The Living God
Section One – The God of the Story……………………..246
Section Two – The Creator…………………………………331
Section Three – The Ruler………………………………….365
Section Four – The Triune God…………………………….428
Section Five – The Perfections of God…………………..
Section Six – The Perfect Refuge…………………………
The Living God
God or Idols?
This often used biblical title stresses the radical difference between the God of the Bible and all of the physical and intellectual idols that people make in preference to him. He is the God who speaks and acts, the God who is in control and the God who interacts with humans in his image and likeness. He is the God who introduces himself to us. He is the God who sustains and controls his creation. He is the God who redeems. He is the God who will judge every person. Carl Henry gives a powerful presentation of this:
God who is, we shall contend, is God who stands, and stays. God who independently “stands” is the personal sovereign containing in himself the ground of his own existence; God who “stays” governs in providence and eschatological consummation of his dramatic plan for man and the world.
God stoops…. He condescends to redeem a renegade humanity and a fallen cosmos. He condescends to make himself known and through inspired envoys to republish his holy purposes to man in revolt…. By his own incomparable way of stooping, God voluntarily forsakes his sovereign exclusivity; he condescends to fashion the planets and stars in their courses, the creatures in their diverse habitats and man in the likeness of his personal Maker. His stooping was not to something beneath his dignity, not to something degrading or unworthy, but a stooping that manifested the outgoing righteousness and love of the God who stands.
“God stays…. God is the supreme Stayer. He stays with his creation though man flaws it. He stays himself from destroying it when man falls in Eden…. God remains and participates in his fallen universe by preserving and governing it, while he yet calls man to decision. Were it not for his staying power, man and the world would crumble into dust and disappear into nothingness…. By staying the final judgment he shapes a season for repentance.
These volumes have deliberately deployed everyday terms like stands, stoops, and stays, speaks and shows as a bridge to contemplation of the doctrine of God
The world of our day has too much in common with the world of biblical times to think that God’s revealed character and purpose gradually lose relevance. God is still addressing human spiritual revolt wherever and however it occurs. God who speaks and shows solicits an obedient faith amid modern civilization at bay; God who stands, stoops and stays remains our only transcendent hope and our only trustworthy support.1
Carl Henry’s paragraphs touch the heart of what we must do when seek to know God. We are not scientists who can control the object of our study. We are not psychologists who stand beside the object of our study. We are creatures who stand under the Living God and worship when He chooses to introduce himself to us.
This Living God demands that he be the center of our lives. He promises to interfere at the deepest level of our lives at every moment from conception to eternity. He demands our trust, gratitude and obedience. He promises all good things to so respond. He reminds us that there are no neutral places. There is only his presence and his grace with all good things or his wrath with nothing good. And this is not self-centeredness nor conceit on his part, but is just reality when He is the Creator and we are his creatures.
The early church recognized this, at least in part. The early Rules of Faith, the various forms of the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creeds all introduced God by confessing his names and works. They refused to define him further than the “almighty” ascribed to the Father because they knew that one does not define persons.
When Justin Martyr and his successors bought into the contemporary Platonisms, the Living God was turned into an indescribable entity far removed from history and all things physical. They lost the Living God. When Thomas Aquinas and his successors bought into Aristotle’s philosophy, God became an intellectual abstraction with a series of negative descriptions built upon the five-fold argument for
his existence.2 Protestants have generally followed this abstract approach to knowing God, often under different philosophical systems: Descartes, Kant, Hegel, etc.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century we are still struggling to escape the idolatry of the various philosophies. We still try to define God. We still begin with natural revelation. We still make a god that we can control. We are still idolaters.
It is not likely that I will be able to escape these various idolatries. It is too tempting to write a doctrine of God that keeps me in the driver’s seat of my life. It is too comforting to have a god that I can define, describe and control. Idolatry is still the most terrible temptation that any sinner faces.
Survey of This Doctrine
Section one will be a retelling of the biblical metanarrative from the perspective of God’s self-revelation. I will try to tell the Story from the perspective of its answer to the basic question: Who is God and how do we live with Him? This is no minor theme in the great Drama of human history. Rather it towers over all other themes. All else rests in the shadows of the biblical revelation of the Living God. All of the rest of the chapters will flow out of this one.
Section two will introduce the major acts of God and major on his work of creation. We have speculated on the mysteries of creation for so long and have spent so much time trying to fit the creation account with contemporary science that we have virtually forgotten that God makes this great act foundational to all revelation of himself—and of us. Here we stand before the foundational mystery, and it is here that we learn how to rejoice in that mystery.
Section three is a discussion of God’s work of providence. The doctrine was virtually lost during the modern period and is being transformed into something quite man-centered in this postmodern age. We will have to listen hard to hear what God says about this, because our reason and our experience shouts heresies in our ears all day long.
Section four will treat the complex triunity of God. This doctrine was basically lost during the modern age, but has had a renaissance since the publication of the first volume of Barth’s Church Dogmatics. We will have to recognize that God’s triunity is no minor theme in the Bible, but is its basic structure. God does not give us a verse,
a paragraph or a chapter defining this doctrine. It is too important for that. Rather, he introduces himself to us as triune throughout the Bible.
Section Five will treat the attributes, perfections, or characteristics of God. Aquinas nearly destroyed this doctrine, and philosophical approaches have continued to describe God in quite other than biblical terms. Again, it was Karl Barth in his Church Dogmatics who challenged us to exegete the Bible in order to understand God’s revealed perfections. It will be a serious challenge to follow Barth’s challenge and to improve on his treatment.
Chapter six will be a brief treatment of our response to this Self-revealed God. I have entitled it: “God—the Perfect Refuge for the Troubled Believer.” I want to end this section with the same metanarrative approach with which I began it.
The Living God and Other Doctrines
The name for our discipline is “Theology.” All of the doctrines are about God. If we ever get to the place where we study the human race, the church, salvation, or eschatology as something other than the doctrine of God, we will have missed the essence of Systematic Theology.
Revelation is God speaking to us. Man and sin are imagers of God who either reflect God’s goodness or his wrath. We have no existence nor meaning apart from our relationships with the Living God.
The provision of our salvation will be treated as the person and work of the Father, the person and work of the Son, and the person and work of the Spirit. The peoples of God, primarily Israel and the Church are just that—peoples of God who find their whole meaning in that relationship. Our individual salvation is God’s gift of fellowship with himself and eschatology is the final act of God’s recreation of all things.
Every one of these other doctrines are not only God-centered, but are further revelations of what our God is like. We find out something about God when studying people in his image and likeness. We find out more when we see the nature of sin and his response to our rebellion. We learn about his character in the way he saves peoples and individuals.
We learn much more about him in the eschaton. He has seemed distant, often uncaring and often impotent. He has permitted an immense amount of evil in history, and we often wonder how committed he is to holiness and goodness. But in the eschaton, he will reveal Himself as the holy and good God who is close, who does care, and is in total control all of the time. Then he will meet us in the Messianic Kingdom and on the New Earth to converse with us and our daily experience will finally be in total accord with all that he has said about himself in the Scriptures.
Then we can write a fuller and more accurate doctrine of the Living God. Then our words about him will be finally and fully delivered from all idolatry. But though we will be learning new things about him throughout all of the ages of eternity to come we will never come to the full knowledge of him. A hundred billion years of learning as glorified people will still leave an infinite amount to learn about him. We will always be beginners. And if we will only be beginners then, what about now….?