Tuesday, April 9, 2013
The Attributes of God (What God are we Talking About?)
As we start looking at the attributes of God, let’s start with this one passage. It’s the well-known account of Moses returning to the mountain to get the second copy the commandments:
Ex 34:5-7 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."
First we must determine just who it is we’re talking about. God has many names throughout Scripture, but the first we need to look at is the LORD. In our English translations, when we see it written with all capital letters, it is the following the Jewish tradition of never speaking the name by which God referred to himself when He spoke to Moses in the burning bush. It means “I am who I am” and today we use the word Jehovah to indicate that same proper name. In that we see that He defines himself. We do not, we cannot—and, might I add, we dare not—define God according to what we wish Him to be. It was He who spoke the Earth into being, and breathed life into all creatures, ending with man, and then said “It is very good.”
He is compassionate and gracious. The image that compassion should bring to mind is like that of cuddling a much loved child. Among my favorite memories are those of my kids cuddled up with me in my chair or on the couch while I’ve read them stories, comforted them when they’ve been upset, or maybe just snuggled with them as they drifted off to sleep. To grasp the concept of gracious, imagine again a child, this one struggling with some kind of problem. You stop, bend over or kneel down to help. There’s no obligation to do so, you do it only because it’s a child and it’s in your nature to enjoy helping children. Such is the nature of God. We are His children; it’s His nature to help us. We could probably follow up on that last picture by thinking of trying to help a child put a square peg in a round hole. We know it won’t work, but he just keeps trying to do it his way. (NOTE: I raised boys—I’m sure it’s the same for girls!)
God is slow to anger, at least as we see it. In Biblical history He waited generations, giving ample time for His people, the Nation of Israel, to repent and return to Him. When they repented and returned, He forgave them…and then they rebelled again. He waited and waited forgiving years of repeated rebellion; but ultimately he acted. He did so justly. He punished the guilty. Without punishment for the guilty, there is no justice. We’ll deal with that another time.