God’s Nature and Personality

The Personal God Who Can Be Known

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10, ESV).

Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

A few recent posts have reflected on Jesus’ statement that God is a spirit (here and here). While He is a spirit, He is also a personal Being who seek to be in a relationship with His people. We cannot afford to ignore His personal nature, assuming it contradicts His spiritual nature.

Scripture frequently speaks about the possibility to “know” God. This is a personal knowledge grounded in relationship.

There is a difference between knowing about somebody and actually knowing them personally. As a music lover, I can share a wealth of trivia about some of my favorite musicians. I can tell you the birthdays and birthplaces of each of the Bee Gees, along with the names of their wives, children, and the titles of all their albums. But, I have never met them. I know about them, but I have never had a personal relationship with any of them.

I can tell you my wife’s birthday, where she was born, and the names of her siblings and parents too. The big difference, of course, is that I actually know her personally. We have a relationship. We know things about each other that perhaps nobody else may know.

I also have friends whose birthdays I do not remember. Yet, unlike the Bee Gees, I actually know these people. There are some of whom I can say, “He reminds me of myself when I was his age.” We have connected, done things together, served the Lord in ministry, shared our victories and struggles, etc. Factual knowledge about my wife, family, and friends is surpassed by a personal knowledge and connection.

Job learned the difference between knowing about God and knowing Him personally:

“Then Job answered the Lord and said:
‘I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
“Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?”
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
“Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.”
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes’” (Job 42:1-6).

The previous 39 chapters of Job’s book recounted a debate between Job and his friends. Did Job deserve to suffer? Was God punishing him for some hidden sin that he would not admit? Was God being unfair by punishing Job for something without telling him what it was? It is tempting to accuse and blame God for things when you view Him as a distant entity, impersonal force, or abstract concept. Job struggled with these questions: Although God did not clearly answer his questions, He invited him to know Him personally.

Proverbs 9:10 parallels “knowledge of the Holy One” with “fear of the Lord.” To fear God is not necessarily to cower in terror. Many Bible dictionaries will define this kind of “fear” as “reverential awe.” Perhaps we can best think of it as giving God His due respect—taking Him seriously.

The person who truly knows God does not try to twist Him to his own liking. God is Who He is. We have to accept Him on His terms. People who know about a celebrity can easily idolize him or her, imagining their favorite singer or actor to be flawless. We might convince ourselves that “I’m sure I would like him even more than I like his music.” Since we only know about a distant celebrity, we may not know their weak qualities or annoying personality quirks that make them difficult to get along with, so we pretend such flaws do not exist. However, when we know someone personally, we have to accept both the good and the bad. Married couples and best friends know each other’s flaws and spend a lifetime learning to care for each other and get along in spite of them, perhaps being the people God uses to help them overcome their weaknesses.

Likewise, the true child of God knows Him as He is. We do not twist or distort the Bible to make Him what we want Him to be. We worship and revere Him for who He is. As a personal Being, we cannot change who He is. As our Ground of Being, Lord, and Savior, He is worthy of our praise and worship.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

God is Spirit: Like the Wind

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24, ESV).

A recent post pondered the meaning of the word “spirit” in relation to several scientific theories. The Bible tells us that God is a spirit but never specifically explains what a spirit is.

However, the Bible provides an illustration, if not a definition. In both Greek and Hebrew, the word for “spirit” can also mean “wind” or “breath.” The Greek word is pneuma, the root of such English words as “pneumonia” or “pneumatic.” The Hebrew word is ruach. Pneuma is translated as both “spirit” and “wind” in John 3:1-8:

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit’” (John 3:1-8, ESV; emphasis added).

So, although the Bible does not clearly define “spirit,” it allows us to associate it with “wind” and notice some of its traits.

First, the wind is invisible, but it is real. We do not see wind, but we see its effects. When we see a tornado, we do not actually see the wind. We see the stuff that the wind is blowing around: dirt, debris, some rain or water vapor, etc.

An F5 tornado. Photo by Justin Hobson via Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

Wind can have some powerful impacts. During Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, we got a lesson in the power of wind. At the height of the storm, we could feel our house shaking! The house survived, but not long thereafter we saw fire trucks pulling up in front of our house. Apparently, the tree in front of our house did not survive. It had fallen, yanking a power line down, which then sparked a fire on a utility box of the house next door. Fortunately, the firemen responded quickly enough to avoid any serious fire damage to either house. There was also minor damage to our chimney and some roof tiles missing. All this damage from an invisible force.

One of the trees in front of my house could not withstand the winds of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Photograph by Michael E. Lynch

I share the story about Hurricane Sandy because I remember it most vividly and can share a few pictures. Having lived for eight years in Missouri, I could probably share a few tornado stories, but I was usually a few blocks away when the tornado actually hit and did not take photos.

Another photo I took after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. This is all that was left of a segment of the boardwalk in my childhood hometown, Long Beach, NY. Wind and water tore away the boardwalk, railings, benches, etc. Photograph by Michael E. Lynch.

Yes, wind is invisible and powerful. It is also uncontrollable. We cannot predict when the wind will pick up or slow down. Yes, meteorologists can tell us it will be windy and that the wind will come from this or that direction. But, we do not know when a sustained 20 MPH wind will suddenly speed up to a 40 MPH gust.

Nor can we do anything about it. In the words of the”Alive, a Bee Gees’ song from 1972, “And I can’t change the wind or make it blow the other way.” Try to make a northerly wind change direction. Make it slow down. Let me know how that works for you.

Wind is like spirit. This becomes a beautiful illustration of what God is like. We cannot see Him, but we can recognize His presence and power in what He does. Not everything He does is like Hurricane Sandy or a tornado; some of it is like the windmills one sees in rural areas, providing electrical power for local communities.

Windmills. Image by Piotr Zakrzewski from Pixabay.

Nor can we control God. Sometimes it is tempting to think that we can coerce or manipulate Him with our prayers or piety. Don’t try it. He is God. He is Spirit. He is powerful. He is unchanging. He is uncontrollable. He is Lord. God blows where He wishes; if you look with the eyes of faith, you will see Him in action, but you do not know where He comes from or where He goes. But, you can trust and worship Him.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

God Is Spirit: But, What Is a Spirit?

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23–24; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

In some recent posts, we have thought about some of God’s majestic attributes, the qualities that set Him apart from everything He created. He is self-existent. He is eternal. These qualities are beyond full human comprehension.

Jesus also tells us that “God is spirit.” This can exceed our comprehension as well, even though we have a spiritual nature. We bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26–29); Christians have the Spirit of God dwelling within us (Romans 8:9–11); and we can be spoken of as “spiritual people” (1 Corinthians 2:15). In spite of that, we have a hard time understanding the meaning of the word “spirit.”

Perhaps most of us imagine something spiritual as being somehow less real than the physical world we see. We imagine life in heaven seeming more like a dream than an awakened reality. I suspect that we will be surprised and find that heaven seems even more real than life on earth; after a while in heaven, we might think our earthly lives seemed like a dream we had while asleep. We hear “spirit” and we think of a shapeless transparent ghost.

People in twelve-step recovery groups will say that theirs is a “spiritual program.” Yet, many describe it in terms that can more accurately be described as “psycho-social” rather than “spiritual.” The same confusion can exist in the church.

In light of this, I will share a few thoughts I have had about the concept of “spirit” from the world of science. Keep in mind, I am not a scientist. As an editor, though, I spend a lot of time reading scientific papers. I often watch science programs on television. I am fascinated and curious about many of the theories that float around. As a Christian, I often look at these theories and ask, “Can this relate to the Bible, the Gospel, my faith, etc.? Can this science inform my faith?” So, here are just a few thoughts.

Is the spiritual realm somehow intertwined with the natural realm we see? More than 15 years ago, I came across a book (I wish I remembered the title and author’s name) which looked at the concept of “intelligent design” from a Hindu perspective. Much like Judaeo-Christian creationists, the author believed a divine being created the universe and his handiwork could be seen in the natural realm. He believed you could see scientific evidence supporting the belief that our world was created by a deity. Frequently, he would refer to electrons as “spiritual particles.”

Electrons are interesting. As we learned in high-school chemistry and physics, atoms are composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Electrons have very little mass: so little that, when we refer to the atomic mass of an element, we mean the combined number of protons and neutrons, ignoring electrons. Yet, they have a charge, equal and opposite to that of a proton, which makes them essential to most chemical reactions. The merger or exchange of atoms in the formation or change of molecules is largely the result of electron transfer. They are very small, but they wield great power in the natural realm.

Could electrons or some other subatomic particles be “spiritual particles”?

Is the presence and work of God and spirits evident in the universe, but not adequately explained? Scientists now believe most of the universe is “dark matter” and “dark energy.” They propose that most of the mass and energy in the universe cannot be measured or directly observed. However, this so-called dark matter and energy must be there, because you cannot explain the universe without it. Galaxies are moving apart too quickly. There must be inobservable forces or matter preserving order.

Could it be that the effects of dark matter and energy are nothing more than the work of God Himself as He sustains the universe that He created? Scripture says this about Jesus:

“And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

Are scientists using the term “dark matter” or “dark energy” to refer to the work of Christ?

Does the spiritual realm perhaps exist parallel to the natural world that we see? We think we live in a three-dimensional universe, where things are measurable in terms of height, width, and depth. Albert Einstein’s theories proposed that it is actually a four-dimensional universe, with time being intertwined with these three spatial dimensions. However, some theories propose that space-time has eight or more (I think some scientists have suggested 20 or more) dimensions: They are just as real and physical as the ones we know, but we cannot observe or experience them. Is the “spirit realm,” including heaven, linked to dimensions of space-time that we simply do not see or experience, even though they exist alongside the four dimensions we experience? Could the spirit realm be in, with, and under our natural world, fully a part of it, yet manifested in dimensions we do not see or hear?

Like I said, I am not a scientist, so perhaps I misunderstood and misrepresented some of these theories. I share these ideas to encourage thought, dialog, and reflection. We say that God is a spirit. Christians believe in the presence of spirits, including angels and demons, and we believe that our spirits and souls will live after we die. This is not mere symbolism. When we say that God is a spirit and there are other spirits, we are making a statement about reality, even though we may not fully understand what that reality is. Perhaps one or more of these ideas can help us to envision the spirit world described by the Bible as something that is real, not merely a dream, fantasy, or symbol.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Dwelling in the Eternal God

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalms 90:1-2; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

“To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (First Timothy 1:17).

Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

It has been a few weeks since I posted to this blog. At the beginning of November, my wife and I have moved. We live only a few blocks from our old house—we found a bigger apartment—but the quarter-mile relocation has engulfed our time over the last few weeks. We are still unpacking and trying to figure out how we accumulated so much stuff in less than 20 years.

So, the concept of a “dwelling place” seems worth considering. In recent posts, we have looked at some of God’s attributes, including His status as the “self-existent One,” “the Ground of all Being,” etc. A natural outgrowth of that is the fact that God is eternal. An outgrowth of God’s eternal nature is His status as the believer’s dwelling place.

My wife and I have a new dwelling place. Our previous apartment, where we lived for 19 and a half years (since our wedding) is the place where I have lived the longest. I lived in my childhood home for about 17 years. Other homes have ranged from a few months to maybe four years. I have had two long-term dwelling places and several shorter-term addresses.

Yet, God is always our dwelling place. Psalm 90 was written by Moses, who spent much of his life in short-term locations. The Israelites traveled as nomads, setting up short-term camps wherever God directed them, for 40 years. They did not have a permanent earthly abode, but Moses says they did have a spiritual dwelling place. Moses writes that God had been their dwelling place “in all generations.” Wherever they went, God was there. He was their protector and provider. He had been with them since the time Abraham several centuries earlier, and He would continue to be with them. His eternal loving presence would abide with them. He was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and continued to fulfill His promises to them and their offspring long after they died.

Because He is the Eternal God, He outlasts our days.

“The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away” (Psalms 90:10).

Most of Psalm 90 focuses on the difference between God’s eternal nature and our temporary status. Seventy or 80 years is a long time for us, but 1000 years is like a few hours to God. We think 70 or 80 years is a long time, but it is a mere blink in the eyes of God:

“For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night” (Psalms 90:4).

Paul’s praise to God, expressed in 1 Timothy 1:17, follows a passage where he testifies about how Jesus, by His grace, had radically transformed his life. God’s eternal majesty is linked to His grace, love, and mercy.

Since God is eternal, we can trust Him with our lives. Even if His plans make no sense to us, He knows what He is doing. Our lives are only 70 or 80 years long, and we have enough trouble seeing how our current circumstances will affect events five years from now. On the other hand, God’s work in our lives can have a long-term lasting impact. Our lives are short and we cannot see tomorrow, but God can use our lives to impact future generations.

Because God is eternal, He is able to offer us a life that is eternal. Our earthly time is short. Since 1000 years are like yesterday in God’s eyes, a millennium will be short compared to our entire existence beyond the grave. Perhaps the apostles are still thinking “We just got here!” in heaven. Long after the sun has ceased shining, God’s people will still be celebrating in heaven. As we share in the eternal life of Christ, we will last beyond time. Because He lives forever and we live in Him, our lives are eternal. He is our eternal dwelling place.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Eternal God: Over All, But Near to All

“Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you”’” (Exodus 3:13–14; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version).

The letters in the middle are the Hebrew letters “YHWH,” the Old Testament name of God. Photo by Ulf Carlbark, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

In our previous post, we saw that the covenant name of God reminds us that He is self-existent and eternal. Nothing else created Him, He owes His existence to no other entity or force, and He will always exist. Because of this, He is sovereign over all things.

Theologians associate this aspect of God’s nature with something they call His transcendence: The fact that He is over all things and beyond normal human comprehension:

“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.
‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8–9).

Some Bible teachers think this transcendence contradicts another of God’s qualities, His immanence. This quality reminds us that God is everywhere and is especially close to His people. He is always with us. Jesus reminded His disciples of this shortly before His ascension:

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18–20).

Some people think these qualities do not go together; they think it is impossible for God to be transcendentally above from His creation, yet immanently close to His people. However, these qualities address different aspects of His nature. It would be like saying that I am six feet tall and a guitar player; one attribute describes physical qualities, while the other describes a personal interest. Likewise, God’s transcendence is a function of His power and glory. His immanence is a function of His love. They are separate qualities, but they are aspects of His singular nature.

Because God is eternal, transcendent, and immanent, He is sovereign over all creation. He is sovereign over all the world. Moses learned this at the burning bush and in the months that followed. YHWH was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Israelites had probably passed down stories about God’s faithfulness to these three ancestors. The Lord had been their God. He remained the God of the Israelite people. Yet, throughout the chapters 4-15 of Exodus (and beyond), He showed that He was more than the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants: He was, and always will be, God over all the nations, whether they acknowledge Him or not. Egypt’s Pharaoh believed his deities were the greatest gods; in fact, he thought he was a god. The plagues described in Exodus and the departure of the Israelites from his country proved that his gods were no match for the God of Israel. The God of Israel could prove His authority over Pharaoh and his false gods. The One True God could display His authority over the most powerful nations on Earth. He can accomplish His will even when the most powerful nations in the world rage in rebellion against Him (Psalms 2:1-4).

His immanence reaches deeper. God is sovereign not only over the nations. He is sovereign over your life. Your life matters to God. You owe your existence to Him. The world might think you are an insignificant accident of evolution and history, but God orchestrated history to bring you here. He has power and authority over your life. He has a purpose for your life, which He desires to reveal to you.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).

God may not have appointed you as a prophet, but He appointed you for some purpose. His will for your life is perfect. God has a perfect will, not only for the world, but for you (Romans 12:2). Those who come by faith to Jesus can find His perfect will for their lives.

Come to Jesus. He has given you life. He is the ground of your being. He is and eternal, but more importantly, He loves you, forgives you, and offers you a life far greater than you can imagine:

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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