Thinking Out Loud

June 1, 2017

God Would Like You to Get to Know Him

Filed under: books, Christianity, God, reviews — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:00 am

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…”

Book Review: God Has a Name  by John Mark Comer (Zondervan, 2017)

This book arrived with an assortment of titles on Monday afternoon, and by Wednesday afternoon I had turned the last page and could have kept going. I became aware of the author and the book following his recent appearance on The Phil Vischer Podcast, though I had a passing awareness of his previous title Loveology. Then I listened to a series of sermons from Bridgetown Church in Portland on prayer.

John Mark Comer is Pastor of Vision & Teaching at Bridgetown, a church which, while it does have a morning service, focuses more intensely on two evening services at 5:00 and 7:00 on Sundays. Spiritual formation is encouraged through a series of practices, some of which are assigned as a type of homework to be pursued by members of the congregation throughout the week.

God Has a Name is a phrase-by-phrase exposition of Exodus 34:4-7, the verse Comer says is the most quoted verse in the Bible by the Bible.

NIV Ex.34:4 So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the Lord had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

In addition to the exegesis, the book’s secondary mandate is to provide us with the various instances where direct quotations or allusions to the passage appear in both Testaments. These are introduced where they appropriate to the phrase under consideration.

This book really impacted me personally in many ways.

First, the very title of the book stands in contrast to what we have done in the last several centuries, referring to God as the LORD, in all capital letters.  It’s respectful, but robs us of the relational aspect. We speak of accepting Christ as “our personal savior,” but the relationship isn’t always that personal. God’s name is Yahweh.

Then there’s prayer. Comer teaches that there is a certain elasticity with God. Our prayers can cause him to change his mind in a most literal sense. This view stands in contrast to a doctrinal position where God has ordained certain details absolutely and finally before the foundation of the world. This has impact on how much we see as predestined, though Comer doesn’t overemphasize that particular aspect. (You could say not everything is chiseled in stone; ironic in a passage that talks of something being chiseled in stone.)

There’s also a section dealing with this God, Yahweh, held in contrast to other gods. The point is made that the other gods have potency — both then and now — in ways we might overlook. He’s discussing spiritual warfare here, but avoids that term and goes several pages without actually using words like demons or Satan, but makes a clear case from scripture that these forces are real and powerful. I found in this section something that’s been missing in the teaching I’ve heard lately.

That phrase about punishing the children? Awkward, right? But again, we’re offered a fresh picture of the consequences of sin that are more in line with God’s overarching compassion than a cursory reading of the verse would suggest.

I’m not sure if the author reads some of the Old Testament stories with the degree of literalness some would like. He refers to the story of Jonah as “God’s comic book,” but makes clear that the teaching principles surrounding this and other narratives mentioned can clearly be extracted from the text regardless of how you’re reading it. Of course Jesus seems to affirm the Jonah story. Or is he just referring to it? (This should be the subject of a future book; I’d love to hear how he lands the plane on various passages.)

The book ends with a challenge to us to bear the name of God in our time and place today.

John Mark Comer offers a unique voice and a distinctive writing style. After finishing the book, I found myself re-reading sections of it last night. I intend to keep following his sermon podcasts at Bridgetown and I encourage you to check them out as well as the book. 

Postscript: This falls into that “first book to give a non-churched friend” category. It would answer some questions they may have or respond to things they may have wondered, or simply help them get to know God personally.


Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for an opportunity to review this.

 

May 1, 2017

Open Theology and a 10-Year-Old Girl

It was the first of May and already the city’s Parks and Recreation Department Fall registration brochure had shown up in the mail. Amanda flipped over to the page “New This Year” and let out a sigh. This news was not going to go over very well.

Madison arrived home from school and Amanda said, “After you get your snack we need to talk.”

She grabbed her snack as her older brother Luke walked in the door and ran to the fridge before heading off to his game console.

Madison placed the straw in the juice pack and then returned to the living room where her mom was waiting. “Is something wrong?” she asked.

Amanda explained that the Fall sports schedule had arrived. “Madison, they’ve moved swimming and it’s now the same night as your indoor soccer league.”

She waited for Madison to process the impact of her words. Finally she said, “Well, I can do the next swimming level at Eastside pool, right?”

Amanda was impressed with the girl’s resourcefulness. However, “They’re changing all the pool times, and Eastside has Level 3 the same night as you have choir. Plus it’s a 30-minute drive.”

Madison would not be swayed. “Maybe I could do Level 3 at the private aquatic place where Zoe goes. I could get a ride with her parents?” She raised her voice at the end of the sentence as if waiting for rubber-stamped approval.

Amanda sighed for the second time that hour. “Honey, we just can’t afford to send you there. Remember, we’re a family of seven kids, and if we make an exception for you we have to pay extra for programs for everyone. Besides, it’s the same night as we’re driving Luke across town his youth group, and we’d miss some of your competitions.”

Wheels in the ten-year-old’s brain were still turning. “Luke’s old enough to take a bus.”

“Luke’s old enough to take the bus there, but he’s not old enough to take the bus home at 9:00 when it ends; especially in the winter.”

“Maybe there’s someone else who lives in Westside who goes to Luke’s church.”

“We’ve already looked into that with their student ministry director. We’re kind of an exception.”

“Well Luke could find a church close to home with a youth group that works.”

“He’s already raising money for a February missions trip with that church that your cousins are also going on. We’re not going to take that away from him.”

Madison was realizing that much of this was coming down to choice and that while her mom could just tell her what to do, she was being forced to make the choice for herself.  Finally she said, “Well, I guess I could just skip indoor soccer for a season.”

At this, Amanda realized full disclosure required her to tell the whole story; “Maddy, you can easily take a year off soccer, but when you go back in, you’ll have to go through tryouts all over again. You’ll be competing with all the kids who want to get on that team at that level. If they’re really good, you could get cut.”

Madison looked at the recently-won soccer trophy still in a place of prominence in the living room. “But Mom; I’m really good at soccer.”

Amanda shot back, “Does that mean you don’t want to give it up; you’re willing to give it up; or that you’re confident you’d get back with your teammates a year later? Also what if Level 4 swimming is scheduled opposite soccer in the new year?”

The girl was processing this. “Well, we won the finals, but I did miss three open shots in that game. If it’s the same coach a year from now, and he remembers that, he may want to cut me.”

And then she paused.

A long pause.

Finally she said, “Mom, this is really, really complicated. When is the registration deadline for swimming and soccer?”

“June 15th. Or as long as there are openings.”

“Can I drop choir?”

“Yes, but choir isn’t impacted by this. Unless you think Eastside is still a possibility. But I’m not sure it is.”

Finally the little girl crunched up the snack pack and the juice box and said, “Mom, I’m going to my room to pray about this.”

Amanda smiled and once the girl was out of earshot whispered quietly, “Maybe I should have thought of that.”


One decision affects another. At Quara.com an image of the “most epic flow chart ever.”

Amanda’s frustration with the city for changing some of the nights for pool activities was triggered not so much by the dilemma facing Madison as it was trying to run all the different scenarios of how this affected her six other siblings.

For example, making an exception for Madison when she’d already turned down her older sister Sydney when faced with similar scheduling conflicts. Or setting a precedent with Madison when her youngest brother Aiden clearly wanted to get into aquatics. And the costs. And the busyness placed on her and her husband ferrying kids to activities. And wondering down the road, which route would better serve her daughter when she reached high school athletics: Soccer or swimming?

She knew clearly which choice she wanted Madison to make. She had a favorite in her mental road-map for Maddy’s life. But it was going to be her daughter’s choice. Not hers. And Amanda has already run the various sequences in her head for Maddy’s decision and how it impacts the fall season for her, her husband, and the six other kids; and how it could impact Madison for the winter schedule and the many seasons which follow.

No matter what Madison chooses, Amanda is still the parent. She’s still in charge. She’s still guiding and directing her daughter’s life. But she’s offering her daughter the luxury — the latitude — of free choice. To make her own decisions and deal with the consequences.


What Amanda is being forced to do on a small scale, God is capable of doing on a grand scale.

To me, this story effectively illustrates the concept of open theology. Only God is capable of running all the various scenarios and sequences for billions of us. He is omnipotent, omniscient and has omniprocessing. (Try finding that one in a theological textbook.)

He’s still in charge. He’s still the sovereign. No matter what we choose. He’s still guiding. He still has some personal favorite choices he’d like us to make (because he can see all the sequences) but he’s offering us the luxury — and latitude — of free choice. He can even close his eyes to the future and let our choice surprise him.

And doing so doesn’t rob him of an iota of sovereignty.

It’s how he made us.

It’s how he designed the system to operate.

And it delights him to no end to watch us working it all through.

 

 

 

January 31, 2016

The Lord’s Prayer – Remix Edition

This was sent to me five years ago as an e-mail forward. (Remember those?)

It is in two parts, the prayer (in blue type)
and GOD (in red type) in response.

*********

Our Father Who Art In Heaven.

Yes?

Don’t interrupt me. I’m praying.

But — you called ME!

Called you?
No, I didn’t call you.
I’m praying.
Our Father who art in Heaven.

There — you did it again!

Did what?

Called ME.
You said,
“Our Father who art in Heaven”
Well, here I am..
What’s on your mind?

But I didn’t mean anything by it.
I was, you know, just saying my prayers for the day.
I always say the Lord’s Prayer.
It makes me feel good,
kind of like fulfilling a duty.
Well, all right.

Go on.

Okay, Hallowed be thy name ..

Hold it right there.
What do you mean by that?

By what?

By “Hallowed be thy name”?

It means, it means . . good grief,
I don’t know what it means.
How in the world should I know?
It’s just a part of the prayer.
By the way, what does it mean?

It means honored, holy, wonderful.

Hey, that makes sense..
I never thought about what ‘hallowed’ meant before.

Thanks…

Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in Heaven.

Do you really mean that?

Sure, why not?

What are you doing about it?

Doing? Why, nothing, I guess.
I just think it would be kind of neat if you got control,
of everything down here like you have up there.
We’re kinda in a mess down here you know.

Yes, I know;
but, have I got control of you?

Well, I go to church.

That isn’t what I asked you.
What about your bad temper?
You’ve really got a problem there, you know.
And then there’s the way you spend your money — all on yourself.
And what about the kind of books you read ?


Now hold on just a minute!
Stop picking on me!
I’m just as good as some of the rest

of those people at church!

Excuse ME..
I thought you were praying
for my will to be done.
If that is to happen,
it will have to start with the ones
who are praying for it.
Like you — for example ….

Oh, all right. I guess I do have some hang-ups.
Now that you mention it,
I could probably name some others.

So could I.

I haven’t thought about it very much until now,
but I really would like to cut out some of those things.
I would like to, you know, be really free.

Good.
Now we’re getting somewhere.

We’ll work together — You and ME.
I’m proud of You.

Look, Lord, if you don’t mind,
I need to finish up here.
This is taking a lot longer than it usually does.
Give us this day, our daily bread.

You need to cut out the bread..
You’re overweight as it is.

Hey, wait a minute! What is this?
Here I was doing my religious duty,
and all of a sudden you break in
and remind me of all my hang-ups.

Praying is a dangerous thing…
You just might get what you ask for.
Remember, you called ME — and here I am.
It’s too late to stop now.
Keep praying. ( pause … . )
Well, go on.

I’m scared to.

Scared? Of what?
I know what you’ll say.

Try ME.

Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.

What about Ann?

See? I knew it!
I knew you would bring her up!
Why, Lord, she’s told lies about me, spread stories.
She never paid back the money she owes me.
I’ve sworn to get even with her!

But — your prayer —
What about your prayer?

I didn’t — mean it…


Well, at least you’re honest.
But, it’s quite a load carrying around all that
bitterness and resentment isn’t it?

Yes, but I’ll feel better as soon as I get even with her.
Boy, have I got some plans for her.
She’ll wish she had never been born.

No, you won’t feel any better.
You’ll feel worse.
Revenge isn’t sweet.
You know how unhappy you are —
Well, I can change that.

You can? How?

Forgive Ann.
Then, I’ll forgive you;
And the hate and the sin,
will be Ann’s problem — not yours.
You will have settled the problem
as far as you are concerned.

Oh, you know, you’re right.
You always are.
And more than I want revenge,
I want to be right with You . . (sigh).
All right, all right . …
I forgive her.

There now!
Wonderful!
How do you feel?

Hmmmm. Well, not bad.
Not bad at all!
In fact, I feel pretty great!
You know, I don’t think I’ll go to bed uptight tonight.
I haven’t been getting much rest, you know.

Yeah, I know.
But, you’re not through with your prayer, are you?

Go on.

Oh, all right.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

Good! Good! I’ll do that.
Just don’t put yourself in a place
where you can be tempted.

What do you mean by that?

You know what I mean.

Yeah. I know..

Okay.
Go ahead.. Finish your prayer..

For Thine is the kingdom,
and the power,
and the glory forever.
Amen.

Do you know what would bring me glory —
What would really make me happy?

No, but I’d like to know.
I want to please you now..
I’ve really made a mess of things.
I want to truly follow you..
I can see now how great that would be.
So, tell me . . .
How do I make you happy?


…YOU just did.

January 11, 2016

Do We Even Worship the Same God?

Filed under: Faith, God, Religion — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:41 am

Note: In some respects this is a part two to Saturday’s post, Can People of Other Faiths Be Worshiping the Same God?

Google-GodOn Saturday morning, my wife and I set out for the big city to help our oldest pick out what will be his first automotive purchase. The day resulted in completed frustration and failure, and ended up with our own car breaking down on the freeway and requiring towing back to our home.

But earlier on, when the mood was lighter, we were discussing Saturday’s blog post regarding the shared history of the Abrahamic faiths (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) and the question as to whether or not we worship the same God or simply seek the same God; and all of this in light of the Larycia Hawkins/Wheaton College situation in the U.S.

We wondered if perhaps there is not a more common, pedestrian use of the phrase “Are we even worshiping the same God” which comes up more often.

It comes up when you encounter people whose drive for success and wealth and material prosperity overshadows their understanding of scripture.

Are we even worshiping the same God?

Or people whose devotion to a particular Bible translation seems to overshadow their love for God.

Are we even worshiping the same God?

Or those Americans who somehow manage to equate the gospel with a particular particular party or view on a touchy political subject, such as gun control.

Are we even worshiping the same God?

Or church members whose busy-ness about the programs of their local congregation mean that you can’t see Jesus for the church activitees (think forest, trees)

Are we even worshiping the same God?

Or those friends whose conversation reflects constant references to their love and admiration for a particular author or televangelist but little in the way of references to Christ.

Are we even worshiping the same God?

…We have enough struggles in the church sometimes with clarity of identification; we often don’t adequately define our terms. I also think we also completely obscure our message when we put other things in the place of Christ, or God, or the Holy Spirit, or all three.

I have acquaintances with whom I disagree on a doctrinal point here and there. But I also have acquaintances whose faith is comprised of so many things that are so very different from my own understanding of the character and nature and ways of the God I serve that I do in fact find myself asking sometimes,

Are we even worshiping the same God?

 

 

November 9, 2015

In Relationship With God

Filed under: Christianity, God, relationships — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:26 am

Relationship between us and God

I am at the front of the room speaking and I invite my wife to come and stand about six feet from me. “What does it mean,” I ask everyone, “to say I am in relationship to Ruth?”

Some of the answers are:

  • “You love each other.”
  • “You have shared history and experiences, that the rest of us don’t know about.”
  • “You are intimate with each other.”

But then I ask her to sit down and invite Mike to come up to the front. Mike and I are not close, I had to ask his permission before this point because we only know each other superficially. I position him in the same spot.

“So again,” I ask, “Where am I in relationship to Mike?”

After a bit of laughter, some dare to come up with something:

  • “You are standing to his right and he is on your left.”

“Let’s go with that,” I respond, “What does that entail?”

  • “He can see you and hear you and knows what you’re doing.”

I start to deliberately creep back from him. “What about now?”

  • “The distance between you can change.”

The first set of answers all have to do with what we normally think of with the word relationship.

The second set of answers could easily involve other words or phrases: Where I am with respect to Mike; Where I am according to Mike.

When we think about our relationship with God, we might want to consider it in terms of love, intimacy and shared history. “And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am His own…”

Today I’m proposing we look for ways to expand that and consider the possibilities that:

  • We need to be aware of God’s position in our lives; that he does stand next to us, and our posture should be that of standing next to him. One counselor I know would say we need to visualize this. The example of me standing next to Ruth or Mike can provide the imagery we need to do this.
  • He sees us; he is watching us (“the eyes of the Lord run to and fro”) and this is also true for everyone on earth; whether they acknowledge him as Lord or not, he sees them. But this works both ways; I think we could also include in this an awareness of seeing Him in the everyday routine.
  • We ought to keep close to him; not let ourselves drift away from the awareness of His presence, either on a momentary basis or over a period of time. (For example, I could continue speaking and forget that Mike is still standing there until he asks if he can sit down now!)

In other words, asking the question “Where I am in relationship to God?” is only partly about the nature or quality of the relationship itself, but also about where God is in my life, and where I stand with respect to Him. The focus shifts from the tie that bind us to how I act and live my life according to Him.

The issue is one of proximity or closeness. 

God is omnipresent but that sterile piece theological information means, by definition, that He is also present.

 

December 16, 2014

A Good Question

This published a month ago at Just a Thought, the blog of author and church planter Rick Apperson in British Columbia, Canada. I thought readers here might appreciate this; click the title below to read at source.

A Good Question

“What does that teach you about God, Daddy?”

This is the question my son has been asking lately. He likes to sing praise and worship songs. He also likes to make up new songs about God. Invariably he will end the song and ask what that song has taught me about God. It is a good question and will often cause me to think, what is the meaning of the song and what does it teach me about God? It is a great exercise.

I also realized, it is something I never used to ask. I love to sing and will belt out a song anywhere and at any time. Yes, I am that guy walking down the street singing to himself. I will sing at work, in the car and yes, in the shower. Until my son started asking his question, I never put much thought into what the song was teaching me about God. Now I can’t stop.

I have also begun applying the question to my reading as well. When I dig into God’s Word, I have asked myself, “What does this passage of Scripture teach me about God?”   According to God’s Word, the Scriptures are a light for my path (Psalm 119:105) and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training. (2 Timothy 3:16)

It is all that and so much more. As I read the Old Testament, I see a God who is long-suffering and filled with patience and loving kindness. Moving into the New Testament, we see a God who loved us enough to send His Son to earth, to die on a cross for you and me!

God’s love, mercy and grace are all things that I have been taught through the reading of His Word.

My son has challenged me to go deeper in worship and in reading the Bible. Hopefully you will be asking yourself this same question he asked me. “What does that teach you about God?”

May 23, 2014

Defending Lectio Divina: Letting the Text Speak

Challies Lectio Divina

Tim Challies was at it again this week, this time bashing a centuries-old Bible study and meditation practice called Lectio Divina which enjoyed a bit of a resurgence a decade ago as post moderns and millennial searched for practices that could comprise an “ancient-future” approach to Christian life.

His attack on a Spirit-led consideration of the text really undermines the Pentecostal approach to sermon preparation and study and is reminiscent of John MacArthur’s recent attacks on that movement. He finds the methodology subjective, but realistically, every commentary you’ve ever read is going to be somewhat subjective, both in terms of what it says and also in terms of what it includes or leaves out.

But you don’t have to be Pentecostal to use this method; everyone who prayerfully tries to let the text speak to them is going to be embracing this at some level; furthermore, if you discard this you are one baby step away from discarding the inductive Bible study method taught by Kay Arthur (and others) and the idea of praying the scriptures which many find useful.

Fortunately, Mark Moore has written an excellent rebuttal. I want to encourage you to read all of it, but since some don’t click through, here are some highlights:

  • I approached studying for a sermon series like I was studying for a dissertation defense at Oxford. I would read dozens of commentaries, monographs, journal articles, and just about anything else I could get my hands on…Yep, for the most part it was overkill. I dissected a book until I felt that I knew it inside and out
  • …When I approach the text in order to be formed by it, rather than simply informed by it, I am submitting myself to the text–the opposite of mastering it…
  • As I continue reading, I’m paying attention to where I feel apprehended by the text. I’m trusting that the Holy Spirit knows me well and wants to speak to me and wants to form me into the image of Jesus.
  • Lectio divina is dangerous. There is a dangerous risk to your comfort when you begin submitting to Scripture rather than trying to master it.

This study method has four components and you’ll need to click through to see them explained, but here they are:

  • Lectio (Reading)
  • Meditatio (Meditation)
  • Oratio (Prayer)
  • Contemplatio (Contemplation)

If the use of Latin seems too Catholic for you, or the whole thing appears to be too far removed from your experience or how your church teaches devotional Bible study, may I remind you that if you had never heard the ACTS outline for prayer (Acknowledge, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) it would probably seem strange too.

At the end of the day, Challies’ is simply hyper-critical of anything that is outside of his spiritual life experience. “That’s not how we do it;” morphs into “That’s not how it should be done.” He is literally terrified of that which does not fit into his boxes. Unfortunately, he has a huge readership, many of whom would never question the various manifestations of the Christian world he condemns, especially considering the fear mentality that plagues much of the Church.

But so much of scripture — so much of God for that matter — is mystery. The Jews regarded the scripture as a multifaceted jewel; each reflection and refraction and each turning of the object revealed something never before seen.

That experience of the word is, I am afraid, is alwaysgoing to be somewhat subjective.

 

 

May 12, 2014

Yawning at Tigers: Holiness for a new Generation

Filed under: books, God — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:48 am

Simply knowing about God can never take the place of experiencing him. You could gather facts about God for the rest of your life and he could still be a virtual stranger to you. You can observe the flame, but never be warmed by the fire. ~p. 140

…a paradoxical truth about God’s holiness. It overwhelms, but it also draws. It terrifies and it captivates. It bows our heads even as it lifts our hearts. Ultimately, it results in joyful and reverent worship. ~p. 49

Yawning at TigersIf I started out the review by saying that Yawning at Tigers is a book about God’s holiness, I’d probably lose some of you. Surely every scripture verse on the holiness of God has been dissected and exegeted to death, right? I might have agreed before I read Drew Dyck’s book, but now into my second reading I am finding myself amazed again both by the ‘otherness’ of God and by how the larger Church constantly needs new authors to bring such truth home to us in fresh ways. Think Jerry Bridges meets Donald Miller. Or something like that.

Yawning at Tigers: You Can’t Tame God So Stop Trying has just the right mix of teaching, analogy and relevant stories from the author’s personal life. For a first time with a major publisher — okay, there was Generation Ex-Christian for Moody Press in 2010 — it hits all the right notes, but that’s to be expected from the Managing Editor of Leadership Journal, a periodical in the Christianity Today family of publications. Drew has also written widely in other media, which included interviewing yours truly years ago for the Canadian magazine, Faith Today. (No, I wasn’t the feature…)

What would happen if we were to find ourselves, as we will some day, standing before a holy God? A mix of terror and surprise, the latter because basically our God is too small. Like Job, we speak of things which we do not understand. Perhaps we should borrow some reverence from the people who spell God, G-d; and spell Lord, L-rd; as a reminder of utmost sacredness of even His name.  But, through all this he loves us.

Yawning at Tigers will get you thinking along these lines. The 224-page paperback (and also e-book) releases this week from Thomas Nelson, and I hope some of you will take the time to discover a new author. For more info, including an opportunity to read the first chapter free, go to YawningAtTigers.com.

Related:

 

March 10, 2014

God > Us

This was a different type of article for C201, and I thought I would share it here as well…

Romans 8:18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (NIV)

That is what the Scriptures mean when they say,

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared
for those who love him.”[Is. 64:4] (NLT)

Isaiah 55:9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts. (NASB)

Ephesians 3:20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (NRSV)

 

holy_spirit_-_pentacost_jwis

A long time ago in an environment far away from where I am today, I was a philosophy major at a secular university required to read The Idea of the Holy by Rudoph Otto. The subtitle of the book is An Inquiry into the Non Rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational. (Today, the book’s marketing department would be looking for something more catchy.)

In the book, Otto introduced the idea of “numinous.” Sometimes when writers introduce terminology that is outside our normal frame of reference, we tend to be dismissive of its application to our particular brand of theology. But read this definition carefully and slowly:

Otto was one of the most influential thinkers about religion in the first half of the twentieth century. He is best known for his analysis of the experience that, in his view, underlies all religion. He calls this experience “numinous,” and says it has three components. These are often designated with a Latin phrase: mysterium tremendum et fascinans. As mysterium, the numinous is “wholly other”– entirely different from anything we experience in ordinary life. It evokes a reaction of silence. But the numinous is also a mysterium tremendum. It provokes terror because it presents itself as overwhelming power. Finally, the numinous presents itself as fascinans, as merciful and gracious.

Outline of Otto’s concept of the numinous (based on The Idea of the Holy. Trans. John W. Harvey. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1923; 2nd ed., 1950 [Das Heilige, 1917]):

Mysterium tremendum et fascinans” (fearful and fascinating mystery):

  • Mysterium“: Wholly Other, experienced with blank wonder, stupor
  • tremendum“:
    • awefulness, terror, demonic dread, awe, absolute unapproachability, “wrath” of God
    • overpoweringness, majesty, might, sense of one’s own nothingness in contrast to its power
    • creature-feeling, sense of objective presence, dependence
    • energy, urgency, will, vitality
  • fascinans“: potent charm, attractiveness in spite of fear, terror, etc.

~online notes by Joseph A. Adler, Professor of Religion at Ohio’s Kenyon College.

You’ll also see (above) that Otto used the term “wholly other.” I’ve often thought the book could also have been titled, The Idea of the Wholly! Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry explains this:

The term “wholly other” is used in Christian theology to describe the difference between God and everything else. God, the Christian God, is completely different than all other things that exist. God can be described by essential properties such as holiness, immutability, etc. But we have to ask how we, as finite creatures, can relate to the infinite God. It is difficult when he is “wholly other” than we are. It means that we must relate to him by his self-revelation in the person of Christ Jesus, and through the Bible.

But the holy/wholly pun I suggest above is one you should not forget, especially if you’re more accustomed to using words like ‘holiness’ in terms of personal purity. The website, TheNewCreation.com explains:

The word holy is commonly understood to mean moral perfection. And when it is applied to God’s relationship to “sinners” it suggests that God has such a high standard of holiness (moral perfection) that he will not tolerate or forgive sinners until they are sanctified and made holy (morally clean).

But this is not what the Hebrew prophets had in mind when they cried, “Holy! holy! holy is YHWH Sabaoth.” The Hebrew kaddosh, has nothing to do with morality but means “otherness,”– Wholly Other. “YHWH is other! other! other!”

YHWH does not conform to, or fit into our concepts of deity. He can not be defined by our abstract theistic characterizations (omnipotent, omniscient, impassible…). YHWH is radically, transcendentally different (other) then the gods made in our own image: the autocratic and domineering gods that are the projections of our primate animal nature.

God is radical, uncompromising, unconditional, self-emptying love for the other–us and all of creation. It is this love that defines His holiness. A love so completely open to the pain and need of the other; so inexhaustible in its selflessness; so broad and deep in its scope; that is could never be defined by any abstract philosophical/theological propositions. It could only be expressed and made real in a living person. Only in one who is the fulness of the humane and compassionate Abba. Only in the Crucified One: Jesus Christ.

The other term we often use in this case is transcendence, the idea that God transcends anything we can fathom, as stated in the scripture examples at the outset of today’s reading. The Religion Library at Patheos.com has a reference to Martin Luther that is appropriate to consider:

…Luther’s God is an all-powerful God.He stressed this idea in ways that may surprise people today.For Luther, God is wholly other than we are, and so we cannot rely on analogies from our own experience to understand God.We know about God only what God chooses to reveal to us.The picture of God in scripture is not uniformly comforting.God’s power and goodness are not constrained by human conceptions of power and goodness…

I want to leave you with another set of homonyms to sum up today’s thoughts. We talked about holy and wholly. Our reaction to all this should be aah and awe. Aah because it takes our breath away. Awe because we realize how great God is…and yet He loves us!

Note: Today’s blog post delves into concepts considered part of the philosophy of religion. Inclusion of website links in this discussion does not imply endorsement of the sources or websites as a whole.

October 17, 2013

Attributes of God

Filed under: God — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:20 am

A W TozerAll In Cover“God is above, but He’s not pushed up. He’s beneath, but He’s not pressed down. He’s outside, but He’s not excluded. He’s inside, but He’s not confined. God is above all things presiding, beneath all things sustaining, outside of all things embracing, and inside of all things filling.”


~A. W. Tozer in The Attributes of God, as quoted by Mark Batterson in All In.

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