12. Transcendant and Incomprehensible

Transcendent & Incomprehensible

God’s voice thunders in marvellous ways; He does great things beyond our understanding …. God comes in awesome majesty.  The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power

Job 37:5 & 23

This is what the high and exalted One says – He who lives forever, whose Name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit’


It seems strange to conclude this series with a study on the fact that in the final analysis we can’t really know God!  A more careful way of putting it would be to say we can’t know Him exhaustively, though what we can know of Him we can know truly and reliably.  We finish in an atmosphere of appropriate humility.  Our whole series – and what it represents of our quest to know our God - has been a privilege granted only through the gracious self-disclosure of the One whose ‘greatness no-one can fathom’ (Ps.145:3)

 The limitations of our createdness (He is greater than anything the human mind can conceive) are compounded by the reality of our sinfulness, which render in us a yearning to turn away from the Living God, and a compulsion to suppress all we know of Him (Rom.1:18-19; I Cor.1:21).  In addition, there are powerful spiritual forces at work to obscure our vision of God (II Cor.4:4).  The result is that ‘No-one knows the Father except the Son’, then before we despair, ‘…and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him’ (Matt.11:27, see also John 1:18, Col.1:15 Heb.1:3).  God is unknown to us apart from Jesus Christ.  Only God could know God fully and reveal Him meaningfully.  The Spirit at work in us enables us to joyfully accept that revelation as truth (I Cor.2:14).  While we ‘know only in part’ (I Cor.13:12) what we do know is both true and secure.  We are created in His Image and therefore have the capacity to know Him, and yet there is an immensity to God that exceeds our finite capacity to grasp.  He is incomprehensible, but not unintelligible.

This does not mean His is remote and isolated.  He lives ‘in the high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit’ (Is.57:15).  He has spoken through the prophets, and also through His Son; but we are like infants struggling to understand a genius who is restrained by His having to speak to us in our terms. ‘He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed’ (Job.9:12).

This guards us against the naïve reductionism (if not arrogance) that leaves us thinking we have learned all there is to know about Christianity.  When we act and speak as if this were the case, it is more likely that we haven’t even learned enough of God to realise how deeply impoverished our vision of Him is.  This yearning to know the unknowable, and to comprehend the incomprehensible that marks healthy Christian spirituality sounds like it could be a recipe for frustration.  ‘Can you fathom the mysteries of God?  Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens above – what can you do?  They are deeper than the depths below – what can you know?’ (Job.11:7-8).  But it is God who has put it into our heart to seek Him, and seek Him more fully.  The realisation of His immensity draws us into an ever increasing investigation of Him and an ever more wondering worship, as we discover Him to be far more glorious that we ever envisaged.  It guards us against our terminal tendency to reduce God to manageable terms.  It gives us pause for thought before we ask the banal questions that compose so much of our theological discourse (see Job 38-41).  With cords of love we delight to be drawn in humble awe and meek reverence before the glory of ‘the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no-one has seen or can see.  To Him be honour and might for ever, Amen’ (I Tim.6:15-16).  Few things would capture our hearts and imaginations more compellingly, and revolutionise the atmosphere of our services of Divine worship more powerfully than to realise that when we have conceived all we can, and said all we can, and sung all we can, we have only begun to paddle in the infinite enormity of the glory and the beauty of our God.  For we realise now that God transcends everything we have at our disposal to understand Him fully.  He is all that He is without limit.  He is measureless, boundless and ceaseless. 

 ‘Amen!  Praise and glory, and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!’ (Rev.7:12).  Perhaps begin the study with a time of prayerful worship?

Sometimes people say that heaven sounds boring.  How does the fact that God is infinitely vast in His being help us deal with this objection?

 What would you say to someone who didn’t share your insatiable passion to know God as fully as you possibly could?

 …and what about someone who said this was all too intellectual for them?

 How can we be confident that what we know of God is true and right?

 A W Tozer wrote: ‘In the awful abyss of the Divine being may lie attributes of which we know nothing, and which can have no meaning for us, just as the attributes of mercy and grace have no personal meaning for the seraphim and cherubim’

The Knowledge of the Holy, p.65

What do you think of this?  Do you agree or disagree?  Does this prospect excite you, or disturb you?

How has this series of Bible Studies and sermons challenged your assumptions about who you think God is?  Have they lead to a deeper and more authentic worship and devotion?  Why / why not?

Thinking ahead to our next series on the doctrine of creation, we ponder the possibility that so much of God’s being and character would never have been displayed if creation was not what it is.  If there had been no sin, we would never have witnessed the patience and longsuffering of God; if no evil, we’d never have appreciated the goodness of God; if no suffering, the compassion of God would never need to be revealed; if no transgression, then the Justice and wrath of God would have been forever hidden. 

Do you think it is worth living in a world such as this, if it means the glory of God is revealed in the depth and richness that it is?  Why / why not?


Memory passage

& for further reflection

I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever.  Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.  Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise.  His greatness, no-one can fathom.  One generation commends your work to another.  They tell of your mighty acts.  They speak of the glorious splendour of your majesty – I will meditate on your wonderful works.  They tell of the power of your awesome works – and I will proclaim your great deeds.  They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness. 

 The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.  The LORD is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made.  All your people praise you LORD; your faithful people extol you.  They tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all people may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendour of your kingdom.  Your kingdom is and everlasting Kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations.


Psalm 145:1-13

A Psalm of Praise.  Of David.

…or go all the way to v.21 if you think you can!

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11. Majesty and Power

Majesty and Power

I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all I please … What I have said I will bring about; what I have planned I will do’


 Hallelujah!  For the Lord God Almighty reigns.  Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory!


Having summarised the works of God in creation and in triumphing over His enemies, Job declares ‘These are but the outer fringe of His works.  How faint the whisper we hear of Him!  Who then can understand the thunder of His power?’ (Job 26:14).  And in one verse we are flung against the infinite power and majesty of the Living God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It is awe-inspiring to realise that whilst we may be overwhelmed by the power that God has displayed in all that He has done, He is in fact able to do infinitely more, ‘…immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine’ (Eph.3:20).  Truly nothing is too hard for Him (Jer.32:17).

It is easy to lose balance as we consider the Almighty seated on His throne, ruling and overruling with illimitable power throughout His creation.  Surely this God can do anything.  ‘Power belongs to You O God’ (Ps.62:11).  In fact we need to be a bit more nuanced than this.  It is obviously incorrect to say God can do anything.  It is more than semantics for example, to remind ourselves that God cannot sin.  We are told several times throughout Scripture that He cannot lie (e.g. Heb.6:18).  Nor can He be pleased without faith (Heb.11:6), or save impenitent sinners.  The more glorious refrain that echoes through the ages is that He does what He pleases (see e.g. Is.46:10; Dan.4:35; Ps.115:3; Psalm 135:6 etc.).  He is not limited by anything beyond His own will and desires.  What in his infinite wisdom He decrees, He is able to bring to pass by His infinite power and authority.  ‘No word from God will ever fail’ (Lk.1:37), for there lies within His being the undiminished and undiminishable fullness of power.  He cannot be frustrated or restrained.  In His incomparably great power (Eph.1:19), He never tires or wearies (Is.40:28)

Theologians delight to lay out the glory of God’s power through Christ in creation (e.g. Ps.33:6; Heb.1:2); in sustaining that creation (Heb.1:3); in salvation

 (Heb.1:3-4; Rom.8:30); in victory over His enemies (Col.2:14-15) and in the renewal of all things (Phil.1:6, Jude 24-25).  Capturing a sense of the power of God transforms our understanding of the world.  Take the power of God at work in Christ in the moment-by-moment sustaining the life of the creation (Col.1:17).  What would happen if His power wavered for even an instant?  Things don’t just happen of their own accord.  What we call the laws of nature are actually the sustaining power of God upholding all things in an ordered and cohesive system that shapes the functioning of creation and providence. 

We fear power.  As Lord Acton famously said, ‘Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.  Not in the hands of the Son of Man who is enthroned in glory (Daniel 7:13-14).  But we are nevertheless surprised at how He uses His power.  ‘Jesus knew that God had put all things under his power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; so He got up, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped towel around His waist.  After that He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciple’s feet…’ (John 13:3-5).  Truly the greatest among you will be your servant (Matt.23:11).   This God who is able to whatever He pleases, pleases to serve and to give His life as a Ransom for many (Mk.10:45).  This is the meaning of the washing of the feet: ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me’ (Jn.13:8).  He pleases to bring His power to bear on the devastating reality of sin and on the plight those who live without hope and without God in the world (Eph.2:12).  Christ, the power of God (I Cor.1:24) came to do what only an Almighty God could do.  He Himself bore our sins in His body (I Pet.2:24), and then was raised from the dead by the power of God, and was seated by that same power at His right hand in the heavenly realms (Eph.1:19-20)

 And now the power of God is inextricably tied to the message of Christ crucified (I Cor.1:18).  ‘The Gospel … is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes’ (Rom.1:17, see also Matt.28:19-20).   In this Gospel, the power of God that was exhibited so sublimely in the creation of all things by the Word of God, is again displayed through the Word, as Christ is preached as Lord (II Cor.4:5); and the God who said ‘let light shine out of darkness’ makes His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ Jesus’ (v.6).  If you would like to confront the power of God, and see it at work, then proclaim the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philosophers who try to think about the power of God often end up asking questions like:  ‘Can God create a rock too heavy to lift… and then lift it?’  What do you make of such questions?  How would you answer them?

What event in Scripture illustrates God’s power for you most compellingly?  Why?  What is it about that event that speaks to you so strongly?

How does God express His power in your salvation: past, present, and future?

Where else in your experience does God demonstrate His power?   Where and how would you like to see Him manifest His power?  Why do you think He doesn’t use His power the way you want Him to?

(e.g. to protect His people from  suffering?)

We have thought of what it means for God to be powerful.  What does it mean for people to be powerful?  How could we grow in power, and should we want to?


The end of the Lord’s Prayer brings the question of God’s kingdom, power and glory to bear on our approach to God.  How does thinking of God’s power and majesty affect how we pray and what we would prayer for?


Memory passage

 I praised the Most High; I honoured and glorified Him who lives for ever: “His dominion is an eternal dominion; His kingdom endures from generation to generation.  All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing.  He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the people of the earth.  No-one can hold back His hand, or say to Him, ‘What have you done’”

 Daniel 4:34-35

For further reflection

We can feel unsure about the concentration of power in the hands of a single individual.  Our history is littered with examples of totalitarian regimes and oppressive tyrannies.  When power is uncoupled from the checks and balances we have grown used to, it can quickly become vicious and abusive, brutal and pitiless.  What then do we make of Christ, the power of God, and in whom all authority in heaven and earth has been invested?  Who even when He delegates authority (Rom.13:1-7) remains undiminished in His power and majesty.  As with all His attributes, we need not fear one whose power is integrated within the beauty of God’s holiness.  The Living God is worthy of all power and strength.  He is good, and patient, wise and compassionate.  Power in the hands of such a One as this is a glorious thing, not to be feared.  In fact it is a necessary thing.   An old divine, Stephen Charnock wrote: 


‘The power of God is that ability and strength to bring to pass whatever He pleases, whatever His infinite wisdom may direct, and whatever the infinite purity of His will may resolve.  As holiness is the beauty of all God’s attributes, so power is that which gives life and action to all the Divine nature.  How worthless His eternal counsels would be if His power could not execute them.  His mercy would be feeble pity, if He were destitute of the power to relieve; his justice inconsequential without the power to punish, and His promises an empty sound without His strength to accomplish them’.


In His hands illimitable power is safe.  But it is illimitable power still.  There is an appropriate awe and reverence due to One who holds such power, and more, who can hold such power and not be corrupted by it.  In the Bible it is called the ‘fear of the Lord’.  We learn to fear Him, and we need fear no other (Ps.27:1).  To not fear Him is the ‘sinfulness of the wicked’ (Ps.36:1).  How can we cultivate the fear of the Lord in our own life, and in the life of our Churches?

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10. Goodness


 Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.


 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

II Cor.9:8

The goodness of God focuses our mind on the fact that everything the Triune God does is worthy of approval – by the Triune God.    In a formula that should be familiar by now: there is no standard of ‘good’ outside of God that He is measured against.  Rather He is good; He is the definition and the standard of good.  All else is measured against Him and against His valuing and approving of what is consistent with His character (see I Tim.2:3).  As God cannot be anything other than good, so He cannot do anything other than what is good.   His will is good, pleasing and perfect (Rom.12:3), and his Almighty power means that will is perfectly enacted.  There is a beautiful inevitability about God surveying the work of creation and declaring it ‘very good’ (Gen.1:31).  ‘You are good, and what you do is good’ (Ps.119:68).  Always and only ‘the Lord will do what is good in his sight’ (II Sam10:12). Here is the grounds of our worship (II Chron.5:13).

This kind of theo-centrism creates a tension for us.  We like to be in on the action.  But are we so arrogant as to believe we could determine what is ‘good’?  It is God who can discern good from evil (II Sam.14:17).  Sin has so assaulted our moral compass that we can barely lift our eyes above measuring ‘good’ by its effect on ourselves, and possibly on other people.  We have so forgotten what ‘good’ is, that we have almost lost the capacity to imagine it, and can barely recognise it when it stands before us (Matt.12:24).  The epitaph over fallen humanity reads simply: ‘There is no-one who does good’ (Ps.14:1).  In addition we are so susceptible to the work of the Deceiver (II Cor.11:14), that we end up believing evil is good and good is evil (Is.5:20).  Woe to us.  The second half of Ps.119:68 (cited above) sums up our dependence: ‘…teach me your decrees’. 

But if we are to (re-)learn what is good we will only do it through conscious dependence on His revelation of Himself and His ways, through His word.  There is no other who is good (Lk.18:19), and there is no other source of good (Jas.1:17,  III Jn.1:11).  If we don’t come to the Lord who is good, we forever lose all sense of, and in due course all experience of ‘good’.  As it is we are already so incapable of recognising the goodness of God that we take His myriad of good gifts each day as an inherent right, and see not the hand that grants them (Ps.145:9).

This inevitable collision between the Good and the not-good reverberates throughout the structures of both creation and Creator.  God is unable and unwilling to compromise the intensity of His infinite goodness.  That is why we love Him.  But what does a good God do with a creature that is not good.  In our last study we reflected on Nahum 1.  In a passage so relentlessly focused on the vengeance and wrath of God, the declaration ‘The Lord is good’ (1:7) seems entirely out of place.  But it isn’t.  It is the foundation on which the whole chapter is built.  It explains why God is filled with wrath (1:2).  He is good.   And in His goodness lies both terror for those who are not good, and our hope.  ‘May the LORD who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God…’ (II Chron.30:19).  In His goodness, He rescued us from the grave (Ps.107:1 & 20).  In His goodness He sought our redemption, and in our redemption He sought to make us good. And knowing He could leave nothing to our initiative, He prepared those good works in advance for us to do (Eph.2:10); and now He Himself works in us to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose (Phil.2:13).

What tool could God use to fashion goodness once more amongst such moral wreckage?  Only one thing is needful.  The Scriptures equip us for every good work (II Tim.3:16-17). Listen to some words from those Scriptures which once we could never have understood, let alone put into practise: ‘…do good to those who hate you ... Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High’ (Lk.6:27-35).  The goodness of God stretches not merely to withholding His justice, or to redeeming us, or to recreating us to do good, or to preparing the good works we are to do.  Not yet content with the display of His goodness, He would now greatly reward us.  And as He could conceive of no reward good enough to convey the depths of His goodness, after rewarding us greatly, He adopts us so that we are children of the Most High, the Good God.  Is it any wonder that Paul’s desire is that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good (Tit.3:8).

Do you agree with the statement that no human being (outside of Christ by the power of His Spirit, Acts 10:38) does what is good?  Why / why not?  Similarly, do you agree with Jesus’ statement that there is no-one good except God alone (Lk.18:19).  How do you make sense of a comment like that?

What do you think are the ‘ingredients’ of goodness?  If you had to define God’s goodness it, how would you do it?  What characterises it?

How many of God’s good gifts can you list in 5 minutes?  How many of those good gifts could we live without?  Why are we so forgetful of His generosity, even when we depend on it for life itself?  How can we change so that we receive every good things with thankfulness? 

God chooses to give some people more good things than others.  Do you agree with this statement?  Do you think it is fair?

 What would the world look like if God only demonstrated His goodness to those who trusted in Him?  Why do you think God decided not to operate on this basis?  Why do you think He is good even to those who hate Him?  Is it a ‘waste’ of his goodness?

Gal.6:9-10, ‘Let us not become weary in doing good …  as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.  How can you fulfil this Apostolic imperative this week?  How can we encourage one another in this?


Memory Passage

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you[b] to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.



For further reflection


Does it excite you to think that God has prepared good works for you to do (Eph.2:10), and that now He Himself works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose (Phil.2:13)?  Or does it just exacerbate your sense of failure and frustration because your experience falls so far short of what the Bible seems to teach? 

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith (II Thess.1:11).

Spend some time praying along these lines for yourself and for those Christians you know.  Can you commit to doing this regularly until the study group meets again?  Who will you ask to pray for you in a similar vein?  Are there particular situations in which you would value specific prayer?

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9. Justice and Wrath

Justice and Wrath

 God is a righteous judge, a God who displays His wrath every day.  If He does not relent He will sharpen His sword, He will bend and string His bow.  He has prepared His deadly weapons; He makes ready His flaming arrows … I will sing the praises of the Name of the LORD Most High

…taken from Psalm 7:11-17

 The Lord is the true God; He is the living God, the eternal King.  When He is angry the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure His wrath


We have seen before in our studies that the attributes of God blend together, shaping and informing one another within the glorious beauty of His holiness.   This is no less the case when we come to attributes such as Justice and Wrath.  We are not suddenly confronted with a deviation from the ‘real’ nature of God. The familiar idea that somehow God’s justice and wrath stand against His grace and love is utterly false.  They are not in conflict with each other within the being of God.  We don’t need to ‘balance’ them against each other, or hold them ‘in tension’, but rather to integrate them deeply.  Failure here will lead to an idol.  Justice is present in His mercy (I John1:9) and after a summer series in the Minor Prophets, I hope we have grasped that He judges because He is a God of love.  When we grasp that God loves His glory in His Son, and His Church, then we understand why He is implacably opposed to all that harms either or both.[1]

The idea of justice corresponds to the fact that God will treat people in accordance with His judgement of them.   Our struggle (such as it is) with God’s justice, and the wrath that lies behind it, is that we simply aren’t sure that ‘sin’ is really so prevalent (Jude 15), nor so bad as to demand such extreme punishment.  And we aren’t sure because we have so little sense of the preciousness of the glory of Christ, or the Church.  Or perhaps our struggle is that we read the Bible so little, while assuming with such certainty we know what God is like.  We might be surprised – if we read the Bible consecutively – just how frequently the Bible speaks of God’s wrath and judgement, and by the intensity of the language (see e.g. Is.63:1-6; Jer.7:20; Nah.1:2-8; Rom.2:5-8 etc.).  It is only by avoiding much of the Bible that we can avoid appreciating the glorious, holy, pure, balanced, measured, appropriate, righteous, personal, implacable justice of God.  It is the unflinching testimony of the Scriptures that God hates sin and evil in all its forms with an eternal ferocity (e.g. Psalm 5:4-5; 11:5; Zech.8:17), and that He will not sheath His sword of justice until His last enemy is slain (Rev.19:15).

As Christians, our meditation on the wrath and justice of God needs to be set firmly in the context of the cross: the vindication of God’s justice (Rom.3:25-26).  Not only does a deepening vision of His wrath and Justice deepen our joy and worship for the cross, but it also strengthens our confidence that Christ, in His love for His bride gave Himself up for her, to be exposed to that wrath and to endure the justice of His Father on her behalf, and gives us firm ground on which to stand as we gaze on that justice (Rom.5:10; I Thess.1:10, 5:9).  As we gaze on the cross, we have no fear that God’s indignation is disproportionate, or that His justice will somehow be shown to be unjust.  He cannot but be just.  His reign is built on justice (Ps. 89:14, Ps.51:4).  He is the standard of justice.  His anger burns at the right things, in the right way, to the right extent.  His indignation is just, and He does not make mistakes or say or do things that He will later regret.  We should be careful before we accuse the Lord and discredit His justice (Job 40:8).  Rather we gaze at the cross and understand that this is how terrible sin must be.

When all is said and done there is no room for triumphalism.  We don’t voyeuristically rejoice in the prospect of the wrath of Him who sits on the throne and of the Lamb (Rev.6:16).  As one old Scottish preacher asked when an associate declared he had recently preached on the Judgement of God, ‘Ay, but did you do it with tears in your eyes?’  When Paul reflects on the justice of God against His own people, He confesses to having great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart, and wishes that he himself could be cut off from Christ for the sake of his people (Rom.9:2-3).  He learned this from his Master (Matt.23:37).  It is one thing to think rightly about God’s wrath and justice.  It is another thing altogether to feel rightly about it.

Jonathan Edwards once wrote, ‘Almost every natural man (sic) who hears about hell flatters himself that he shall escape it’.  Do you agree with him?  Why do you think it is?  He says ‘Almost…’  who do you think the exceptions might be?

Read Romans 1:18-32.  What do you make of the idea that God’s wrath is being revealed now, within history?  Is it would be right to speak of military and political conquests; natural disasters; plagues etc. as expressions of the wrath of God?  Can you think of passages where they are spoken of in this way?

 Would you conclude that Britain was currently being given over as a result of the revealing of God’ wrath?  Why / Why not?  If you think the answer is yes, what is your response to that prospect?

Are you comfortable worshipping God for His justice and anger?  Do you think it is a communicable attribute?  Why / Why not? 

Would it be appropriate for someone leading intercessions at MIE for the persecuted Church appropriating the words of Rev.6:10?

Do you think we should talk more about God’s justice and wrath in our evangelism?  Why / Why not?

How would you counsel someone who said they couldn’t worship a God who sent people to hell?


Memory Passage

 The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath.  The Lord takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies.  The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished …  Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger?  His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him.

Nahum 1:2-3 & 6


For further reflection

How often have you meditated on the justice of God, or the anger of God, finding expression in the judgement of the wicked?  Here is a section from a sermon preached a couple of hundred years ago, called ‘Sinners in the hands of an angry God’ preached by Jonathan Edwards, 8th July 1741.  Before you read it, know that God used this sermon to instigate one of the greatest revivals the world has ever seen, and many fled to Jesus to find refuge in Him.

 ‘Your wickedness makes you as heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf … There are the black clouds of God’s wrath now hanging directly over your heads, full of the dreadful storm, and big with thunder; and were it not for the restraining hand of God, it would immediately burst forth upon you.  The sovereign pleasure of God, for the present, stays His rough wind; otherwise it would come with a fury and your destruction would come like the whirlwind, and you would be like the chaff of the summer threshing floor’.

 What do you make of it?  Would you appreciate hearing preaching like this in MIE?  Why / why not?  Would you bring someone to an evangelistic event if you knew this sort of thing would be preached?

[1] The love of the Father for His Son (and vice versa!) is the most common way the Bible speaks of the love of God.  Does God feel the same way about His Spirit?  On the one hand there is little explicit reference to His love for the Spirit, on the other, it is strange to think that one Person of the Trinity would be unloved.  Perhaps Matt.12:31 gives us a sense of how precious the Spirit is within the life of God (footnote starts on back page!)

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8. Mercy and Grace

Mercy & Grace

 …his mercy is great…

II Sam.24:14

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.

Psalm 51:1

For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath.


The Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!


 the God of all grace…

I Peter 5:10

Although these two attributes belong together in Christian experience, and are in a sense two sides of the same coin, they are not identical.  Mercy is generally seen as God’s withholding from us something that we justly deserve.  Grace is God’s giving to us what we don’t justly deserve as an unmerited gift – if it were merited, argues Paul, ‘grace would no longer be grace’ (Rom.11:6).

Because this is the reality of who God is (Ex.34:6), we watch in amazement as God is both merciful and gracious to all within His creation, including those who are not (yet) Christians.  We saw this, in part, in our recent study on God’s patience.  That He is restraining His wrath, and holding back the Day of Judgement is a mercy.  And strange though it might first sound, his grace is known even by those who are not saved.  At one level this is in their ongoing enjoyment of the gifts of creation and providence.  It isn’t only Christians who enjoy the blessing of this world. 

 But more specifically there is a sense in which people who aren’t actually Christians experience His grace through their engagement with the Church: ‘when grace (or favour) is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty

of the Lord’ (Is.26:10).  There is also a sense in which God’s grace has been shown to the whole world in the death of Christ – even if the whole world does not respond to that grace with faith (see Tit.2:11; Heb.2:9, though both are complex).  More solemnly, Hebrews warns us of the spiritual peril experienced by those who insult the Spirit of grace (10:29), or who fall short of the grace of God (12:15).  The Apostle Paul likewise urges his hearers to be careful they do not receive God’s grace in vain (II Cor.6:1), abuse that grace (Rom.6:1), or fall away from it (Gal.5:4); and Jude condemns those who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord (1:4).

 But in our own way of talking, and in the overwhelming usage within the Scriptures, the emphasis of both mercy and grace, and their centre of gravity, lies in the experience of the Church.  It is the Church that is constantly blessed with grace (Rom.1:7; I Cor.1:3 etc.), the Church that is saved by grace (Eph.2:8, Tit.3:7), and that is under grace (Rom.6:15).  We are chosen by grace (Rom.11:5); enjoy spiritual gifts through grace (Rom.12:6); are enabled to work for His glory by grace (I Cor.3:10, Eph.3:10).  We receive the Spirit of grace (Zech.12:10), and are transformed into imitators of Christ by grace (II Cor.8:6-9).  Grace enables us to suffer (II Cor.12:9), and secures the forgiveness of our sins (Eph.1:7).  It is by God’s grace that we see the Gospel bearing fruit (Co.1:6); it was by God’s grace that we were called to a holy life and equipped to live that life (II Tim.1:9, Tit.2:11-14); it was His grace that was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time (II Tim.1:9); it is God’s grace that motivates our prayer, and which we are given in our time of need (Heb.4:16); God’s grace that strengthens our hearts (Heb.13:9); and it is God’s grace that we will receive when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming (I Peter 1:13).  It is the grace of God in which we stand fast (I Peter 5:12), in which we grow (II Pet.3:18), and which is ours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord (II Pet.1:2).  The Christian life is throughout a testimony to the grace of God.  It is the result of God’s continuous, ongoing and overwhelming outpouring of grace.  In our entirety we stand in need of His mercy and grace.

 It is God’s being gracious to us that leads to the people’s praise (Ps.67:1-5, Hos.14:2), and it is God’s glorious grace that is the substance of our praise, and the display of God’s glory throughout the everlasting ages of the New Creation (Eph.1:6 & 2:7); and it is according to the grace of our God that ‘the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him’ (II Thess.1:12).

In the light of this last paragraph, would you agree that a people who are apathetic in worship are a people who have experienced little of God’s grace?   How would you seek to inspire deeper worship?

The attribute of God’s mercy is a ‘communicable’ one.  Acknowledging that there are aspects of the Father’s mercy that we cannot replicate, we still are confronted by Jesus’ calls us to ‘be merciful, just as your Father is merciful’ (Lk.6:36).  If you were to reflect God’s mercy (and grace) more fully, towards whom would you need to change your behaviour in this coming week?  Can this group ask you about this next time you meet?

How important to Jesus do you think it is that you are merciful?  How central is it to our thinking about what it means to be a disciple? 

How can we learn to be merciful (and gracious)?

Heb.2:17.  Why did Jesus have to become human in order to be a merciful High Priest?

What do we make of the distinctions between people’s experience of grace and mercy outlined in the introduction to this study?  How do we feel about the seemingly discriminatory nature of God in His mercy (Rom.9:14)? 


Memory passage

 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.  You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.  You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.

Micah 7:18-20


For further reflection

 One of the things that really stood out to people who met Jesus were His gracious words (Lk.4:22).  It is no accident that the Apostles pick up on this same idea as they spell out what it means to be a disciple of this same Jesus.  Col.4:6, ‘Let your conversation be always full of grace…’.  What do you think this means?

 We’ve already thought in these studies about the significance of the thousands of words we use every day (see study on Faithful and True).  How does this add another dimension to our thinking about what Christian speech sounds like? 

Do you think Paul meant it literally when he said, ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs that it might benefit those who listen (Eph.4:29)?  How can you implement this more fully?  Are there particular situations in which you will find this more difficult than others? 

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7. Knowledge and Wisdom

Knowledge & Wisdom

Who can fathom the mind of the LORD, or instruct the LORD as His counsellor?  Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten Him, and who taught Him the right way?  Who was it that taught Him knowledge, or showed Him the path of understanding?


Acknowledge the [LORD] … serve Him with whole hearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart, and understands every desire and every thought

I Chron.28:9

Do you know … those wonders of him who is perfect in knowledge?

Job 37:16

There is a danger of being overwhelmed when we consider One who perfectly knows all aspects of the vast complexity throughout the entirety of creation (Job 28:24), let alone One who has searched out the deep things of God (I Cor.2:10).  It is a truism that the more we know, the more we realise we don’t know.  How different it is for God.  The simple reality of our God is that ‘everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account’ (Heb.4:13).   He knows all that is, all that will be (e.g. Gen.41:16, 39; Dan.2:28-30), and all that ever could have been anywhere or at any time (see e.g. II Kings 13:19; Matt.11:21-23).  He not only knows the beginning and the end of all things (because he is there and created them as they are), but He also makes it known (Is.46:10, see also 48:3.  We are aware of course that God does not reveal everything He knows, Dt.29:29).  He is always fully aware of all He knows.  He never forgets anything or needs to remind Himself, or relearn something.  As one scholar of a previous generation puts it: ‘his knowledge is retentive and eternalised’ (!)  As we have seen with other attributes however, it is not enough to simply say that God knows all things.  It more a case that all things are because He knows them.  We might even say that all things are, and exist as they do because the Father knows the Son and is known by Him.  This is the foundation of all knowledge. 

 In a profound sense, this is His qualification to be God.  There is an interesting passage in Is.41:21-29 (and which is revisited in Is.44:6-7), where the LORD God of

Israel challenges the idols to demonstrate whether they are in fact gods at all.  The dispute hinges on whether they can foretell what is to come, or at least explain history so that we might know what the future holds (vv.22-23; 44:7).  But they can do nothing, they can offer no counsel, they can answer no question.  They are false.  By contrast, the true and Living God is He who knows and reveals the future, and so He is vindicated in His claim to be beyond compare and without equal (40:25), and alone worthy to be glorified (42:8-9), and trusted as Saviour (43:10-13).

God’s wisdom is found in His unwavering ability to devise both the perfect end (His glory and our good) and the perfect means of achieving that end (Rom.8:28).  He sees the end from the beginning, and so in His wise deliberation there is no need for educated guesswork, the balance of probabilities or conjecture based on experience.  He doesn’t make His decisions based on intuition.  He is never wrong, misguided, mistaken, deceived, or in error.  He is fully aware of all the implications of every decision He makes or could make.  There is no unintended consequence.  Truly ‘his wisdom is profound … counsel and understanding are His’ (Job.9:4 & 12:13).  How many are your works LORD!  In wisdom you made them all (Ps.104:24).  No improvement can be made, and the demonstration of this is the Church’s glorious hope (Eph.3:10-11).

What might stagger us is the realisation that we can in some limited measure access and share in His wisdom (Jas.1:5).   Only God could ever fully know the mind of God (Matt.11:27).  But there is the danger that glimpsing even the palest reflection of His wisdom will prove so shockingly counter-intuitive that we will struggle to believe it is wisdom, and to live by it.  As we will see in our questions below, God’s wisdom can often look suspiciously like folly to a sinful mind (I Cor.1:18-2:10; Jas 3:13-18), and even after we are redeemed we are warned about the perils of flirting with God’s wisdom but then not living by it (Jas.1:6.  We reveal our folly if we despise God’s wisdom and instruction, Prov.1:7).  The Wisdom of God is not a play thing with which to indulge our intellectual curiosity, it is a call to faith and the path of life (Prov.3:5-8, 13:20).  We show our wisdom and understanding to the watching world by trusting in the Lord’s wisdom and understanding, and so living according to His decrees and Laws (Dt.4:6-8).

 ‘To the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ, Amen.’ (Rom.16:27)

What would you say to someone who struggled to see why any of this mattered to how they lived their life as a Christian?

 How does this affect our experience of prayer? 

 Read I Cor.1:18-30

Why would God seek to destroy the wisdom of the wise (1:19, see also Is.44:25)

 Why has He made foolish the wisdom of the world (1:20)?

 Why is the Gospel foolishness from the perspective of the world’s wisdom (1:21)?

 What does Paul mean when he says that Christ Jesus has become for us the wisdom from God (1:30)?

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom’ (Ps.111:10, also Prov.9:10).   What is the fear of the LORD, and how does it lead us inexorably to wisdom?  How could we cultivate this as part of our corporate worship at MIE?


Memory passage

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!  “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?”  “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?”  For from him and through him and for him are all things.  To him be the glory forever! Amen.

 Romans 11:33-36

 For further reflection

ReadMatt.6:25-34; 10:26-31 & Luke 12:22-33

So much of our anxiety in life comes from our lack of knowledge.  We can barely make sense of what is happening now (Eccl.8:17), let alone grasp with any confidence what might happen in the future (Eccl.8:7; Jas.4:13-16).  From this ignorance is born fear and worry.  

Jesus is pretty strident in addressing this sin.  His emphatic ‘Do not worry’ (Matt.6:25) is a bit of a shock to those for whom worry is a state of being!  But Jesus goes on to express mild disbelief that His disciples would entertain such a pagan attitude (Matt.6:32)

 At least part of His antidote is to put before us a vision of God who is intimately acquainted not only with every detail of who we are (Matt.10:29), but also of all that we need, and of all our future holds… and this God is our Father.  We labour under the misconception that if only I had all the information I’d be able to make all the decisions I need, and then I’d be secure, and free from all anxiety.  That is highly unlikely, even if it were possible.  Jesus’ alternative is to trust the all-knowing, and all-wise Father.  Have another read at Luke 12:22-33.   Do I believe God is wisely working in my life today?   …in the world today?  Why is it more difficult to believe this in the face of catastrophe?  Does your confidence in the knowledge and wisdom of God liberate you as Jesus envisages it would?


And one just for fun

Jesus at one point notes the limitations of His knowledge (Matt.24:36).  How do you make sense of this?  Is this a limitation that only applied to His earthly life? Do you think it undermines our creedal belief that Jesus was ‘true God from true God’?  Why / Why not?

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6. Patient and Longsuffering

Patient & Longsuffering

What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?


Bear in mind, the Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom that God gave him.

II Peter 3:15

Be patient then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.


‘Love’, says the Apostle Paul ‘is patient’, and so it should come as no surprise to us that the God who is love is portrayed as a patient and longsuffering God.  This was a theme close to Paul’s heart, and the cause of much rejoicing by the Apostle in His God, ‘…I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His immense patience as an example for those who would believe in Him…’ (I Tim.1:16).  He put himself forward as a monument to the patience of the Son God. 

 The patience and longsuffering of God repeatedly focusses our attention on His holding back the Day of Judgement so that people have time to repent, and to flee to the cross.  Nine times throughout the Old Testament we are specifically told that He is ‘slow to anger’.  But the theme of God’s patience is one that runs through every page of the Scripture from Gen.3.  His stay of execution (Gen.2:17) is not born of moral weakness, but of His desire to save His people.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (II Peter 3:9).

 In a future study we will consider the power of God.  It is because He is great in power that He is able to restrain the fury of His wrath and to hold it back, sustaining great injury without immediately avenging Himself (Nahum 1:2-3).   In His longsuffering, He chooses to live for generations with the agonising reality of unpunished sin, and bearing with unrepentant sinners.

Although this is a glorious truth, and one that is found again and again to evoke worship, it is not straightforward for the Church to believe in a patient and longsuffering God.  We often struggle with the question of why a loving God allows bad things to happen to good people.  Of course, this question is patent nonsense.  In the Bible, the question that hits much closer to the mark is, ‘Why does a just God allow good things to happen to bad people?’  The apparent failure of God to come in judgement left the impression that He was unjust, and provokes a crisis of faith for the Church.  Famously, Asaph in Psalm 73 almost loses his faith when he saw the prosperity of the wicked (v.2, though see also Eccl.8:14; Jer.12:1).  It wasn’t until he looked far into the future, to the Day when God’s patience would finally draw to an end, that he understood that he understood their final destiny (vv.17-19 & 27).   And the Lord is not idle in His patience.  Neh.9:30, ‘For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets.’

And it isn’t just the Church who run the risk of misinterpreting the Lord’s patience.  ‘When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong’ (Eccl.8:11).  Paul expressed similar concerns: do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Rom.2:4).  And the Church to whom Peter wrote his second epistle seems to be plagued by the same notions (see 3:3-10).  Such is the depravity of human sinfulness that they would turn even God’s costly patience into a justification for their ongoing rejection of Christ.  This is not universally the case however.  One notable example is King Ahab, who after a lifetime of idolatry and oppression, repented (I Kings 21:27).  Nevertheless, both Peter (II Pet.3:6 & 10) and Paul (Rom.2:5-6) underline the inevitability of judgement.  The holding back of the Day is not the cancelling of it.  Rather, as one ancient put it: the longer He pulls back to bow, the deeper the arrow will plunge when it is finally released.

Nevertheless, God in His wisdom and in His desire to save lives with perceived injustice, and the recognition that His patience will be abused.  Still He defers His wrath; still He is wondrously patient with the world today.  The Church must wait patiently also (Hab.3:16).  Perhaps at a personal level we should be glad about that.  After all, where would I be without His patience?

Is it not unjust that the Lord does in fact judge some immediately while others enjoy a period of amnesty under His patience?  Why does God’s justice not take more immediate effect (Jer.12:1)?  Do you wish more of God’s justice was executed here and now?

 Read Rom.3:25-26.  How does the cross protect God’s integrity?

 Read II Peter 3:3-14.  What is the contemporary equivalent of v.4?

 Why is Peter so concerned that we don’t allow our experience of God’s patience to undermine our certainty in the reality of God’s eventual judgement?

In the light of God’s patience, and the delay that entails, how can we recapture a sense of the reality of the Day of Judgement?  …and an anticipation of a New Heaven and a New Earth, where righteousness dwells?   What impact would that have on us?

Given Peter’s emphasis on the focus God’s restraining His wrath in this way in order to facilitate salvation (3:9), how should our meditating on the Patience of God fire our involvement in evangelism?  How does MIE need to change to reflect that priority more fully at a corporate level? 

Are you struggling with the emphasis on evangelism we are developing?  Can you identify why that might be?  How does this study help or hinder?

Memory Passage

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.  You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.  Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

 James 5:7-11


For further reflection:

 While we have engaged very directly with the demonstration of the Lord’s patience, we haven’t really focussed on the ‘communicable’ elements of this attribute.  There should be no surprise by now to realise that we are called to be a people of longsuffering patience.  Paul recognises this is no mean feat, and at one point prays that we would be ‘strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that [we] may have great endurance and patience…’ (Col.1:11).  We might think it is a relatively straight forward to be like God – Paul knows it takes a divine power!   But the consistent call is for us to grow in this area of our character.  We too should be ‘slow to become angry’ (Jas.1:19); bear the fruit of the Spirit, including ‘forbearance / patience’ and ‘self-control’ (Gal.5:22-23); we ought to be ‘clothed with … patience, bearing with each other…’ (Col.3:12-13)

More poignantly, is the call to follow the example of Christ as we endure patiently in the midst of suffering – specifically persecution.  The Lord’s holding back the Day of judgement is not just a cause of suffering within the life of God, but also within the life of the Church (I Peter 2:20-23).  This requires a moment-by-moment trust in God to fulfil His purposes and promises in our lives in His time.  Our confidence in the character of God is what enables our patience.  How patient are you?  How like God?

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5. Holy and Righteous

Holy and Righteous

There is no-one holy like the LORD; there is no-one besides you. There is no Rock like our God

I Sam.2:2

The LORD is Righteous in all His ways


You were taught with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness


Older theologians spoke of God’s holiness as the attribute of attributes – the attribute that gives substance and meaning and definition to all other attributes.   It is the foundational to the character of God, and if this were to be breached, all else that God is would lose its honour and glory.  There is nothing we can say that is more intrinsic.  And to us it is the most foreign attribute.  Everything else we say about God, there is something we can compare to it, but the holiness of God is by definition without comparison.  It is His absolute distinctiveness (I Sam.2:2).  He is unlike all else and utterly different from all else.  It is the ultimate reality of God.  Holiness can often negative connotations as if it were a cold detached set of rules, or an abstract and lifeless morality.  This is utterly alien to the reality of holiness which is better thought of as the life of God Himself.  It is His nature.  It is the raging, active purity, the light of which drives back the darkness of all that falls short of His glory.

 And the beauty of God’s holiness has long been the Church’s joy and delight.  ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty’ (Rev.4:8) is the foundation of all other worship, ‘Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your Name.  For you alone are holy’ (Rev.15:4).  The Ancient Church ‘appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise Him for the splendour of His holiness’ (II Chron.20:21).  The saints have always been glad that all God does is in keeping with His moral excellence; that He cannot ever act out of character but always and only in accordance with what is right – He Himself being the standard of what is right.

There is no external standard that is apart from God against which we measure Him.  Rather, whatever conforms to God’s character is righteous, because it conforms to Him.  And born of His holiness and righteousness is His separation from, His utter opposition to, and His implacable hatred of all that is sinful (Ps.5:4-5; Ps.11:5; Prov.3:32; Prov.15:9 etc.).   He is enthroned in a burning regal purity (Ps.97:2).  He cannot tolerate or normalise our sin.  This too has been our delight.

The uncompromising reality of God’s holiness is displayed most fully at the cross.  Even when it is His own Son that bears sin (and that by the Father’s own decree, Is.53:10), the thrice-holy God will not stay His hand of judgement and destruction.  We are familiar with Psalm 22:1, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’  Yet only two verses later, the Divine Sin-Bearer adores the very reason for His abandonment: ‘You are enthroned as the Holy One’.  Our salvation is forged on the anvil of His holiness.  Through the cross the righteousness of God has been made known … the righteousness that is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Rom.3:22).  Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is born holy (Lk.1:31-35) and sustains that holiness against all assault of the evil one (Lk.4:1-2 & 13); and in His death and resurrection makes that divine-human righteousness available to us through faith so that we can stand before the blazing holiness of God in joyous safety (Phil.3:9).  A mere (fallen) human righteousness (Phil.3:6), however flawless would still be insufficient for such an encounter, being finite and created.  But we know the holiness of Christ is sufficient, for He has already – in His humanity – ascended into heaven itself to appear for us in God’s presence (Heb.9:24).   ‘By one sacrifice, He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy’ (Heb.10:14).  Only here, in the righteousness of Christ, can we be reconciled to ‘My Holy One … [whose] eyes are too pure to look on evil’ (Hab.1:13).

Are you thrilled or disturbed that God is Holy & Righteous?  Does it inspire worship or anxiety?  Why do you think this is?

People who are not Christians will gladly believe in god, but not a god who is holy.  Do you agree or disagree with this statement?  Read Ps.50:16-21.  How does that affect your answer?

Do you think it is true to say that someone who sees sin as relatively insignificant, has never really confronted the Holiness and Righteousness of God?  How could the vision of God’s holiness be cultivated, and would you want to, knowing how it would affect your vision of yourself?

Heb.10:10 speaks of our having been made holy, whilst 10:14 speaks of our being made holy.  How can both be true?

How would you counsel a Christian who was not hungering and thirsting after righteousness (Matt.5:6), and who was not throwing off the sin that so easily entangles (Heb.12:1) in their pursuit of holiness?

How is God’s holiness different from ours? 

How will we be more like God in the New Creation than we are now?  How does that vision affect us?


Memory Passage

The Lord reigns, let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake. Great is the Lord in Zion; he is exalted over all the nations. Let them praise your great and awesome name — he is holy.  The King is mighty, he loves justice—you have established equity; in Jacob you have done what is just and right.  Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy.


For further reflection

The Law is the reflection of God’s character.  We often think it would be amazing if everyone lived by the 10 Commandments.  It would be.  But we don’t.  God does.  In fact, the 10 Commandments are what they are (and so the rest of the Law is what it is) because God is who He is.  The Decalogue is rooted in our vision of God, and our exclusive allegiance to Him in worship and devotion.  We are not to murder, because God is life; we are not to commit adultery, because God is faithful; we are not to steal, because God is generous…  This is why Paul can write in Rom.7:12, ‘The Law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good’.  As Christians we ought to love the Law (Ps.119:97), but often we don’t. 

What is that saying about our love for the LORD?  Why do we sometimes wish God’s Law didn’t say what it did?  Does that reflect a dislike for some aspect of God’s character?  …or an unwillingness to seek conformity to it?  What Scripture might you read and meditate on to help you to be convinced more fully that God’s character and Laws are ‘holy righteous and good’, and to inspire your love for Him and them?

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4. Faithful and True

Faithful and True

The words of the LORD are flawless, like silver purified in a furnace, like gold refined seven times


 For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does.


I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True.


In a world where trust is fast disappearing, and where we have learned the hard way to trust only ourselves (ironically!), the faithfulness of God shines like a blazing sun against a dark night sky.  We are told very specifically in the Bible – more than once – that God does not and cannot lie (Tit.1:2; Heb.6:18; I Sam.15:29 etc.).  Jesus Himself claims to be the very personification of truth (Jn.14:6; Note also Jn.15:26, where the Holy Spirit is designated the Spirit of Truth).   The most basic act of faith is to believe God (Gen. 15:6).  Sin, by contrast, is fundamentally rooted in the denial that what God has revealed about Himself is true.  The Fall began with a questioning of the truthfulness of God’s Word: ‘Did God really say..?’ We often call becoming a Christian, ‘trusting Christ’.  Our very conversion is based on the conviction that God is to be trusted: that He is faithful and true.

It is clearly important to the LORD that He is seen as trustworthy.  We’ve already considered in this course Heb.6:13-18.  God doesn’t need to make an oath to make His word more secure.  His aim is to draw out from us a confidence that is more secure.

But if take the Bible seriously, it isn’t enough to say that God is true.  Indeed, He is faithful, and as such can be relied upon implicitly.  All He has revealed about Himself will prove utterly reliable, and He will never prove unfaithful to those who trust what He has said.  In fact the LORD is the only true God (Jer.10:10; Jn.17:3; I Jn.5:20), but He is more than this.  He is true and He is the standard of truth: ‘Your Word is truth’ (Jn.17:17).  Words spoken by the One who the Truth.  The God who has revealed Himself through Jesus, by the Spirit is very personification and epitome of the Truth (Jn.14:6).  It is not just that He chooses not to lie, but that He cannot lie (Heb.6:18).  The Character and Word of God are the standard of truth against which all else is to be measured.  It is not as if God is measured against a standard external to Himself and found to be true.  He Himself is that standard.

In a society that is increasingly careless with the truth, and that seems to celebrate unfaithfulness, we can face deliberate and open pressure to compromise in both our faithfulness and truthfulness.  In such a world, this vision of God’s relentless and inevitable commitment to the truth is little short of trauma.  But it can also inspire us to re-imagine a daring and profoundly different life in our discipleship of the Truth (see e.g. Job 27:4).  Our truthfulness and faithfulness are so critical they finds expression in the Decalogue (Ex.20:14-16), and throughout the Law.  The wisdom literature is littered with a vision of faithfulness and of love for the truth (Ps.15; 34:12-13; Prov.4:24; 6:16-19; 12:22; 28:20 etc., see also where folly is bound up with deceit and unfaithfulness).  The Prophets rail against injustice and deceit (e.g. Is.59:3-4).  The question of our trustworthiness finds its way into the Sermon on the Mount (Matt.5:33-37).  The Epistles regularly call us to uncompromising truthfulness (Col.3:9-10; Eph.4:25).  An authenticating mark of Christian ministry is that it has renounced the ways of deceit (II Cor.4:2)

Perhaps most intriguingly, Paul sees questions about our faithfulness as reflecting directly on the trustworthiness of God and all He has done in Christ (II Cor.1:17-20).   Our great hope includes the prospect of being made pure so that we ‘will tell no lies, and a deceitful tongue will not be found in our mouths’ (Zeph.3:9 & 13).  Conversely, the Bible closes with the warning that ‘…all liars – they will be confined to the fiery lake’ (Rev.21:8).

What is it about the ‘Faithful and True’ character of the Lord that inspires worship?

What does the doctrine of the faithfulness and truthfulness of God imply about the nature of the Word of God?  How does that affect our relationship with the Bible?

In what ways have we learned about the untrustworthiness of other people?

Do you think the teaching of the Bible is too harsh when it condemns everyone as basically dishonest?  Why is dishonesty so prevalent?

Why are we so careless of truth and of faithfulness when we claim to prize them so highly and to recognise their value?  …and when we know our dishonesty does such damage to the honour of God?

Where are we most tempted to be less honest?  How can we guard against succumbing to these temptations?

Given the emphasis on the Truth that we encounter in the LORD, how do we make sense of passages such as I Kings 22:19-22?



Memory Passage:

Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

Jas 3:2-8

For further Reflection:

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most penetrating analysis of dishonesty and deceit comes from the lips of Jesus Himself.  With devastating brevity He exposes the nature of dishonesty:  

Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.  Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!” (John 8:43-45).

How does this affect your thinking about the question of truth?  … and of the worship of the God who istruth?

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3. Compassion


But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.


My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused…


Theologians divide the attributes of God into two categories, which are rather grandly referred to as communicable and incommunicable.  As is so often the way in theology, big words convey a relatively simple idea.  Incommunicable attributes are aspects of God’s being and character that we do not and cannot share.  His omnipresence (which we looked at in our last study) is a good example.  We cannot ever be (even in our glorified and resurrected state) everywhere and always fully present.  There are simply aspects of God’s life and existence that He doesn’t share with His creation.

But when we come to His ‘communicable’ attributes, we discover it is in some measure possible to reflect the reality of who God is.  This is part of what we mean when we talk about being created in His Image – facets of his being and character are reflected in our own experience of life.  Examples include wisdom, knowledge, patience, mercy etc.  Granted, God’s experience of life is infinitely greater than ours (Is.55:9), but still we find the Bible calling us in some limited sense to imitate the dynamics of that life.  Often this is quite explicit: ‘Follow God’s example … and live a life of love’ (Eph.5:1).  This pattern of envisioning for the Christian life is repeated over and over again (e.g. II Cor.1:3-4; Phil.2:5).  It is a method the Apostles learned from Christ (Matt.5:44-45).

Into this latter category of communicable attributes falls ‘compassion’.  The compassion of our God is the grounds of worship (e.g. Ps.111:1-4), and in this case, an aspect of authentic worship is imitation.  We are to be compassionate because the God in whose Image we have been created, and into whose Image we are once again being fashioned is compassionate (Col.3:10).  He reveals Himself to be such in response to Moses’ prayer: ‘Show me your glory’ (Ex.33:18).

The LORD’s reply, ‘I will cause my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my Name, the LORD in your presence … I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion’.  His compassion is deeply intertwined with His glory (see also Ex.34:6).  Nehemiah’s great prayer (Neh.9:5f) repeatedly looks to the compassion of God as the motivation for His dealing with His people.  It was because of His compassion that He did not desert Israel, but led them through the wilderness after they had built the golden calf (v.17-19); it was because of His compassion that He raised up the Judges (v.27-28).  His compassion is what motivates Him to be gracious and redemptive, rather than to abandon them to His judgement.  This compassion is rooted in His covenant faithfulness (II Kings 13:23; Ezekiel 39:25), rather than the authenticity of the people’s response, and as such, often gives repentant sinners confidence (Ps.51:1)

Few of God’s characteristics take us more deliberately into the tenderness of our God.  Passages such as Is.49:10-13 show us the depths of God’s compassion and His determination to be compassionate to His people (see also 54:7-10).  These are incredibly moving passages that confront us with the heart of God.  And as this is the heart of God, it is no surprise to find compassion repeatedly motivating Jesus during His Incarnation.  Again and again we are told that Jesus does what He does because He had compassion (Matt.9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34).  It is always the precursor to the showing of mercy, and His acting to bring healing or provision.  The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the Father of compassion (II Cor.1:3), and the One who is ‘the exact representation of His being’ must display this same foundational characteristics.  And so as we are recreated into His Image, we would also expect to find ourselves caught up in His display of compassion.  ‘Be kind and compassionate to one another’ (Eph.4:32);  clothe yourselves with compassion (Col.3:12); …be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble (I Pet.3:8).

In the light of what we have considered above, why is it so important to make sure that our vision of God is faithful to the reality of who God is?

From your consideration of these Bible passages (and any others you find), how would you define compassion?

How has God been compassionate to you?  How should your experience of God’s compassion shape your compassion for others?   In what ways can our compassion reflect God’s, and in what ways is His compassion beyond anything we could imitate?

How confident are you in God’s compassion?  How would you help someone who was struggling with a particular expression of sin, and was finding it difficult to believe that ‘You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea’ (Mic.7:19)?

If you were to reflect God’s compassion more faithfully to those you know, how would that affect your dealings with specific people?  What stops you from showing compassion?  How can you overcome these hindrances?

In Lamentations 3:22, Jeremiah writes: ‘Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail’.  Given the Church’s experience (see e.g 4:9-10), this is startling to say the least.  How can you make sense of Jeremiah’s confession of God’s compassion in the midst of such suffering?


Memory Passage

He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.


For further reflection

We might assume that a study in compassion would climax in our concern for people’s physical and social well-being (perhaps as in Ex.22:26-27, or Zech.7:9-10).  In fact, we finish our study by focussing on the Compassion of God as a foundation of our confidence in evangelism. 

 A compassionate God is a God who saves people.  In His pity and concern for those enslaved by sin and subject to condemnation, He chooses to act so as to alleviate their suffering.  In a strange way this comes out most clearly in the book of Jonah.  In 4:2, the prophet’s anger with God finds voice: ‘I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity’.  Jonah knew better than most of us how powerful this characteristic of God is.  Similarly, as Paul celebrates God’s initiative in saving a people for Himself from among the Gentiles, he finds himself confronting God’s compassion as His motivation for the grace of the Gospel (Rom.9:15).  And it is in the context of Jesus’s compassion that we are told the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few (Matt.9:35-38).  Confronted with the deepest prospect of human suffering, Jesus does all He can to relieve it absolutely.  The cross is His greatest act of compassion.  The preaching of the cross is ours.

 Why does the vision of God’s compassion not inspire similar confidence in us?

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2. Omnipresence


‘Am I only a God nearby’, declares the LORD, ‘and not a God far away?  Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?’ declares the LORD.  ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ declares the LORD.


Omni, from the Latin meaning ‘all’; the entirety of God’s being is always and everywhere fully present.  To put it negatively, there is never any aspect of His creation from which He is in any sense excluded.  It was the attribute Jonah ran headlong into when he fled in the direction of Tarshish and learned the hard way that ‘if I make my bed in the depths, you are there’ (Ps.139:8, cf. Jonah 1-2; as did the Arameans, I Kings 20:23-30).  He is as fully present in the midst of the darkest depravity of human sin as He is in the bodily form of Christ (Acts 17:24 & 27; Col.2:9).  The experience of that Presence is variable, but the fact of it is not.  Christ fills everything in every way (Eph.1:23).  We are limited in time and space (though perhaps not as limited as we are used to thinking, e.g. Eph.2:6).  His being knows no limits, and cannot but know no limits.

But we mustn’t limit our thinking to God’s presence within Creation.  He is always and everywhere fully present beyond the boundaries of creation also.  After all, ‘in [Christ] all things were created…and in Him all things hold together’ (Col.1:16-17).  The Christ who is fully God made space within Himself to house creation.  As an aside: the question of how God can be present within creation pales into insignificance compared to the question of how creation can be present ‘within’ God.  This may help us to understand why it is the Son who is Mediator, and who becomes Incarnate.  His relationship with the creation seems unique within the life of God.

But if God is always and everywhere fully present, then what do we make of language that speaks of God coming (John 14:23), or the Spirit being sent from one place to another (Jn.15:26)?   Even our most foundational beliefs and ways of speaking as Christians can seem confused in the light of this idea of God’s omnipresence.  How can God’s Presence ‘go’ with Moses (Ex.33:14)? How can we be separated from a God who is at all times present everywhere (Is.59:2)?  How can He be far from the wicked (Prov.15:29)?  If Christ is omnipresent, what does it mean to speak of the ascension, or His return in judgement?  How can return to where He already is?  If Christ is omnipresent, how can we think of Him being limited to one place and one time either prior to or in His incarnation (Gen.32:22-32; Col.2:9)?

Psalm 139 is the classic passage that celebrates and reflects on the omnipresence of God.  Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence (v.7)? The relentless presence of God is ‘knowledge too wonderful for me’, and yet is the foundation of a great symphony of praise and practical comfort.  We saw in our last study that God’s relationship with Time is fundamentally different to ours; so too is His relationship with Space.  That the Living God cannot be contained within the confines of creation is one of the most basic axioms of Biblical religion (I Kings 8:27)

Although God is omnipresent, dwelling both in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit (Is.57:15), He does manifest or reveal that presence in specific ways and in specific times and places for specific purposes.  He is always and everywhere fully present, but not always for the same reasons.  In one place He reveals His glory and makes His presence known to His people to bless, or to empower; in another that same presence is manifest to provoke repentance; in another, it is hidden, the sense of it withdrawn as He recoils from sin and prepares for judgement.  There is no sin against a God who is not present. 

In fact, there is nothing that happens where God is not present.  That said, older Christians of a previous generation spoke of the Practise of the Presence of God; or of living ‘Coram Deo’ (latin: Before the Presence of God).  They were not suggesting that there was the option of NOT living before the presence of God.  Rather it was cultivating the conscious awareness and experience of that Presence.  Drawing Him out as it were, so that His omnipresence was ‘felt’, and His glory made manifest to bless, comfort, empower, strengthen and provide. 

This was the longing and aspiration of God’s holy people for generations.  Is it ours, or have we become so used to living and worshipping without the manifest presence of God that we have given up even believing it is possible?

How would your life change if you cultivated a conscious awareness of the Presence of God?  How would you cultivate the sense of God’s presence throughout your life?  What would we lose as Christians if we weren’t practising the Presence of God?  What do you mean when you say you don’t feel God’s presence?


In the light of the above, how would you interpret a passage such as Gen.4:16, or Gen.11:5?  In what sense can we talk about Jesus being forsaken by His Father on the cross (Matt.27:46)? …or about Jesus being with us in the Great Commission (Matt.28:19-20)?   Does it matter how we interpret such passages?


How does this belief about God affect our discipleship?


In hell, are people in the presence of Christ, or out of it (Matt.7:23; Rev.14:10)?  What difference does it make to you?


How does this attribute connect with other attributes to shape our vision of God? 


In what way – if any – is God present when Christians gather to worship in a way that He isn’t present at any other time?  Does this affect your attitude to Church?



Memory Passage

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.




For Further Reflection

Considering the attributes of God through an intrinsically Trinitarian lens is always a critical question for Christians.  We are not idolatrous monotheists, and our vision of God is not a simple unitarian one.  Our talking of God must never lapse into something that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in a mosque.  So it is never enough for us to speak about ‘God’ being something.  We will want to ask, ‘What does that mean for the Father enthroned in heaven (Ps.47:8)?’; ‘What does it mean for the Incarnate Son of God to be limited to one place and one time either prior to His incarnation or subsequent to it (Gen.32:22-32; Col.2:9)?’; ‘What does it mean for the Holy Spirit, indwelling the Church (Eph.2:23)?’ 

What do we understand by their localisation in specific places or arenas, and how must these localisations be qualified by the Bible’s teaching on the omnipresence of the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit?  In the answers to questions such as these there awaits a deep worship.

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1. Everlasting and Unchanging

I the LORD, do not change(Mal.3:6).

 How great is our God – beyond our understanding!  The number of His years is past finding out(Job 36:26).

 From everlasting to everlasting, you are God(Ps.90:2).

 Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever(Heb.13:8).

All that we know and experience within the confines and limits of a fallen creation is subject to both perpetual flux, change and decay.  Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 is the great lament that captures the horror of life ‘under the sun’.  The constant inconstancy, the relentless change, renders everything meaningless.  Nothing good will remain good; and even in the moments of great joy, there is cast a shadow of knowing it won’t last forever.  Life is lived under the threat of loss, and will itself eventually be lost.  This is the ‘burden God has laid on the human race’ (3:10).  By glorious contrast, ‘everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it, nothing taken from it.  God does this so that people will fear Him’ (3:14)

 Above the overcast skies of a fallen creation, the magnificent Light of the unchanging nature of God shines with undiminished glory.  That is not to undermine the integrity of God’s involvement in His creation.  It is rather to recognise that He interacts with it from a different place and vantage point.  In staggering and amazing contrast to all we discover within the fallen and cursed world of change and decay, uncertainty and loss, is the everlasting and unchanging reality of the Living God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. ‘I am God, and there is no other.  I am God and there is none like Me.  I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times what is still to come’ (Is.46:9-10).  In the midst of permanent upheaval, the Ancient of Days is the one great Rock: constant, unchanging, eternally and relentlessly secure.  He is enduringly and endlessly consistent.  ‘He does not change’ (Jas.1:17).  He is always and forever, throughout the entirety of His Being, in His character, attributes and personality, in His motives, purposes and decrees, in His actions, covenants and promises, unchanging and unchangeable.   This is so incredibly liberating.  It is such a relief after our dealing with other humans, and the instability of all we know!

In terms of strengthening our faith, one outworking of the eternally unchanging nature of God is the utter confidence we can put in His promises.  Hebrews 6:13-20 suggests God desires us to have unshakable trust in His unwavering and unabating commitment to us, and goes out of His way to inspire it; and to giving us the grounds to believe it.  He longs for us to be secure in our relationship with Him, and to enjoy the assurance that security brings.  ‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken, nor my covenant of peace be removed’, says the LORD who has compassion on you’ (Is.54:10, see also Ps.33:11).  This proves to be the case even when we prove to be all too changeable and unreliable in our commitment to Him (Mal.3:6-7).  And so James is able to use this vision of the ‘Father…who does not change’ as the basis of our confidence in His generosity and grace for the future, and for our battle against sin (Jas.1:17).   When we realise this, we quickly see that lose sight of the unchanging nature of our God, is to jeopardise the whole basis of our faith.  Indeed, only Someone who is eternally unchanging is worthy of a trust for eternity.



Can we really take seriously and trust the consistency of God’s relationship with His creation, when there are passages in the Bible which show God changing His mind (e.g. Gen 6:6-7; Jonah 3:10; Hosea 11:8)?


Time and eternity.  Moses ‘chose to be ill treated along with God’s people, rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin’ (Heb.11:25).  How does meditating on eternity and the brevity of time motivate our pursuit of holiness?  How would you go about meditating on these things?


‘Change and decay in all around I see, O thou who changes not, abide with me’.  Is this a bad thing?  Did God create us to change? …and in what ways has that capacity for change been affected by the Fall?


If God doesn’t change, and His plans and purposes are unalterable, then what is the point of praying?  Can we change God’s mind?


If you sin against God today, when would it start / stop bringing sorrow and pain into God’ heart?

If you worship Him today, when does it start / stop bringing joy and delight to His heart?


In the notes above, there is one example of how reflecting on the unchanging nature of our everlasting God affects our experience of discipleship.  What are others? 


How will our experience of time and change be affected when we are resurrected and enjoying the New Creation?


Memory Passage:

 In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.  They will perish, but you remain.  They will all wear out like a garment; like clothing You will change them, and they will be discarded.  But you remain the same, and your years will never end.


Ps.102: 25-27


For further reflection:

 When people try to move away from the teaching of the Bible, and to be ‘philosophical’, they often end up thinking that if God doesn’t change, then He cannot have emotions.  Their ‘logic’ is that to move from anger to forgiveness is to experience change.  How would you respond to such speculation? 

Throughout the Scriptures, God is seen as a fully emotional Person.  He experiences joy (Is.62:5); grief (Ps.78:40); anger (Ex.32:10) etc.  A moments thought brings to mind a raft of passages that speak of the deeply emotional life of God.  But ‘philosophers’ reply that this is just the Bible’s way of speaking about God in ways that we can understand, rather than ways that reflect fully the reality of who God is.  But dare we doubt the integrity of the Bible in this way?  Can we know what God is like in a way that ‘gets behind’ the Bible, to the way God really is?  There are times when the Bible itself tells us it is being figurative, but does it ever tell us this in relation to its description of the emotional life of the Trinity?  We are on dangerous ground when we try to second guess the mind of the Holy Spirit (I Cor.2:10-13).  Safer by far to take seriously what the Bible teaches, and to marvel at the deep integrity of the emotional life of God.

There is more at stake here than just the question of philosophy of religion.  We are created in the image of God, and the reason we have emotions is to be found precisely in vast spectrum of passion with Him.  Although He feels emotion with an infinite capacity, there is nevertheless continuity between the emotions of the Creator and of His creations.  A great deal of our discipleship is about our emotions, and learning to be Christ-like in our experience of them.  Do we have a clear vision of what a sanctified emotional life would look like?  How close to that are we in our own experience of our emotions?    

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