I don’t typically post my sermons on this blog. This series is going to be an exception. Six weeks of the basics of belief for me and many of those who follow Jesus calling ourselves Friends or Quakers. This will not represent everyone, or even a majority view, but I believe these messages bring a valuable perspective to the table.
When I planned this series a few months ago, it all seemed so simple to cover what we believe about the basics in a short summer series. 6 weeks is what I have allowed for the fundamentals of our faith. It looks great on a calendar and the topics divide easily enough, but as I was preparing to cover everything we believe about who God is in one 25 minute sermon I felt a bit foolish. How do I cover Father, Son, and Holy Spirit– in 8 minutes each? An impossible goal when we have been pondering, debating and seeking for millennia to describe God. Maybe I was just a little bit optimistic in my planning. But here we are, and we are going to do our best, knowing that there is simply no way that we will cover it all.
In my research, I came across this amazing video from The Work of the People. The first half seeks to answer our question, “Who is God?” the second half deals with our response as believers. (If you don’t have time, for our purposes you can stop it around 4:00, but I would recommend the entire video, about 8minutes.)
In preparation this message, I reached out on Facebook and Twitter to see what questions people had about God. I don’t want to just give you the Faith and Practice definition of our faith in God, I will do that in a moment, but I want to make sure the information I am giving answers actual questions from real people. (Much of our teachings and preaching in the Church over the years have presented answers pretend questions from hypothetical people.)
Here are some of the questions I received in response: (Some serious, some obviously tongue in cheek.)
I find it interesting that when I asked for questions about who God is, the responses came in the form of questions about creation, about sickness, about belief, atonement, the trinity, and the Church. At first, I wanted to respond by clarifying that these are supposed to be questions about GOD, but then I realized that they are! These are questions about whether God is good, loving, trustworthy, or greedy, uncaring, and cruel, and whether that has any bearing on the way believers live their lives. They are questions not about the theological definitions, but about the practical reality of life on this earth.
We believe a lot of things about God, that God existed before all things, and that God will exist forever–the alpha and omega, beginning and the end. We believe that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and existing everywhere, all the time. These are important, and we profess them, but it all comes down to how this affects us where we live. Don’t tell me about God in high-sounding language, tell me how God affects my daily life!
The EFC-MAYM Faith and Practice says this about God:
There is one sovereign God who is revealed through the Bible in the person of His son, Jesus Christ. God is the Maker and Preserver of all things; He alone is worthy of worship. In the unity of the Godhead exist three equal and distinct, yet inseparable, persons: the Father, the Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
The Christian Church generally accepts the doctrine of the Trinity and many other theological descriptions of God which are such great mysteries that no one has yet given a good explanation of how and why they work. We have all kinds of analogies to describe the Trinity from shamrocks to Oreo cookies, and they move in the right direction but they all fall short. What we do know and accept and approve and believe is the “who.”
We believe that God reveals himself to the world most clearly and personally through Jesus. We believe the Holy Spirit moved in the Old Testament to empower the prophets and leaders of God’s people, anointed and infused Christ’s ministry on earth, and is freely given to all who will choose to become followers of Jesus Christ in order to direct, equip and empower them to live as citizens of God’s kingdom. We don’t know how it all works, but we trust that it is true. We trust that Jesus is God’s only begotten or uniquely begotten son, but about how that came to be our scriptures are less than forthcoming. Like the process of creation, the trinity and the conception of Christ are left as mysteries.
God is credited with the creation of all things, John tells us the Word-Jesus- was the means of Creation. In him all things were made, without him, nothing was made that has been made. Genesis tells us that before the start of creation on earth, the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. Creation is God’s masterpiece, and every part of the God-head took part in crafting something beautiful, so why is it so broken and painful? We will talk about sin in a future message, but it needs to be said here that God is not the only one influencing things on earth.
There are other forces at play, physical and spiritual ones. God created the earth, and God is the rightful owner, but God gives his creations the ability to make choices. Every part of creation, from angelic beings to the smallest microbe, all have freedom within their scope. God does not control everything like a cosmic puppet master. If he did, that god would be cruel indeed with all of the wars, oppression, injustice, sickness, and death. If the god of the universe was the cause of all those things, we should despair of ever seeing goodness because not even heaven would be safe. But our God is not that. Our God is all-powerful, and all-loving which means our God allows for free choices to be made, freedom is a prerequisite of love relationships. It is rare for God to exercise his power over creation, taking control from his created beings. That is why miracles are so miraculous.
What it boils down to is this, God is not the only one influencing what we see around us. Other spiritual forces are at play in our world, as well. The Bible refers to them in many ways, but one I have always found intriguing is “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” There are Spiritual forces working diligently to cause destruction and to incite rebellion. These spiritual forces are real, and they are active, but they may not be the biggest threat to creation.
Our God seeks to draw our hearts to himself so that we make the right choices, but God does not force us to choose what is good, or right, or healthy for ourselves and others.
Humanity was given dominion over the earth, God entrusted the stewardship of creation to us. That means we can destroy creation if we want to. We can hunt animals to extinction. We can bomb the cities of our neighbor. We can enslave the children across the street and around the world to cater to our whims. We can do these things, and we do every day. These things can happen because God is not a dictator.
We want God to give us freedom, he has. We want to do whatever we please, we can.
But we are not free from the consequences. If I kill you, you are dead. The end.
Here is how God describes himself in Exodus 34 as he reveals himself to Moses on the mountain:
Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”
Perhaps the most amazing thing is that God continues to sustain creation through his loving grace. God continues to pour forth creative power to breathe life into the next generation and the next. “In him we live and move and have our being.” Acts 17:28
Here is what other Bible-writers say about God:
“One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: ‘Power belongs to you, God, and with you, Lord, is unfailing love.'” Psalm 62:11
“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” Hebrews 1:3
“The Son is the image of the invisible God.” Colossians 1:15
“God is Love.” 1 John 4:20
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” 1 John 4:9
God’s attitude towards creation, all he has made, including you and me, is love. God looked at creation and declared it to be very good. God’s love continues to reach towards us even when we are not following God, believing God, or even when we are actively running from God. God’s love is not dependent on our response.
God’s love and mercy abound as much as God’s truth. That does not mean that we don’t face the consequences of our actions, or even that we are the only ones who suffer when we choose poorly. God’s love does not mean that we will not face trouble or persecution or hardship or poverty or even a violent death at the hands of violent people. But we are promised again and again that when we walk through difficulty, God walks with us. God walked the most painful and sacrificial of roads to demonstrate his love for us. Why do we think he will shrink back from our pain and brokenness today?
“He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.”
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us
from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.
In this world you will have trouble.
But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
God is love, God is good, God is with us, and we can trust him. God loves us and wants to be in fellowship with us. God has revealed himself in the person of Jesus, the exact representation of his likeness and possessing God’s full character. If you have images or definitions in your mind and heart that do not look like Jesus, it is time to let them go. If you have been told that God isn’t loving, or that God only loves some people—the good and perfect ones—it is time to let that go.
God demonstrated his love for us in this, while we were still at war with God, he stepped out of Heaven into the flesh to live and teach and walk among us, to show us who he is and to demonstrate the lengths to which he would go to seek reconciliation with this broken humanity. I hope this prompts in you a desire for a renewed sense of God’s heart, and maybe also to challenge old and inaccurate pictures that seek to take the place of the truth that God is the creator and sustainer and healer of all things because of his unfailing love.
Perceiving God’s heart,