thought about recently.
God is a holy God. He is separated from sin and is committed to His own honour.
The word beauty describes Him. That word sums up all of all His qualities in one word. We sang about His beauty at church on Sunday morning.
God is free. He does whatever He pleases all the time and He is not our butler or our waiter.
God is jealous and that doesn’t make Him an egomaniac. He is always seeking to protect His own honour.
God is wrathful. He intensely hates all sin…more than we know.
We could talk about His eternality…His immutability…His knowledge…His omnipotence…His omnipresence…His perfection…His righteousness...His unity…and we could keep on going.
What sometimes happens is that we read books and passages and listen to sermons that focus on the attributes of God that we like and avoid the ones that we are not interested in or don’t like…and that gives us a faulty picture.
You’ve heard the story of the blind guys and the elephant. One touches the belly and thinks it’s a wall. One grabs his ear and thinks it’s a fan. One thinks the tail is a rope. And they each grab a part of the elephant and are a long way off when they try and describe what the elephant is. We can do that as we think about God.
So how do we give a better biblical picture of God? It takes persistence and patience in so many ways. First, find a church that preaches expositionally (see last week’s post) and stay with them and you will see all the characteristics of God as you cover books verse by verse and chapter by chapter or find a preacher on-line that preaches that way. Secondly, read the Bible verse by verse. I’m not suggesting starting in Genesis and slogging right through to Revelation because I know many lose their steam by Leviticus and run out of gas in Numbers. What I am suggesting is finding a plan where you can cover all of the books of the Bible in at least a year. Thirdly, I’d suggest picking up a book like Wayne Grudem’s ‘Systematic Theology’ or if you’re a novice in this department, I recommend Grudem and Grudem’s ‘Christian Beliefs’, a little book that he wrote with his son.
If you follow through on these steps, over time your ideas about God will be shaped more and more by the Word and less by our culture. Slowly, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book, year after year, your mind will be better in tune with God’s characteristics. We will never arrive in our understand of God in this lifetime (I’ve still got lots to learn) but our perspective on Him will become more accurate and we will be better able to worship Him more with our minds…and with our hearts…but that’s another post for another time.