What We Believe – God January 12, 2020
Hosea 11:1-4 Rev. Donald W. Hackett, D. Min.
Centre Presbyterian Church New Park, PA
What mental image do you get when I say the word “God?”
- Do you see an old man in a huge throne too weak and feeble to help anyone?
- Do you imagine a cosmic policeman ready to bust you if you get out of line?
- Some people see a big personal vending machine for their every desire.
Go ahead during this sermon and doodle on your bulletin images you have for God. When we think about God, it is important to line up our conceptions of God with what God has already revealed to us. What we believe is important. The values and truths about life and God we hold close to our hearts shape the way we think and act.
The Story of God
This year we will reexamine our thinking about God and God’s interaction with humans. In our preaching series, I will be using the book, What Christians Believe, by Anna Wierzbicka. It is a unique book that uses straight forward language so that all can understand. The book is based on the Bible. It lays out forty key faith concepts that explain what all Christians believe. As I mentioned last week, Professor Wierzbicka used a radical approach. She and her team employed a type of English called “Minimal English.” In this telling of the Story of God and People, the listener need not have any background in the Bible.
Here is my hope for this year. By covering these 40 Key Faith Concepts and having this book as our resource, my goals in this series are to:
1) Make the Story of God in Christ understandable to all;
2) Equip listeners with the ways to be transformed by the Holy Spirit;
3) Enable us share the truth and love of Jesus Christ with others in ways they can understand.
Today, we are going to take the first topic, God. What a big first step! How do we talk about Someone that is much larger, deeper, and mysterious that we could ever conceive? The place to start is what we can observe for ourselves.
There is a concept called general revelation. It refers to all the things we can conclude about God from what we observe. As we look at the vastness and complexity of the universe, from our DNA to huge black holes in deep space, many see this as evidence for a Master Creator. The One who made it all and was before anything else we call God. From general revelation we may conclude that this God must be powerful, wise, creates beauty, and is at the same time, very mysterious.
In the book, What Christians Believe, it states it this way:
There is someone not like people. This someone is someone above people; this someone is above everything. This someone is now, always was, always will be. This someone is everywhere. There is no one else like this someone. God is this someone. People can’t see God; at the same time, people can know some things about God. They can know these things because God wants it.
(What Christians Believe, Anna Wierzbicka, Oxford Press, 2019, pg. 69)
Many religions and professions rely on general revelation. Scientist, counselors, businesspeople, educators, health professions, and even politicians observe the universe, life, and relationships and make conclusions. Their findings sometimes are very similar. Most value belief in one God, loving relationships, faithfulness in our commitments, and serving others. Some do not share these values.
There are things about God we can only know if God tells us. What God reveals to us is called special revelation. We know from the Bible that God has lots of ways of communicating with people.
- God spoke directly to Moses.
- The Israelites were led in the wilderness by a cloud in the day and a pillar fire at night.
- God spoke to Jacob in a dream or vision.
- God sent a messengers, an angel, to communicate with Mary.
- All through the Old Testament, God spoke to the people through prophets.
- God communicated with us fully by taking human form as a baby and living among us in Jesus.
God is good
What have we learned from all this communication from God? What is God like? What is God’s character and heart? Can we really know God? Can we trust God? Here is one way our Christian faith answers these important questions:
People can know that it is like this: God is good. If God wants something, it is something good, if God does something, it is something good. If God wants something to happen, it can happen because of this. If God says about something: “I want it to happen,” it happens. If God says about something: “It is like this,” it is true. God knows everything. (What Christians Believe, Anna Wierzbicka, Oxford Press, 2019, pg. 69)
What is important to know about God? First, God is good. Not only is God the first, the last, and the sustainer of all life, God is good. Whatever God does it is good. We can trust God to work things out in our lives, because God cares for us. Some think God is harsh and even cruel. I can understand that. There are so many hard and tragic events that occur each day. We sometimes ask, “Where are you, God? If you really cared, wouldn’t you do something?!”
The Bible addresses these questions. When we look at the Bible, we find a God who yearns for people. In our text today from the book of Hosea, God speaks to the prophet about his love for his people. Let us read it together:
Our text – Hosea 11:1-4
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more I called them, the more they went from me;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals and offering incense to idols.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love.
I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them.
The Word of Our Lord. Thanks be to God!
Does this sound like something God would say? Isn’t God supposed to be above everything. Are not most gods demanding and dishing out punishment? Does God really have deep, caring intentions toward people? Apparently so. God has told us that we matter. God cares about what happens to us. As we move through these topics, we will see how our God cares for us in very intimate and personal ways.
- Where in your life have you experienced the goodness of God?
- What are some ways you can express goodness to someone else today?
God is powerful
We believe God is good, but we can wonder in the face of suffering and evil if God is really all powerful. We know God created all things and can do anything God wants to do. The quote I read said, “If God wants something to happen, it can happen because of this. If God says about something: “I want it to happen,” it happens.” So why does God who is good, at times, does not do the good we need.
A word we often use to describe God is “almighty.” This is found in the Apostles’ Creed we recite together, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty.” One common sense of the word “almighty” is that God can do whatever God wants. God has all the power and might! What is missing from this understanding is the love factor. The Bible tells us that God wants to have deep and loving relationships with us. God feels good about us and wants us to feel good about being with God. God designed us to love. Love, as we know, is a choice. Love cannot be forced, or it is no longer love.
Here is the divine limitation. God wants to be in a loving, faithful relationship with people. In order to have that, God lets us choose. We can love God, or we can walk away. When people walk away from God, we all suffer. God suffers. People suffer. That is why we pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” because right now things are a mess. God has allowed love to limit him at this point in history.
The good news here is that God is not helpless. God’s kingdom of love will come. God says in Isaiah 46:9-10:
Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’
God is good and in due time, God’s love will win. Where does that leave you and me on this second Sunday in January, year 2020?
Ponder what you believe and remember:
- God wants you, feels good about you, and is here reaching out to you.
- God is good and will continue work good in your life, even in difficult times.
- You are a wonderful vessel to hold God’s love and to pour into others.
Here is key scripture to close us from 2 Peter 3:8, 9:
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
Let us pray:
God we are here to learn, to grow in our faith, and to walk in life trusting you.
We know you are good. Help us today, we pray. In Christ Name, Amen.