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How big is your God? Part: 3

God’s power, knowledge, and presence in our world are awesome, but we especially need his great love for sinners.

Arthur A. Eggert

The Lord declares that he is unique. Unlike other gods, which are the creation of the human mind, he exists independently of time and space, energy and matter. He, therefore, demands the first and dominant place in the lives of those who call him their God.

Our Lord’s awesome attributes

He told this to the Israelites in dramatic fashion at Mount Sinai: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:3-6). In other words, he is intolerant of disloyalty and infidelity because such things contradict his very essence (Deuteronomy 4:24). People are to credit neither themselves, luck, randomness, nor some other supernatural being for what happens, lest they deceive themselves.

The Lord claims the right to such loyalty because he can do what others cannot. He is holy (Leviticus 19:1,2), that is, his actions are completely separated from anything evil and dedicated to his purpose. His purpose is his will. Being omnipotent, his will always prevails. If he wills to dispose of the unrepentant, it happens (1 Samuel 2:25). When he wills to save mankind, his plan is carried out (Isaiah 53:10). We can trust the Lord to be faithful (2 Timothy 2:13) to his will because he is always the same at every point in time. He cannot change.

One might think that such revelations are not particularly comforting. Yet they are, because the Lord is not arbitrary. He judges everything by his will, without partiality, and therefore he is just (Revelation 15:3). Because he needs nothing, he cannot be bribed or influenced by his creatures. In fact, if we were perfect, we could go about our lives in full confidence that the Lord would vindicate our causes and reward us for our exemplary behavior.

But here is the problem: We are not perfect. If we are honest with ourselves, the perfect justice of the almighty Lord should destroy us for our failure to conform to his will as he demands. The Lord’s awesome attributes, therefore, seem to imply our eternal doom. Who can rescue us out of his hand? We indeed seem to be without hope. Our God is too big, too vast, too awesome for us to hope he will give us any consideration except his displeasure.

Our Lord’s boundless love

There is, however, more to the story. There is also the Lord’s boundless love for mankind; in fact, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). We are not talking here of romantic love, puppy love, sexual love, tough love, parental love, platonic love, or love of blueberry ripple ice cream. As revealed in the Scriptures, this love is a selfless love that has only the welfare of its recipient as its purpose (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). It is the incredible size of this love in comparison to the decrepit creature man that makes it so incredible. Why would the Lord love something in the vast universe so apparently insignificant as mankind? We have no rational answer, so we are left to marvel.

We are saved because the Lord puts his love into action through his mercy. He reaches out to those who have violated his will and rebelled against his rule and therefore have no reason to expect anything from him but punishment (Psalm 145:9). He has compassion on us as a father has compassion on his children (Psalm 103:13). Because he is merciful, the Lord devised a plan of salvation for vile sinners whom, according to his justice, he should have immediately annihilated or consigned to eternal punishment. When sinners seek forgiveness, they flee to the Lord as a God who is absolutely merciful (Ephesians 2:4,5).

It is precisely in his mercy that we see the true bigness of God. To save us, he, the all-everything Being, sent his Son to set aside his power as God almighty and take on the nature of a man. He did that so he could take our place under God’s absolute justice and earn for us the salvation that humanity had lost in Adam’s fall. The incarnation, perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ transcends what we can imagine or reconcile with human logic. If we do not contemplate the enormity of the Lord, then we do not see the seriousness of sins and the magnitude of his actions for our salvation.

His love is much bigger than we can imagine. The bigness of God, as described in the Bible, is difficult for sinful people to handle. If they truly consider it, they will fear for their eternal future, as Martin Luther did when he chose to became a monk in order to appease God. They will see no way to deal with God on their own terms, and they will follow one of two courses. Either like Luther, they will search the Scriptures that reveal the Lord’s mercy, or they will reduce God to a god to a size they can handle. Since they cannot deal with God on his own terms, they will shrink him so they can deal with God on their terms. In the latter case, they will limit all the attributes of their god and seek to establish a quid pro quo (something for something) relationship with it. They will offer penance, self-improvement, or rigid obedience to rules, all acts which they themselves devise and hope will placate their god. Sadly, many will call their god “the Lord” in the hope that he will accept their phony worship as a payment for the gift of salvation that he gives freely.

So how big is your God? If he is really the Lord, he is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, filling all time, absolutely just, absolutely merciful and forgiving for Jesus’ sake, and incredibly patient with sinful fools. He is far beyond awesome and amazing.

On our own, we could not serve such a God: “You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God” (Joshua 24:19). But God’s plan included a way for us to honor, serve, and obey him. Yes, our sin-soaked reason would run from him or deny the nature of his being. Yet, through the vicarious atonement of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, our hearts have been changed from sinful self-centeredness so that we have become children of and believers in this God of unlimited bigness.

 


This is the last article in a three-part series on the nature of God.


Dr. Arthur Eggert is a member at Peace, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.


 

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Author: Arthur A. Eggert
Volume 104, Number 3
Issue: March 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2021
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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How big is your God?: Part 2

God is present everywhere and is unchanging. He is all-knowing and all-powerful.

Arthur A. Eggert

If an observant individual is present at a particular place at a particular time, one would expect that person would know what is happening there. In the same way, because the Lord is present at every place in the universe at every time, he must know everything about the universe. Hebrews 4:13 says that nothing is hidden from him. David testified that the Lord knew everything about him (Psalm 139). The Lord spoke to Job (Job chapters 38–41) and claimed a thorough knowledge of the forces of nature. Jesus pointed out to his disciples that not a sparrow dies without the Lord knowing it and that the very hairs on people’s heads are numbered (Matthew 10:29,30). The Bible therefore teaches that the Lord is omniscient or all-knowing.

God is all-knowing

The implications of the Lord’s total knowledge of the universe are overwhelming. For example, because the Lord is everywhere throughout all time, it is impossible for him to be caught by surprise. He knows where every particle of the universe has been during every moment of its existence and where those particles have been going during every instance of time. There is nothing for him to learn because everything is always right in front of him. This includes the attitudes of our hearts. He knows exactly how people will react to a situation, even if they never experience that situation. The Lord’s words to Isaiah sum it up: “ ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’ ” (Isaiah 55:8,9).

The omniscience of the Lord frightens many people. Some would like to hide from him—an impossible feat. Others would like to believe that they can “educate” their god to their way of thinking. They would like to fool such a god by offering him deals that they never expect to keep. That the Lord’s knowledge of the future is exact because he is already there leaves them helpless to finesse him. They, therefore, reject what the Bible says and try to reengineer the Lord into a smaller god. Such blasphemy of the Lord is grave folly. It is like claiming Niagara Falls is only five feet high and expecting it to be that way.

God is all-powerful

Not only does the Lord completely understand the universe, but he also has the ability to completely control it. The Bible contains numerous examples of the extent of the Lord’s control of nature. For example, he confused the languages at the tower at Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), sent plagues on the Egyptians in order to rescue his people (Exodus 7:19–12:32), and parted the Sea of Reeds (Red Sea) (Exodus 14:21-28). He affected the earth’s rotation (Joshua 10:12-15), made an iron axe head float (2 Kings 6:5-7), and struck an entire army with blindness (2 Kings 6:18). In the New Testament there was the virgin birth (Luke 1:26-38), the curing

of many diseases and disabilities, the calming of the lake (Matthew 8:23-27), the feeding of large crowds (Matthew 14:13-21; Matthew 15:35-38), and the raising of the dead (Luke 7:11-15; Mark 5:35-43; John 11:1-44). The number of miracles that Jesus did was so large that

it was clear even to his opponents that he was not a normal man limited by the processes of nature (John 11:47,48). Together these miracles show a God whose power is absolutely limitless (Isaiah 43:13).

Here the powerful presence of the Lord at every point in space and time is essential, because without the persistence of his creating word, the universe would instantly dissolve into nothingness (Psalm 104:27-29). The Lord is truly omnipotent, that is, all-powerful, and the source of all power, with his power only being limited by his own will, certainly not ours.

But how does the Lord control the universe? For the most part he does so, to the best of our feeble human ability to discern, by decreeing a set of interactions among instances of matter and energy, time and space, which scientists call natural laws. Many of these laws are first presented to students in simplified form, which is good enough for most usages. However, when these laws are expanded to cover all observations and potential interactions, they can challenge the best minds. Yet these natural laws have no validity of their own. The Lord controls every aspect of every event with his full attention because he is at each point in space-time. No electron changes its orbit except at his command, and no star goes supernova without his detailed plan for the track that each particle involved will follow. He amazes us with miracles when he chooses, but he can also, with-out the ability of our best instruments to detect, make millions of exceptions to the submicroscopic workings of nature to cause events to happen so as to help his elect. That’s what being omnipotent means.

The Lord can truly do anything he pleases (Psalm 135:5,6). He can do more than we think or imagine. We find courage and strength here because the Lord listens to our prayers for his aid. It is a miracle that the Lord accommodates our requests at all and answers our prayers. The Lord does not always do exactly as we ask but always does what is best for us and others (Romans 8:28). He has sacrificed his own Son for us lowly creatures and given us a role to play as “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” (1 Peter 2:9). He loves us and all humanity (John 3:16) in spite of the way we often misuse his power to sustain us and the world in which we live.

Importantly, the Lord’s almighty power is not limited to physical events. Knowing everything people will do if given an opportunity, he can arrange events so that people and even the demons trying to fulfill their own purposes will in the process accomplish his. For example, the Lord drew the king of Assyria from Judah with a rumor (Isaiah 37:7). He saved Jacob’s family by arranging for one of his sons to be sold into slavery (Genesis 50:20). He even led a high priest to prophesy against his own scheme (John 11:49-52).

To the Christian, the omniscience and the omnipotence of the Lord should be a great comfort. He knows us thoroughly and knows precisely what we need, as Martin Luther writes in the explanation of the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed. He has the power to manipulate the entire universe to give us what is for our good, and he promises to do so. Nothing is too hard for him (Matthew 19:26). Knowing this should greatly encourage us to praise him and pray to him for his aid.

Dr. Arthur Eggert is a member at Peace, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.

This is the second article in a three-part series on the nature of God.

 


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Author: Arthur A. Eggert
Volume 104, Number 2
Issue: February 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2021
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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How big is your God?

Some people shrink their god to fit their concepts. But our God is so big that he envelops all time and space.

Arthur A. Eggert

Most people believe in a god, that is, in a supernatural being or presence of some sort. In fact, they usually capitalize “god” as if the word was the name of a supernatural being. But do the descriptions of the “god” in whom various people believe match each other? Is there really a “god” in whom all people believe? Or do they just believe in the concept of a god, the description of whom they fill in to suit their fancy? If one actually asks people to describe their god(s), one would soon realize there is little agreement about the nature of “God.”

It is sinful human nature for people to shrink their god(s) to a size that they can deal with. If they want something from their god, then their god must be big enough to provide it. If they want to feel good about themselves, then their god must be big enough to comfort them. If, however, they want to act immorally, then their god must be small enough to be incapable of judging them. In short, they want a god whom they can put into a closet or on a shelf and only bring out when necessary. Such a god is a crutch and not a real god.

The Lord, the God of the Bible, is not such a god. He does not let himself be recreated in a style that pleases the sinful humans dwelling in his universe. He is the Lord God Almighty. He is King of kings and Lord of lords. That’s incredible and has important implications for our lives.

The Lord and space

Let us start with God and space. The Lord has no physical dimensions because he is a spirit (John 4:24). In the Old Testament, God sometimes took on human form for special purposes (e.g., Genesis 18, Joshua 5:13-15, Judges 6). Yet human form is not an essential property of the Lord. When the Bible describes him in human terms by talking about his eyes (2 Samuel 15:25), his ears (Psalm 34:15) and his arms (Deuteronomy 26:8), it is using picture language to help people relate to a God who far exceeds their understanding.

If the Lord is a spirit, how does he interact with our physical, three-dimensional world? The inspired psalmist gives us the answer when he writes, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 139:7-10). The prophets Jeremiah (23:23,24) and Amos (9:1-6) agree that the Lord is everywhere. This attribute of the Lord is called omnipresence. Yet the Lord is not spread thinly across the universe; his essence is completely present everywhere. King Solomon wrote, “The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good” (Proverbs 15:3). He is not a God who is in any sense far off.

But how can the whole essence of the Lord be present at every point at the same time? We cannot fully understand or explain it, but we can try. When the Lord created the universe, he created it outside his being, that is, he is not part of his creation. Every physical thing in the universe can be described by a set of space coordinates. This is not true of the Lord, because he is not physical. From his position outside of his creation he has projected his whole being equally to every point within that creation. Mathematicians call such a process “mapping.” It is used in computing to permit one point to be associated with many other points, even an infinitely large number of points. Because the Lord projects himself to all points in the universe, he is therefore effectively standing by us wherever we are, watching what we do, and being ready to answer our prayers. We cannot hide from him, nor does he ever forget about us. He is completely with us, not just some diffused part of him that might not give us his full attention.

The Lord and time

Now let’s consider God and time. We establish hours, days, and years by our relationship with the sun. Scientists struggle to give us an understandable definition of time: It is a nonspatial dimension, a continuum, directional like a stream in which one cannot go backward. Yesterday is out of our reach, and we cannot do anything yet during tomorrow. We can place all the events of human history in sequence on a timeline. Continual change occurs as time passes.

The Bible tells us that the Lord does not have the same relationship to time as we do. Psalm 102 says that the earth will wear out, but that the Lord is always the same (immutable) and will never cease to exist (eternal). Malachi agrees that the Lord does not change (3:6). Peter (2 Peter 3:8) quotes Moses that “with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (God is timeless). As we look at these and other verses, we are forced to conclude that the Lord is not affected by time but rather fills all time the same way he fills all space. The Lord effectively sees our timeline of the universe end-on, that is, as a single point. All history is effectively simultaneous to the Lord.

So just as the Lord has mapped himself to every spatial point in the present universe, he also maps himself to every space-time coordinate that has ever existed. He is not only everywhere, but also “everywhen.” He exists in an “eternal now” relative to the human view of time. This is important to us because it means that the Lord can never fail to do what he has promised. When he is making a promise at one point in human history, he is fulfilling it at some later point (Numbers 23:19). It is the same action to him because, from his viewpoint, he is simultaneously at both places and times and must be consistent with himself (2 Timothy 2:13). He is not “slow” to fulfill his promises as people reckon slowness (2 Peter 3:9), but he has placed the fulfilments of his promises at the times in human history that make his plan work as he intends (Galatians 4:4,5).

[The Lord] is not only everywhere, but also “everywhen.”

How big is our God? He is so big that he envelops all time and space. His unchanging being is ever by our side, extending both before and after us in all directions.

Dr. Arthur Eggert is a member at Peace, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.

This is the first article in a three-part series on the nature of God.

 


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Arthur A. Eggert
Volume 104, Number 1
Issue: January 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2021
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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