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Our God is the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In Exodus 3:13-15, God told Moses His name: “I am who I am.” This glorious and amazing statement is, apart from the coming of Christ, perhaps the greatest statement of divine self-revelation ever made! This is the essence of God’s self-disclosure in the OT, just as the incarnation is the essence of God’s self-disclosure in the NT. Before God revealed His grace in Jesus Christ, He first laid a strong foundation of His otherness, His holiness. This was necessary and good, for the knowledge of God’s grace without the knowledge of His holiness leads to human self-importance and a shallow appreciation for grace. By calling Himself “I am who I am” God reveals His otherness, His self-existence, His unchangeableness. From it we learn that He is who He is, and He does what He does. “He has mercy on whom He has mercy... He has mercy on whom He wills, and He hardens whom He wills.” (Romans 9:15, 18). “His dominion is an everlasting dominion. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does 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?’” (Dan.4:34–35) Men must say, with the apostle Paul, "by the grace of God I am what I am" (1Cor.15:10). Only God can say, "I am that I am."
Is God a Despot?
Do you know what a despot is? An absolute ruler, a king with unlimited power, a single person who’s the absolute owner of other persons, those persons having no rights whatsoever over or against that owner. The word that correlates to despot is slave: one asserts absolute authority, the other absolute subordination. Well, remember the story of the old prophet Simeon taking the baby Jesus into his arms, and saying "Now you dismiss your bond-servant, Sovereign Lord, according to your word. For my eyes have seem Your salvation.”? (Luke 2:) Do you know what the Greek word is which is translated “Sovereign Lord” in v.29? It is DESPOTES, the word from which we get our word ‘despot.’ It is true: God is a despot, an absolute ruler with unlimited power, a single Person who is the absolute owner of all other persons, those persons having no rights whatsoever over or against Him. That relationship that has been the source of so much evil in the world of men, is the source of great good in man’s relationship with God. His will is supreme. He is God, after all. The thing that’s so bad about human despots is that they act like they’re God.
No man comes to God on his own terms. You only come to God on His terms. Being a follower of Christ involves recognizing the ultimacy of His will. Sorry, but God is not very American. He doesn’t run a democracy. Before Him we don’t have the right to our own opinion. Before Him we have no rights. God owes us nothing. As it says in Romans 11:35 “Who has given to God that God is obligated to repay him?”
Would it be better for God to be more democratic? Would it be more humble for God to allow us to have a share in what He decides? I think not. You see, for God to go along with our ideas and forsake His own would be for God to choose the inferior way, to compromise the good, to compromise His wisdom and knowledge. Not only is God not going to adopt an inferior plan, but it would hurt us not help us if He did. And so just for the sake of love He won’t conform His plan to our opinions, for His will for me is better than my will for myself.
The Case of Job
But this is really hard for us sometimes, isn’t it? Even in the Bible we find numerous examples of people who really struggled with this. Job, for instance. Think about the most godly person you know. Now imagine that so much suffering came crashing down on him/her that the person was turned into a bitter, irritable complainer. This is Job. In Job 3 we find him cursing the day of his birth. In 7:16 we find him saying, “I hate my life!” and to God, “Leave me alone!” In 9:14-24 he is accusing God of being a bully. In 10:1-17 he is accusing God of injustice. We feel sorry for Job, and so does God, I think. But still God severely chides him, giving him one of the Bible’s great tongue-lashings, a 124 verse verbal smack-down which you have to read to believe. And we need to stand with Job here. We need to hear God yelling at us in this, not just at Job. And when you read the book of Job, it is so clear that God did this to Job out of love.
The beginning of God’s rebuke of Job is found in Job 38:2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (which Job quotes in repenting in 42:3). God accuses Job of criticizing His holy and wise counsel even though he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Job’s “insights” do not add to the light of God’s counsel, they darken it. God goes on to ask Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4) How can we human beings think we know better than the One who created the world? As He says to Job, so He says to all human arrogance: “Who are you to challenge Me? Do you really know Who you’re dealing with here?”
God made us in His image. And one of the ways His image is displayed in us is that we read things, we evaluate things, we critique things, we fix things. But when we begin to turn that natural instinct toward God, evaluating Him, critiquing Him, fixing Him, God pushes back. “I warn you. Don’t go there!” God is not confronting an evil person in Job, but the most righteous man around (Job 1:1). And that’s the very point. There is NO man who can challenge God. “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God. Shall the pot say to the potter: Why did you make me like this? Does not the potter have the right over the clay?” (Romans 9:20-21) God is I AM WHO I AM. This means there can be no adjusting of God. HE IS WHO HE IS, and we must let Him be who He is, not try to change Him or adjust Him to fit our preferences.
Part of me wants to change God. Part of me doesn’t like certain aspects of the way He is. We have a few things we’d like to add, and a few things we’d like to take away. Thomas Jefferson took out the parts of the Bible which he didn’t like and republished it as The Jefferson Bible. Personally, I’d like to remove the doctrine of hell, and a few of the commandments. But we can’t pick and choose about God. He is who He is. We must accept Him as He is, or reject Him to our great peril.
As Protestants we believe that each believer must read the Bible for himself and not just believe whatever the church authority says. However, there’s a terrible danger with this, because of the human tendency to give much too much credit to our instincts, and be far too influenced by our preferences. We are constantly tempted to believe what we want to believe.
The holy God does not tolerate us adding our own ideas to what He has said. See the warnings of adding to what God has said in Rev.22:18-19. “God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city.” So, yes, we have to read and interpret what God says in His word, but we need to do so with fear and trembling, being very careful to try to avoid reading our own ideas or preferences into or out of God’s word.
God — as He is — is far better than our best reinventions of Him or reinterpretations of Him. Our improvements are actually only and always deprovements (yes, I know that’s not a real word, but there is no good opposite for improvement in the English language).
In our society being yourself is the highest value. But the Bible tells us that the highest value for us is to let Him be Himself. We change, we shift, we go through moods. God is who He is.
Disagreeing with God
I admit and agree that there are some things the Bible tells us that just seem wrong. But who is to be trusted to make that judgment? Me? Are you kidding? I have been wrong about so many things! I know so little! And I’m so influenced by my own impressions and prejudices! No one should ever trust me to figure out exactly what’s right and what’s wrong!
It’s foolish to assume that everything God tells us is going to sound right. Yes, some of the things He asks of you to do are difficult. Some of the things He asks you to believe are difficult. This is what the Bible tells us to expect: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is.55:8-9) We need to have a keen sense of “How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Rom.11:33)
You see, sin affects our thinking. Our viewpoint is corrupt. Our prejudices and mind sets are often in direct opposition to the Lord's truth. But the things of God are much easier to accept when we live in constant recognition of the fact that my perceptions about things might not be right: “Show me, Lord. Help me to have the mind of Christ. Give me the openness so that I might receive your correction quickly.” And when you find yourself at odds with what God says, you always have to be willing to say: “Let God be true and every man a liar.” (Romans 3:4)
The Problem with an Adjusted God
If you don’t come to God as He is, then you don’t come to the true God. The problem with a new and improved God is this: that God doesn’t exist. So if we improve God from how He reveals Himself in His word, we end up with a God who doesn’t exist. We have a choice: we either have God as He is or we worship a God the way we want Him but who isn’t real.
Struggling with God
This is for all of us. There is no room for finger-pointing and condemning others here. All of us mock Him every time we sin. Every time I get bummed out that things didn’t go my way, I am questioning the wisdom of God. We’re all in this together!
God allows us to struggle with who He is and what He does. But there’s a good and a bad way to struggle. There’s a humble way to struggle and an arrogant way to struggle. The Bible is full of wise men struggling with God, and foolish men struggling against Him. Job himself is a good example of this. In the midst of his suffering and his complaint he says: “How can a man be in the right before God? If one wished to contend with him, one could not win the argument once in a thousand times. He is wise in heart and mighty in strength — who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded?” (Job 9:2-4) He knew that ultimately God would be shown to be right and Job would be shown to be wrong. The question is: Whose ideas am I going to bet on being true? God’s or mine? When I act, I choose which I am betting on. This point is illustrated well in our own Amy Sayers’ testimony. As a young woman, she struggled with God, but she bet on God being right and coming through, as opposed to betting that God was wrong and she was right. She lived her life in the assumption that some day God would be shown to have been right, and so she didn’t do things she would regret on that day.
What is the Proof?
It isn’t hard to figure out that God’s mind is trustworthy, that He knows more and better than we do. As God said to Job, “Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind?” (Job 38:36) How can we think we’re smarter than the One who created the human mind?
But what about God’s heart? How do we know we can trust His heart? How do we really know God is out for our good? Mankind has been plagued by this question of whether God is really for man throughout history. Has He really given us what’s best? Satan raised this question in the garden of Eden, trying to convince Adam and Eve that God was really withholding the best stuff, stuff he could tell them how to get.
But the proof of God’s loving heart is that He sent His Son into human flesh, to live in our world and experience our woes and bear the burden of our sin upon the cross. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) He gave His Son and thereby proved that He is for us. Now there is no more question about whether God is for us. And if God is for us, who can be against us?