Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33, ESV)
(Thanks to Norman Nagel)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
What is God like? You probably don’t get asked that question very much. But if you did I’d be willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that you wouldn’t answer the question with the Athanasian Creed. In some ways it feels more like the “Athanasian Confusion” rather than a statement of belief. And yet again I guess we shouldn’t expect it to be all that easy to understand it is after all speaking about God. God is well beyond our understanding. To attempt to describe Him in human language is to attempt the impossible. God as farther above us then we are above insects. The author of The Letter to the Romans says “For who has known the mind of the Lord?” (Rom 33:34, ESV). So any creed that delves into the mystery of the Holy Trinity is going to be tricky. And yet, it is a confession of what we believe. Its purpose is to state what the Bible tells us about God in as clear a fashion as possible. To say a creed is to say what God says. To confess what God tells us about himself. To “Same-Say.” We say what we say about God because it is what He tells us about Himself.
I said God was far beyond our understanding. It’s true. We don’t have the brains to understand “depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God.” And sin, our broken relationship with God, makes it even more difficult. In Isaiah it tells of God looking down on the earth and the people are like grasshoppers. Think about holding a grasshopper in your hand. What would it think of you? It probably only understands that it can’t escape as you hold it but it will try to escape to preserve its life, because it fears being crushed. There is nothing else it can understand about you. It can’t understand anything about who you are, or what you are like. Its brain isn’t big enough to understand. It can’t fathom the depth of your knowledge. Its reaction to you is based on its fear and desire to preserve its life. If grasshoppers had a language, how would that language be able to describe you?
If you want to know what humans think about God, you only have to look at the world religions outside of Christianity. You’ll see that same kind of fear. Without God’s Word nature is our only information about who God is and nature is a dangerous place. If it is God’s creation and human beings are routinely swept away in tsunamis and swallowed up by earthquakes what language can be used to describe Him? Consider the billions of people on the earth and the insignificance of a single person among billions. The human reaction to the God of nature is to do whatever it can to appease Him. We must live the best life we can to keep His anger away from us. We must make something of our lives to be noticed in the right way. Or even more common today, deny the obvious and ignore the Creator so as to not be accountable to Him.
Human beings who fear God do so naturally. We have been given a conscience that tells us what is right and wrong, what pleases God and what makes Him angry. Human beings have every right to be afraid of God. You know what He expects of you, and when you look at yourself you know you don’t live up to it. It is very similar to the fear the grasshopper in your hand feels. You have the power to destroy. God could just as easily destroy you.
How could that grasshopper come to understand who you are? Well there is no way it for you to communicate with it except to become a grasshopper yourself. As one of his own you could tell him about you in grasshopper language.
When we want to know what God is like, we only have to look to Jesus who did that very thing for us. Jesus is God become man, to tell us what God is like in human language. He tells us that He is God. He does things only God can do. He says things that only God can say. He is worshipped by people who see Him for who He is. There are people who don’t believe He is God. They call Him crazy. And it’s true, Jesus is either God or He is insane. You can’t just make Jesus a great moral teacher. If what He says is true, then He is either crazy, or He is God.
Jesus is God, expressed in human person, language and action. Jesus is God speaking to human beings about who He is and what He wants for us. St. John even says that Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus is God speaking about Himself in a living and breathing way. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, ESV) If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. He is God that can be heard, and seen and touched and most importantly, understood.
Jesus says to us, Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. (John 15:13, ESV) He’s telling us something about God that we can’t know any other way. He shows us of God’s love for us at the cross. The cross is what God thinks of us, we are His friends. But friends just doesn’t quite cover it does it. Jesus laying down His life is even more than we expect. In Jesus, God becomes human and suffers the eternal agony of hell’s punishment. He dies for everyone, not just the ones who say they love Him. God’s love is expressed even for those who reject Him and wish Him out of existence. His love is for those who hide from Him in fear. It is for those who know what God expects and know they can’t do it. Let me say it very clearly. The love of God you see in the death of Jesus Christ is for you.
There is no greater love. God loves the un-lovable. God loves sinful people. That is what God is like. God dies to set aside our sin, to bring us forgiveness instead of punishment. When punishment is set aside fear of the Judge is gone. Because of Jesus’ paying the punishment for our sins we no longer need to be afraid of God. In fact, we now call God our Father.
“Our Father…” we pray in the prayer that Jesus gives us. “I believe in God the Father…” we confess in the other creeds of the church. We have that relationship with God because of Jesus. He says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, ESV) Faith believes in the forgiveness that Jesus has made. With that forgiveness in hand we can approach God, as Martin Luther put it:
With these words [Our Father Who art in Heaven] God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father. (Luther’s Small Catechism).
Without faith is to be without forgiveness. God is no longer Our Father, but only Our Creator and Righteous Judge. When the cross of Jesus is rejected, forgiveness is rejected. Where there is no forgiveness there is only God’s inescapable wrath and punishment.
So Jesus shows us God the Father, and our relationship to Him through the forgiveness of sins, blood bought by His death on the cross. He also shows us the Holy Spirit. It’s important to know about the Holy Spirit because if it weren’t for Him we’d have no faith. No human being can believe that Jesus is God any more than we could believe that a grasshopper could be a person. Jesus Christ completely God and completely man is nonsense to our way of thinking.
Jesus asked His disciples who they thought He was. Peter confessed it clearly. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16, ESV) Jesus reply tells us of the work of the Spirit. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17, ESV) It isn’t specifically the work of the Father that Jesus is talking about, St. Paul clarifies it for us. “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 13:3, ESV) The Holy Spirit works faith in us to believe and confess that Jesus is Lord, faith to see that Jesus is God’s son sent to be the sacrifice for our sin and restore our relationship to God the Father.
The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God, which is all about Jesus. The Spirit never points to Himself; He’s only interested that we see Jesus. The Gospel of Jesus enters our ears and hearts and the Spirit turns us to Jesus so that we can see who He really is. When the Holy Spirit works in us, He points to us He points at our sinful hearts. Then He shows us Jesus, our only hope for freedom from sin’s punishment. He shows us Jesus, our only way to the Father. Since you can never quote Martin Luther too much:
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. (Luther’s Small Catechism, The Apostle’s Creed, The Second Article: On Redemption)
The Holy Spirit enlightens me with His gifts, Luther says. That’s talking about Holy Baptism and Holy Communion: God’s Word in visible form; God, doing what God does, active in our lives bringing us Jesus and the forgiveness of our sins.
What is God like? Did you notice that in answer to that question we talk about what God does? God is a living and active being. He is best known for what He does, most clearly in what He has done in Jesus. God’s action shows us that He is a unity in trinity, three persons in one God. We speak most clearly about The Trinity when we speak about God and say what He does.
Look at the Apostle’s Creed. God creates. God saves. God makes us holy. God is three persons, unified in action, unified in purpose, unified in love for you and me. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.