How Do You View God?
How do you view your father? Erma Bombeck said, "I was afraid of everyone's father, but my own." You know, that's true. While my father was gruff, with a deep voice and tattoos over his arms and chest, I wasn't afraid of him like I was my friends' fathers. Though they didn't have tattoos, and weren't as gruff, they were strange to me. Today, on Trinity Sunday, we talk about God as 3 Persons in 1 divine Being or Essence, about neither confounding the persons nor dividing the essence, about begetting, unbegotten, and proceeding. God seems particularly strange in all this, doesn't He? Not much comfort here, is there? Actually Trinity Sunday focuses on viewing God rightly which is very comforting.
How do you view God? Do you view God according to His absolute sovereignty - God in all His power, all His majesty, all His glory? This is the God Job's friend has in view when he says, "He even charges His angels with error." This is the God Hebrews says is a "consuming fire." This is the God Paul says "dwells in light unapproachable." This is the God John says no man has seen at any time. This is the God people in the Old Testament feared to see lest they be struck dead.
Is this your view of God? Do you view Him as the absolute Ruler having the power to do anything He pleases with no need to explain? There is nothing that He lacks the strength to do. If God wanted to hold the sun in His hand, He could do it and not be burned. If He wanted to drain the oceans, He could fit them in His pocket. If He wished to, He could squeeze an entire galaxy into a little bitsy marble. God is not bound, limited, hemmed in by space, time, or the Laws of nature.
If you view God according to His majesty then you see Him as all powerful, and you see Him as unaccountable. God has the right to do anything He wants. This is the God who says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." This is the God Paul says no man has the right to question. "The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this?'" This is the God whose judgements are unsearchable and whose ways are past finding out.
Is your view of God that He has absolute power and sovereignty over all things? If He wished to make the grass blue tomorrow, it would be. If He wanted to make rain fall up instead of down, it would. If this is your view of God, then you're looking at the God who hides Himself. And Yes, the Bible knows of such a God: Isaiah 45: "Truly, Thou art a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel." Lamentations 3:44, "You have covered Yourself with a cloud, so that no prayer can get through." Psalm 10:1, "Why do you hide Yourself in times of trouble?" And Job laments, "O that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come to His seat."
This is the God who hides behind tornadoes that drop out of the sky sweeping whole families to their deaths. This is the God who quakes the earth in the darkness and ends life for thousands. This is the God who creeps into homes where health reigns leaving behind disease, suffering, and sorrow. This is the God who in the inaccessible regions of His dark counsel allows high school graduates to drive to their death. This is the God who can't be found when the phone call in the middle of the night begins with, "I'm sorry..." This is the God who never explains the seemingly pointless sufferings or tragedies of life.
This God is very scary. He is unapproachable dwelling at the same time in thick darkness and blinding light. But why approach Him anyway? Why pray to such a God? An all powerful God does whatever He wants. And an all knowing God surely knows all my thoughts, so He knows what I want without me saying a prayer, right? This God has the power to do whatever He wants and He has the knowledge to know exactly what I want. So I'll just let Him do whatever He pleases and not waste my breath praying.
This is the God of all unbelievers and of many of us on Trinity Sunday. An unapproachable, unknowable, yet all powerful God who's no different than the 800 pound gorilla in the joke: Where does an 800 pound gorilla sit? Anywhere he wants to! What does an all-powerful, unapproachable God do? Anything He wants to! But what has got so many of you confused is that this is the God of the Bible. The Bible does describe God as unapproachable and omnipotent. Carefully read the Book of Revelation. God stays hidden in the Sanctuary with flashes of lightening, peals of thunder, earthquakes, and hailstones coming out of it. Even in the Old Testament the glory of the Lord drives sinners out of the sanctuary and leaves them cowering at the bottom of Mt. Sinai.
It is possible to view God as the absolute, almighty, sovereign God who has no duty to pay attention to insignificant creatures like us, but it's not wise. It's the same with the sun. It's possible to view the sun in all of it's brilliance with the naked eye, but it's not wise. Doing so leads to headaches, temporary blindness, and even eye damage. If you really want to view the sun and be able to appreciate it in all it's glory, you're going to have to view it through a lens that filters out the brightness and the rays that are harmful to the naked eye.
So it is with the Triune God. If you wish to view Him rightly, to see Him as He wills to be seen, view Him through the Gospel. The Gospel is that God became a Man to keep all the laws of God in your place and to pay for all of your sins against those laws. That this is the proper filter with which to view God is seen by the fact that for almost 1,500 years, on Trinity Sunday the Church has read the John 3 reading we read.
Isn't this a strange reading for Trinity Sunday? We could have read any of the passages I referred to earlier about God in all His unsearchable power and inscrutable decisions. But instead we read the Gospel lesson that contains one of the first Bible verses every kid learns: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
This my friends is the view of God we are to have. Here is God in all of His grace. Here is the God who loved the world so very much that rather than see it perish He gave up His only begotten Son to die on a cross. This is the God who cares for the dozens of sparrows you see each day and clothes the thousands of flowers. This is the God who Scripture says has you engraved on the palms of His hands, counts the hairs on your head and puts your tears in a bottle recording why each one fell. This is the God who rescues dead branches from hell's fire and won't put out even a dimly burning faith.
The God of the Gospel does all things through the Man Jesus whom He exalted to His right hand. Now this Man, Jesus, reigns and rules there over all things. He has all the absolute, sovereign power of God but exercises it through flesh and blood just like yours. This too is incomprehensible. How can it be as Colossians 2 says it is: that "all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in the Man Jesus bodily?"
Yes, this is incomprehensible, but it is so very comforting. We have a God who knows what it means to be flesh and blood. As Psalm 103 says, "He remembers our frames that they are but dust. And so as a father pities His children so He pities us." Yes, it's in Jesus that wretched sinners can boldly call God "Father," and not only "Father" but "Abba' which means "Daddy." Yes, the true God wraps Himself in clouds that prayers cannot penetrate, but in Jesus God says you can call on your Daddy anytime. "Ask and you will be answered; seek and you'll find; knock and it will be opened unto you," Jesus says.
Yes, God dwells in thick darkness but Jesus declares, "I'm the light of the world everyone may follow me and never walk in darkness." Yes, God is a consuming fire but in Jesus the consuming fire became tongues of fire by which He gifted His newborn Church with the Holy Spirit. Out of God's sanctuary lightening, thunder, earthquakes and hail do come, but Hebrews assures us that since Jesus is our High Priest who entered that sanctuary "by His own blood shed on the cross" we obtain eternal redemption from the sanctuary.
St. John does tell us, "No man has seen God at any time," but he goes on to say, "the only begotten Son of God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him." No man is to try to come to the Father by any way other than the Man, Jesus, but all men, women, and children can come by Him; He turns no one away. God wants to be known in Jesus. He wants to reveal Himself there. That's why Jesus commanded children be permitted to come to Him; that's why He called for the weak and heavy laden to come cast their burdens on Him; that's why He called for those hungry and thirsty for spiritual things to come to Him. He, Jesus of Nazareth, Son of the Virgin, is the place on earth where God personally meets people and fulfills their needs. Jesus is the Triune God's "office" on earth.
Viewing the Triune God according to the Gospel you will see the God who is all Giver rather than One who is all power and majesty. In the Gospel, God the Father gives us all creation; God the Son gives us eternal salvation from sin, death, and the devil, and God the Spirit gives us all the sanctification, that is, holiness needed to live in joy, peace, and hope here and in eternity.
This God we can rest in, can't we? All of Creation is mine in Him. The Father brings up the sun just to shine on me. He sends the rain just to water my garden. He scatters the stars in the heavens just so I can look up and go, Wow! All of redemption is mine in Him too. What sins do I have that the Son did not die for? What guilt can be on my conscience that the Son did not already bear? What commandment could be hanging over my head that the Son didn't already keep? And all gifts of sanctification are mine too in Him. What hope is too big for the Spirit not to give me? What joy is too exquisite for the Spirit not to share with me? What turmoil is so great that the Spirit can't calm it with His peace that passes all human understanding?
This my friends is our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; this is how we are to view Him. Yes, God is sovereign, almighty, inscrutable, and unsearchable. But if you try to view Him from this way you won't find provision, comfort, or direction in life because you will find Him hidden behind thunder, lightening, hail, and worse. But it's another story when you view God as He reveals Himself in the Gospel. There you'll find Him always willing to provide, comfort and direct sinners. There you find a Father who provides even for the wicked, a Son who comforts even those heartbroken by their sins, and a Spirit who directs even know-it-alls.
Do you remember Judy Collins' song "Both Sides Now?" In that song, she looks at love from both sides in and out, up and down, win and lose, and then concludes she doesn't really know love at all. That's what happens when you try to look at some things from both sides. Don't look at both the Sovereign and the Gospel side of God. Both are real, but it's only at the revealed side of God that we are to look. Deuteronomy 29 says, "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us." When you try to look at the hidden, sovereign, majestic side of God, it's like looking at someone else's father. When you look at God in Christ, God in the Gospel, it's like looking at your own loving father. That's a comfort, a hope, a joy. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Trinity Sunday (6-15-03), John 3:1-17