What if God was one of us?

If God had a face what would it look like
And would you want to see
If seeing meant that you would have to believe
In things like Heaven and in Jesus and the saints and all the prophets

And yeah yeah God is great yeah yeah God is good
yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home

– One Of Us, Eric Bazilian

(Note on the above song credit: the song was a hit for Joan Osbourn, but written by Eric Brazilan of the Philadelphia-based band, The Hooters. A “hooter,” by the way, is another name for a melodica, an instrument that the band featured.)

So, who is this God of the Bible? Is he the scary, wrathful “dangling sinners over the pit of Hell” kind of God that Jonathan Edwards ranted about, or is he “a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness” (Jonah 4:2)?

There’s a basic rule of interpretation that will really help us here, and that is to start with what is the most clear, and interpret that which is less clear in light of what we know. Keeping in mind that both Testaments speak of the unchanging nature of God, we know that we should see the same God throughout the Bible – but where to start?

I believe that the book of Hebrews holds the key:

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. Hebrews 1:1-3a

If Jesus, then, is the highest revelation of God, this should be our starting point. And, we see that Jesus himself made a similar claim:

If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him. … Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. John 14:7,9

Now, most people like Jesus. As gods go, he is hands down the best. Antony Flew, the famous ex-atheist, but who is still not a Theist, said in an interview, “Well, one thing I’ll say … is that, for goodness sake, Jesus is an enormously attractive charismatic figure.”

The people who didn’t like Jesus, of course, were the religious power-mongers of his day. He tended to snub those who we would call self-righteous, and chose to hang out with the sinners. Far from dangling people over hell, he healed people without requiring repentance (though he certainly advised in favor of repentance), forgave sins without being asked, and on the cross even asked the Father to forgive those participating in his crucifixion, “for they know not what they do.”

He also chastised the Jews for keeping the knowledge of God to themselves and for holding religion over people’s heads. He chastised the rich and the self-righteous. If you look through the Gospels at those whom Jesus criticized and those whom he accepted, I think you’d come up with a rather interesting par of lists with the headings “sheep” and “goats.”

So far, he appears to be the original Working Class Hero. But, here’s where people begin to have issues: he claimed to be “the truth” and “the only way.” He made it clear that you accepted Jesus’ Good News – or you missed the boat. At this point, you can hear a Jarjar-like exclamation, “how rude!” So, Jesus turns out to be this extremely nice guy with the only “words of life,” which at times can be rather harsh. As it turns out, Jesus offended everybody, as the Gospel tends to do. Jesus’ moral teachings are welcome on one hand and offensive on the other. Jesus, after all, claimed to be God. As CS Lewis argued, you cannot just accept Jesus as a heckuva nice guy; he either was God as he claimed, or he was a flake. You either, then, have to accept Jesus at his own word, or come up with some hair-brained theory to explain how his words were altered by wacko followers.

In spite of ridiculous arguments that Jesus never existed (as was made by one of the atheists in the recent debate against Ray Comfort), the evidence for Jesus is sufficient for any reasonable person not to doubt it. And, as far as that goes, the evidence for the physical resurrection of Jesus is also quite sound. Quoting Antony Flew again from his interview with Dr. Gary Habermas, “The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity, I think, from the evidence offered for the occurrence of most other supposedly miraculous events.

Considering the best scholarship on Jesus and the Bible, we have to conclude that the four accepted Gospels are authentic and aside from a few questionable passages (which by the way, are noted as such in most versions of the Bible), we can accept them as historically reliable; it really makes no sense to doubt them. So, again we are faced with dealing with the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who claimed to be God.

But what about God in the rest of the Bible? Certainly we have to address the total picture of God as revealed throughout history – for that is essentially what the Bible is about. However, until we get past Jesus, there’s no point in dealing with anything else. Again, Jesus is the highest revelation of the Biblical God that we have, and we must start here, and then interpret the rest according to what Jesus has revealed.

This is not a cop-out by any means, meant to avoid dealing with the Old Testament. It is, rather, a challenge to deal with Jesus.

Tell me all your thoughts on God

Tell me all your thoughts on God
Tell me, am I very far?

Counting Blue Cars, Dishwalla

When talking about issues of religion, faith and questions of God, it is of utmost importance to consider our view of God. This seems patently obvious, but I doubt that most people, even Christians, really have a good, solid grasp of what they believe about God, or how they even arrive at their concepts of God. Many people have vague, mythological, and outright bizarre notions of who God is, that are not only inconsistent with the Bible, but may be inconsistent with their own beliefs. For example, it has been a focus (too much, in my opinion) of some counseling methods that our view of God is directly related to our relationship with our fathers. Then, many people are influenced by their theological upbringing, especially those raised Catholic or Fundamentalist/Holiness traditions.

For many people, there is a major confusion about God as they see a contradiction between the God of the Old Testament (the mean, vindictive, warrior God) and the New (the nice, loving, “meek & mild” God). Or, they see Jesus and the Father as “good God, bad God.” However, both the Old and New Testaments are clear that God does not change. Malachi 3:6 says, “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.” James affirms “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” It’s odd to me that as the issue of God is so terribly important (to both believers and serious atheists), people don’t take the time to at least try to figure out who God really is. Of course, I suspect that many people actually like the confusion, as it allows them to believe whatever they want. “Virtual reality” is not something limited to computers – people have been creating their own virtual realities for thousands of years.

So, how are we to figure out who God is? And perhaps more importantly, can we figure out who God is?

I am currently reading Victor Stenger’s God: The Failed Hypothesis, which, by the way, is really trying my patience; it is one of the most ridiculous books I’ve tried reading in some time. My point in mentioning this, however, is that as he begins he presents various philosophical arguments for the non-existence of God, that he seems to accept without question. Most of these arguments are good examples of “straw God” arguments – they present a God that no one claims to believe in, and disproves their existence. It’s all fairly foolish, and I’ll talk about them at some point. Of all of the arguments against the existence of God, I haven’t heard one which actually deals with the God of Christian Orthodoxy.

Now, there are differing viewpoints within Christian Orthodoxy about God, which is to be expected. My son, Isaiah, believes that this is one of the more convincing things about Christianity. If someone wanted to make up a religion, they’d make it a whole lot tighter than Christianity is (this, by the way, tends to explain fundamentalism). Like science, theology is a journey toward knowledge. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t things we can know, and proper methods to use.

Stay tuned for more…