Life Hope & Truth

From the January/February 2017 issue of Discern Magazine

Knowing God: A Preview

“Knowing God” is the first of three seven-day Journeys designed to walk you through some of the Bible’s most important truths, culminating in God’s incredible plan for the entire human race. Here is a sneak peek.

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Day 1: God the Self-Existing

There are a lot of reasons you’re not dead right now.

Take the atmosphere, for instance. Earth’s atmosphere has a delicate balance of oxygen and other gases, and the end result is that when you take in a big lungful of air, you don’t suffocate and die. That would be less true, say, in outer space or underwater.

That’s not all, of course. The fundamental laws of the universe (like gravity and the strong nuclear force) are precisely balanced in a way that keeps all of reality from collapsing on itself or unraveling like a ball of yarn. The telomeres on the end of your chromosomes are still long enough for your cells to divide and reproduce. Your brain and other vital organs are working in concert to perform all the myriad functions required to keep you alive.

The list goes on, and each additional point makes it more and more clear that our existence depends on an interminable host of variables, each delicately balanced and finely tuned. If just one of those variables stops working correctly, so do we.

God is different.

God doesn’t require a certain atmosphere in order to exist. He doesn’t depend on physical laws to provide Him with an environment He can live in. He doesn’t age; He doesn’t get sick or weak.

God depends on nothing.

Think about that for a minute:

Nothing.

There are no variables to tweak that would endanger God’s existence. God simply is—no qualifiers, no exceptions, no dependencies. As Psalm 102:25-27 so beautifully phrases it, “Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will endure; yes, they will all grow old like a garment; like a cloak You will change them, and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will have no end.”

When God described Himself to His servant Moses, He revealed two of His names: “I AM WHO I AM” and “the LORD God” (Exodus 3:14-15). The Old Testament was originally written in the Hebrew language, and in Hebrew both those names are heavily rooted in the word hayah—a word that simply means “to be.”

In other words, God is the God who is. He exists without the aid of anything or anyone. The universe itself can come and go, but God remains, unchanging, self-existing and eternal.

That’s good news for us. As fragile, temporary beings with limited lifespans, it’s encouraging to know that our Maker has none of those limitations. We might be constrained by things like height and depth and width and time, but God isn’t. The God who rules the universe exists apart from the universe.

That’s not an easy thing to wrap our minds around. As human beings, we look at the world in terms of boundaries and limits. A thing is this and not that; it begins here and ends there. But God can’t be stuffed into a box. He is limitless; He is unbounded in time and space, existing “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 90:2).

No qualifications. No exceptions. If we want to understand God, then we have to start here, with this most basic truth:

God is.

Then, and only then, can we move on to understanding who He is.

Day 2: God the Unlimited

The problem with being human—well, one of the problems, anyway—is that we tend to define things by their edges. If you were to show someone where Tanzania is on a map, you’d also be showing them where it isn’t. Like all countries, it has borders that dictate where it begins—and where it ends.

We do the same thing when we measure time. If you’re talking about the second Thursday of September 1874, you’re talking about a discrete chunk of 24 hours with clearly defined boundaries.

That’s just how we’re wired. We look at the world, and we see edges. Beginnings and endings. Stoppings and startings. Boundaries in time and space. And it’s a good thing too—life would be an absolute nightmare if we had no sense of time, no sense of where we began and ended, no way to comprehend the universe surrounding us. We need edges—and we need to be able to see them.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what makes it so hard to wrap our minds around God—because God is a God without edges.

* * *

From a human standpoint, that doesn’t make sense. And yet, again and again, that’s how the Bible describes God. It’s not that God doesn’t have a distinct likeness—quite the opposite, we’re told that the human race was made in His image (Genesis 1:26)—but it’s an unlimited spiritual form we can’t fully comprehend with our limited human minds. David asks, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” (Psalm 139:7). God Himself reminds us, “Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me?” (Isaiah 66:1). God can be anywhere, at any time, without restriction or qualification.

And that’s not all. The early disciples referred to God as “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all” (Acts 1:24), and God confirms it: “I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind” (Jeremiah 17:10). There is nowhere God cannot be, nothing past or present He cannot know and, just as important, nothing He is powerless to do. “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh,” He tells us. “Is there anything too hard for Me?” (Jeremiah 32:27). Jesus provides the answer: “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

We can’t fit God into a box. He exists outside of time and space. He has no beginning; He will have no end. There is no corner of the universe He cannot reach; no action He is not powerful enough to perform. He is aware of everything at all times—from the number of hairs on your head to the most secret thoughts of your heart.

There are, however, certain boundaries God refuses to cross because of His perfect, righteous character. The Bible tells us that, among other things, God cannot—that is, will not—lie (Titus 1:2). But when it comes to us and the challenges we face, the simple fact remains: the God of the universe cannot be limited—not by anyone and not by anything.

Why is it so easy to forget that?

* * *

It’s the edges. We’re always looking for them—even with God; even when we know He has none. Some part of our mind tells us that those edges must exist, so we invent them. We tell ourselves all the reasons God can’t help us, can’t see us, can’t get to us in time, can’t make it work, can’t fix it.

Sometimes those reasons are born of desperation. Sometimes they’re born of doubt. Sometimes they’re nothing more than half-baked excuses for doing what we want to do instead of what God wants us to do.

But those reasons are wrong.

When an angry mob moved in to seize Jesus, one of His disciples decided to take action. The disciple believed Jesus was the Son of God, but he also seemed to think the Son of God needed his help. He sprang forward, swinging his sword—only to earn a swift rebuke from Jesus. “Put your sword in its place. … Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:52-53).

God doesn’t need our help. We need His. God is the One with the perspective and wisdom and power to do what we cannot. There is no scenario where God is powerless to act.

* * *

There are, however, times God chooses not to act. Sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayers in the time frame or in the manner we’d like—but that doesn’t mean He isn’t listening. That doesn’t mean He doesn’t care. And it certainly doesn’t mean He isn’t capable.

There are a lot of reasons why God might not answer a prayer the way we’d like Him to. He might, for instance, be in the process of working out something better for us—something we can’t see from our current perspective. We might be asking for something that’s ultimately bad for us, even if we can’t quite see that’s the case.

Or it could be that our own life choices have distanced us from the God we’re praying to. As Isaiah writes, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2).

In other words, when it comes to understanding when and why God chooses to act, the answers aren’t always going to be as clear-cut as we might like. There’s a lot of nuance involved, and it’s not always going to make sense from our limited perspective. We don’t know everything He knows; we can’t see everything He sees—but there’s a world of difference between believing that sometimes God chooses not to act and believing that He simply can’t.

In the end, it comes down to faith.

* * *

Faith is difficult. Faith means accepting that God knows best, despite what we think we see. Faith means believing in something that doesn’t make sense in our world of edges and boundaries. Faith means looking at the impossible and accepting that with God, it’s not just possible—it’s plausible.

Faith means trusting in a God without edges.

None of that comes naturally. It’s a struggle, and that’s okay. God understands. When a desperate father brought his son to be healed by Jesus Christ, the father begged, “‘If You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:22-24).

Oftentimes, we’re in the same position. We have faith, but we also doubt. We trust, but we look on with skepticism. We’re locked in an internal struggle between what we believe in our hearts and what we see with our eyes, and there’s nothing wrong with asking God for clarity.

That clarity starts when we begin to let go of the predefined edges we try to force onto God. Let go of what you believe God cannot accomplish. Wipe the slate clean and allow for a God without limits on what He can do, what He can know and where He can be.

Once we’re willing to part with those edges, we can finally begin to see God for who He is—and not for who we think He must be.

And that God, as we’ll discover in the days to come, is truly incredible.

Note: The first Journey is now available in the Learning Center. Sign up today!

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