One thing I have learned over the years is that God is complex and multifaceted. People try to simplify Who He is so that our finite minds can grasp His infinite wisdom. If asked to describe God, most people would say, “Well, God is love,” and they would be correct. However, that is only a part of the overall tapestry of God’s intricate nature and character. In these days, many teach that God is a Papa who loves His children, and we can run to Him, jump on His lap, and even tug on His beard. Others like to portray Him as a good friend you can laugh with and have a good time together. I’m not saying that God isn’t a loving Papa nor that He is unapproachable, because He is both loving and welcomes us with open arms; however, He is also holy and worthy of respect and awe. Years ago, I heard John Bevere speak about entering into God’s presence, and I believe this point is contained in his message Drawing Near. He points out that the scene in Heaven (and this is New Testament!!) of worship before God’s throne is not of the elders casting their crowns at His feet shouting “Love! Love! Love!” No. They are declaring He is “Holy! Holy! Holy!” God is completely loving and at the same time He is completely holy, and our response to Him should be loving and respectful. If we don’t have both, we’re missing out on knowing God for Who He truly is.
This is something I’ve pondered over the years, and I’m thinking about it again as I’m involved in a Bible study on the Book of Jonah. Jonah is a little book in the Old Testament. Only four short chapters telling a story of a prophet sent by God to the city of Nineveh (in modern-day Syria) to proclaim God’s wrath and judgment because of their wickedness and violence. Jonah’s immediate reaction was to hop aboard a ship heading in the opposite direction. God sends a raging storm, Jonah is thrown overboard and swallowed by a whale. For three days Jonah was crushed inside the belly of the whale. He cried out to God and the whale spit him out on land. Jonah went to Nineveh. The people listened to him and repented of their wickedness, and God, in His great love and mercy (this is the Old Testament), relented and spared them. The story basically ends with Jonah getting mad at God for not destroying the city and making him look like a fool. It’s kind of a weird story and leaves me scratching my head wondering what this is all about.
The story of Jonah has captured the imaginations of many. You can see the story enacted on stage in Branson, Missouri, and it is the subject of a major motion picture, okay, a VeggieTales movie. The final song says it all, “Jonah was a prophet…but he really never got it.”
My take on Jonah is that what he never really got is an understanding of Who God is. Everything Jonah did was based on fear, and everything God did was His sovereign way of orchestrating events to reveal Himself to Jonah. Even after being expelled from the whale, he went to Nineveh, not out of love for God or compassion for the people, but fear of what just happened to him. His reaction to God’s mercy reveals his lack of love and respect for God. This reminds me of Lester Sumrall. As a young man he was stricken with tuberculosis and was about to die. On one side of his bed he saw a coffin. On the other side was a giant Bible. God told him he must choose. Well, he didn’t want the coffin, so he chose the Bible, and was miraculously healed. He began to preach the Gospel all around the countryside; however, he really didn’t care if the people accepted his message or not. All he cared about was not dying. He told of one time when he asked a lady if she wanted to accept Jesus, she said no, and he yelled, “Then go to hell!” One day he had a vision of people from all the nations of the world walking off a cliff into the fires of hell, and in the vision he tried to stop them, but they wouldn’t listen to him. He heard the LORD say, “Their blood is on your hands.” The result of this vision was that compassion for the people rose up within him. To hear more of this man’s amazing life, I highly recommend the book The Life Story of Lester Sumrall.
I have difficulty with the idea of the “God of the Old Testament is mean” and the “God of the New Testament is loving.” God is God of both the Old and the New Testament, and there are many occurrences of grace and mercy in the Old Testament, and occurrences of judgment and wrath in the New Testament (anyone want to talk about Ananais and Sapphira?).
All this to say that it is important that we know God for Who He is. Understand His heart for the people He puts in our lives. Understand that He is worthy of all of our love and all of our respect. One of the best examples of this concept is a married couple. Love isn’t enough to keep a marriage together. In fact, it is important to understand that women speak the language of love and men speak the language of respect. For a man and woman to truly walk together in unity is to understand how to speak and understand the other’s language.
My greatest desire is to know God…all of Him.