How would you describe God if a friend asked you to do so? What words would you use to explain what God is like? Well actually the words at your disposal comprise a very long list. Let's consider a few.
First, the classic attributes of God that theologians have analyzed for centuries provide some guidance. They include such smart-sounding words as:
• Eternal (God has no beginning or end; He has always existed
• Transcendent (God is above and beyond the limits of our world
• Omnipotent (God is all-powerful
• Omniscient (God is all-knowing
• Omni-present (God’s is present everywhere
• Holy (God is absolutely unique and perfect)
Or we can use some words that are a little more popular, and say that God is: good, trustworthy, generous, faithful, glorious, worthy, beautiful, wonderful and great.
Then we might include a few words that the Old Testament writers use to describe God's character. We usually find these words as names given to God at the end of a story where an Old Testament character encounters God in a unique way. Some of these include:
• EL SHADDAI: God Almighty or "God All Sufficient." (Gen. 17:1, 2)
• JEHOVAH-JIREH: "The Lord will Provide." (Gen. 22:14)
• JEHOVAH-ROPHE: "The Lord Who Heals" (Ex. 15:22-26)
• JEHOVAH-NISSI: "The Lord Our Banner." (Ex. 17:15)
• JEHOVAH-M'KADDESH: "The Lord Who Sanctifies" (Leviticus 20:7-8)
• JEHOVAH-SHALOM: "The Lord Our Peace" (Judges 6:24)
• JEHOVAH-TSIDKENU "The Lord Our Righteousness" (Jer. 23:5)
• JEHOVAH-ROHI: "The Lord Our Shepherd" (Psa. 23)
• JEHOVAH-SHAMMAH: "The Lord is There" (Ezek. 48:35)
The list of attributes or characteristics of God can get quite long. But do we simply pick and choose which attribute we like best to describe God? Do we use one of our favorite stories to explain God's nature? Or is there a way to talk about God's center or God's essence?
There is one very unique name revealed in the Old Testament: Yahwah, which is the most sacred, revered and holy name of all. It reveals God's uniqueness, God's distinctiveness from all the other so-called gods that vied for the allegiance of the Israelites. It's meaning is obscure though, something like "I Am what I Am" or "I Will Be what I Will Be." It seems to communicate that the nature and character of the true God will be revealed as we walk with God in reality. In other words, God is not something that we read about in the Bible or in a textbook and then think "Oh now I know what God is like." Instead, we get to know God relationally as we walk with God.
The writers of the Old Testament were very clear about the mysterious, non-abstract reality of relating to God. The Bible does not contain abstract lists to describe God, but instead it is a book comprised primarily of stories about experiences with this mysterious God. And these stories reveal a personal God who personally gets involved with the world to save the world from itself.
When we think about God as a list of attributes, it is too easy for us to construe the mystery of God into a Wizard of Oz experience. God becomes the great wizard behind the veal of heaven that no one has seen and everyone has a theory about. We learn to talk about god the wizard and fail to talk to him. But the reality is that the Bible reveals a God who refuses to stand behind any curtain. Our God does not even require that we find a special path for salvation like "yellow brick road." Instead out of his personal nature God comes down from behind the veal of heaven and journeys down that road to meet us where we are.
Yahweh, the great “I am,” the God experienced in the moment by moment journey, takes this journey out of love. As the Apostle John states "God is love." Love is not something that can be defined in abstract terms, even though we may try. Love is discovered on a journey with the other. Love is up close and personal, involved and invested. Love is what love is and love will be what love will be.
Love is not simply one of the characteristics of God. It is the central essence from which all of God 's characteristics flow. From years of growing up in the church, my imagination about God was shaped by the singing of “How Great Thou Art.” After my childhood understanding finally figured out who “Art” was, I began to sing this song as if God's greatness, God's wonder, God's overwhelming awesomeness lay at the center of who God is. I saw God as the authoritative school principal in the sky who had lots of decisions to make and a world to run. God is Great after all and you had better not tick him off.
“We should never talk speak of any other attribute of God outside of the context of love. To do so is to risk a terrible misrepresentation of his character, which in turn leads to a distortion of the gospel. Christian talk about God must always start with love and introduce the language of power only in that context. (Chalk, 63)
God cannot not love. It is impossible for God to change his stance or position toward us, for if he did not love, he would not be God. His position toward us was revealed most completely through his self-sacrificial love displayed on the cross and this will not change.
Truly God is Great but God's greatness is a sub-characteristic of God's love. Love lies at the center of God just like a four-chambered, blood-pumping muscle we call the heart is central to being human. God's greatness, wonder, majesty and glory are a result of God's great love, wondrous self-investment, majestic sacrifice and glorious passion for others.
Love ... This is our God.
Photo Credit: Sunrise at the Cross MyStockPhoto.com