Who Is God?

Who Is God?

May 30, 2015

“[1] Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? [2] All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66:1-2 ESV) 

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel? Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding? 

Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust. Lebanon would not suffice for fuel, nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering. All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness. To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?

(Isaiah 40:12-18 ESV) 

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1 ESV)

 

“In the beginning, God.” Let’s just camp out here for a minute. I don’t want the staggering implications of that statement to be lost on you. It means that there was a time before which everything that we know exists existed. Before humanity, before the mountains, before the stars, before our planet, before even time itself, there was God. How long was God there before He made the heavens and the earth? I don’t know. Simply saying, “forever” seems pretty hollow because when we talk about “forever,” we mean an infinite stretch of time & God made time, so… Forever didn’t exist yet, because God had not yet decided that it should yet.

“There was a time, if ‘time’ it could be called, when God, in the unity of His nature… dwelt all alone… there was no heaven… there was no earth to engage his attention. There were no angels to sing His praises. There was no universe to be upheld by the word of His power. There was nothing, no on, but God… during a past eternity God was alone- self-contained, self-sufficient, in need of nothing. Had a universe, or angels, or humans been necessary to Him in any way, they also would have been called into existence from all eternity.” –A.W. Pink

Genesis 1 clearly shows us that God has an existence that is totally unlike ours. He has what theologians would call “self-existence.” He always has been, always will be, and He has never needed anything. “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God (Psalm 90:2)” He is and always has been completely sufficient in Himself. He is completely independent in His Being, and in His virtues and actions.

Think about this for a moment: just try to wrap your head around what it means to be God. God has not only no need of food or clothing or water, but is perfectly emotionally content in love, perfectly consistent in all his character, never needs help, never wonders what the best course of action might be or how things might turn out-because there’s nothing he doesn’t know, never wonders what’s happening somewhere else- for there’s no place he isn’t, never forgets a thing- for he cannot change, never learns a thing- for there’s nothing he didn’t ultimately invent. He alone is perfectly free from constraints-free in his power, free in his will, and free from counsel, free from all growth or decay.

In Isaiah 40, God asks, “To whom will you liken me?” Our only reply is “no one.” There is no one like our God. We only grasp pieces of what is true of Him. Most people try to describe God as, basically, a better version of themselves: God is good; God is just; God is love. These are true statements, but His goodness is a holy goodness, a “not like your” goodness,” a “set apart” in its infinite scope and perfection of character type of goodness. How would you even begin to describe Him? You have no categories that truly describe him.

Theologian Louis Berkhoff said, “God was under no constraint, no obligation, no necessity to create. That He chose to do so was purely a sovereign act on His part, caused by nothing outside Himself, determined by nothing but His own good pleasure; for He ‘works all things after the counsel of His own will’ (Ephesians 1:11)… Had God so pleased, He might have continued alone for all eternity… Whether He should do so or not He determined solely by His own will. He was perfectly blessed in Himself before the first creature was called into being.”

And then He created the heavens and the earth, light and darkness, water and land, birds and animals and man with but a word. What unimaginable power! This God is the absolute Creator and sustainer of the universe. He does whatever He wants, whenever He wants, however He wants- and He always does what is most wise, loving, and good, because He alone is perfectly wise, loving and good.

Before Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and many of the other “new atheists” entered the popular culture, there was an atheistic evangelist named Antony Flew. Flew, like many others, explained away the design of the universe, attributing it all to chance: “If you gave enough monkeys enough typewrites & enough time, they could compose the entirety of the works of Shakespeare.”

Well, a bunch of British students received a grant to try this out… They left a computer keyboard with six monkeys in the Paignton Zoo for a month to judge their literary output. Not only did the monkeys produce nothing but five pages, consisting largely of the letter “S,” but the lead monkey began by bashing the keyboard with a stone, and then the rest of the monkeys urinated & pooped on it.

For the record, the likelihood of randomly typing out a Shakespearen sonnet (16 lines) is one in 10690. To put this in perspective, there are “only” 1080 particles in the universe. Antony Flew responded by writing There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.

As God asked Abraham & Sarah in Genesis 18, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” No. In fact, there’s nothing even difficult for God.

God says he measures the waters in the hollow of His hand. If you’ve ever sat on the shore of the ocean late at night, you know something of its majesty, I think. When we look out over he water, it seems like it goes on forever- like it’s infinitely large and deep and powerful. As an individual, I can’t do a lot to hurt the ocean. For all the times as a kid I loved to fight the waves, the ocean never seemed to notice I was on the attack.

One time, when I was on Beach Project (brief explanation), Tropical Storm Alberto came by with its 40-50 mph winds… The ocean- not even the whole 352 quintillion gallons of it, just this little tiny speck of the ocean- could’ve easily killed me, not because it hated me, but simply because it’s so powerful & we are so insignificant by comparison. God says that he measures the ocean, in the little hollow of his hand.

God says he marks off the heavens with a span. A span is the length of the thumb to little finger. In other words, God is saying that the heavens are nothing compared to Him. Let’s think about that for a second: If you took our solar system & tried to actually draw it to scale, making the earth about the size of a pea, Jupiter would be 1,000 feet away and the next closest star (Proxima Centauri), would still be 10,000 miles away. If the distance of the earth to sun were reduced to the width of a piece of paper, the span of just our galaxy would be a stack of paper 320 miles high.

If you simply tried to count all the stars in just our galaxy at a rate of one per second (and remember, our galaxy is just one of at least 140 billion galaxies), it would take you about 2,000 years. Oh, and the average distance between each of these 140 billion galaxies is about 3 million light years (or, 3 million times 6 trillion miles). God simply spoke all of these into existence & not a single particle in all creation moves apart from his sovereign will. He rules them all, all the time. As Isaiah 40:26 tells us, God calls each and every star out by name. They are his.

God says that the nations are dust on the scales. I went to Target this afternoon to buy an apple, like one does. I came to the checkout line, and (name) was about to swipe my apple, but I said, “Whoa, whoa whoa. Wait a minute. Are you trying to cheat me here? Don’t charge me until you’ve wiped all the dust off the scales!” You can imagine (name’s) reaction. Why did he/she respond like that? Because the dust is inconsequential. So are all the nations with their wars, their economic crises, and power plays before the Lord. ISIS, the invasion of Ukraine, the Gaza Strip, the crash of the Euro- dust on the scales.

Nebuchadnezzar was a Babylonian emperor and, at one time, the most powerful man in the entire world. One night as he looked over his kingdom, he declared his own greatness. God struck him down & made him eat grass for 7 years. All the kings of the earth are regarded as nothing. Nebuchadnezzar later wrote these words,

“All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say to him, what have you done?” Daniel 4:35

“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? [2] All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD” –Isaiah 66:1-2

Psalm 115 says that our God is in heaven & he does as he pleases. Why? Because no one can offer anything to him that doesn’t already come from him. It’s all His & all under His absolute control. He never changes; he is forever holy. And so no one can ever force his hand. He needs nothing. No one can stop Him or even slow down His plans.

And that includes Satan.

I grew up with a Michael Jordan poster over my bed. MJ made everything cool… he was the best basketball player in the world, and he knew he was the best basketball player in the world. When the game was on the line, like Game 6 against the Jazz, the coach wouldn’t have to draw up a play. Every six-year-old in the country could’ve told you what was going to happen: Michael Jordan was going to receive the pass, dribble until he decided he was done dribbling, shoot when he felt like shooting, and unstoppably winning the game- against world-class athletes.

It didn’t matter that his opponents knew what was coming. They couldn’t stop it. It is for me, the absolute measure of MJ’s greatness & his confidence: “Here is how I am going to defeat you. You can try whatever you want. You will not stop me.”

How little power does Satan have before God? God has laid out whole game plan before him, shown him how he is going to defeat him, because it will have no bearing on the result… In fact, in Revelation 12, where there’s this epic final battle between the armies of Satan & the armies of God, it’s not General Satan squaring up against General God, duking it out. Heading up the angel armies is the archangel Michael, whose name means, “Who is like God?” The implication is clear: not you, Satan. Satan cannot even temporarily inconvenience God.

John Piper said, “He does whatever he pleases-he always acts to preserve his maximum happiness. God is happy because his righteous acts, which are always done out of love to his own glory, can never be frustrated beyond his will… God is infinitely happy because he has absolute right and power as Creator to overcome ever obstacle to his joy… nothing in all the world can frustrate the ultimate happiness of God… He has been complete and overflowing with satisfaction from all eternity… no one can offer anything to him that doesn’t already come from him. And so no one can bribe him or coerce him in any way… because he is completely and exuberantly happy and overflowing with satisfaction in the fellowship of the Trinity, all he does is free and uncoerced. His deeds are the overflow of joy.”

God has never done anything that displeased him; He has nothing but pleasure in all that He is, all that He has done, and all that He will do.

If this is true, then why would God go to the trouble of creating everything?

Just as the most delicious piece of key lime pie is enjoyed more greatly when it is shared, when its deliciousness is affirmed & equally enjoyed by another, so is it God’s delight to share the glorious beauty of His perfections with His creation. God in relationship says, “Isn’t this wonderful?” and we, his children alongside all creation, reply “Oh yes, more wonderful than we could have ever believed.”

God has determined that we would be meaningful to Him, that we would be the very centerpiece of His creation. He has created us for his glory, in His own image. This means that each and every one of us was made with incredible dignity and indescribable worth. We were made on purpose, with beauty and value. We were, as Psalm 139 tells us, knit together in our mother’s wombs- with our precise personality, athleticism, height, color, intelligence, creativity, and appearance. And we often wish we were more like someone else in some area, but the truth is you were crafted perfectly.

You were created to reflect and for relationship.

  • God created us ‘in his likeness’ to have relationship with him (where we find meaning, purpose, & joy) and wonderful relationships with others
  • God created us ‘in his image’ to reflect him- by bringing His rule to the whole world (filling the earth with a kingdom of justice, mercy, love, and holiness for his glory and our good)

Do you know how wonderful this is? No matter what happens out in the world: no matter what coach told you didn’t have enough talent, teacher who made you feel dumb, member of the opposite sex who made you feel ugly, you have infinite value to the King of the universe. So much value, in fact, that even though you have run from Him with every breath, He would move heaven and earth to get you back.

And He had to do just that, because we were foolish enough (and had the audacity) to look at this God who made everything & rules everything and say, “I don’t want you to be king over me. I want to be king and decide what I should live for!”

Some of us have done this by living for the things that the world lives for & some of us have instead tried to be very good.

After I first started coming to church, I started trying to keep God’s rules & clean up my life. Slowly and imperceptibly, I began to feel like God wasn’t holding up his end of the bargain. I started to get angry with Him when this relationship wouldn’t work out or when I didn’t get make a particular grade or when I had problems at home or I was unhappy or my friend died in a car wreck. If you’re like this, your goal is to “perform” in order get leverage on God, to get him in a position where he is in your debt. You may be smart enough to never say it out loud, but in your heart you think that, because you a do this & this, then God is supposed to reward you, give you a good life, or a loving spouse, a job where you don’t have to worry about finances, etc. If this is true for you, then Jesus might be your rewarder, or helper & example, but He is not your savior.

Like me, you don’t want God- you are using Him to try to get what you really want… just like the guy/girl sleeping around, getting hammered, etc. You’re just going about it differently. This means “you can rebel against God…either by breaking his rules or by keeping all of them diligently” (Keller, Prodigal God)- by being very, very bad or by being very, very good.

But do we really think that we can gain leverage over a God who doesn’t need anything from us, who has given us everything that we have? No chance! And since we cannot offer anything to this God, before we truly come to Him in relationship, we must repent of our feeble attempts to gain leverage over Him to get Him to meet our demands or to repay Him for what He’s done. You see, this is the most important distinction, I think, between Christianity & the world’s other religions.

“The essence of other religions is advice; Christianity is essentially news. Other religions say, ‘This is what you have to do in order to connect to God forever; this is how you have to live in order to earn your way to God.’ But the gospel says, ‘This is what has been done in history. This is how Jesus lived and died to earn the way to God for you’… The gospel is that God connects to you not on the basis of what you’ve done (or haven’t done) but on the basis of what Jesus has done…for you” –Tim Keller

Do versus done. And what is this news?

“For, he was sold, to buy us back; captive, to deliver us; condemned, to absolve us; he was made a curse for our blessing, sin offering for our righteousness; marred that we may be made fair; he died for our life; so that by him fury is made gentle, wrath appeased, darkness turned into light, fear reassured, despisal despised, debt canceled, labor lightened, sadness made merry, misfortune made fortunate, difficulty easy, disorder ordered, division united, ignominy ennobled, rebellion subjected, intimidation intimidated, ambush uncovered, assaults assailed, force forced back, combat combated, war warred against, vengeance avenged, torment tormented, damnation damned, the abyss sunk into the abyss, hell transfixed, death dead, mortality made immortal. In short, mercy has swallowed up all misery, and goodness all misfortune” –John Calvin

We are only acceptable before God by His mercy- that He who knew no sin became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God. On the cross, Jesus received every ounce of punishment and wrath that my sins deserved so that I could reserve all the welcome that His obedience deserved, so that now, when I stand before God, when He looks at me, He delights in me and welcomes me as He delights and welcome His own son! I could never have had been good enough to earn God’s love, but He loved me & died for me when I was his enemy & he has washed me whiter than snow, taken my sins as far as the east is from the west, adopted me…

Because the sinless Savior died/My sinful soul is counted free/For God the Just is satisfied/To look on Him and pardon me”

I am so loved that he was glad to die for me. And can’t you see how this would transform the way we live? No longer do we obey to get things from God or to avoid punishment, but we stand in awe of God, “You would do this for me!? I’ll do whatever you ask of me! How could you be so good!?”

This great & powerful God loves you more than you can dream… and even as He declares the majesty of His power, He tells us how to win His favor & get his attention:

“[1] Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? [2] All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66:1-2 ESV)

Let us be such people.

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