It is very easy to drift to various extremes as we explore our relationship to God, The Biblical picture is of a great and loving God. How do we maintain both his awesome greatness and yet at the same time have a relationship which is intimate with him? In the Seventies I heard Dr H R Rookmaaker say this,
If you can fit God in a box, he is not the God of the Bible.
This little sentence sum up the problem, there are no neat little formulas which can describe the God of the Bible. On the other hand one only has to read some of the major theologians struggle to express on paper their deep insights into the doctrine of God (see for instance Tom Torrance and Herman Bavinck}. Neither theology or formulas express the richness of God’s revelation of himself. Yet God has revealed himself supremely in Christ and the Holy Scriptures, as we look at Christ and his word, we are assured of the greatness of God and yet his tender and gracious love. Very often theologians talk of the need to stress both the imminence and transcendence of God and this surely is correct.
The danger of stressing the otherness of God: I remember in the early eighties attending a prayer meeting at a denominational head office in London, here the prayers were all addressed to the God who is wholly other, I felt that the prayers were addressed to a remote God. This is the problem whether it takes the form of Deism or of High Calvinism. It is rightly stressed that God is separate from the world but his acts in providence and grace do not take the place they should do. Deism reduces God to a cosmic watchmaker who leaves his universe to get on by itself. But a High Calvinism although confessing a belief in the God of Grace, so stresses the holiness of God that it causes fear. The seeker is told to wait for Christ to reveal himself to them, there is no free offer of the Gospel. Because of this many godly people are kept in spiritual bondage, doubts and fears are encouraged instead of a reliance on God’s gracious promises. I could go and list other problems but there is not space to do this now.
The danger of stressing our intimacy with God: In some circles God seems more like a pal than the Sovereign God of the Bible. When intimacy is overstressed God is used for our purposes. We expect God to provide what we want, we tell him what we want and then get down when it does not happen. It is easy to become overly familiar with God. Ironically this also leads to spiritual problems, this is because we get depressed when he does not do what we expect him to. We begin to believe that if only we had more faith god would have acted, we know that there can not be anything wrong with God therefore the fault must be ours. Over familiarity with God leads ironically to us looking more to ourselves than to the Lord.
The Biblical Picture: When we start searching the Scriptures we see that even when the awesome power of God is stressed, side by side with this is a stress on how God is concerned with every detail of the created order in an intimate way. Look for instance at the story of creation in Genesis, firstly we see God speaking the universe into being but when we look at the climax of creation,humankind, we see the stress on intimate relationship with God.
As we look through the pages of scripture we see that God is praised and loved for his awesome power and yet there is an expectation that God will speak and Act out of his loving kindness (See Psalm 118 and 136 for example) Perhaps one of the most striking accounts is the commission of Isaiah in chapter six of his prophecy,
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
The prophet sees the Lord in all his holy splendour and he rightly feels undone, convicted of his sin and yet it is in this very context we see the Lord acting graciously towards Isaiah. Here we see true reverence of almighty God coupled with god pouring out his grace and love on the prophet.
One of the most remarkable passages about our Lord Jesus is found in Colossians 1
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation
When we read this passage carefully we see that Jesus is the one who sustains all of creation, he is above all created being and is worthy of praise and worship. At the same time he is the saviour of the world who has reconciled us to the Father through his atoning death. This passage stresses both the otherness of god and his intimate relationship with us. We need to cling to this Biblical perspective and reflect this in our worship,prayer life and our walk with God. He is awesome, the transcendent one, yet he is the lover of my soul, who is closer than a brother. Perhaps the hymn writer gives us an example of all of this in these words
1 I’ve found a Friend; O such a Friend!
He loved me ere I knew Him;
He drew me with the cords of love,
And thus He bound me to Him;
And round my heart still closely twine
Those ties which naught can sever,
For I am His, and He is mine,
For ever and for ever.
2 I’ve found a Friend; O such a Friend!
He bled, He died to save me;
And not alone the gift of life,
But His own Self He gave me.
Naught that I have mine own I call,
I’ll hold it for the Giver;
My heart, my strength, my life, my all
Are His, and His for ever.
3 I’ve found a Friend; O such a Friend!
All power to Him is given,
To guard me on my onward course,
And bring me safe to heaven:
Eternal glories gleam afar,
To nerve my faint endeavor;
So now to watch, to work, to war;
And then to rest forever.
4 I’ve found a Friend; O such a Friend,
So kind and true and tender!
So wise a Counsellor and Guide,
So mighty a Defender!
From Him who loves me now so well
What power my soul shall sever?
Shall life or death, shall earth or hell?
No: I am His forever.
Amen. (James Small 1866)