If we even suspect that God exists, then logic tells us he must have certain characteristics and attributes that define him.
Surely our minds are not capable of guessing what they are. To do so would be equivalent to looking at a complete stranger and claiming to know him and know his personality. And yet, we do this constantly with God.
We like to think of him as someone good, fair, loving, powerful and there all the time. He sees all that happens and can move heaven and earth to answer our pleas. Why else would we call out to him in times of distress?
Many of us go with our guts in imagining what he is like. His character is born out of a collection of tales heard, qualities gleaned from different religions, snippets from a vague recollection of Bible stories and Christmas commercials, and limited by wishful thinking.
New discoveries of his being, especially the provocative ones that claim historic support, bring much curiosity and interest. Take the Da Vinci Code, for instance. Hearing about Jesus being married gives people a kind of tabloid pleasure. We long to make him like one of us. We lap up such juicy details, adding new facets to his persona into our subconscious.
Now there is Good As New, the radical translation of the New Testament that strive to give a fresh approach in order to make Scriptures “speak as never before.” There are five gospels including the one of Thomas and certain books were dropped including Revelation which the author, John Henson, felt was “contrary to the mind of Jesus.”
Contemporary names replace traditional ones: Rocky, Nick, Matt, Bart, Simon the Hothead (Zealot), Ray (Apollos), Barbara (Rahab) and the Holy Joes. For places, there are Tessatown, Philiptown, Quaketown, Fishtown, Dancetown, to name a few.
Henson translates John 3:16 as: “If you want to know how much God loves, trust the unique self-portrait God has given the world. Then you won’t shrink to nothing but always be full of life.”
It has this rendering of 1 Corinthians 7:9: “If you know you have strong needs, get yourself a partner. Better than being frustrated.” (The New International Version is: “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”) The discussion pertained to self-control in sexual morality.
Do we take this light-heartedly? Can such a translation be accurate? How can we test it?
In a world that has become so viable economically and so successful scientifically because we strive to adhere to and follow rules based on knowledge and truth, it is ironic that in seeking God, we are so willing to base our understanding of him on ignorance and settle for lies.
Why are we so eager to grasp at mediocrity when it comes to knowing about God? We spend billions of dollars devouring how-to books, on ways to be effective parents, to make money, to trim our fat, to improve our lives but ignore the search for truth in the one who provides all good things. Christians, of course, are convinced the truth is revealed by the only God and in the Bible.
Reading Leviticus a few days ago, I wondered why God spent so many chapters detailing the setting up of his tabernacle and offerings and so precious few on the Creation. The Lord brought to my mind the list of instructions that I had just given my teenaged daughter who is traveling on her own across the Pacific.
I prompted her with advice, gave her money, credit card, contact numbers, back-up copies of tickets and passport in case she lost them. In short I over-instructed her because I know the risks and wanted to ensure that the child I love would get there and back safely. And I felt the Lord say he did it too, out of love and a longing that we heed his words in order to remain in touch with him.
He knows who he is and who we are and we do not. He is willing to let us venture and taste the freedom and joy in our journey. Therefore he provided such detailed instructions so that we will not be lost and lose contact with him.
He specifically spelled out the way for us to reach him. That is the only way. It is not for us to devise ways of our own to get to him but to find out what his way is. It is not about changing his words so that they could apply to our lives; it is about changing our very lives to live up to those words.
The offerings described in the Bible are nothing like those we see in movies where life is sacrificed to appease the gods. Nor are they like lighting of oil and candles in a transaction to win or pay back for favors. If we are to dig further and study what the ancient Jewish sages say, we learn that offerings in Leviticus is God’s provision to his people to be sanctified to be elevated up to him, in order that we may draw close to this holy God. It was initiated out of love.
The god of the Bible wanted to dwell among his people. Because of this, there were certain ways they had to live so they could enjoy this. Over the centuries he has revealed himself through his prophets and then through his son, Jesus, so that they -- indeed the whole world -- may know who he is and recognize who he is. In the process we discover the kind of person he is.
If we do not read his word -- study and understand the context in which he speaks, and meditate and remember it -- how would we know him? Without at least a basic knowledge of Scripture, how can we discern if what other people claim to be from God is true? How do we resist the tendency to want to make God be like us?
In Exodus 25 God gave instructions on the building of the tabernacle. In reading Jewish commentary from The Chumash, I was intrigued to learn that the Ark was not to be covered unless the tablets God gave to Moses were in it. The tablets are called Witnesses because they testify that God commanded Israel to keep the commandments. They represent the Torah, God’s word to his people.
The cover had two cherubim which had their faces looking down toward the tablets and their wings stretched upwards. The gold cover, according to The Chumash, represented the human soul. The wings taught that man must strive to understand God’s wisdom and do his will and the faces looking down and towards each other taught that his Word is the only source of wisdom and that man must interact wisely with each other.
In Exodus 25:22, God said: “It is there that I will set my meetings with you, and I shall speak with you from atop the Cover.”
To me, that had such significance. When I look upon God’s words, God meets me and speaks with me. How amazing is that? Those of us who study his Word will testify to this truth.
How sad is it then that many of us live on a diet of junk-food theology. They build up and draw hope from a god seasoned by their imagination, build on emptiness, lacking any foundation, lacking sustenance. Sadly, they have only depriving themselves.
If books such as the Da Vinci Code and Good As New serve a purpose, it is that they should whet our appetite for truth. Every one of us who comes to his word brings our individual bias and prejudices. Even traditional translations of Scripture are not perfect. The wonderful thing about God is that he meets anyone who genuinely seeks him at whatever level of knowledge he has, and in whatever part of the journey he is on.
The awesome truth is that as we do so, we not only become more discerning in what we hear about God, we become blessed with his very presence. This amazing king of the universe awaits us with a feast at his banqueting table. Do not go for the morsels from human imaginations.