Someday the shroud will be removed altogether and we’ll live where God lives with nothing in between. For now we get only glimpses of him “through a shroud vaguely,” but there we’ll gaze upon him and see him as he actually is! I trust we’ll be able to stand the sight. In the meantime, we have to take some responsibility for the widening of these God-sighting pinholes in the curtain. We do so when we read the book he wrote through special God-gazing men and women, have lots of concentrated conversations with him, enjoy his beauty in creation, notice his personality in each other, and respond in delight-filled worship. He loves to show himself to seekers who apply themselves to knowing him as much as he can be known.
When somebody asks me what God is like, I don’t usually list a bunch of data about him – he’s big, he’s smart, he is everywhere at the same time… I’d much rather talk about his character, things that I’ve read about in the Bible and things that I’ve discovered about him during my friendship with him over the last four decades. Instead of a bullet-point list of traits, I prefer to tell people what he’s like, how he treats his friends, the way he acts when his enemies reject him.
Think about it. If I asked you to describe the person that you love more than anyone else in the world; would you describe his or her nose, or feet, or shape? How about her skills? Would you tell me how he cooks or that he fixes things? Would you talk about his physical traits or abilities, or would you describe her personality? Would you tell me about this person’s characteristics or their character?
It’s my goal to think of God more nearly as he actually is, not so I can win any Sunday School contests or theology debates. I hope to think rightly about him because it positively affects how I believe and how I live my life in response to him. Having more accurate thoughts about God makes my faith stronger, and has a dramatic influence on the way I conduct myself. Because it will help you also to know and rely on the God who is, I want to urge you also to strive to get as clear and correct an idea of God as you can. An accurate idea of God’s character is to faith what the foundation is to any building. The structure will stand or fall depending on how “true” it is.
When I refer to our “idea” of God, I’m talking about our actual thoughts about him, and not merely what our church’s creed or doctrinal statement says. I’ve found that my actual idea of God, while it may be aided by the creeds and teachings of others, is exposed by challenging or difficult circumstances of life. That’s where my real thoughts about him come to light; and the degree to which my thoughts about him are correct. It’s those thoughts that sustain me.
My musings here are not an attempt to reduce God to manageable terms. I think we tend to want a God we can, in some measure, contain and then control. I assure you he’s neither containable nor controllable. We won’t be able to “define” him, but we can know him as much as he’s pleased to reveal himself to us. I think that the degree to which we know him (as he actually is), we’ll be empowered to follow him and do what he wants us to do.
One day the theologian Augustine was walking along the shore of the Mediterranean contemplating the nature of God. He came to a small boy who had dug a hole in the sand and was running back and forth from the sea collecting water and then pouring it into the hole. Augustine asked what he was doing. The boy said, “I’m putting the ocean in this hole.” The scholar realized that expecting to figure out God is as absurd as attempting to fit the sea into a ditch!
Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? Romans 11:33-35 NLT
Rather than a bullet point list of God’s traits or a systematic exposition of passages related to the subject of his character, the approach I take here is more of a biblically informed philosophical meandering. You’ll find relatively few biblical passages cited until Addendum #1; and even then, the list of verses is not intended to be an exhaustive one. You can find many more passages in any number of good systematic theologies and other good books about God’s personality. I’m sure that these helpful resources have influenced my thinking; nevertheless I haven’t directly consulted the experts in preparation for this writing. I didn’t want to regurgitate what others have already written, but rather tell the story about how I see him to date. My opinions, of course, have been influenced, not only by the teachings of others, but my own study of the Bible and my personal interaction with him over the years, which has sometimes looked a lot more like wrestling than interacting.
This is more of a workingman’s (and woman’s) approach to theologizing, a little more hands-on than what you might find in a book with lots of germ-free definitions of Greek and Hebrew words. My hope is that these musings will be as directly applicable to you and how you live out your faith as they have been to me.
I might also mention that the aspects of God’s character that I’ve included here are not all the topics that more comprehensive studies would include. The following are merely the qualities of God’s personality about which I’ve been pondering lately. The things I’ve said here are obviously not the only things that are true about God. These are just some of the things that I have come to believe so far.
By the way, one’s character is not the same as their reputation. Reputation is what people think you’re like, while character is what you’re actually like. Abraham Lincoln said, “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” In some circles, God doesn’t have a very good reputation – mostly because of the attitudes and actions of some of his followers. Nevertheless, misunderstood or not, his character is intact.
This multi-post essay is intended to be more of a musing, the goal of which is to inspire some of your own better thinking – and more than mere thinking. I pray that your thinking about God, and what he’s like, will readily translate into you loving, trusting, and worshipping him with all of your heart.
“It is better to worship the great
Divine than to explain him.”