What is God Like?
What is God Like?
A six-year-old girl was drawing a picture one day. Her teacher said, ‘What are you drawing?’ The little girl answered, ‘I am drawing a picture of God.’ The teacher was surprised and said, ‘But nobody knows what God looks like!’ The little girl carried on drawing and replied, ‘They will in a minute.’
One of the advantages of reading through the Bible in a year is that we get a rounded picture of the nature and character of God, and a greater understanding of what God is like.
King JesusPsalm 45:1-9
The writer of Hebrews sees this psalm as a prophetic description of Jesus. He writes, ‘But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever…”’ (See Hebrews 1:8–9, quoting verses 6–7 of this psalm).
This is one of the clearest cases in the New Testament of Jesus being addressed as ‘God’ – as the legitimate object of worship. Jesus is the fulfilment of the expected ‘anointed King’, known as the Messiah. Jesus fulfils these prophecies.
Jesus said, ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9). In other words, if you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus.
He is ‘anointed with grace’ (Psalm 45:2). We see in these verses hints of the whole Trinity: God the Father (‘God, your God’, Psalm 45:7), Jesus the Son (‘Your throne, O God’, v.6a), and the Holy Spirit (‘the oil of joy’, v.7b, see also Isaiah 61:1,3).
Jesus, my King, ‘in your majesty ride forth victoriously on behalf of truth, humility, and righteousness; let your right hand display awesome deeds’ (Psalm 45:4a).
Loving FatherLuke 15:1-32
God loves you passionately, wholeheartedly and unconditionally. However much you may have messed up in your life, whatever your regrets, it is never too late to turn to God. He will accept you and embrace you as a loving father embraces a lost child.
Jesus shocked and offended the religious leaders: ‘They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story’ (vv.2–3, MSG).
Jesus then tells three parables to show that God cares desperately about the lost. If you have ever lost anything of value, searched frantically and then found it, you will remember your joy when you found what was lost. Jesus says that that joy pales into insignificance compared to the joy of heaven.
The story of the lost sheep shows that ‘there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue’ (v.7, MSG). The story of the lost coin shows ‘the kind of party God’s angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God’ (v.10, MSG).
Then, in probably the greatest short story ever told, Jesus gives us another astonishing revelation of what God is like: a loving father.
The younger son requests his inheritance while the father is still alive and in good health. In traditional Middle Eastern culture this is equivalent to saying, ‘Father, I am eager for you to die!’ A traditional Middle Eastern father would drive him out of the house. It is an outrageous request, which a father is expected to refuse.
But, in an act of extraordinary love, the father breaks tradition and gives his son the freedom to sell his portion of the estate (this would have brought shame on the family before the entire community). The son ‘turned it into cash’ (v.13). Then he set off and left the town as quickly as possible.
So many people today, myself included, have experienced what the younger son found while away from his father. He was wasting his life (‘squandered his wealth in wild living’, v.13). ‘He began to hurt’ (v.14, MSG). He was enslaved (‘hired himself out’, v.15). He felt empty inside (‘he longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating’, v.16). He felt alone in this world (‘no one gave him anything’, v.16).
Turning to God is not an irrational act. It is the opposite – ‘he came to his senses’ (v.17). The son realised that he needed help. He decided to swallow his pride and go back to his father (v.18). He knew that he needed to go home. He was prepared to admit his sin. He planned to say to his father, ‘I have sinned… I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants’ (vv.18–19).
We need to take a step of faith: ‘So he got up and went to his father’ (v.20). He did not know what would happen. At the time of Jesus, a Jewish boy who lost the family inheritance to Gentiles could be punished by his village, and they would have nothing to do with the wayward son.
God’s love is extraordinary, and goes beyond anything that you could ever expect or imagine. Rather than the disgrace we deserve, we receive forgiveness and love. While the boy was still a long way off, his father saw him. It appears that the father had been waiting and watching, and had never forgotten his son. ‘His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him’ (v.20, MSG). The word used implies that he kissed him over and over again. This is how God receives you.
As we begin our prepared speech of repentance, the father interrupts. He treats you as an honoured guest, giving you the best robe (v.22). He gives you a sign of confidence by putting the family ring on your finger (v.22, MSG). He puts sandals, reserved not for slaves but for sons, on your feet (v.22). He plans a lavish celebration party (vv.23–24).
We get a glimpse here of what God is like and how much he loves you. Again, we see the picture of the kingdom of heaven being like a party. This is the opposite of what many people think. They do not associate God with music and dancing, feasting and celebrating.
God’s love extends also to the older son, who goes into ‘an angry sulk’ (v.28, MSG) and is begrudging of his brother’s forgiveness and acceptance. You can imagine the father putting his arm around him and saying, ‘Son, you don't understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours – but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’ (vv.31–32, MSG).
The story (told to the religious leaders) ends on a cliff-hanger – how will the elder son respond to the father’s love?
Father, thank you that you love me so much and when I mess up, you don’t reject me. The moment I repent and come back to you, you accept me and say, ‘Let’s have a feast and celebrate’ (v.23).
Holy JudgeDeuteronomy 19:1-20:20
It is vital to read the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus. We cannot simply apply the laws of the Old Testament to our society today. Nor can we take the concept of the ‘holy war’ (20:1–20) and turn it into a ‘crusade’.
What we see throughout the Bible is that God is a holy God and a God of justice. Some of the principles of the legal system of Ancient Israel were specific to the time. Others are more generally applicable.
Murder is clearly a more serious crime than manslaughter (19:1–13). Good evidence is required before anyone is convicted of a crime (v.15). Perjury is a very serious offence (vv.16–18). Retribution should be deserved and proportionate (v.21 – this was never taken literally, except in the case of the death penalty). A secondary purpose of imposing a just retribution is deterrence (v.20).
But not everything in Ancient Israel is applicable to us. In Jesus Christ a new way has been established. The wrath of God that broke out upon the offender in the community has been visited once and for all upon the righteous representative, the Son of Man.
We cannot accept Israel as a model for our study of the punishment of crime. As former Oxford Professor of Theology, Professor Oliver O’Donovan writes, ‘not because it would be illiberal but because it would be unchristian to do so. “Israel”, in the strong sense in which it claimed to be God’s unique dwelling-place on earth, has been superseded in Christ.’
For example, when Jesus quoted from this passage he said, ‘You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” [Deuteronomy 19:21] But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other cheek also’ (Matthew 5:38–39).
Lord, thank you that you are the God of love, justice and truth. Thank you that you reveal yourself to me as I study your word and spend time in your presence.
Jesus told three stories about a sheep, a coin and a son all being lost, and then the overwhelming joy of them being found. We seem to lose things every day – usually keys, phones and glasses. I found my grandmother's ring, which I thought I had lost. I felt just like the women in the parable: overjoyed. I know, too, that once I was lost and now I’m found.
Verse of the Day
‘… while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him’ (Luke 15:20).
Oliver O’Donovan, Measure For Measure: Justice in Punishment and the Sentence of Death, Grove Booklet on Ethics No. 19 (Bramcote Notts: Grove Books, 1977) p.8
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.