In the last post, we ended off at the point where we would look at who God is through 8 truths. If you would like a refresher on all that was said you can look here.
In the book, this section of this chapter has 8 truths to it. However, for the sake of readability and to somewhat keep the length somewhat short, I have split “This is Your God” into two parts.
In the post prior to this one,I wrote that J.I Packer argues that we have problems praying correctly because we have an incorrect view of God. He argues that we give too much credence to our own opinions using phrases like “I like…” or “I think…” which, because of our sinfulness, will undoubtedly be wrong. He therefore invites us to move past our own opinions and theological guesswork and instead look at what the Bible says about the God of the Bible. So let us then take a look into what these 8 truths of God are.
Truth 1: God is personal
Though it may sound fine and dandy to make God sound impersonal. Something/Someone we can never reach or understand or really communicate with, impersonal ideas about God is not better than who He really is. To illustrate this point J.I Packer tells a story that C.S Lewis told ” of a young lady who was brought up by parents who saw themselves as exponents of advanced thought. They believed that the personal category was unworthy of God, and so they taught their daughter to think of him as ‘higher substance.'” Packer then says that when she got older and “unpacked the contents of her mind, she realized that all these years she had been thinking of God as an infinitely extended rice pudding. Since she wasn’t a devotee of rice pudding, it was not in fact at all a helpful idea.” Although a humorous story, I think that Packer (well in this case, C.S Lewis) makes an accurate point that sometimes in an effort to explain God in an “unoffensive” way, we strip Him of any personable attributes. Packer argues, and I would wholeheartedly agree, that a “Depersonalized deity is, thought wise, always a disaster.”
However, the God found in the Bible is a completely personal God. He addresses himself as “I” and us humans as “You.” God isn’t an object, he interacts and speaks to us in a personal way. On this point Packer writes “From Genesis to Revelation, not only do we find him speaking that way, but we see him relating to people, person to person, in a fully personal way. God is not an it, and we must not allow ourselves to think of God as an object, as if we could stand apart from him as observers watching him in the way that a biologist might watch the antics of a tadpole…God is always a subject, never a mere object…God presents himself to us in personal terms, and we must always think of him in personal terms as the God who is here and who confronts us and has his eye on us and takes an interest in us as persons just as we being persons ourselves, take a personal interest in each other.” What J.I Packer is saying is pretty straightforward. God isn’t an impersonal object, God isn’t an abstract force that has no personality. No, God is fully personal and He interacts with us. He is a being that is knowable. And the fact that it is one truth out of eight (instead of assumed) means that it is vitally important that we remember and believe it.
If God wasn’t personal, if He was an abstract force He would not be able to communicate with us by His word or by prayer. He would be, as C.S Lewis put it “an infinitely extended rice pudding.” And although I do enjoy rice pudding every once in a while (though not often), rice pudding makes one horrible god.
Truth 2: God is plural
The mystery of this notion is revealed to us in Gen1:26 when God states “Let us make man in our image.” Notice in this statement two important words the first one is “us” and then the second one is “our.” The plurality of God isn’t taken much farther after that but, Packer writes “…in the New Testament, God is revealed as truly and personally plural.” Of course we know this as the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). J.I Packer gives a beautiful explanation on what the Trinity is, not their roles, but who they are and what they do as a whole. He states that the Trinity is “three persons within the unity of God’s being, three persons who relate to each other as persons, and who operate as a team for the salvation of God’s people.” Meaning that the three persons of God (who are in perfect unity with each other) each have personalities, and each have a part to play (together, perfectly) in saving God’s people.
Although the word and concept of the Trinity wasn’t really developed until the later centuries, Packer states that “the reality was there ‘in solution’ all along…the three persons…are distinct in the New Testament, though it has no technical terms for expressing their shared life…when they say ‘God’ (in the Bible) they are usually, like Jesus, speaking of the Father rather than of the three together, but they make it very clear that the three are one in both being and purpose, and they work together for our salvation.” The nature of the Trinity is beyond our understanding, meaning that is a mystery. However this doesn’t mean that it isn’t a truth and a doctrine because the Trinity is clearly shown throughout the New Testament. It is here that J.I Packer unpacks the gospel in relation to the doctrine of the Trinity. He writes “The gospel is the good news of God the Father planning our salvation, God the Son, the Mediator, achieving it for us, and God the Holy Spirit applying it to us as the gracious, willing guest who indwells in us.” It is clear that God the Father, Son and Spirit works together to achieve and maintain our salvation. Denying the truth and reality of the Trinity will lead to everything else falling apart.
Truth 3: God is perfect
What this truth means is that God isn’t lacking in anything or needing improvement. Meaning that He is beyond all that because, as Packer puts it “he is already and eternally perfect, of his own kind, which is a kind that is unique to himself.” Meaning that he (God) is the only one that is perfect in the eternal sense. In Biblical culture, a name was incredibly important. It showed the nature of the person. In Exodus we see instances where God shows himself to Moses and states his name. The first is at the burning bush, where God commands Moses to go back to Egypt and free His people. Moses asks God what name to give the Israelites if they ask him who sent him. To this God replies “I AM WHO I AM” which becomes Yahweh, translated to I AM. The question that Packer then proposes is “What is going on here?” Why did God give Moses that name to say, instead of another? J.I Packer then says that it is “the covenant name God gives Himself to express His commitment to His people.” He continues, “In that far-off world, God would not be your God if he did not give you his name. For God’s people to know his name was thus the sign and proof of his bonding with them, and by telling them God’s name, Moses would be confirming that fact.” This means that, Biblically, if we were in that culture, this is the way that we would know that we belonged to God. His name can also be translated to “I AM WHAT I AM” or “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE” which then answers the question of “How does God exist?” Meaning that He exists as the “God of eternal and self-sustaining self-determination. He simply is and always was and ever will be, working out his will in sovereignty over his world. He is the God who is there, who is everywhere present and everywhere in control. He ordained what is now and ordains what will be.” Simply put, He perfectly exists, and He always has, and He always will. He sees and works His will over the world that He has created. He has seen and allowed what is present and what will happen in the future.
The next question that is then posed for us is “How does he behave?” We find the answer in Exodus 34. The two verses from that chapter that J.I Packer highlights are verses six and seven. “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” Here we see that God will be merciful and show grace to humans. But we also see that God is Holy and Just. J.I Packer puts it well when he states “he [God] acts toward humans in grace and mercy, which they need, yet also in holiness that will express itself in retribution toward those who do not take him seriously and do not responds in penitence for sin to his overtures of love…The purity that sees lawless, self-aggrandizing action and loveless, self-seeking motivation as polluting defilements is integral to his perfection, and makes his grace to sinners endlessly amazing in the eyes of all who receive it.” God’s perfection is necessary, for God to be God. The purity of God sees us, truthfully, as who we really are: rebellious creations who would rather seek praise for ourselves rather than seek God. This nature conflicts with Gods perfect nature and therefore must be dealt with. If not for Jesus we would all be doomed.
Packer ends this truth with two beautiful sentences that are encouraging and, at least for me, stirred within my heart a desire to just praise Him:
“Yes, God is good, God is great, and all that he does is worthy of praise. God is perfect in every way.”
Our final truth for this post is Truth 4: God is powerful
This truth is pretty straight forward. In truth, theologians have used the word omnipotent to describe this truth. They describe God as omnipotent because He is able to do what He chooses to do. They also use the word omnipresent to also press home this truth. Meaning that God, as J.I Packer would put it, “permeates every bit of his world, all the time…” The final word that theologians use is omniscient, meaning that He knows everything. Past, present and future, and He knows us through and through. That is how theologians describe Him.
In the Bible, J.I Packer lists off several Psalms that state that God reigns. It is through these passages that shows that God is King. These Psalms are: 93, 95:3, 96:10, 97, 98:6, and 99. In the ancient world, Kings were considered absolute monarchs. Meaning that they completely controlled and were fully in charge of all that was within their kingdom. J.I Packer explains that these psalms “are saying that God is that sort of king-and to a degree of absoluteness that no earthly monarch ever could match. He is always and everywhere on top; he is absolute master in his own universe…Nothing escapes his cognizance and his control. This is a constantly stabilizing thought for the people of God.” What I find interesting is Packer’s sentence “He is always and everywhere on top”. This means that no one, no matter their accomplishments nor fame, will not and cannot be as powerful as God. Even if we deny His presence and existence, He is still perfectly in control and He has not dropped the ball on ANYTHING. Even if we can`t see the purpose for it all.
We are nearing our final part of chapter 1. In the next few days, we will look at the final 4 truths of God. And as we shall see, these 8 truths are extremely vital for our prayer life, indeed for our entire Christian life.
Some thoughts before I end this post:
– The first four truths, God is personal, plural, perfect and powerful build and flow into each other (just like the eight in its entirety flow and build into each other). If we lose the specifics of one, I believe we lose the specifics of the rest. So I encourage you, dear readers, to take these amazing truths to heart. Grasp them, lean on them, believe them for these claims that God makes about Himself are truthful and incredibly vital for a vibrant Christian life.
– “Yes, God is good, God is great, and all that he does is worthy of praise. God is perfect in every way.” This sentence by J.I Packer, though found in Truth 3, permeates every other truth. In what ways have you and I, short-changed our view of God? I encourage you to ask yourself this question (in prayer) and let the Holy Spirit convict us, and move us to a deeper, more satisfying relationship with Himself.