Mar 08 - YHWH: The God Who Is There

YHWH: The God Who Is There

March 8, 2015

John 20:29


YHWH: THE GOD WHO IS THERE
March 8th, 2015

Do you remember the time, recorded in Exodus 3, when Moses was shepherding the sheep of his father-in-law, Jethro …

no not Jethro Gibbs or Jethro Bodine.  The Jethro we are talking about is Jethro, a priest of Midian.  

Where was I?  Oh yes, here was Moses, and when God spoke to him out of the bush that was burning yet not burning up, and Moses tried to find excuses why he should not bring a message to Pharaoh, one of them being that he didn’t know God’s name, …
God said this to him in reply, “I am who I am.  Tell the Israelites that ‘I am’ has sent you.”

The Hebrew expression, ehyeh asher ehyeh, “I am who I am” is translated in the ancient Greek Septuagint from which the NT writers quoted, ego eimi ho on, “I, I am the existing one.”  I think it quite possible that they got it right.  God told Moses, “I am the one God who truly exists.”

So if there is but one God who truly exists, do you ever wish that he would confirm that existence to you?  That you had a burning bush experience?  God actually appearing to you in some physical form and speaking directly with you, so you can know beyond a shadow of a doubt, with 100% certainty, that He in fact exists and that He is actually aware of you as an individual … and therefore cares what is going on in your life?  The God of the universe appearing and speaking to you directly – one on one.  

Wouldn’t that just be the most incredible experience?  If that happened to us, maybe we could be filled with dread, like the prophet Isaiah, who thought he was going to die when he glimpsed a vision of God.  

Or maybe you would be filled with such surprise that you cannot but weep for joy.

Or maybe we would be fall to the ground, like the apostle Paul when he was blinded by light and heard the risen Christ speak to him.

One thing is for sure, it would confirm and strengthen our belief in God immensely.

Unfortunately, not all of us have those kind of experiences … or maybe even if we had, we could explain it away over time.  In fact, many Christians go through their whole lives and never, ever, see a visible manifestation of God.  

Maybe you remember the proverbial doubting Thomas.  He was adamant that he would not believe that Jesus rose from the dead if he could not see and touch the wounds that the nails created during the crucifixion and put his fingers into the opening that the spear made in Jesus’ side.  When he was actually able to do it, he believed, and Jesus said to Thomas,

You believe because you have seen me.  Blessed are those who have not seen and still believe.                        John 20:29

So why does God not make his existence obvious to all people.  And yes, we can postulate the existence of a creator from creation.  

The Psalmists point to the heavens as the declaration of God’s existence, his amazing deeds, … his glory and righteousness, … his majesty and just what he’s capable of.

– we may see God in the grandeur of the Rockies

– we may see God in a flowery meadow

– we may see God in the wonder of new birth

– we may see God in the sunset

– we may see God in the falcon or the orca

– in animals great and small

The apostle Paul actually comments on this in his letter to the believers in Rome:

Since the creation of the world God’s invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made ….            Romans 1:20

And yet, even though creation points to the reality of God’s existence, for most people He remains invisible, incorporeal, untouchable, and for some, unknowable.  In fact, there almost seems something purposeful about God’s hidden nature.

Let me illustrate the hidden nature of God by contrasting two ideas in the NT.  On the one hand we read that God desires the salvation of all.  

God … is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.              2 Peter 3:9

God our Saviour wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.                    1 Timothy 2:3-4

Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones (children) should be lost.                    Matthew 18:14
    
The promise to the Israelites during a very dark time in their history, after the fall of the kingdom of Israel and shortly before the fall of the kingdom of Judah, God, speaking to the prophet Jeremiah made this promise:

You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.                                Jeremiah 29:13

We find this promise, at least in part, reflected in the teaching of Jesus.    

Seek and you will find.                      Matthew 7:7
 
On the other hand, there are hints that he remains hidden so that only those who really desire to connect with him and are willing to turn toward him and live for him will be able to find him.  The apostle Paul says this about the message he brings.

We preach a crucified Messiah which is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the non-Jews. … We speak God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.  None of the rulers of this age understood it.                                1 Corinthians 1:23; 2:7

When Jesus spoke, he often told stories that contained spiritual truths, called parables.  

The disciples came to Jesus and asked him, “Why do you speak to the crowds in parables?”  Jesus answered, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven is given to you, but not to them. … This is why I speak to you in parables:
 ‘Though they have sight, they do not see.  Though they can hear, they do not listen or understand’ (Ezekiel 12:2).  

They fulfill what the prophet Isaiah said, 
‘You will always have ears but you will never understand.  You will always have eyes but you will never perceive.  For the hearts of these people have become calloused.  They do not listen with their ears and they have closed their eyes.  Otherwise they might perceive with their eyes, listen with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn, and I would heal them’ (Isaiah 6:9-10).”

Those who cannot see or hear God or his will for them are not necessarily bad people.  Maybe they just don’t give much thought to whether or not God exists, or maybe they don’t wonder about the implications if God did exist.  

Maybe they’ve even given God a glancing test or two:  

God, if you’re there, heal my child and I will follow you for the rest of my life.
God, you know I really want this promotion.  Get me the promotion and I’ll never ask for anything else as long as I live.

Deals like these rarely work.  On the one hand, if the child dies or remains disabled, or the promotion doesn’t materialize, this simply confirms the tendency to doubt God’s existence or the tendency to believe that if God in fact exist, he surely doesn’t care and so isn’t worth pursuing.  

On the other hand, if the child makes it or the person is promoted, then the next thoughts will be, 

“You know what?  Little Johnny made it because his surgeons were phenomenal.  God really didn’t have to step in at all.”

“Mmm.  I think I got that promotion because of how well I performed for the company.  God really didn’t have to do anything.”

And even where that isn’t the response, where the person acknowledges fully that God intervened in answer to their prayer, given a year or two, the miracle may not be so fresh in one’s memory and the question becomes, “That was wonderful of God, but what has He done for me lately?”

When God gave his personal name to Moses as he spoke from the burning bush, he wanted the Israelites to know that he is the God who actually existed.  We know that creation speaks of a creator.  Nevertheless, for many he remains invisible and his will a mystery.  

So why is this?  If God is genuinely interested in the salvation of everyone, why does he not reveal himself to all people so that all of them have absolutely no doubt about his existence?

What if Jesus simply appeared to all of us?  What if every one of our prayers is answered “yes”?  

In the 2003 movie, “Bruce Almighty,” God, played by Morgan Freeman, bestows some godly powers on the ever-complaining Bruce Nolan, played by Jim Carey.  Bruce had unlimited powers but could not do two things:

1.    He couldn’t tell anyone he was God
2.    He couldn’t mess with free will

The movie is not particularly good or edifying.  However, there is one scene I found memorable 

Now you would think that every prayer answered in the affirmative would be a good thing.  But of course it doesn’t take into account that two people could be praying for exactly the opposite thing – one that the Jets win, the other that the Canucks win.  Nor does it take into account that some prayers may be predatory or selfish or destructive to the wellbeing of others or the planet.

As Bruce would find out when he finds out the next morning that already selfish people just got richer, while it also led to one catastrophe after another for people around the globe.  

Bruce changes his approach to answering prayer, but imagine if God in fact did answer prayer in the affirmative at all times when this would not cause anything bad.  Wouldn’t that mess with the concept of free will?  I mean, if you got virtually everything you prayed for, why wouldn’t you believe in God?

So let me get back to the two things that Bruce was not allowed to do:

1.    You can’t tell anyone you are God
2.    You can’t mess with free will

Now Jesus seemed to have taken at least the first one of these for himself.  

For example, when he began his ministry and began to exorcise demons, we read of this event:

In the synagogue of Capernaum there was a man possessed by an evil spirit.  He yelled out: “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are, you are the Holy One of God.”  “Be quiet!” Jesus commanded sternly…                            Mark 1:25

The next day we read of Jesus:

He drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.        Mark 1:34

After Jesus healed a leper, this is what happened:

Jesus sent him away with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone.”                    Mark 1:43-44

Jesus spoke similar words to the apostle Peter.

Jesus asked them, “But what about you?  Who do you say that I am?”  Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”  Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.            Mark 8:29-30

A number of theories have been proposed why Jesus might have tried to keep his identity a secret.  Some scholars think that it may have been an attempt to limit his followers to those who were willing to physically follow him and discover his identity on their own.

Others think that Jesus may have only wanted to postpone the revelation to his true identity because he knew it may lead to a quick death.

Whatever the case, Jesus rarely spoke openly about his identity as Messiah.  

We only have two recorded events.  Once, when he met the Samaritan woman at the well, he identified himself with the Messiah: “I, who am speaking with you, is he” (John 4:25-26).  And the other time when asked directly by the high priest at his trial, he responded with: “Yes, it is as you say” (Matt 26:63,64).

While Jesus’ miracles pointed out his identity, people who did not see the implications of these, never thought of him as anything more than perhaps a man of God, a prophet maybe, but surely not the king of Israel, not God’s Messiah.

So let me get back to the second of the two things that Bruce Almighty was not allowed to do.

1.    You can’t tell anyone you are God.
2.    You can’t mess with free will

In the case of the movie, the implications of this statement was really only explored in that Bruce was not allowed to make anyone fall in love with someone else – that would violate the concept of someone having the ability to make real choices.

However, throughout church history, there has been a tension between two camps of thought.  On the one hand you have what you could call the Reformed camp.  In reformed theology, there is no such thing as true free choice, in particular, the choice for God.  

This position is often called “Calvinism,” after one of its outstanding proponents, the French theologian, John Calvin.  

Next to Calvin’s picture I’ve added just one of the proof texts that support the concept of predestination.  Often the five major beliefs of Calvinism are placed in an acrostic that spells out Tulip.

Total human depravity – humans left to themselves will not chose for God on their own – they will always reject God.
Unconditional election – God chooses those he wants to save before the beginning of time
Limited atonement – Jesus only died for the elect.
Irresistible grace – God will make sure that the elect believe by drawing them to himself in a way that they cannot resist.
Perseverance of the saints – God will make sure that none of the elect fall away, which you will get the idea of eternal security.

There have been many famous Christians over the years who were and are diehard Calvinists.  Augustine, Luther, Spurgeon, Whitefield, and John Piper, just to mention a few.  Many of them saw the idea of predestination as the primary theological focus.

For example, the famous English preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon elevated reformed theology to the heights of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

Just as an aside, people can be deterministic in their worldview quite irrespective of whether or not they believe in God.  This philosophy basically states that there is no such thing as free will because whatever we choose is already predestined by our genetic makeup, our upbringing and the things that happen to us.  Given the same circumstances we will always chose to do the same thing.  

Opposed to the Calvinistic camp is the Arminian camp, so called because of the teaching of the Dutch theologian Jakob Hermanszoon, usually known by his Latin name, Jacobus Arminius.  

Again I’ve included a couple of verses that indicate that Jesus died for everyone, not just the elect, and that God doesn’t just chose some people to be saved.

And again there have been many Arminians over the years, most notably John Wesley.

 

Wesley was a lot more conciliatory than Spurgeon when it came to the divide between Arminian and Calvinistic thought.  These he consider minor in light of the much bigger issues such as being focused on love and sharing ones faith.  I personally tend to lean more toward Arminianism, but don’t deny that there are enough verses that speak of election, but put those down to God standing outside of time and space already knowing what we will freely chose to believe and not to believe.  

And I’m not at all sure that choosing one or the other view will take us down the road of enlightenment about the true nature of God.  In any case, the concept of predestination may be used to deny personal responsibility for one’s choices.  

So let us get back to the idea that God does not want to impede free choice.  Let’s say that God would step in every time that a life, or many lives are in danger.  No one would die in a Tsunami.  Regimes like the Nazis or like ISIS or Bokku Harram would always be thwarted in their designs for violence.  All criminals would be punished directly by God.  All murderers would be stopped before they could kill.  Earthquakes would be harmless … all the time.  Starvation would be an impossibility.  

Have you ever asked yourself why God does not intervene in these ways in the history of man?  God would step in whenever someone intends to harm someone else.  In fact, he would be the global “pre-crime” unit, a specialized police department, apprehends criminals, murderers in specific, based on the ability of three psychics to see into the future.

– if you knew that if you tried to kill someone you inevitably would be stopped, why would you even try it?

If the ability to freely choose for or against him is of real and pressing importance to God, that could explain a lot about why he does not answer our every prayer.  It may also explain why he allows evil to go unpunished and why he allows hurricanes and earthquakes, and tsunamis and forest fires.  It may even explain why he allows for ISIS and its ilk to have success in killing Christians, including children.  

I pray every day that God would intervene in Syria and Iraq, but I also know that his answer may look a lot different than I envision it.  

In giving his name, God identifies himself as he one who actually exists, and we read that creation testifies to his existence.

And while it would be great if he hit us over the head with his existence by giving each one of us a personal encounter, a personal audience with him, in most instances he chooses not to do so.  

And for certain people that is simply not good enough.  They are like doubting Thomas.  They need physical proof.

Yet God remains hidden from those who do not seek after him with all their hearts and minds.  And so, their ears cannot hear him.  Their eyes cannot see him.  Their hearts cannot feel him.

What about you and I?  Do we demand of God that he prove his existence and his goodness to us? Or are we mad at him whenever he does not answer our prayers the way we would like him to?  Or do we hate him because he doesn’t intervene in world affairs and evil to the extent that we would like him to?

 

Just maybe, God is still a God of parables.  A God who does not overtly impress his presence on this world, so that people can still choose to lean into him, to seek him, to draw near to him.  

Is that what we are doing, you and I?