God – to be Feared and Loved

Writer: 
Jari Rankinen
Translator: 
Reija Becks

What is God like? How can you know, what God is like?

The most common way of thinking about matters of faith may be this, “Yes, God does exist, but there is really not much we can know about him – at least we cannot be sure – and that is why it is no use digging deeper into these things.”

There is a hint of truth in this. It is true that we do not have the ability by which we would learn to know God. I can remember only a few things from my confirmation class. One of them is the teaching that God hides himself. God is hidden. This means that God is beyond our reach; we can look at the starry sky on a frosty night and realize that God exists and is somewhere out there, but we cannot reach him – we cannot see him or catch him with our thoughts.

The human being can keep guessing things about God. In fact, we are champions in that. The world is full of religions and religious ideas. But if we just say about God, “This is how I have thought about it” or “This is what the so-and-so great thinker said,” it is only guesswork – speculations about something we have not seen and know nothing about. There may be some slight truth to them, but in many cases, things said about God are utterly false. It is no use going to a bookstore to buy a book about the ideas of some great thinkers in order to look for God in their writings. Many people do it, but that is not how we learn to know God.

God is hidden, but what is equally true is that we can know God. We can know him so well that we will really know whether he loves us, judges us, and if he is interested in us and our affairs. We can know God so well that we can have a close relationship with him – so close that we can say, “I know him and I belong to him.” How is it possible? The answer to this is the word of God. God sends his word from a place we cannot reach with our gaze or thoughts and starts to speak through his word, tells about himself and so reveals his hidden being to us.

This is what God has done. He sent his word from where we cannot see. This means two things:

Firstly, that God gave us a book. We believe – like Christians have always believed – that the Bible is God’s word and God chose certain people and commissioned them to write what he wants to say about himself to all the people in the world. The Bible tells us what God did in various situations, what he told people to do, how he loved, what he condemned, and what God’s men and women taught about God. It is in all this that God reveals things about himself to us so that we could know him. In the Bible, God himself – who knows himself – speaks to us, who do not possess the ability to know God.

Secondly, the fact that God sent his word means that God himself, in his word, came to this world. It happened when Jesus came here. The Gospel of John says about Jesus that he is the Word of God and God himself. ‘God’s Word’ means that everything God wants to say to us about himself is Jesus. ‘God himself’ means that the invisible hidden God from somewhere far away became visible in his Son and came among people.

At one time, Philip, one of the twelve disciples, asked Jesus to show them Father God. What did Jesus answer?

“Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9).

See Jesus, and you see him, whom you cannot see otherwise. Learn to know Jesus deeper and deeper, and you know the one true God. Ask how Jesus loved, and you know how God loves. Think whether there were things that Jesus judged, or people who he judged, and you know if God judges. Think who Jesus was interested in, and you know whether God is interested in you.

The Bible teaches us to know Jesus. It is about him that the whole Bible tells us, and its aim is for us to learn to know him. This applies also to the Old Testament. And only the Jesus we find in the Bible is the right Jesus – he, in whom the hidden God revealed himself.

The Bible is the tool for us to learn to know God. And we do not have any other means for it but the Bible. Wandering in nature will not help, nor meditation unless God’s word is tied in with it. Think how people view the Bible. It is read very little. It is taught increasingly less. What it says is largely ignored. It is gathering dust on the bookshelf. And there are many of those who say that we need not bother about the Bible – that in it, people tell about their experiences about God, which have no more value than something else written about God. Or, they say that they believe in a different kind of god from the one spoken of in the Bible. So, God is trying to tell us about himself, but we close our ears and ignore that he is speaking. If we do this, we will not learn to know God. We can try to guess this and that about God, but it is mere guessing.

Act differently from so many others. Read the Bible. Listen carefully what it says about God. And believe what it says.

The Bible is God’s word. This does not only mean that the Bible gives us reliable information about God. The Bible is even more wonderful; God is in the word that is in the Bible. In that word – when you read it or hear it when it is being taught – he comes to you. In that word, he speaks to you and teaches you to know him. Have access to God’s word again and again. That way you will have God come to you; he comes to teach you, and you will be able to say, “I know him.”

“Prove it – that God speaks in the Bible, and it teaches us to know God.” This is what a Christian is sometimes told. What is our answer? We cannot prove it, but neither can it be proved that the Bible is not God’s word. We cannot present arguments which would put an end to everybody’s objections and make everybody believe in the Bible. Nevertheless, there is this compelling argument: Jesus said to those who doubted whether he is the Son of God, “If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” (John 7:17). The same is true here. If you will read the Bible and listen to it in order to really find out whether it is from God or not, the Bible itself will convince you that it is God speaking. In the Bible’s word, it is God himself operating and convincing us that it is his word. You can say to anyone doubting the Bible, “Do you have the courage to start reading this book? Very soon, it may happen that you will be convinced that God is revealing himself to you in that book.” This happened e.g. to the film director who made a film about Jesus. Starting the work, he was very sceptical about the Bible. He studied the Bible extensively for the film. And before the film was ready, God had created in him the faith that this book is God speaking.

Are these things so important then? Is it important to know whether God loves me and is interested in me? Yes, it is. In fact, nothing is as important as knowing God. It is the most important thing for two reasons.

Firstly, the human being was made in the image of God, and this means that you are meant to live in such a way that your relationship with God is in order. And it cannot be in order, if you do not know God. If you live differently from the way you were meant to live, many kinds of bad things will follow from it. Life may just somehow seem so pointless. Or, there is inexplicable restlessness in your heart, and you try to appease it with some trips abroad or a fancier car. “The human heart is restless until it finds rest in God.” This is what the Church Father Augustine wrote a long time ago. It is still true. I am sure that the restlessness plaguing so many today comes exactly from the fact that things with God are not in order. It is unfortunate that when trying to find peace in their hearts, not many people look for where it can be found. You find it in knowing God. Even the believers can easily start to somehow underrate the importance of their relationship with God and begin, more and more, to look for fulfilment in their lives in something else. And when this happens, the meaning of life disappears.

Then there is an even more important reason why these matters are so important: eternity begins after this life. What will happen to me in afterlife depends solely on whether there is a relationship between me and God and whether it is in order. And that relationship can be in order only by me knowing God. If the relationship is in order, God will open the door to heaven for me. If it is not, I will be separated from God forever. Nothing is as terrible as ending up in eternal damnation. And, therefore, nothing is as important as knowing God. Then we will ask, what is God like?

We do not know or understand everything about God. Sometimes God works in ways that surprise us or even offend us. Or, we have a revelation about God that we had not thought about, even though we had read our Bible. God turned out to be different from what we had imagined. And we have some questions about God to which we would like to have answers, but God does not answer. We do not comprehend everything about God. But, in the Bible, God tells us at least the things we need to know, and he does it so clearly that nobody will be left confused.

What is God like? He is truly amazing. He is amazing in his power, wisdom, and glory. He rules the whole universe. There is a Psalm that talks about the amazing starry sky and how God is even more amazing. God must be like that, otherwise he could not have made all this, nor could he hold it together. God, who has everything in his hands – the whole world – is a great God. While speaking about the greatness of God, the Bible also says that this great God cares for every individual on this little planet in this universe. It means very much to him what happens to just one individual. He is interested in and cares for every individual’s issues.

Jesus shows that this is what God is like. Jesus noticed individual people. He stopped and talked to one person, even though he was surrounded by hundreds and thousands of others. This is exactly what God does. You are so important to our great God that he is so much interested in you that he comes to you, stops before you, speaks to you and listens to you and your troubles, and wants to be with you.

Perhaps it is difficult to believe this – as there are billions of people in the world. Whether you believe it or not, yet it is true. It is possible for our great God. This is something tremendously wonderful: God really cares for me. He knows my concerns. And, on the other hand, it is something very serious: God can see me wherever I am. There is simply no way I can get away from God. I cannot hide myself among masses of people. Even there, God can find me.

In Isaiah chapter 6, the prophet tells about his amazing experience: he encountered God. Before God, Isaiah realized the deep contradiction there is between him and God. He is a sinful man, and God is pure and holy. Realizing this, Isaiah cries, “Woe is me! For I am lost.” This is what God is like; he is holy. And you may remember from your Bible the woman who was caught in adultery and dragged before Jesus. The woman understood that she is now before the holy God. And she knew that she deserved God’s judgement because of her life. She fell down and waited for the judgement. She was exactly right. God hates sin – really and thoroughly hates it. He hated what the woman had done. In the same way, God hates it that you said something harsh to your co-worker, or that you were rude to your neighbour, or that you cheated when completing your tax return. God will not approve of sin – not to any extent. He is so holy that he demands a penalty for sin. You have sinned – just like I have – and therefore you have deserved God’s judgement.

Did the woman, who was dragged before Jesus, get what she deserved? No, she did not. Jesus treated her differently from what would have been the proper course. He did not judge her, even though it would have been right. He loved her and forgave her. He had the power to do this because, on the cross, he made propitiation for all the sins of all the people. This is how God will treat you, too. He will not judge, even if you have deserved judgement. He has mercy on you. This is how God acts now. One day, he will be the judge. But now, we are living in the time of grace. Now, he forgives all the sins and gives eternal life.

By the death of his Son, God atoned for his wrath that falls on all sin. And that is why he loves you, despite your sins. He loves so much that he cares for you, looks after you, and wants you with him in heaven.

What is the fear of God? It is understanding the greatness of God - that God is so great that I cannot think of him as some fellow person equal to me. I myself am hardly anything in comparison to the great God. My opinions are nothing next to his word. Anyone who appreciates this, honours God as such, listens carefully what he says, and wants to obey him.

Also, fearing God is understanding that I am totally dependent on the great God. My whole life rests on what God will give me – will he grant me my daily bread, health, and my tomorrow. And my whole salvation totally hangs on whether God has mercy on me. Therefore, I dare not make God angry. If I make him angry and he rejects me, things will certainly take a bad turn for me in every way. Disregarding him and his word is what God hates. I do not dare to live disregarding God and his will because it will make the holy God angry. This fear is called the fear of God.

Then, what is loving God? It is realizing how incredibly good God is to me. He takes care of me. He will not judge me, even though I have deserved judgement. He will give me eternal life, even though I should be sent to eternal damnation. Realizing this creates in me love for God who is so incredibly good towards me. If I love someone, I want to please him, live near him and serve him. This is how I am with God, if I love him.

It is both these things that our relationship with God is. It is fearing God: understanding God’s greatness and that I am totally dependent on him and, therefore, do not dare to make him angry. And it is loving God: understanding how good and merciful God is.