Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Cold, Dark, Dusty Morning with the Inconceivable One

Ah, the week of Daylight Saving Time. I said “week.” I have no idea why it takes me that long to adjust to a single hour’s change to the clock, but it does.

Our Berkhof group met early this morning at a coffee shop in town, and I’m exceedingly glad the fellow there makes good, strong brew. With the time change, the sun didn’t even rise until we were ready to leave. It was a dark, cold, and dusty morning in the high desert.

But the fruit of our fellowship was filling.

We discussed Berkhof’s analysis of agnosticism this morning. Toward the end of his critique, the theologian defends Barth against charges of agnosticism. He then makes this comment: “God reveals Himself exactly as the hidden God, and through His revelation makes us more conscious of the distance which separates Him from man than we ever were before” (Systematic Theology, Part One, II.B.)

I scribbled several verses in the margin of my copy of the “big purple brick” (a slightly more honorable title than the usual “big purple sleeping pill”) that highlight this truth from Scripture. God is knowable to us, but only through His self-revelation in the Scripture, and Scripture’s illumination by the Holy Spirit to those who receive it by faith. The more we know of Him, though, the more aware we are that He is not like us, and that the gracious revealing that makes Him known to us is exceedingly gracious because of the distance between us and Him. The closer He comes, in other words, the more we become aware of how far away He is and gracious He is in drawing near.

And we become ever more aware of the fact that we need a Mediator because of that distance-revealed-in-nearness.

“Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the LORD. And Gideon said, ‘Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.’ But the LORD said to him, ‘Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.’ Then Gideon built an altar there to the LORD and called it, ‘The LORD Is Peace.’ To this day it still stands at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites. That night the LORD said to him, ‘Take your father’s bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of the stronghold here, with stones laid in due order. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah that you shall cut down’” (Judges 6:22-26).

“And the angel of the LORD said to Manoah, ‘If you detain me, I will not eat of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the LORD.’ (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD.) And Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, ‘What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?’ And the angel of the LORD said to him, ‘Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?’ So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the LORD, to the One Who works wonders, and Manoah and his wife were watching. And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the LORD went up in the flame of the altar. Now Manoah and his wife were watching, and they fell on their faces to the ground. The angel of the LORD appeared no more to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD. And Manoah said to his wife, ‘We shall surely die, for we have seen God.’ But his wife said to him, ‘If the LORD had meant to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these’” (Judges 13:16-23).

“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!’ And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!’ Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for’” (Isaiah 6:1-7).

“On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on Him to hear the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and He saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, He asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at Your word I will let down the nets.’ And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’” (Luke 5:1-8).

Other than His self-revelation by the Spirit and the Word, God would be unknowable to us. But in knowing Him, we become more and more acutely aware of just how inconceivable He is. He is not us. In every scriptural account I just mentioned, the revelation of God (or even just His messenger!) made those receiving the revelation aware of God’s holiness and the incompatibility of that with the sinful human being. Atonement must be made. Substitutionary sacrifice must be offered. The infinite gap must be closed or we will not live before Him!

Jesus Christ Himself, in addition to being the full and complete revelation of God (John 1:18; 14:9; 2 Corinthians 4:4,6; Philippians 2:6; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3), is also the mediating Sacrifice that allows us to receive the knowledge and Presence of the Inconceivable One and live. Not live in the small way we usual consider it from day-to-day, but really and truly and abundantly live eternally to His glory and our unimaginably great joy.

Believe what God has revealed, repent of the sin that revelation reveals, and put your faith in the only Mediator that reconciles the knowledge and inconceivability of God.

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