I was recently interviewed by a local friend for his Sorani Kurdish YouTube channel and asked to explain the unique perspective the Christian faith brings to the understanding of the love of God. For those who don’t understand Kurdish, I’m attaching a transcript of the interview in English (God of love video transcript).
Category: Attributes of God (Page 1 of 2)
Paul says that God is the only one who “calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17). “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Heb. 11:3).
Dr. Richard Swenson is not only a medical doctor, but holds a degree in physics. Listen, and let your mind be stretched, as he helps us delve deeper into what creation from nothing means.
When God created the universe, He called into being all that is, including all space, time, energy, and matter. When He spoke, the universe appeared. But exactly where in the void did it show up? Nowhere. And it continues to reside nowhere. He spoke the universe into being and suspended it in the void. If we attempted to send a letter to the universe, we would discover that it has no address.
Beyond the walls of our finite universe exists nothing. If we try to extend our understanding into this nothing, what is it like? Perhaps we envision it dark and cold like outer space. But nothing is not dark and cold, because dark and cold are something whereas the void is nothing. Dark and cold are properties of our own created universe. Such properties, however, end at the walls of our universe. Even the laws of physics exist only within the confines of our universe and do not extend into the void.
Nothing has no temperature, no luminosity, no energy, no matter, no time. And it has no spatial dimensions. This is not a big nothing, stretching for trillions of light-years. Neither is it a small nothing. It simply is a void. We could not take a spaceship to the far wall of our universe and then pass through the wall to continue our journey into the void. There is nothing to enter.
Even as we think about this, it is an overwhelming temptation to picture the void as having dimension. We picture our universe as a bubble suspended in a massive dark blackness. But this is inaccurate. The void is not massive, because that implies dimension—and the void has no dimension. The void is not dark, because it cannot possess the quality of darkness. Perhaps it is best to simply warn ourselves that we cannot imagine a picture of such a void because it has no reference in human experience. It is, by definition, the absence of everything. As we try to picture a void, we will inevitably fail because our picture will never be empty enough.
In the midst of this void—this nothing—God called out His creation. Our universe has temperature and luminosity. It has matter and energy. It has time and space. Specifically, it has dimensions—length, width, depth, and time. But length, width, depth, and time were all created, not preexistent. (Richard A. Swenson, More Than Meets the Eye. Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2000, 169-170)
This year as Resurrection Sunday approached I had a phrase of Scripture repeatedly pop into my mind: “the living God.”
I went searching through the Bible and discovered it occurs twenty-eight times in the Scripture (ESV). It is like a vein of gold running from cover to cover (literally, from Deuteronomy to Revelation).
The Bible sets “the living God” over against “vain” idols (Acts 14:15). God alone, uniquely is “the living God.” There is no other. Idols, whatever form they take, are “vain.” That is to say, they are empty. They are non-existent, except as a figment of the imagination in the minds of those who attribute being to them. They are nothing. They can do nothing. They are a lie.
God, on the other hand, is “the living God.” He is. He lives, moves, acts, speaks, does. He is alive, present, and active. God is self-existing.
God possesses life in a way that is unique to Him alone. Jesus said, “the Father has life in himself” (John 5:26). His life is not a derived thing; it is not a contingent thing. God’s life is dependent upon nothing external to Himself. That is why when He revealed Himself most intimately and personally to Moses He called Himself “I AM.” He declared, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14). Not, “I was.” Nor, “I will be.” But “I AM”—ever, always, perpetually, without end He “is.”
The psalmist declared to God, “with you is the fountain of life” (Psalm 36:9). Paul said, “he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). This means that our life is a derivative, contingent thing. Job affirmed, “In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:10). Our life, then, is derived from “the living God.” The life you now enjoy comes from and is contingent upon Him. Your heartbeats, brainwaves, respirations continue at His will.
God possesses life as something internal, immediate, and self-possessed. It is like the difference between being the fire and sharing the flame. The “living God” gives us “life” like one lights the end of a stick from a bonfire; it can only continue to burn by remaining in the fire. But taken from the fire, that flame eventually flickers out—unless it is brought back to the fire again and again.
But what if the fire itself came to dwell in the stick? Well, it might be like a bush that burns, but is never consumed (Exodus 3:2)!
Indeed, “the living God” “alone has immortality” (1 Tim. 6:16). His, uniquely and solely, is unending, inextinguishable life.
The Bible sets “the living God” before us as a Triune being—one God, yet existing in three persons. In the pages of the Bible we meet God “the living” Father. Jeremiah declared, “The LORD is the true God; he is the living God” (Jer. 10:10a). We meet in its pages, God “the living” Son. When Jesus asked His Disciples who they believed Him to be, Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). The Scriptures hold Him before us as God “the living” Spirit. Paul told the believers in the city of Corinth, “you are a letter from Christ … written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God” (2 Cor. 3:3).
The Triune God is “the fountain of life” (Psa. 36:9). But Jesus promised He would be more than a fountain to which we must return again and again. He promised the one who believes in Him, that “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). And John immediately explains: “Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive” (v.39a).
As “the living God” He is not content to keep that life to Himself. He gave life to animate creation at the beginning, but uniquely breathed the breath of life into humans whom He’d made in His own image (Gen. 2:7). When our ancient ancestors rebelled, they incurred the judgment of “death”, a death that they passed on to every human being (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 5:17a). But “the living God” determined the sentence would not end with the period of “dead,” but with the exclamation point of “life”!
So—and here is the grand, good news (gospel)—God “the living” Father sent God “the living” Son to die for our sins. Then God “the living” Father, by the power of God “the living” Spirit, raised the Son from the dead, restoring Him to an “indestructible life” (Rom. 1:4; Heb. 7:16).
When a person hears this, believes this, and turns their whole life to Him, God plants that very, indestructible, immortal, eternal life within that person by coming Himself to take up residence within that person. We then exist not just a brand plucked from the fire, but as one with the fire itself now dwelling within! He is then to us not just a fountain to which we must return again and again, but within us has become rivers of living water!
The “living God” comes to be this life within us when we turn from “vain idols” and believe in and serve “the living God”—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Allow me now to provide a quick fly-over of what the Bible teaches about how we are to live in relationship to “the living God.” Think of this as a drone’s-eye-view of things. Imagine the drone sending its video footage from far above back to your earth-bound heart.
When we repent and believe in Jesus Christ we become …
- Children of “the living God” (Hosea 1:10).
- We become “sons of the living God” (Rom. 9:26).
- That is to say, we are made family, sharing the very life of “the living God.”
- Servants of “the living God” (Dan. 6:20; Heb. 9:14).
- That is to say, we owe allegiance to “the living God.”
- We actively devote the whole of our time, talents and treasures to the mission and purposes of “the living God.”
- The Temple of “the living God” (2 Cor. 6:16).
- That is to say, we become the dwelling place of “the living God.”
- We become the very place where God delights to make His residence.
- The Church of “the living God” (1 Tim. 3:5).
- That is to say, we form that assembly of “called out” ones (for that is what the root word of “church” means).
- We are called out of death into life. We are called out of the world and its purposes into relationship to God and His purposes. We are called out of the kingdom of the evil one and into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son.
When we repent and believe in Jesus Christ we are to …
- Fear “the living God” (Jer. 10:10; Dan. 6:26).
- Progressively, as we come to know Him more and more, we move down the continuum from terror (Heb. 10:31) to awe-struck, love-enfolded worship (Psa. 84:2).
- Listen to “the living God” (Deut. 5:26).
- To “listen” to God is to hear, heed and obey His Word, as opposed to twisting His words (Jer. 23:26) to our own ends.
- Worship “the living God” (Psa. 84:2).
- Responding to what He has revealed of Himself in His Word and becoming trumpets of His glory and worth.
- Thirst for “the living God” (Psa. 42:2).
- Finding that while as “living water” He satisfies our deepest parts, He simultaneously creates within us an ever-greater desire for Him.
- Serve “the living God” (Heb. 9:14).
- As His life becomes our life we move, act and do to pass on this life to more and more people.
- Hope in “the living God” (1 Tim. 4:10).
- “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior …” (1 Tim. 4:10a)
We are all thus warned against …
- Mocking “the living God” (2 Kings 19:4, 16; Isa. 37:4, 17).
- The lowest form of “fool” in Proverbs is called the “scoffer” (e.g., Prov. 9:7-8; 13:1; 19:29).
- What else could you name one who, in the face of death, mocks the only life that survives death (1 Cor. 15:54-57)?
- Falling away from “the living God” (Heb. 3:12).
- And thus …
- Falling into the hands of “the living God” (Heb. 10:31).
- For “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31), having spurned Him who alone is life.
Would you be willing to turn to “the living God”? Do you desire to receive life—everlasting, eternal, indestructible—from Him?
I invite you right now to bow your heart before Him and tell Him so in prayer. Thank Him for not leaving you in the grip and terrors of death. Thank Him for triumphing over death by the cross and in His resurrection. Turn yourself over to Him who alone is life and ask Him to bring you to new life through a living, eternal relationship with Him.
“Tolerance is, no doubt, a virtue without which none of us can live, but we must, nevertheless, at least understand that it is, strictly speaking, destructive of fellowship, for it is a gesture by which the divine disturbance is rejected. The One in whom we are veritably united is himself the great intolerance. He willeth to rule, to be victorious, to be—everything. He it is who disturbs every family gathering, every scheme for the reunion of Christendom, every human cooperation. And he disturbs, because he is the Peace that is above every estrangement and cleavage and faction.” (Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans; quoted in Robertson McQuilkin, Five Smooth Stones, p.198)
New Testament scholar J.B. Phillips once wrote a book entitled Your God Is Too Small. The indication is that there is a direct link between our view of God and the way we think about and conduct ourselves in life. A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” He went on to say that the most foreboding and prophetic “fact about any man is not what he at any given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God.
How big is your God? The writer of Psalm 113 revealed something of his perception of God when he queried, “Who is like the Lord our God, Who is enthroned on high, Who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth?” (vv.5-6).
We are told that light travels at 186,000 miles per second. Were we to discover and board a vehicle that could travel at that rate of speed, after lifting off the face of the earth we would pass our moon in approximately one minute. Were we able to continue at such a rate of speed we would blow by our sun in approximately 8.3 minutes. If we wanted to continue on our joy ride it would take us approximately another 80,000 years to reach the far side of our galaxy!
With those phenomenal dimensions fixed in our minds, do with me as someone once invited me … in your mind travel to a far off place. Imagine yourself walking barefoot along miles of sandy beach. After a long walk you take your seat in the warm sand and with your hand reach down and draw up a handful of the grainy substance. You allow the sand to trickle out from between your fingers. They you blow, ever so gently, upon the surface of your palm until one tiny grain of sand is left in your palm. That solitary grain of sand would represent our earth and the grains of sand stretching out for miles on either side of you would represent the number of other planetary bodies in our Milky Way!
Now put your hands together and dust away that grain of sand. Start over. With a new handful of sand, again allow it to run through your fingers. Blow once again until you have one lone grain of sand left in your palm. Now consider that grain to be our Milky Way and all the grains of sand stretching out in the distance in either direction around you to be the approximately one trillion other such galaxies now estimated to exist by our scientists. It is believed that every one of those one trillion galaxies probably averages some one billion stars within it.
How far could you go into God’s creation if you traveled the rest of your days at the speed of light upon your marvelous vehicle? God tells us, through His psalmist, that He is so vast, infinite and beyond our measure that He must stoop to even behold the galaxies He has made. “Who is like the Lord our God, Who is enthroned on high, Who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth?”
The prophet Daniel lived in difficult days. He prophesied about even more difficult days yet to come. But in the midst of his troubles and with the revelation from God that even more difficult days were on the way he said that “Those who know their God will display strength and take action” (Daniel 11:32). Far from being overwhelmed by life’s circumstances, those who know their God will display strength and take action! What we think of when we think of God is the most important thing about us.
I hope that this summer you get the chance to be outdoors in God’s vast creation, to look up into a cloudless night sky, to gaze over some scene of natural beauty, to be still, observe, and be amazed. Not primarily at the creation—marvelous as it is—but at the One who created it all, providentially rules over and directs it, and who gave it as a hint at the vast greatness of His infinite being.
Take the moment to sing out from your heart: “O Lord, my God! When I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds Thy hands have made, I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed. Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee. How great Thou art, How great Thou art!”