Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Enigma of God's Character

As we've been studying the doctrines we believe about God each Sunday night, I've found much with which I agree, and lots I'll never understand or comprehend. Most specifically, the goodness, or moral purity of God as reflected in his righteousness. My tiny mind can't comprehend the confluence of a couple of the points brought out:
  • God commands only what is right and will, therefore, have a positive effect upon the believer who obeys.
  • Because of His supreme righteousness and holiness, He must put His own glory first.
I totally agree with both these points individually. When viewed together, however, my narrow perspective on humanity as experienced on this planet (as opposed to some other planet, I guess!) knows full well that sometimes there isn't a win-win situation. In other words, for God to get the glory he is certainly due, I may have to experience some "un-positive" things.

For example, last week, I met a lady who recently lost her 16 year old nephew in an automobile accident. Because of the young man's life and testimony, several of his peers have begun attending her church, expressing interest in spiritual matters. In this situation, God is receiving glory (she said so), but the experience of loss has certainly not been a positive one. And the continued absence of the young man's presence is not likely to have a positive effect on her as a believer for the remainder of her life on earth.

See what I mean?

But, I also know that you can't isolate the characteristics of God from one another, because he is a whole, other, unique Being, and each of those traits must work in conjunction with one another. Although I am made in his image, I am not comprised of all that he is. And, unlike his creation (i.e. me), he can isolate the feelings he has about something from his response to it, if necessary. Nine times out of ten, my actions are prompted by a feeling I have, even if that feeling is merely a sense of responsibility, and not a "like" or "dislike" matter.

I probably look like I'm talking in circles, now.

I think the crux of the problem, though, is that I want each "positive effect" to have my hand-print, or seal of approval, according to my standard definition. If God gets glory, great, but not at my expense. I don't want to be "used," even by God. (I mean that kind of "used" where you get what you want out of people regardless of the effect on them.) But therein is the contradiction, because that type of selfishness is sin that cannot dwell in his presence, so I am therefore (logically speaking) outside the will of God when I purely desire my own will. Furthermore, I am the creation, not the Creator, and he's got a grand play of humanity to stage where I'm not the lead character!

When I was in seminary, taking systematic theology (which is a fancy way of saying the study of God in a systematic, piece-by-piece manner), we had to identify what we believed to be the root character of God from which all his other traits flowed. Although my professor based his theology of God's character around God's love, I wrote a paper centered around God's holiness. I still believe that my theory was a sound one, because only One who is holy can love perfectly and thus orchestrate time and space perfectly in that holy love. But, I think I understand better why my professor centralized the love of God. Only a loving God would desire relationship with his creation, not just their functionality. There's something reassuring in knowing that the One who must put His own glory first is so loving. For in that love he will work all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28). I just don't need to expect to understand or approve of it.

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