Lecture 15: Attributes of God (part 2)
Course: Systematic Theology I
Lecture: Attributes of God (part 2)
V. Attributes of God
A. Methodology and the Doctrine of God
1. Classification of Attributes
2. Need for Methodological Balance in the Doctrine of God
3. One Pair Related: Self-Sufficiency and Love
(The first portion of this lecture is missing from the recording)
His possession of his qualities is both intrinsic and infinite. With wisdom, God possess that quality intrinsically. He is the only wise God. His wisdom never comes to an end. He never comes across some problem where he says, "This one is just too big for me; I can't sort that one out, I can't figure out what to do with this mess." No, never; he is always infinitely wise and able to discern what is best every time, for everything. It never fails.
Take power; the power of God is his possession intrinsically. Nobody has to give him power. He is not out there looking for help to do things. "This project that I have in mind, this is going to take some help from some other people out there; I need some missionaries. If I am going to reach the world, this is a big order, and I need some volunteers here. If you don't go, how is it going to happen?" Baloney. God has intrinsic power. He doesn't need me and you to help him for anything. He may choose to use you and me; that is another story and another issue. He doesn't need us; he doesn't need anything else because he has it all within himself and his power is infinite. It never ends; there is no boundary to it.
His love, his grace, and his mercy are intrinsic and infinite. You could go on and on. He possesses every quality within himself, intrinsically, and he does so without limit, or measure. He does so infinitely.
Another way to define self-sufficiency would be that God is, in and of himself, sufficient for all things. Whatever God chooses to do, whatever God envisions, he has within himself all that is required to accomplish that work.
2) Scriptural Support
Is this really taught in the Bible? It is. Here are some of the passages where self-sufficiency is indicated. Once you see this, you will see that it just pervades the Bible. You begin to see it from Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning God created the heavens in the earth." Self-sufficiency is the fabric of the God of the Bible. There are some special passages that make this clear.
Psalm 50 is a very interesting Psalm. Israel is on trial and God is the judge as well as the attorney charging them, the prosecuting attorney. He is holding them accountable before his bar of justice.
Ps 50:4 He summons the heavens above, And the earth, to judge his people: Ps 50:5 "Gather my godly ones to me, Those who have made a covenant with me by sacrifice."
Clearly he is talking about the people of Israel, his own people. Those who have practiced the sacrificial system he has put in place.
Ps 50:6 And the heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge. Selah.
So he is calling heaven and earth to bear witness, his people are on trial, God is judging them. What is the charge against them?
Ps 50:7 "Hear, O My people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you; I am God, your God. Ps 50:8 "I do not reprove you for your sacrifices, and your burnt offerings are continually before me. Ps 50:9 "I shall take no young bull out of your house nor male goats out of your folds. Ps 50:10 "For every beast of the forest is mine, The cattle on a thousand hills. Ps 50:11 "I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is mine. Ps 50:12 "If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine and all it contains.
What in the world is going on here? He first of all tells them what they are not guilty of. You are not guilty of failing to bring sacrifices before me. You are doing that. You are bringing your bulls out of your herds and your sheep and goats out of your flocks. You are doing this. So what is the problem? What are they doing wrong? God told them to sacrifice; they are sacrificing. Here is the problem. Israel is doing this, evidently, with the same mindset toward sacrifices as the pagan nations surrounding her. The pagan nations believed that the gods were needy, that they got literally hungry. So when they brought a sacrifice to them, the god was satisfied; he ate it, his tummy was full, and he would now bless the people who fed him.
If you don't think this is real, visit animistic cultures, anywhere in the world and you will see this is the case; they are appeasing the gods. This is what consumes 2/3 of the world today who live with animistic ways of thinking. I spent a summer in Madagascar, which is off the coast the coast of Africa, on a short missions trip that I had years ago. Those people in Madagascar are ancestor worshipers. They spend their life doing what ever grandpa would like; that is, deceased grandpa and great grandpa and great great grandpa. Because these ancestors who are not spirits have absolute control over what happens in their homes, their families, their villages, with the crops and everything else, so you feed them and do whatever grandpa wants. You sacrifice enormously. This is not new; this goes way back. These pagan nations that surrounded Israel believed that these gods got hungry, and they would go and feed them. What picture does this paint of God and us? As we sacrifice to God we are helping him out. We are contributing to his needs; helping satisfy this emptiness and this hunger that is within him. It is a good thing that we are here to give to God because if we didn't give to him he would lack was their attitude. .
Now look again at what he says; go back to verse 8.
Ps 50:8 "I do not reprove you for your sacrifices, and your burnt offerings are continually before me.
The problem is not that you are not sacrificing. Here is the problem; it is your theology of sacrifice.
Ps 50:9 "I shall take no young bull out of your house nor male goats out of your folds. Ps 50:10a "For every beast of the forest is mine,"
Do you get it Israel? Every single beast in the forest is already mine.
Ps 50:10b The cattle on a thousand hills. Ps 50:11 "I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is mine. Ps 50:12 "If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all it contains."
Now do you see the point? They are worshiping God as if he is needy, and we are here to give and help him out. How many times does the offering plate pass in conservative Bible believing churches and the theology in people's mind as they put that offering in the plate is basically the same idea. How many missionary calls are heeded with basically the same theology in mind? Helping poor God out; poor desperate, poor needy, poor hungry God. Here I am to save the day with my gift, my life, my sacrifice, my service and God says don't give it.
Ps 50:13 "Shall I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of male goats?
Do you think that is what I am doing in your sacrificing?
Ps 50:14a "Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving
What does "thanksgiving" imply in terms of the God people relationship? We are the receiver, and God is the giver. It is just the opposite of what you think God says. You think you are giving to me to help me out. Offer to me an offering of thanksgiving where you acknowledge I am the giver, and you are receiver. I am the full one; you are the empty one. I am the wise one; you are the fool. I am the one with power; you are the one who is weak.
Ps 50:14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Most High; Ps 50:15 "Call upon me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor me."
Get the order here. I will rescue you, and you will honor me. God is the rescuer; God is the helper; God is the stronghold; God is the rock, the refuge, the provider, the protector. What am I? I am the weak needy recipient of all that God has to give to me, without which I will die. It is just the opposite of what I thought.
Isaiah 40 is also picturesque in how it presents the self-sufficiency of God. These are rhetorical questions. Rhetorical questions are questions whose answers are so obvious you don't have to give them.
Is 40:12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and marked off the heavens by the span, and calculated the dust of the earth by the measure, and weighed the mountains in a balance and the hills in a pair of scales?
Look at the images there. "Who do you know," asked the Lord, "Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand?" Think of it, the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean (I grew up near it; we have been to the Pacific many times as a family), the Mediterranean Sea; he measures the waters in the hollow of his hand. What picture of God does this give you? He is immense. He is big. He is powerful. I will tell you a quick little story. Our family once was on vacation at Cannon Beach, Oregon which has got to be one the prettiest places on the face of the earth; it is just gorgeous. With the monoliths that are out in the water and the waves crashing against them, it is unbelievably beautiful. We were vacationing there, and our two girls were at that time roughly seven and four years old. After breakfast one morning, we had read this passage for our family devotions. I said to the girls, "Let's go to the waterfront, and I am going to perform an experiment." We all went down to the beach and I said, "Remember that passage we read this morning where God said he can measure the waters in the hollow of his hand?" How about I go out into the Pacific Ocean and I scoop up all of the Pacific Ocean I can in the hollow of my two hands and what I want you to do is stand back here on the beach and look out at the ocean at the level of it and you watch and see if it dips as I take that water out. Seven and three, it works great at that age. They are watching, and I went out there and scooped up the water and asked, "Did you see any difference?" "No daddy" "Well lets try it again." So I do it again and they saw no difference. I went back and got down on my knees at thier eye level, and I said to my girls, "Here is a great opportunity to learn a very important lesson of the difference between me, your dad, and God. One difference is when I scoop up all the water I can in the hollow of my two hands, you look out there and can't see that anything has changed at all. If God's hand were to come along and scoop up the water the entire ocean would be dry. He is big. He is powerful. He is immense."
Look at the other images here. Who do you know who can mark off the heavens by the span? The span is the distance between your thumb and little finger. Light traveling at 186,000 miles per second takes 7 1/2 minutes to get here from the sun, from the nearest star besides our sun it is four years at that speed. That is the nearest star to us besides the sun; four years at 186,000 miles per second. The stars in the Milky Way Galaxy are separated by roughly 10 upwards to 100 light years from one another. In the Milky Way Galaxy there are hundreds of millions stars. That is the Milky Way Galaxy, that is the neighborhood. When you look out at a clear night outside almost everything you see are stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, just in the neighborhood. If you know where to look you can spot whole other galaxies out there that actually appear to be stars but because they are so far away all hundred million of those stars appear to us here as one speck of light. How many galaxies are there in the universe? Billions, they don't know how many. They still are finding more. They don't know how many. With the average of 100 million stars per galaxy, separated by an average distance of about 100 light years from one another. Who do you know who can mark off the heavens by the span? When J. B. Phillips wrote that little book, ''Your God is Too Small'' he got that one right.
Who do you know who can calculate the dust of the earth by the measure and weigh the mountains in a balance and the hills in a pair of scales? Do you know anybody big enough who can hold a pair of scales and weigh out the Rocky Mountains or the Himalayas on a pair of scales?
Obviously, the answer to the rhetorical question in verse 12 is only God. He is so big, so powerful, so great, so awesome, so immense.
In verse 13 notice the shift in the topic. The rhetorical questions continue but there is a difference emphasis.
Is 40:13 Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as his counselor has informed him? Is 40:14 With whom did he consult, and who gave him understanding? And who taught him in the path of justice and taught him knowledge and informed him of the way of understanding?
The answer is no one. Who has informed God? No one. Who has counseled God? No one. He doesn't need our advice. He doesn't want our advice. We have to remember that in our praying. We can cross the line of seeking wisdom from God to instructing God. There is a finger pointing up, shaking, instructing God. How dare we do that. Who do we think we are? Who do we think God is? Who has counseled the Lord? No one. You think of all the difficulties and challenges God has running this world, and he never once seeks advice. He doesn't have a council out there of advisors. He doesn't pull a committee together to talk it through or hear from them. No, he doesn't need any help. He knows everything. His wisdom is perfect, and so he doesn't need advice.
Look at the verses that follow. With some passages of Scripture, I am convinced we ought to produce a Bible kind of like the Surgeon General does with cigarette packages telling you, "Warning this may be hazardous to your health." There are a lot of passages in the Bible that ought to say, "Warning this is hazardous to your secular worldview and your self importance." This is sure one.
Is 40:15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales;
Think about those images for a moment. Talk about vivid images. The nations, get the point there, we're talking about the collective whole of humanity all of our prowess, all of our military might, all of collective wisdom, everything we have taken together is before God as a drop from a bucket. That is a very vivid image for me. What comes to my mind is when you are camping and you are told to go to the spicket one hundred feet away and get a bucket of water and bring it back to the camp. If I filled up a bucket of water to the top and managed to spill one drop only, when I got back to the campground, I would cheer and celebrate, "I didn't spill anything." That is how much a drop of water from a bucket amounts to.
The next image is a speck of dust on the scales. When was the last time you were at the grocery store at the deli counter, and you saw this women getting sliced turkey. He was weighing it out and just before he pushed the button to ring up the price on it, she said, "Wait, wait hold it, you have to get that speck of dust off the scale I don't want to get overcharged."
What is the point of a drop of water from a bucket and speck of dust on the scales? They are trivial; they are inconsequential. They don't make a difference. The nations, everything we have taken collectively, are as a drop from a bucket; they are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales.
Is 40:15c Behold, he lifts up the islands like fine dust.
Imagine being on a beach or a very sandy area, maybe an area where trucks have driven back and forth a lot, and the dust just goes through your fingers; that is what he does with islands. That is what God does with islands; he strains them through his fingers.
Is 40:16 Even Lebanon is not enough to burn, nor its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
Lebanon is the area to the north of Israel with all its forests
Is 40:17 All the nations are as nothing before him, they are regarded by him as less than nothing and meaningless
Meaningless is either void or meaningless. It can be translated either way. This is remarkable. When God says here in verse 17 that the nations are as nothing before him, they are regarded by him as less than nothing and meaningless, he does not mean the nations mean nothing to him. It is not as though he is saying, "I could not care less about the nations." How do we know he doesn't mean that. Christ came for the nations (Rev 5); he came for people from every tribe and tongue. How do we know that he doesn't mean, I don't care about the nations? Because God (we will come to this, it is where the marvel comes in) has demonstrated from beginning to end his commitment to shower his mercy, favor, strength, renewal, salvation, and transformation upon people from every tribe, tongue and nation. Even in Isaiah 40, how does the chapter end? After going through this description of how great God is and how the nations are nothing before him, what is the point of the chapter? Trust me, look to me; wait upon me because I will give you strength. I'll give you hope; I'll provide for you all you need. Look to me, God says. If he didn't care about the nations, if he didn't care about people, he wouldn't be pleading with them to wait upon the LORD.
So, what is the answer to the question, "What does he mean when he says all the nations are nothing before him?" They are regarded as less than nothing and meaningless. The answer to the question is not that he doesn't care about them. What is the answer to the question, what does he mean? He doesn't need them. He has just been talking in the preceding context about his power and his wisdom. Isn't it the point that the nations, taken as a collective whole, with all of their power and all of their wisdom in relation to God amount to nothing. Isn't that the point? What can you add to infinite power and infinite wisdom? The answer is nothing. How can the nations contribute to the richness of God? Answer, they can't. What can the nations add to what God possesses intrinsically? Nothing. That is what he means. So why does he care? This ought to loom huge in our thinking. This great God, so powerful and so wise, why would he care? He doesn't need me; I don't add anything to him; I don't give him anything he lacks; I can't.
Acts 17 is by far the most explicit statement. It just comes right off the page and says God is self-sufficient. No metaphors, just straight forward propositional statements from Paul. Get the significance of this. In Acts 17 Paul is in Athens and was waiting for friends to join him in Athens.
Acts 17:16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols.
Athens was the religious center of the known world at that time. They prided themselves in knowing about and having represented in their city every god. It was as polytheistic as you could imagine. Archeologists have discovered that in ancient Athens at this time, the streets were lined with altars and inscriptions and little temples where people would bring offerings to the gods, all over the city. Here is Paul in the midst of this. Here is the irony: in this place that sought to honor every god (they even had an altar with this inscription, "To an unknown god"), the one God that they didn't know happened to be the true and living God. What irony. Missions today sees that a lot. There are all of these gods out there, but they don't know the true God. This is what Paul faced. Paul was invited by these philosophers to come to the Areopagus. I have been to the Areopagus once in my life. I stood there in the Areopagus and imagined this scene taking place with Paul there.
Acts 17:22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. Acts 17:23 "For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. Acts 17:24 "The God who made the world and all things in it, since he is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; Acts 17:25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;
Here we have Theology 101. You don't get more basic than this in understanding God. The tragedy is that our churches don't understand God. Paul's main point is that God is self-sufficient. You can see that, everything drives toward that. The God who made the world is Lord of heaven and earth; he dwells not in temples made with hands and he is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything since he gives. He is the self-sufficient reservoir of everything; everything good is in him. How does Paul establish that point?
First of all he says, "the God who made the world and all things in it." How does the affirmation of God as creator support his self-sufficiency? What is the link? How can you say that God needs anything in the creation when he has given everything in the creation? Because everything is from God, there is nothing out there that God doesn't have, that isn't from his being. The Doctrine of Creation, ''ex nihilo'', out of nothing, is a crucial Christian doctrine. God alone exists eternally. He creates the world out of nothing. By that theologians have meant "out of nothing else that exists." In Psalm 19 he creates the world and the heavens declare the glory of God. He creates the world out of himself. His wisdom is manifest, his beauty is manifest, his power is manifest, his creativity is manifest everywhere. The finger prints of God are everywhere in the created order. Even in the fallen world this is still true. Imagine what it will be like in the New Heavens and the New Earth when there is no more sin. Get ready to marvel; you thought waterfalls and fir trees and mountain peaks and beaches were wonderful, just you wait. So, out of himself he creates. Everything here owes it existence to him. He doesn't depend on any of it for who he is, or what he has.
He is Lord of heaven and earth. How does Lordship relate to self-sufficiency? He is Lord of it; that is saying something other than he made it, and it owes its existence to him. He controls it, he rules it, he governs it, he has all of it. Thinking back to Psalm 50. You think you are bringing your goats and your cattle to me because I need what you have to give me; don't you understand the world is mine and all it contains. What could you give me that I lack, God says. The answer is nothing; he has it all. We grow up with this notion of giving 10%. Of course, if people really did give 10%, just think what the churches and mission boards of this country could do. It is more like 1 to 1.3% per giving unit in our churches. We grow with this notion that the tithe is Gods and the rest is mine. This is absolutely pagan, absolutely pagan. It is paying God off for what he has to do, and then we live our lives the way we want to with the rest. My friend, if you haven't settled this in your own heart, you need to do it today. God owns all of it. He has rights over every penny, every single bit of everything we have; it is his. We never, never hold anything in our hands with a fist grip, never. That includes children, that includes spouse, that includes house and car. It is all his. He is Lord of heaven and earth, so you and I can't give him something that he doesn't already have.
The last thing he says comes at the end of verse 25;
Acts 17:25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;
Notice the dual use of "all." He gives all things to all people. We depend upon him 100%. We depend upon him absolutely. He depends upon us zero. He is not served by human hands as though he needed anything.
3) Denials of self-sufficiency
Let me give you two examples; one is from my own experience. It stands in the background to this lesson I am presenting to you. I grew up in a good Bible believing Baptist Church in Spokane, Washington. My parents are very fine Christian people; I love them dearly. For the most part my church upbringing was positive. But a few things were a problem. One was the theology I grew up with in that church was just the opposite of what I am now teaching to you. To illustrate that to you, I can remember vividly a moment in a fifth grade boys Sunday school class. Can you picture it? A basement classroom, cinder brick walls, boys shooting paper clips with rubber bands; you have the picture. A friend of mine, another fifth grade boy, asked the teacher the question, "Why did God make the world?" At that I perked up; I had complete interest in that question and gave the teacher my undivided attention because I wanted to know the answer to that question. I thought of it many times; why did God create the world? Here is what she said (well-meaning godly woman that she was). "You know, before God created anything he was all by himself. He didn't have anyone to talk to, no one to have fellowship with and he was lonely. And he thought to himself, wouldn't it be great if there were people like me with my notions, people I could talk to and have fellowship with, so I wouldn't have this emptiness in my heart. That is why we are here. God made us to have fellowship with him so that this ache in God's heart would be removed."
I thought to myself, wow that is cool, here I exist to help God out; I am here for the purpose of contributing to God something that will make him better. So you feel better. This whole theology was translated into every sphere of Christian service and missions. I don't know how many mission calls I heard growing up that had this theology as a backdrop. God is up there and he wants these people to come to him; he wants to save them but no one has gone to these people, and if someone doesn't go there is no way they are going to hear and so will you go? The whole picture behind this is God is wringing his hands going, "Please someone help me, I got this wonderful purpose that I'd like to see happen, but I can't do it without your help." Have you heard that appeal? I grew up with this theology, and it wasn't until years later that God helped me see that what my teacher stated in the fifth grade boys Sunday school class was absolutely blasphemous. It wasn't just wrong; it was blasphemous, even though she didn't know it. You know why it is blasphemous? Because it took the God-creature relationship in which he is the giver and I am the receiver; he is full, I am empty; he is powerful I am weak; and it inverted it and made me God. It made him needy, so I am the giver and God is the receiver. I am the one who fills up his emptiness. It makes us Gods and it makes God us, and that is blasphemy.
Here is the second denial of self-sufficiency. I didn't learn this one until I was a student in my doctoral program at Fuller Seminary, and I took course work at Claremont College down the road (30 miles from Pasadena California). Claremont is where David Ray Griffin and John Cobb teach at the Center for Process Studies. So doing course work with those gentlemen, I learned Process Theology in ways that I only had been exposed to at an introductory level before. Now I learned it from advocates of the movement. In fact the most prominent advocates in America would be those two gentlemen. Charles Hartshorne is the major theologian of Process Theology; Alfred North Whitehead is the major philosopher behind the movement. But Hartshorne (who just died at 102 years old last year) absolutely despised the Doctrine of Divine Self-sufficiency. He knew this doctrine and he hated it. For example in one place he writes concerning this doctrine, "I take true religion to mean serving God." But remember what Acts 17 said. "He is not served by human hands as though he needed anything." Here is Hartshorne, "I take true religion to mean serving God, by which I do not mean merely serving, benefiting non-divine creatures..."(people, animals, he was a big environmentalist). "... but most essentially contributing value to God which he would otherwise lack." That is Hartshorne; that is a direct quote for you from Hartshorne. What does he mean by that? What he means is God is in process; God is in a growth mode constantly; he is constantly benefiting from us; he is "prehending" (that is Whitehead's term for this). He is taking to himself, acquiring all that is happening in the world moment by moment. As we think good thoughts and come up with creative ideas and do good deeds, God takes them into himself and he is made better by it.
So here I was as this doctrinal student in my program, reflecting on what Hartshorne said and thinking back to my Sunday school class of fifth grade boys and all of a sudden I realized it is the same theology. I am contributing value to God, which if I weren't here, if I weren't giving it to God (it is a good thing I am here to help him out), he would otherwise lack. So what do we say about a view of God that leaves us in a position where in fact the truth is God does not need us? Nor does he need our service. He doesn't need our worship. He doesn't need our sacrifice. He doesn't need our gifts. He doesn't need a cotton-pickin' thing. He doesn't need a world. Does he have to create? Could God be God without a world? The answer has to be yes. He was God without a world. God is eternal; the world isn't. God is God the same before and after. He is still the same being.
By the way, I'll just make a comment on this, and I won't spend other time on it. The answer to my Sunday school teacher's intuition, that God must have had to create the world because he was lonely, the theological answer to that is the Doctrine of the Trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are in an eternal relationship together, in a social unity together. God would be just fine, thank you, without a world.
Isn't it a good question to ask, why are we here? And second, why does he demand so much from us? If he needs absolutely none of it, why does he demand so much. By the way, when I put the emphases on it like that, you do know he does demand a lot, don't you? Well, no more than this: if want to be disciple of mine, take up your cross and follow me. Or, if you want to save your life, you will lose it. If you lose your life for my sake, then you will find it. What is that he demands? The whole of your life, absolutely everything. God's demands upon you are absolutely comprehensive every moment. Remember Jesus' mother and his brothers are at the door, and Jesus says, "Who is my mothers and my brothers? Those who follow me."(Matt 12:48). "I need to tell you if you love mother, father, sister, brother more than me you are not worthy to be a disciple of mine,"(Matt 10:37) Jesus said. Which comes to my mind (this is a bit of an aside), but every time I hear some upcoming graduate tell me the reason that they are hoping to have a ministry here at this particular place is because it is close to the parents, the grandparents and the kids. My response to that is, what possible relevance does the location of your parents have to do with where God may call you to serve? It is irrelevant. Listen to the voice of the Lord. If you love father, mother, sister, brother more than me, you are not worthy to be one of my disciples. Which means that ministry there next to mom and dad, and saying, "I am not going to go anywhere else," is not honoring to the Lord. It can't be from the outset.
How much does he claim of us? Everything. Every moment, every penny, every relationship. Where we live, what we do, you name it, it is his claim upon us.
Why are we here, and why does he demand so much from us? I think the answer to this question is seen in the love of God, in relation to the self-sufficiency of God
In the Old Testament the key word for the love of God is ''chesed''. This beautiful term in Hebrew communicates two notions together. One, a notion of covenant commitment or loyalty or faithfulness. That is half of the meaning of the word ''chesed'', this covenant commitment; God will not fail. He pledges himself. The other half is what does he pledge himself to? To bring about good, the well being of others. God's ''chesed'' love is his loyal commitment to bring blessing, favor, kindness, and well being to others. ''Chesed'' is the only reason you find in the Old Testament a New Covenant because nothing about Israel merited, commended, God's ongoing favor to this hard-hearted, stubborn, disobedient, rebellious, adulteress people. Nothing commended God's favor, so why does he give favor to these people? Every time he show them kindness, what do they do with it? They say, "Thank you, God," and then they turn away from him. So why in the world does God keep coming back and tell them, "I will bring you back to the land. I will pour my Spirit upon you. I will grant you all of the blessing I have promised you." Why? The answer is ''chesed'', covenant, faithful, loyal love that God has pledged to this people. The main reason I believe, apart from specific biblical teaching that supports it, that God will save Israel (the ethnic, national people Israel, Jews) in a way that he will not save Russia or America or Egypt or Syria or China, or anywhere else is his covenant commitment to this people.
A second word from the New Testament is ''agape'', which refers to an "in spite of," rather than a "because of" love. I love you in spite of your unworthiness, your rebellion, your sinfulness and your just deserving of wrath and condemnation; despite that, I love you, not because of. It is not a love that says you are particularly handsome or particularly smart or particularly gifted, and because of that I love you. No, it is in spite of; it is undeserved; it is unconditional love.
B. Relation of Self-sufficiency to God's Love
(1) For God to love unconditionally, it requires that he be self-sufficient. Why would God have to be self-sufficient if he is going to be unconditionally loving? Suppose God were not self-sufficient, and he really did have intrinsic needs. Then when he loves he would seek in that relationship to have the needs met, so it wouldn't be entirely unconditional. It would be conditioned upon how can I get what I need out of this. So for God to love absolutely, unconditionally he must be self-sufficient. I am not saying because God is self-sufficient therefore he is unconditionally loving. Do you see the difference? This is where the marvel comes. Why not say, because God is self-sufficient, he doesn't give a hoot about anything else, he doesn't need it. He is absolutely, infinitely, joyfully, blissfully happy in being God. This is the marvel of the whole thing. Though he is self-sufficient, he is unconditionally loving. My main point is simply that if he is going to be unconditional in his love, he must be self-sufficient. So if you cherish the love of God you better cherish self-sufficiency. It hinges on it.
(2) Why are we here? If the answer to the question, "Why did God make the world?" is not, "He was needy, lonely and wanted to have fellowship, so he wouldn't feel this pain in his own heart. If the answer is not that, what is it? My friends this is just incredible, unbelievable. Though he is self-sufficient, though he needs nothing, though he is infinitely rich within himself, though he is fully satisfied with all that he is as God, yet he desires to share the bounty with others. So God's purpose with us is not to get from us what he needs, but rather to shower upon what we need. His purpose is to fill our emptiness not for us fill his supposed emptiness. I love a metaphor that John Piper has used in relation to this concept. He said, "This other notion of God creating the world out of his sense of need is sort of like God is an empty water trough, and we are the bucket brigade. So here is this half empty trough, and we have to fill the water trough up, so here we are passing buckets, and we are filling God up. No, God is not a half empty trough that we are filling. God is an artesian well. You try to cap it, and it spurts up over here. God is overflowing of his bounty into us."
Here is another way to put this point. Do you know that you exist as a child of his, first and foremost, to be loved by him? This is your reason for being, to be loved by him. When you wake up tomorrow morning, remind yourself that day, here I am today, and my number one purpose that trumps everything else, foremost, single, most important, is to be loved by him. How do we love? "Because he first loved us"(1 Jn 4:19). We love only as we are loved by him and draw from him all that he has to fill us up. My folly replaced with his wisdom, my weakness made strong in his strength, all of my limitations avenues by which God's splendor and glory can be known. Only then do I experience the fullness that he has for me, for you, and then we can share the bounty.
(3) Why does he demand so much from us? Why, if he needs none of it? Though he does not need us or anything we have to offer, he loves us and he knows we will only experience the joy and the fulfillment and the satisfaction he longs for us to know when we follow him, unreservedly. C. S. Lewis in ''The Problem of Pain'' says, "Those divine demands which sound to our natural ears most like that of a despot and least like those of a lover, in fact, marshal us where we would want to go if we knew what we wanted." Those divine demands are the voice of a lover. It is God beckoning, no, God demanding, "Follow me, in my path you find life. You don't find it by clinging on to your things; you lose life. You save your life; you lose it. Lose your life for my sake, follow me, so mother brother, sister is not your priority in life. It is me. It is not houses; it is not land and objects; it is me. Then you find life; you find joy." Those divine demands chart for us life of joy.
A final comment. God is brought low in our churches in many, many ways. But in my judgment the worst, the central way in which God is diminished, is by making a picture of God in which he is poor and helpless, almost sorry being up there. It is such a wonderful thing we are here to help him out. When, in fact, what God wants us to see is his greatness, his enormous resource, his infinite riches, his splendor and majesty that can fill all of our needs. He can provide for us everything that we long for, so that having received from him what we lack and what he gives, we then have the enormous privilege of sharing the bounty with others. That is called Christian service; sharing the bounty, passing on the goodness, giving to others what God has so lavishly given to us. So that men may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in Heaven. He receives all the glory; we receive the joy of having received and the joy of sharing the bounty. He gets all the glory. May God help us to get it right; who God is, who we are. Get it right. It shatters pride. Do you see how impossible it is to understand and believe it and be proud?