Do YOU KNOW who GOD IS?
How do we get to know anyone? Is it possible to know someone you have never met? For example, can you get to know an artist just by studying his or her artistic work? Starting with these questions, Anna Hart explores how we can get to know God, who we have not met.
You may get some clues about the type of scenery an artist likes, by studying his portfolio. But what can the paintings tell you about his moral standards, his likes or dislikes? It is unlikely that you would be able to deduce much useful information.
Or think about a musical composition. Some composers have set scriptural words to pieces of music which are so moving that a listener can be reduced to tears. We might imagine that a composer able to do this would have a strong religious faith. However, this is certainly not always the case, and some very popular religious music has been composed by self-declared atheists.
So a person’s body of work does not, of itself, help you to know the individual. Even people we have met and think we know can react differently from how we expect, for people are unpredictable by nature. It is only when they tell us about themselves that we can start to understand them.
It follows that whilst we can learn something about God by studying His creative handiwork, we cannot conclude that we know what He is like just because we are keen students of nature. We need something more if we are to get to know the God who made the universe. The Bible says this:
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork (Psalm 19:1).
When we look at nature we certainly see beauty, and many people would argue that there is clear evidence of design. There is majesty in high mountains, peace in a babbling brook, glory in a fiery sunset and excitement in a roaring sea. But what does this tell you about the character of God? Nature also gives us earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, storms, hurricanes, beasts of prey, suffering and death.
What do these things tell us about God?
We often hear people say things like ‘I can’t imagine a God who would disapprove of …’ or ‘I am sure that God would not mind…’ or ‘God would like that’.
On what basis can people make these statements? Have they read the Bible? Do they think they can understand God merely by looking at His handiwork and using their own reasoning powers! Why should the work of God in nature tell us about His character, when the work of artists and musicians tell us so little about the characters of the artists?
Because God is so much greater than His creation, we cannot predict what He will do in any particular circumstance or think we know Him. His ways are very different from our ways and His thoughts are far beyond our level of mental attainment (Isaiah 55:9).
To take one example: the Bible – the Word of God – assures us that ‘God is love’ (I John 4: 8). But we cannot use our own understanding of what that means in practice, and then say that we know what God would do in any given circumstance.
Would we ever imagine that a loving God would do the following?
- Swallow men up in an earthquake after they had rebelled against Moses (Numbers 16: 28-32);
- Kill a man because he touched the holy ark of God when it was being transported (2 Sam 6:6,7);
- Make two Christian believers drop dead because they lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-10).
- Kill a man for accepting praise and not giving glory to God (Acts 12:21-23)
The outcome for these people was fearsome. It is unlikely that they could have predicted their fate, or maybe even appreciated the enormity of their mistakes. How much better it would have been if they had understood God better.
Mercy and Compassion
For the Bible also describes God as: “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy” (Psalm 103:8).
Elsewhere He is said to be “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding
in goodness and truth” (Exodus 34:6).
It follows that there are amazing examples of people who were spared from destruction.
- Following the pleading of a faithful man, He agreed not to destroy two cities if there were ten righteous people to be found there (Gen 18:23-32);
- A prostitute and her family were saved from destruction after she showed faith in God (Joshua 6:25);
- King David was spared the death penalty for committing adultery and then murder (2 Samuel 12:7-13);
- God did not carry out His threat to punish a pagan city when they repented at the words of a prophet (Jonah 3);
- Jesus promised a convicted thief a place in the coming Kingdom (Luke 23:42,43); and, best of all,
- God gave His only begotten Son to save those who believe (John3:16).
The Lesson for Us
If we want to be treated like the people in the second list, we need to understand what God is like, why He does what He does, and what He asks of us.
It can be a ‘fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ (Hebrews 10:31) who, after all, controls our very breath and life (Psalm 104:29, Acts 17:25).
We simply cannot deduce what God is like by sitting and contemplating, by imagination or by deduction: for He has given us details in the Bible.
God is clearly a God of judgement as well as a God of great love and mercy.
So it is a matter of life and death to learn of Him from His own Word, and not from philosophy or human ideas.
It is urgent and essential that we read the Bible prayerfully and obey what it asks us to do.
By Anna Hart