Who are You, God?

Erkki Koskenniemi
Elina Salminen

1. "Truly, you are a God who hides himself"…

The man declares, I am weary, O God; I am weary, O God, and worn out.
  Surely I am too stupid to be a man. I have not the understanding of a man. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.
  Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son's name? Surely you know!
  Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.”
  (Proverbs 30:1-6, ESV)

For many, God remains a great mystery. No matter how carefully we speculate and think and talk over Him, He just seems to be beyond our grip. We can’t see Him nor paint a reliable picture of Him. We can’t discuss with Him or simply ask His opinion on something. He is unclear, far, and distant. Is He even real? We strive to find out but can’t really comprehend.

Here we are facing one of the key elements in our Lutheran faith: God is concealed, hidden from general knowledge, and only reachable where He himself wants to be reached. God is beyond the realm of human comprehension, because He wanted to turn His back on the sinful mankind and conceal himself from us. A Church leader once said: “You can’t even catch a sparrow if it doesn’t want to be caught, so how could you ever imagine of having a good hold on God, if He doesn’t want to be found and available?"
Job, the severe sufferer in The Bible, says:

Behold, he passes by me, and I see him not;
  he moves on, but I do not perceive him.
Behold, he snatches away; who can turn him back?
  Who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’
“God will not turn back his anger;
  beneath him bowed the helpers of Rahab.
How then can I answer him,
  choosing my words with him?
Though I am in the right, I cannot answer him;
  I must appeal for mercy to my accuser.
If I summoned him and he answered me,
  I would not believe that he was listening to my voice.
For he crushes me with a tempest
  and multiplies my wounds without cause;
he will not let me get my breath,
  but fills me with bitterness.
If it is a contest of strength, behold, he is mighty!
  If it is a matter of justice, who can summon him?
Though I am in the right, my own mouth would condemn me;
  though I am blameless, he would prove me perverse.
I am blameless; I regard not myself;
  I loathe my life.
It is all one; therefore I say,
  ‘He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’
When disaster brings sudden death,
  he mocks at the calamity of the innocent.
The earth is given into the hand of the wicked;
  he covers the faces of its judges—
  if it is not he, who then is it?"
  (Job 9:11-24 ESV)

We can never understand any other God than the one who has revealed Himself to us in His Word. No-one can really approach or understand the concealed God. Whenever someone tries that, he or she will fail, get frustrated, and finally end up getting lost and hating the god he thought he found but whom he actually created by himself.

Still, real God is alive and available, graceful, and constantly hearing our prayers. He is a real person, not just a collection of fancy thoughts. It is possible for man to find Him, and He can also find man. If we want that to happen, we, small men should listen very carefully what an almighty God has to say.

We must search for Him in the places He wants to be found, not where He wants to hide. Only the Bible will lead you to living and real God and not the man-made image of one. Without His word, you are forced to continue with the most complicated brain-teaser ever, never to be solved by any man.

Every word of God proves true;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
(Proverbs 30:5 ESV)

2. Two realities

There are two kinds of realities in this world. The first one is visible, touchable and hearable, but the other one is only described by God’s word. The Bible tells us how some people have had an opportunity to look into this other reality. Their words reflect amazement, respect, admire, and fright of a small human in front of the great and holy:

As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.”
(Daniel 7:9-10 ESV)

As mentioned, some have actually met with this Great and Holy. One of those people was Isaiah, who was wrenched into the middle of a large church service but cried anxiously because he realized that he, as a sinful man, could never belong to that group of holy spirits nor stand in front of the Holy (Isaiah 6:1-6).

However, there are far more those who have been touched by God in a more conventional way, but still particularly enough, to make them realize the most important thing: God is holy and I am wicked. In front of God, everyone’s role is to stand in the place of a sinful, damned man.

3. "...O God of Israel, the Savior”

God didn’t only stay there in His brightness to see how poorly we sinners would cope with this wicked world. He didn’t just wait until all of us would finally end up in damnation. Instead, He cared and came close, He loved. He acted by sending his own son to us. The Bible says:

That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, "In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you. "Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
(2 Corinthians 5:19-6:2 ESV)

There are two issues in the core of Christianity that might be a bit hard to connect to each other.
 The first one is very wide
 and the other one very narrow.

The wide one tells us that without any separation, God will accept every single man on Earth because of Jesus Christ.

The narrow one says that there is no other saving grace available than Jesus and his work.

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
(John 14:6 ESV)

The wide part might be hard to accept because it seems too easy. However, God’s grace is really free, otherwise it wouldn’t be grace at all, would it? God was in Christ and made a reconciliation with the world.

The narrow part instead, seems to be too narrow: Is God’s grace really only in Christ and nowhere else? Yes, that’s excatly how it is. Christ is not a way to God, He’s the only way to God. There is only one way to see God’s loving, fatherly face, and that is being involved with Jesus Christ. Someone who rejects Christ has no saviour. Who doesn’t walk through the door can’t pierce the stonewall.

Both parts are true: Complete and free grace in Christ, and only in Christ.

In summer I spend plenty of time sailing in the Finnish archipelago. Sometimes someone drops his or her mobile into the sea. In that case, the phone is permanently lost. Furthermore, an outboard engine might get loose and be gone forever. These are annoying incidents, but the past is past. An enormous relief lies in the truth the Bible says about God:

He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.”
(Micah 7:19-20 ESV)

When God throws all of our sins into the deep sea for the sake of Christ, no-one will ever dig them up again. Neither a human, nor a devil or an angel.

4. Trust - what is it?

There are many dimensions in Christianity. One of them is trust; confidence in God’s goodness.

Take a moment to think about someone you really trust. If you should name just a few persons in your life you really rely on, who would they be and why? Imagine a story: You’re walking on a street when someone comes to you and asks your bank card and its pin number. I doubt you would give them to a stranger. But is there someone you trust so much you could give them away to him or her? I personally have no difficulty of giving my bank card to my own son for refueling the car, for example. He wouldn’t use it wrong. Maybe you can also think of someone you trust that deeply. However, consider how the confidence usually develops: slowly, year by year, growing bigger and stronger in difficult times when the trusted person never lets you down.

That is also how the confidence in God develops. Bit by bit, Holy Communion by Holy Communion, song by song, crisis by crisis. I don’t know where He took me and why, but I surely know He did. He never rejected, forgot, or left me alone. Moreover, He has tolerated a sinner like me for years, even decades, and promised to lead me all the way home. I’m learning to trust Him, and I already do. Would a father ever abandon his child?

5. Who is God then?

God is a great mystery, sacred, hidden, and incomprehensible God, who doesn’t know sin or darkness. Yet, he has come closer to the sinful mankind in Christ and hence is a deeply loving father to us humans. In the midst of all weakness, sin, and unanswered questions, the light comes from the words of an apostle:

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.”
(1 Peter 1:8 ESV)