Thirty Questions Catechism: How do we know what God is like?

In 2012 I authored a short book with Seedbed Publishing entitled, “Thirty Questions: A Short Catechism on the Christian Faith.” This summer I will be sharing some of those questions and answers here on my blog.

How do we know what God is like?

God has made himself known to us in acts of personal self-disclosure. This self-disclosure occurs in two major ways, known as general revelation and special revelation. General revelation refers to all the ways God has universally made himself known to all people in all places and in all times. General revelation, sometimes called natural or universal revelation, has occurred in two major ways. Those two ways are outwardly through the created order and inwardly in the universal presence of human conscience. First, God reveals his presence, character, and attributes through the created order. Through creation we understand that God is a God of order, beauty, and power.

Second, God reveals his presence and moral character through the presence of human conscience. Even though there are areas where people differ about what is right or wrong, the very presence of the categories of right and wrong demonstrate that we live in a moral order. Even young children demonstrate deeply embedded notions of fairness and longings for justice, and we teach them to “be kind” as a virtue we instinctively value. When someone murders or steals, we all can testify to a sense of “wrongness.” Likewise, when someone acts sacrificially to help or serve another person or creature, they have a sense of “rightness” about such actions. All this testifies to the presence of a moral order.

Special revelation refers to all the ways God has made his nature and purposes known specifically to certain people at particular times, but which are not universally known. Special revelation also occurs in two major ways. The first is through the revelation of Holy Scripture. God has revealed his will, his character, and his purposes to specific people throughout time, and this revelation has been recorded in the Bible. This includes his mighty acts of deliverance, his miraculous interventions, and the specific revelation of his moral character, as in the Ten Commandments revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. The second is through the revelation of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. As noted in the previous meditation, it is through the incarnation of Jesus Christ that we come fully to understand who God is, his saving purposes, and his love. It is through the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit that the purpose and will of God is applied to the life of the church and the individual believer. In the gospel of John it is declared that “no one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18 ESV).

Christianity is unique because in Christ, God seeks to reveal himself (not just his will). One of Islam’s greatest theologians, Al-Ghazali, famously declared that Allah does not reveal himself, he only reveals his will. In Christianity, we discover that God not only reveals his will, but he also seeks to reveal himself and calls us to know him in a personal way.

Scripture Readings for further reflection

Psalm 19
John 14:9–11
Romans 1:18–20
Romans 2:12–15
2 Timothy 3:16
Hebrews 1:1–2
Hebrews 4:12

Thirty Questions makes for a great Sunday School Class or small group study. Check the book out here.

Thirty Questions Catechism: Who is God?

In 2012 I authored a short book with Seedbed Publishing entitled, “Thirty Questions: A Short Catechism on the Christian Faith.” This summer I will be sharing some of those questions and answers here on my blog.

WHO IS GOD?

God is a personal being, infinite in love, knowledge, and power. He is perfect in wisdom, goodness, righteousness, justice, holiness, and truth. God is both the creator and sustainer of the universe. He is the final goal and judge of the universe, infinite and perfect in all his attributes.

The Jewish/Christian understanding of God is unique among all the religions of the world. Hinduism remains uncertain whether we can know that God is personal, or infinite in his perfections. Islam affirms that God is infinite in his perfections, but is uncertain if God can be personally knowable. Buddhism is officially nontheistic, denying all first causes, including God. In contrast, Christians affirm that God is personal and knowable.

To say that he is perfect in all his attributes is to declare that every attribute of God is enjoyed by him in its perfect state. He is infinitely pure, infinitely holy, infinitely righteous, infinitely loving, and so forth. Because we only know these attributes in fragmentary and distorted ways, we cannot fully comprehend how all these attributes are held perfectly and infinitely by God. Sometimes we may look at circumstances and not be able to discern how the justice or the love of God is manifest in certain situations. We do find comfort, however, in knowing that in the end, we shall see him as he truly is, and that he will make all things right. In the meantime, we can put our full trust and confidence in God’s nature and character.

If you ever go to London you will probably visit Trafalgar Square. It is in the heart of the city and is a well-known tourist attraction. The most prominent feature in the square is Nelson’s Column. It is a tribute to Lord Nelson’s sea victory over the combined fleets of the French and Spanish Navy in 1805. Although Nelson died in the conflict, the British fleet prevailed and this victory confirmed the superiority of the British navy. The problem is that the statue of Nelson is so high above the square (170 feet) that no one can see what he looked like. He is high and exalted above the square, but he is also removed from the people.

This is analogous to the Christian proclamation about God. He is exalted above all creation. He is perfect in his attributes. But until Christ came we could not fully understand or know what God was like. The Christian view is that in Christ—and only in Christ—is the glory of God known or understood. In Christ, God came down and lived among us, showing us his life and character in intimate detail. In the face of Christ the full glory and grace of God has been made known.

Scripture Readings for further reflection:

1 Chronicles 29:10–13
2 Chronicles 20:6
Job 42:2
Psalm 90
Isaiah 44:6
1 Corinthians 1:30

Thirty Questions makes for a great Sunday School Class or small group study. Check the book out here.

My Charge to the spring 2013 Graduates of Asbury Theological Seminary

The first sermon series I ever preached as a newly minted United Methodist pastor back in 1984 was a series on the Seven “I Am” sayings of Jesus found in John’s gospel : Jesus said, “ I am the bread of life, I am the light of the world, I am the gate, I am the good shepherd, I am the way, the Truth and the Life, I am the True Vine, I am the Resurrection and the Life. All of these seven must have been indelibly written on the memories of all the disciples, not just John. We see it, for example, in the memory of Peter as recorded in 1 Peter 5:1,2 which I want to use as my charge to the 2013 class:

PLEASE READ THE CHARGE HERE ON SEEDBED.COM.

Charge to Asbury Theological Seminary’s 2013 Graduates

If shepherd is used as a verb –  “to shepherd” –  it means to lovingly care for.  To shepherd is the opposite of “to abandon” or “to leave in danger”.   You are called to shepherd God’s flock.  Many of you will be pastors.  Love your flock enough to faithfully preach God’s word.  Don’t waste your precious sermon time on “bland fluff.”  Don’t work out your sermon on Saturday night.  No, let your sermons be the overflow of a life spent in God’s Word.    May those under your care never doubt that you have spent much time abiding in the presence of Christ.  Love your flock enough to spend time with them:  Listen to them in times of loss, comfort them in times of grief, and stand with them in times of trial.  Be a Shepherd of God’s flock.  Some of you are going forth as counselors, or teachers or missionaries or other ministries of the church.  You also go forth as ambassadors of Jesus Christ the Chief Shepherd.   May you shepherd those under your care and thus fulfill the law of Christ, which is love.

Read the rest of the piece on Seedbed.