Theology Cornerstone #1 – What is God like?

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As I begin to write these next few blog postings on foundational theology, I can’t tell you how excited I am! Knowing that my little group of readers (about 150 of the 1350 on my mailing list open my mailings each week) will be systematically exposed to these ideas brings joy and encouragement to my heart. The word of God is on the march and will not be denied, and we all get to be a part of that march!

The first of the four cornerstone ideas is: “What is God like?” The most commonly used and the simplest description of God is that He is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent—He is everywhere, knows everything, and is all powerful, at all times. 

Because we are not God and cannot grasp these ideas, we try to fit them into our own world. We are like cute, loveable puppies, futilely trying to understand their new human master. In a similarly futile attempt to understand God, we, like the puppies, have no frame of reference. So, in our minds, we unconsciously try to recreate Him in our own image. 

We think of God as a human father, or some other human authority figure. Jesus called God His “Father,” so it is appropriate for us to do so too, because a godly, biblical father is the closest human example of what God is like. To a little child, “Daddy” may seem to always be there when he is naughty or nice, to mysteriously know every time he does something, either bad or good,, and is the strongest person in his world, but his human father is only a very, very inadequate picture of God.

I am going to choose probably the most controversial of these three characteristics of God to investigate our question of what God is like—omnipotence. He is all-powerful, and He is using that infinite power as He “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). This means that God is absolutely sovereign, and He accomplishes exactly what He wants on the earth, everywhere, at all times. Read the following verses carefully:

“Then Job answered Jehovah, and said, I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).

“Our God is in heaven; he does whatever he wishes” (Psalm 115:3).

 “Whatever the LORD pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places” (Psalm 135:6).

“I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create evil, I am the LORD, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:6,7).

“My plans will never fail, I will do everything I intend to do. I have spoken, and it will be done” (Isaiah 46:10, 11).

“All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Daniel 4:35).

If I were to ask any Christian group if they believed that God is sovereign, the majority of them would answer, “Of course He is.” Right. However, if I were to propose, as these verses verify, God ordains all things that happen, then God must also ordain, or “create evil,” as Isaiah 45:6, 7 tells us, they would hesitate. 

If I went even further and asked, “Does that mean then that we have no free-will, and are just puppets?” I have gone too far. I have touched the golden calf, the last, most cherished idol in our lives, the idol that allows us to still be like God, deciding for ourselves whether to do good or evil, just as Satan promised Eve—our free will. 

However, God is absolutely sovereign. There are no shades of gray, no surprises, no mind-changes for God. He is the same, “yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), and “with (Him) there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17). He made up the game of life, ordained the progress the game will take, and He decides exactly how and when it will conclude. 

There is only one “free will” in the universe—Almighty God’s! What’s wrong with being His puppets? The Bible calls us “slaves of God” instead of puppets, but is that not the same thing? Puppets must not have been invented yet when the Bible was written, and slaves were everywhere.. 

At this point, let’s address the Bible passages that seem to contradict this view of God’s sovereignty. After all, He’s a gentleman, isn’t He, and He doesn’t force Himself onto others, does He?

Read the above verses again and ask yourself as you read them if Jesus is concerned for our feelings and wishes as He interacts with us? Did He wait for Saul to “open the door and invite Jesus into his heart” on the road to Damascus? Seems as though He smashed in the door of the heart of a rebellious Saul when it was God’s time for him to get saved—against Saul’s will!

However, what about the passages that refer to God changing His mind, repenting for ever creating man, and man either grieving or quenching the Spirit, when the Spirit Himself ordained those very grievous and resistant actions? My book, “‘…And the Glory of the Lord Filled the Temple’—The Holy Spirit Alive in His Church,” devotes a whole chapter to answering that question by considering two little known or understood biblical concepts. This is a very, very brief summary.

First, the Bible often uses what are called anthropomorphisms (giving God human characteristics). One is used in Genesis 6:6, that says God was sorry that He had ever made man, and “He was grieved in His heart.” It is as if He were surprised at how man had turned out (“the intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”—verse 5), but we know that God is omniscient, and again is ordering all things. 

Man cannot surprise Him, nor does God change His mind. So, this verse cannot teach that God was confronted with an unforeseen contingency, and therefore regretted that He had made man, but it simply expresses the abhorrence of a Holy God at the awful wickedness and corruption into which man had fallen.

1 Samuel 15:29 is a corroboration of this idea. “The Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind, for He is not a man that He should change His mind.” Proverbs 19:21 says, “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand.” Finally, Isaiah 65:2: “I have stretched out my hands all day long to a rebellious people.”

Did God seek to bring the Jews to repentance and was unable to do so? Did He seek to do what was in opposition to His own eternal purpose? Obviously not. Language like “repent” and “grieve” when applied to God do not imply impotence, indecision or change of mind on the part of God, but are anthropomorphisms used in an attempt to communicate to man God’s nature in human terms that we can understand, i.e., His abhorrence of sin.

Another helpful idea when considering how God acts according to His will is the idea that God has two “wills,” His revealed will, and His decretive will. For example, He expresses His revealed will in His commandments, such as “Thou shall not commit adultery.” That is His will for us, reflects His character, and is our standard for Godly conduct). However, there are those believers who do commit adultery, and if God is working all things according to His will, that must be His will—a seeming contradiction.

However, what actually occurs in time is God’s decretive will, what He decrees will happen, not His revealed will, the perfect standard of His law, which is our standard of conduct.  

Anthropomorphisms help us to better understand what God Himself is like. Recognizing his two wills help us to better understand how His decretive will operates daily in what actually happens, thus accomplishing His revealed will, quietly, gradually, without fanfare, here on the earth just as it is being done in Heaven!

So, Cornerstone #1 is laid—God is absolutely sovereign. Next week: What is man like?

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