EVERYTHING HANGS ON THE NATURE OF GOD. IS HE ALL-LOVING, ALL-POWERFUL, ALL-KNOWING AND EVER-PRESENT AS WE HAVE BEEN TOLD?
If he is, then there is hope that there's a purpose in human suffering and that somehow God is going to work everything out in the end. Otherwise the universe seems a hostile frightening place to find ourselves in, doesn't it?
The truth is even more awesomely beautiful than most have ever dared to hope! God loves you with a passion we cannot fully imagine yet.
Let's look at the nature of God and begin to see how love changes everything.
That is, he isn't made up of physical elements like hydrogen, oxygen or carbon. He consists of spirit, which we cannot see or hear of feel or smell with our physical senses.
Because he is eternal and exists before all of creation, he is the foundation and source of all physical matter.
He is all powerful, all knowing, all present and all loving. There is nothing in existence apart from him and what he has created out of himself. He isn't limited by space and time. He is present in all space everywhere and throughout time, both of which he has made out of his own essence.
Because he is perfect love and everything he does is out of the highest purest motives of love, he is a Holy Spirit. That's what God is, Holy Spirit.
Essentially, this is something about God that we don't really understand but have come to accept as an article of faith. We know there are some things about God that are true but they seem to be mutually contradictory, i.e. that he is three individuals, (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) but that he is One at the same time.
The doctrine of the Trinity was established early in the Church's life to explain God as far as we could. We will not understand him fully until the day that we see him face to face in the resurrection. Until then, we use illustrations such as the following to make sense out of what is beyond us at the moment.
God has been described as the sun, the heat and light radiating from the sun and the warmth we feel when we step out into the sunlight. The three are all one and the same. The sun represents God the Father who is constantly radiating energy out into space. That energy is like Jesus filling the universe and the warmth we feel is like the Holy Spirit who is the manifestation of that energy that we experience on earth. The analogy falls down in many respects but does give us a picture of three distinct and different aspects of the one thing.
Because he is everywhere in his fullness, he is one. For things to be otherwise he would have to be schizophrenic. Yet the Bible tells us that God is in heaven while we are here on earth. Yet again we are told that his Holy Spirit has been sent here to be with us as our Comforter. How can that all be?
It wouldn't be true of me. When I am sitting here in my house, I am only in one place but I can communicate with and influence people and things remotely (e.g., by phone or the remote control on the TV or by banging on the ceiling with a broom handle). But that's not me; it's just me exerting an influence.
You could even go so far as to say that some parts of me are more "me" than others. For example I could lose a limb or two and still be me, but not my head. That's where I instinctively feel the "essential" me is.
But God is as much God on a desert island in the Pacific as he is in heaven. He isn't diminished by distance and his Holy Spirit isn't just an influence that he sends to remotely control things on earth. He is as much God as the Father in heaven.
When Jesus came to the earth some 2000 years ago he was fully God and fully man. (God was his Father and a woman called Mary was his mother). Actually the Bible says that he was begotten of the Holy Spirit, so he was his Father. But as he is fully God too that's possible.
So by understanding God as three persons in one Godhead we are not diminishing him but rather saying that he is richer and greater than any one being could be who filled all in all because he is a "Trinity" in nature.
The essential benefit for us in understanding God and His purposes from this is that he is not an isolated individual but rather exists in community. He loves fellowship. The intimacy and delight of the fellowship that the members of the Trinity share together, we can only dimly imagine. The awesome truth, revealed in the pages of Scripture is that this is something of his quality of life that he wants to share with us. Not as we are now but as we will be when he has changed us.
"Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:2)
Interestingly, in the letters of the New Testament the greeting of "Grace and peace to you" are always written as being from God the Father and Jesus Christ, and never from the Holy Spirit.
(See Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, Colossians 1:2 (some manuscripts only have this from God our Father), 2 Thessalonians 1:2, 1 Timothy 1:2, 2 Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:4)
The Scriptures talk almost exclusively of God as being male. Could she be equally female? The very thought would shock many Christians. But why? Would that make her be so inferior? God, I believe, has feminine characteristics equally as well as masculine. God did not make "man" in his image but "mankind". We were all made in his/her image. But the Bible was written in specific cultural contexts. Namely, they were societies which were male dominated where women were considered inferior. Therefore the thought of God being described as female would have been offensive. That should not be true today, but among Christians it largely still is because of the conservative nature of Christian culture and the fundamentalist/literalist way most Christians interpret the Bible.
(I expect I lost a few readers there. For those who are still reading... Thanks for hanging in there with me).
God wasn't lonely or bored when he decided to make mankind. He lacked nothing in himself. So why did he do it? Why not carry on as a Trinity for all eternity? I would like to venture an opinion based on my own experiences. After all, we were made in God's image, weren't we? A human parallel may not be a completely accurate one, but I hope it is helpful.
It's the illustration of my own marriage. I have been married now for over 35 years and the mutual love that my wife and I share, despite many ups and downs has grown over the years. For the first three years of our marriage we were very content to have each other to ourselves. But then we both agreed how wonderful it would be to share the love we had together with some children of our own. This enriched our love.
It also challenged it and tested it on more than a few occasions.
Having children and seeing them grow up to be able to enjoy fellowship with you involves many sacrifices. It means lost sleep (and not only when they are babies). It entails sacrifices and pain. But your love for them and your delight in them makes it eminently worthwhile.
God feels the same way about us.
In putting everything (on earth) under him (mankind), God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God, he might taste death for everyone.
In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists should make the author of their salvation perfect (complete) through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says,
"I will declare your name to my brothers; In the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises."
"I will put my trust in him."
And again he says,
"Here I am and the children God has given me." (Hebrews 2:8-13)
The fundamental reason for human existence is to fulfil the purposes of God. That purpose (given above) is to bring many sons (that is male and female - it's a generic term) into his glory. What does that mean? It means to be brought into God's presence and to enjoy an eternity with him, serving him and living as his children forever. It involves a change in our nature. When we become Christians we become partakers of his divine nature.
"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." (2 Peter 1:3, 4)
This happens instantly when we become Christians. We receive the "down-payment" of his Holy Spirit. We can then go on to grow in grace and knowledge (or we can fail to grow as we should). The primary means by which God has provided for our growth is prayer.
This is all for God and to his glory. It is what pleases him and that is the end goal. It actually is the best thing that could ever happen to us as well. At the first, our motive for Christian growth is primarily selfish but as we grow and Christ is more and more formed in us our motives become more Godlike.
I realise that all this needs explanation. This process of Christian growth is slow and often painful. It essentially involves a dying to self. It's not what many people understand as the path of Christian growth which they may describe as "Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better." To Christians who are truly growing it often feels that they are the greatest failure and the weakest Christian they know. (That's because they are recognising their own weakness, which is a prerequisite to God imparting his strength.)
The kingdom of God is spiritual and appears paradoxical to humans naturally. What is weak appears strong and what is strong appears weak.
What God sees and has seen from before he created time was a vast family which has received his nature and ultimately his substance (spirit), free of the selfish desires of the flesh, living with him, inheriting and ruling the universe. The Church is described in Scripture as the bride of Christ.
"To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne." (Revelation 3:21) "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." (Revelation 21:9)
"For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called he also justified; those he justified he also glorified." (Romans 8:29, 30)
Of course, there's a mixture of analogies here. We can best understand our relationships in the kingdom of God as being loved like sons and daughters or a precious wife alongside our husband. The reality will be like these but perhaps a million times better. I sincerely believe we couldn't fully understand it if God told us what it will be like. The essential truth is that we will be with God forever in his kingdom, not as puppets or slaves but as his precious family.