Lecture 6: Learning more about God
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When you became a Christian, you understood certain things about God. But did you know that he knows everything? That he is present everywhere? That he is all-powerful? How then should we respond to a fuller knowledge of God? What is worship? How should we respond to what we know of God? (The reference in Section 1 to Isaiah 59:9 should be Isaiah 55:9.)
I. " Incomprehensibility"
II. " What we can know about God"
III. My response: Worship
A. Definitions of worship
B. Cycle of revelation and response
C. Isaiah 6
1. God is holy
2. God is merciful
3. God has a will
IV. Never let God become small
Course: Life is a Journey
Lecture: Learning More About God
I. About God
When we became Christians, there were certain things that we understood about God. We understood that God existed. We understood that God, the Son, had died for us on the cross for our sin. Hopefully we understood that God, the Holy Spirit, would continue to be present with us to help us and to guide us in our walk. What I would like to do today is perhaps fill out the picture of God in our minds. I want to fill it out by sharing with you three of His attributes—three of His qualities. My goal in choosing these three is that I want to paint a picture of God’s majesty and splendor. I want the picture to call us to a reverence and awe, ultimately calling us to worship Him; that was kind of the filter through which I decided to choose the particular three attributes that I did. However, I need to warn you that God cannot ultimately be known. He cannot be fully known and try as I might with as many big words as I can throw at you, we can never ultimately understand God; it’s called His incomprehensibility—He cannot be fully known. God is beyond our ability to understand, and that is why God, through the prophet Isaiah, says, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 59:9) We cannot fully understand God. Once we get to heaven, we are still going to keep growing in our knowledge of Him. He will still be ultimately incomprehensible. He will continue to be infinite. As you and I continue to be finite, we will continue to be limited in our knowledge of Him. Throughout all of eternity, we will continue to grow to know God, to trust God, to love God, and to have faith in God; yet we will never achieve a full knowledge of Him, and that is ultimately how infinite He is. How great and majestic and awesome He is. I have always thought of heaven as a terminus—we go and all of a sudden we’ve completely arrived, but that’s not the case. We continue to grow and continue to deepen in our walk, and there are some things, despite His ultimate incomprehensibility, that God has chosen to reveal to us. I want to look at three of those attributes:
The first is the attribute of God’s omniscience. “Omni” is a form that means all, so the doctrine of His omniscience is the doctrine that God knows absolutely everything. In Psalm 139:1-4, the psalmist starts on this note, “O Lord, You have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.” God is omniscient. His omniscience spreads and covers our thoughts; it spreads to even knowing the words that we are going to use before we know what we are going to say. Combined with that is the fact that God not only knows the present and the past, but God also knows the future. Through the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 46:9, he says, “I am God and there is no other. I am God and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done.” The fact that God knows the future is one of the tests in the prophets that He is the true God and all of the other gods are false gods because from ancient times, He has declared that He knows what is going to happen. God knows all things, thoughts, and words—past, present and future. Can you and I really grasp what that means? Can we really grasp the fact that God knows everything about everybody? ...that God knows everything about everything? He has known everything from the ancient days in the past, He knows everything about our present, and He has known everything about our future—everything at all times about everybody and everything. God is as acquainted with the movements of distant galaxies as He is with the number of hairs on our heads and the thoughts before we think them. After eleven marvelous chapters in the book of Romans, after trying to explain the plan of God, Paul finally throws up his hands and he says, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!” (Romans 11:33) After eleven chapters of advanced theology, he says finally, “Who can understand these things about God?” I don’t think it is possible for us to fully understand what it means for God to know everything about everyone and everything, but aren’t you glad that He does? Aren’t you glad there is nothing that is going to happen to us or to this church that God hasn’t known about before the creation of time? Aren’t you glad that He will never misread us? He will never misunderstand us because He knows us better than we know ourselves. Aren’t you glad God is omniscient?
God is not only omniscient, but He is also omnipresent. Omnipresence is the doctrine that God is present everywhere. If you continue to read in Psalm 139:7-12, “Where shall I go from Your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there! If I make my bed in Sheol.” in hell, “You are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to You; for night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with You.” God is present absolutely everywhere. You know, it’s not that God is huge, or it’s not even that God is bigger than huge; God simply has no spatial dimension at all. In John 4, when Jesus is talking to the Samaritan woman, He says, “God is Spirit.” He didn’t say God is a spirit, but what He did say is that He is spirit. God is Spirit means He has no spatial dimensions whatsoever, and therefore He exists everywhere in our reality and He exists everywhere in His reality, which is much greater than our reality. God is absolutely everywhere, and so there is no place where God is not present. When I was younger, I thought of God as being localized—He’s everywhere, He’s standing by me and He’s sitting by you. I tended to see God as in a specific place, localized here and localized there; that was my view of God without thinking about it. I was in my office one day reading in Acts 17:28, where Paul is talking to the Athenian philosophers. Paul is trying to emphasize that God is not an idol, and so he says, “In Him,” in God, “we live and move and have our being.” The verse stopped me and I started mulling it over. “In Him, we live and move and have our being”; that’s kind of a mystical thought. What does that mean? It was one of those surreal moments in my life when the air from the fan hit me and reminded me of the passage in John 4. Jesus makes the comparison of wind blowing wherever it wants to and you can hear its sound—it’s a pun in John because the same words can be translated as “Spirit speaks and you hear His voice.” A comparison is going on between wind and spirit, and it hit me at that point that just as you and I exist in wind and in air (it’s everywhere around us and we all exist in it), so also you and I exist in God. We live and we move and have our being in God. Now, we are not pantheists; we do not believe that the wind is God. However, we believe that God created all things and yet is separate from all creation. Yet Paul says to pagan philosophers, this is not just something for Christians, “...in God we live and we move and we have our being.” It was a mind-bending experience for me as I started to realize that God isn’t just localized, standing next to me or sitting next to you, but He’s absolutely everywhere. Just as you and I live in air, and just as the galaxies exist in space, all things (you, me, and the millions of stars and galaxies) exist in God; we live and move in Him; we have our being in Him—that’s the omnipresence of God. You can add to that, too! It’s not like God is thinly spread throughout all creation. Do you ever think that way? “Well, if He’s everywhere, there’s only a little piece of Him here.” God is present in his fullness in every place in creation; that’s why we have His undivided attention when we pray to God. While He is everywhere, He is in every specific locale in His fullness and in His completeness. Are you able to grasp that? I can’t! But aren’t you glad that God is omnipresent. Aren’t you glad that, even when we want to, there is no place that we can go and hide from Him? He is there wherever we go. In the language of the Psalms, even if we go someplace and call for the rocks to fall on us, He is there. We cannot run from Him or our sin. Aren’t you glad there is no place where God is not present to help, to encourage, to love, and to instruct us? Even in our thoughts, God is fully present. God is an omnipresent God; He is everywhere.
Not only is God omnipresent, but also He is omnipotent; He is our omni-potentate; He is all powerful. The word that we tend to use for this, along with omnipotence, is sovereign. God is a sovereign God, which means that God exercises His sovereign rule, or His kingly rule, over His creation. He is sovereign; He is omnipotent. Again, if we continue in Psalm 139:13-16, the psalmist says this precisely, “For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” The psalmist’s metaphor for his mother’s womb. “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written,” every one of them, “the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” In praising God, the psalmist points out that, “You formed my life. You are a powerful God. You wrote out the days of my life, even before I existed. You are a powerful God.” Elsewhere in the Psalms he writes, “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases.” The biblical definition for omnipotence is that God can do anything He wants to do; there are no limits on the exercise of His will. Once again, I would suggest that this is an attribute of God that we simply cannot fully grasp. Yet aren’t you glad that God is omnipotent? that He is sovereign over His creation? Aren’t you glad that we can know with absolute assuredness that the book of Revelation is true? God is so powerful that we can be absolutely confident that at the end of time, God wins and Satan loses. You see, that is the omnipotence of God; that He can make it happen. Aren’t you glad that God is omnipotent? So when we read that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, we know that the strongest force in reality has guaranteed that nothing can separate you and me from the love of God in Christ Jesus—nothing. Even in the midst of pain, we are able to entrust our souls to an all-powerful God. Even when things are as bad as they can get, God is an omnipotent God, and we know that He can carry us through; this is the point Peter is making in 1 Peter 4:19, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” Even when you and I are suffering and being persecuted for our faith because we are Christians, God is still an all-powerful God; entrusting ourselves to Him is still the best thing to do. God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent; this is our God; this is our Heavenly Father into whose arms we leapt when we became children of God; this is our Heavenly Father in whose arms we live.
D. My Response: Worship
The question then becomes: How are you and I going to respond? This question isn’t an academic inquiry in Theology 401! How are you are I going to respond? There is only one way to respond and that is in worship. The only appropriate response when we are faced with the activities and attributes of God is to worship. Because worship is so important, we need to have a clear understanding of it worship is.
For those of you who are new Christians, you may not understand right now that the church is caught up in the throws of the worship wars, trying to figure out what worship is. I’ll tell you right up front that singing isn’t worship. Are you aware of that? Singing isn’t worship. A song can become an instrument of worship, but coming in and singing for a half hour isn’t necessarily worship. What then is worship? What is its definition? The English comes from the forms “worth” and “ship”. The word worship was formed to mean attributing worth. The Greek and the Hebrew words that lie behind the English translation of worship carry the ideas of bowing down and serving. One definition I’ve heard of worship is bowing all that we are before all that God is; it’s a great definition of worship.
2. Response to God’s revelation
Another definition that I want to talk about is that worship is our faithful response to God’s gracious revelation. Worship is an appropriate response when God reveals His attributes and His activities to us, which means that worship begins with hearing. Worship begins with hearing what God is like—His attributes. Worship begins with hearing about the activities of God, who He is, and what He is doing; that is why one of the things that we work at so hard here is to emphasize the clarity of the revelation. Our drive for making sure the revelation of God is clear has affected many things on what we do here on Sunday morning; it affects the amount of money we’ve spent on the speakers, the kind of soundboard we bought, and the shape of the room. Our belief that the clarity of the revelation of God’s attributes and activity pervade so much of what we do that it affects how I preach. Above all else, I am not here to entertain you. I am here to express, with clarity, the activities and attributes of God so that you can hear it. A desire for clarity in the revelation of God affects our reading of God’s Word, how we pray, and how we sing. The lyrics in our songs must be correct. The volume of the melody cannot overpower the strength of the lyrics. We work for clarity all the time because worship involves the clear revelation of the attributes and the activities of God, and that pervades almost everything we do in getting ready for this time with you. Worship isn’t just hearing, is it? Worship is also responding appropriately. As one person has said, “Worship is not a spectator sport; worship is not sitting in the stands; we must respond.” We must respond to the revelation of God. If the attributes and the activities of God are laid out before us and there’s no response, there’s no worship; we must respond.
3. Isaiah 6
Worship isn’t entertainment either, is it? Worship is not about me, nor is it about how I feel. Worship is the declaration with clarity of the activity and the attributes of God, and then it is our appropriate response. If you want to be entertained, my suggestion is to stay home and read a book; that’s not what this is about. There are a lot of places where we could go in Scripture to talk about this, but the most powerful passage is the passage in Isaiah 6, where you can see what real biblical worship is. Starting at verse 1, “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord,” he had a vision or he was taken to heaven; one of the two, “sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him stood the seraphim,” special angelic creatures. “Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’ And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.” The seraphim know how to worship, don’t they? They understand the revelation of God as they fly before Him for all eternity, as far as we know. God has given them six wings so that their response will be appropriate to the revelation. With two wings, each of them covers their own eyes. With two wings, each covers their own feet. With two wings they can fly so they can stand there in the constant anthem of “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” The seraphim are responding to the revelation of God appropriately; they are worshiping Him. Now, this is the revelation that Isaiah gets—what Isaiah sees and experiences. So the question is how is Isaiah going to respond to the revelation. “And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’” (Isaiah 6:5) Now you see, that is worship! Isaiah was given a vision of heaven; He was shown God, the seraphim, and the ongoing worship that is happening all the time in heaven while we’re down here. He responds appropriately with acknowledging his sin and his unworthiness to be in the presence of God. “I want to see You, Lord, I want to see You high and lifted up”; we sing this song a lot here, and every time we sing it, I think, “Do you all really know what you’re saying?” “Do you really understand what you’re asking?” Because if you and I say, “We want to see You, Lord,” and we do see Him, we are not going to be standing with smiles on our faces with our hands outstretched! We’re going to be flat on our faces groveling before Him, because we are going to see, more clearly than any other time in our lives, that we are sinners, worthy of nothing but hell. So the next time you and I sing that song, let’s think through what we are really asking, because when Isaiah saw the Lord “high and lifted up,” he fell flat on his face, because it was the only appropriate thing to do. When we see God’s holiness, we understand our sin, and that is worship.
Confession is a large part of worship, isn’t it? What is interesting in the Isaiah story is it appears that because Isaiah responded properly, God chooses to reveal more; so the story continues, “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.’” (Isaiah 6:6-7) What is happening is God is revealing to Isaiah that He is a God of mercy and the source of forgiveness; He is willing to forgive. Isaiah responded appropriately in confession and worship, so God reveals more saying, “I’m a God of mercy.” He didn’t say, “You know, Isaiah, you’re a pretty good guy; I’ve got some use for you. I’ll forgive you so you can go do my work; you’ve earned it.” No! God is a God of mercy, who simply sends the seraphim with coal to touch his lips and say, “You are forgiven.” While it is not stated specifically, it certainly is implicit that Isaiah responded properly, therefore, he received God’s free, merciful gift of forgiveness. When you read this story you might say, “Yes, but so would anyone else.” How many times have you extended the free offer of God’s mercy and grace to a sinner and they’ve said, “No, I don’t want it”?
5. “Here am I. Send me”
Isaiah responded in worship; he allowed the seraphim to touch his lips. Because he responded properly in worship, there is more revelation: “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” God is revealing that He has a will, that He has work to be done He has revelation he needs to transmit. How else would Isaiah respond to this revelation other than how he did, saying, “Here am I, send me.” Notice he didn’t say, “God, tell me what you want me to do first.”
“How much is this going to cost me?”
“Am I going to have to leave my home?”
“Will I be happy?”
“Will I feel good about myself?” Isaiah just says, “Here am I, send me,” which is the only appropriate response in worship to the revelation that God has a will—He has a desire for your life and for mine; this should be the normative response for all believers. I understand that for those of you, who are new in your faith, this concept might be a bit overwhelming, but you need to know that this is what’s coming; this is what God has asked of us. True worshipers are those who understand God’s will; they understand God’s mercy and holiness. When we look in the face of those truths about God, we worship when we hear it, and we worship when we respond appropriately by confessing our sin, receiving the free gift of forgiveness and we say, “Here am I, send me.” My prayer for this church and each one of you is that this becomes the normative response in worship for you. I pray that when you worship you say with abandon, “Here I am, whatever! I believe You are all good; I believe You are all wise. I believe you have my best interests, but ultimately You have Your best interests at heart. I am a tool of yours. I can’t wait to get going.” Do you know what would happen to northern Spokane if we did that? Can you imagine what a church unleashed would look like in this town if all of us were to respond as we should respond, as Isaiah responded?
E. Never let God become small
I think the challenge of Isaiah 6, the challenge of theology, the challenge of knowing the attributes and activity of God, is first and foremost to never let God become small. Never let God become this little localized deity god. Never think that we know more than He knows or think that we can hide from Him, especially in our sin. Never think that He isn’t powerful enough to help us in our puny little problems; we have to keep these things in perspective, don’t we? When we look at the things going on in our lives and realize that the God to whom we pray is omniscient and omnipotent and omnipresent, yet He still loves us, how can we not respond in worship? Why do we worry? Why do we get anxious? Why do we say, “Well, God helps those who help themselves”? Why do we do that? The answer is sin—if you were looking for the answer! As you and I grow in our Christian walk, may our understanding of God grow with us. May we understand that the God whom we serve, the God who loves us is without limit in everything; He is without limit in terms of His wisdom; He is omniscient; He knows us better than we know ourselves, and He still loves us. God is without limitation in His presence. God is omnipresent. God has no spatial dimensions. You and I, our community, and the galaxies in the universe all exist in Him; He is bigger than that because all of His reality is in Him as well. God is without limitation of power. He is our omni-potentate, and mighty to save. May we never just sit and not respond to that. May our responses always be appropriate for what God has revealed to us, which means we must be quick to acknowledge His holiness and our sin and quick to receive His mercy and His grace. We need to be quick to do His will, even if we don’t know what it is. We need to raise our hands and say, “Here am I Lord, I’m your child. Send me.” When we get to heaven, we will see Him clearly; not dimly as in a mirror, but face to face. You and I, who are children of God, get to spend all of eternity constantly growing in our knowledge of Him and our love for Him, and we will continue to worship Him more and more each day forever and ever and ever; that’s our God. Aren’t you glad you’re His child?
What is Psalm 139 saying about God’s knowledge? What is Psalm 139 saying about God’s presence? What is the Psalmist’s response to what he knows about God?
What does it mean for God to know everything? Does he know your thoughts? Your secrets? The things done in private? How does this make you feel? Does it bring you comfort? Why?
There is no place you can go where God does not exist. You are probably used to thinking that you can hide, but you can’t hide from God. Does this bring you comfort or discomfort? Why? Are there places you go in life that cause you to fear? How does knowing that God is there affect your actions?
This is a hard one. God is all-powerful. Anything he wants to do, he can. Do you believe this? What might lead you to question the truth of the statement?
In Isaiah 6:1-8, the writer is given a glimpse of heaven and the throne room of God. What does Isaiah learn about God. How does he respond to each piece of information?
Write out your memory verse: Isaiah 6:3.
Write out what you have learned about God’s holiness.
As you have been reflecting on the talk, what practical applications are you making about the four terms we learned: Incomprehensibility, Omniscience, Omnipresence, and Omnipotence?