Thursday, June 09, 2016

God: A Verbal Self-Portrait

God Describes God
Exodus 34:6-7: Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”
In the previous study, we left Moses standing on Mount Sinai where the Lord had descended in a cloud and stood there with him. Moses then called upon the name of the Lord.
Our text says God then passed by in front of him and spoke. But what He said was a self-testament as to Who He is, how He works, and what He does. Many portions of Scripture give us comfort with respect to the God we have entrusted our life to, but these two verses in Exodus seem to provide, for me at least, all the assurance I need. Believing there is a God (an Infinite Intelligent Entity) who created life and me specifically, and that our relationship with Him matters, as I do, then here God Himself describes Who He is to us – this is the original “verbal Selfie” if you like.
God tells Moses, and through him He is telling us, that He is compassionate. That describes someone who has feeling for or shows sympathy and concern for others. God did not just create us and abandon us as some who like to describe Him as the “absent landlord” believe. He continues to care for all that He has created – especially us. He would do whatever it would take to save us. And He did – but that’s the whole story behind the New Testament although both the need and the foretelling of His rescue plan are well entrenched in the Old Testament.
God says He is gracious. That describes someone who is courteous and kind. God invites us to a relationship with Him; He never forces us into it. And when we accept, He is kind to us, allowing us to grow and develop in our spiritual lives. One dictionary also says that in Christian belief, the term also means the showing of “divine grace” as in we are “saved by God’s gracious intervention” on our behalf. In fact, I would suggest that it is His compassion that causes Him to exercise His graciousness with respect to our salvation. If He were a God that had no compassionate, why then would He ever have to demonstrate grace towards us?
God says He is slow to anger. Many of us (I know I speak for myself) wish we were just that.  If there’s one quality of God’s many of us could benefit from, it is that – being slow to anger. Many of us have experienced anger in our relationships – spouse, family, friends, or at work. Most times these experiences are temporary and with effort, can be controlled or their impact mitigated. But to get a better understanding of God’s slow to anger characteristic, that is, the exercise of this aspect of one’s character at a divine, all-powerful, level, we need to consider briefly the absence of a “slow to anger” characteristic in some examples we may all be more familiar with. Consider for a moment, an alcoholic parent/spouse who comes home totally wasted from drinking and demands total and immediate compliance with his/her every whim and then strikes out with physical violence towards anyone who fails to obey. I am not suggesting that God is like that at all. On the contrary, my point is He is totally opposite to that. But as Supreme Creator and Ruler of the Universe, were He not slow to anger, we mere mortals would deserve such lashing out. Or consider some of the cruelest rulers in history – names like Idi Amin Dada, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Pol Pot, Ivan (IV) the Terrible, Adoph Eichmann, Adolf Hitler, and Josef Stalin come to mind. Perhaps people like North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un from present times can be said to have limited patience or a short wick. They all behaved the way they did or do now because of their power and authority. God Who has more power and authority than all of them combined, shows His compassion for us, His graciousness to us, by being among many other good things, slow to anger with us.
God tells us He keeps lovingkindness for thousands. Don’t take the number ‘thousands’ as literal. The point is that God has it in His nature to act in a tender and an affectionately benevolent way (the definition of the word by Merriam-Webster dictionary) towards others – us.
Also, do not confuse God’s “lovingkindness” with the loving-kindness as the English equivalent for the Buddhist term Mettā, as described in the Metta Sutta of the Pali Canon's Sutta Nipata (Sn 1.8) and Khuddakapatha (Khp 9), and practiced in Loving kindness (and Mettā) forms of Eastern Buddhism religious meditation. Their source is not of the God of the Old Testament, the Creator and Lord of all.
God also tells us He forgives iniquity, transgression and sin. That is a big part of His work. It is true someone (including God) can forgive someone else for an iniquity, transgression and sin committed against the forgiver or another person (as in the case of a bereaved parent forgiving a criminal for shooting their child to death) without the transgressor even knowing either about the fact that he/she has sinned or about the fact that they have been forgiven. There is great value in forgiveness to the forgiver including the loss of resentment and the ability to move on. However, the net effect on the individual guilty of the sin is nil; he/she continues on his/her merry way.
God, on the other hand, is not in need of any comfort or release from anything and His forgiveness is not about Him so much (except that is what He does) as it is about the sinner needing forgiveness. For that reason, God’s forgiveness of our sins requires us:
·      to be aware of the fact that we are transgressors against His laws,
·      to repent of the fact that we committed them, wanting to pursue them no more,
·      to seek His forgiveness in order to be accepted into fellowship with Him,
·      to accept the method of His forgiveness which He provided several thousand years later from the time of this self-description (i.e. through His Son, Jesus Christ who paid the penalty for our sins in our place, dying on the cross), and
·      to accept Christ as Lord of our lives.
All that is necessary because God will not co-exist with sin. And all that is possible because God is willing to be a forgiver of sin, as part of His very essence.
However, lest we consider His desire to forgive and to have us live in relationship with Him such that our sins do not matter to Him, God warns us outright, He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. Neglect all the steps outlined above and God says you will be punished. You can also ignore the warning He gives, but as ‘danger’ signs we often see say, “Doing so is at your own peril.”

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  1. You are Glorious, Wonderful, Counselor!

  2. Indeed He is, Andrea. Thanks for reading and commenting. Feel free to share this post with others. Blessings. Ken.