How Precious to me are Your Thoughts, O God!

In the first chapter of Genesis, the name Elohim is used to speak of God. This serves to portray God in His relationship to the universe as the great Creator. But then, beginning at chapter 2:4b, the composite name of God (YHWH) occurs. This speaks more specifically of God in His relationship to mankind as the One who lovingly cares and provides for them.

God did not just wind up a big clock and then step back and let it go. He sustains all things by the Word of His power. Everything. All the time! As Spurgeon said,  “The omniscient Lord of providence tracks each molecule of matter, and knows its position and history as a shepherd knows his sheep;”.

This is an incredible thing. Any reflection on it throws me into worship. I want to try and begin everyday with that thought.  As the psalmist says,

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand” (Psa 139:13-18).

 

 

The Creatio of the King

We read the famous words, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). God’s immense sovereignty should be at the forefront of our minds. Arthur Pink says the following;

“In His sovereign majesty, God dwelt all alone. We refer to that far distant period before the heavens and the earth were created. There were then no angels to hymn God’s praises, no creatures to occupy His notice, no rebels to be brought to subjection…But even at that time, if time it could be called, God was sovereign. He might create or not create according to His own good pleasure. He might create this way or that way; He might create one world or one million worlds, and who was there to resist His will? …It was His sovereign right to create, on the one hand, the exalted seraphim to burn around his throne, and on the other hand, the tiny insect which dies the same hour that it is born. If the mighty God chose to have one vast gradation in His universe, from loftiest seraph to creeping reptile, from revolving worlds to floating atoms, from macrocosm to microcosm, instead of making everything uniform, who was there to question His sovereign pleasure? Behold then the exercise of divine sovereignty long before man ever saw the light.”

It is only with this properly in place, that we can start to process the account of creation. In fact, whenever we use the term ‘creation’, we typically use it to talk about something that we might have made (e.g., a painting, building, machinery etc). However, this is not the case when we refer to God’s creation. When speaking of God’s ‘creation’ in Genesis, we need to remember that none of it existed before! First, there was nothing – and then, there was… not a hand…or tools…but the royal decree of the King!

Any person who says something, causing it to ‘just happen’, gives the immediate impression of power and authority. When people obey a superior without any challenge, it shouts the concept of “sovereignty’. How much more when things that are not – are called into being by utterance – and made into the things that are! And what sort of analogy could we even use to describe the sovereignty of Him who not only created all things by His decree – but sustains every second of it, merely by His Word?

Behold the glory of our sovereign Lord – whom the authors of the NT identify as Jesus.

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb 1:3).

“He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by[6] him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent”. (Col 1:15-18)

 

Of Worship, and Blood

I worship God. It’s something that I virtually take for granted. But I shouldn’t. It took blood for this to happen.

In Old Testament, the Azazel goat (which symbolically took the sins of Israel out into the wilderness) spoke powerfully of the sufferings of Christ (outside the Jerusalem city gate). Also, there was powerful symbolism in the blood. In Leviticus, blood is stated to be the carrier of life, and for this reason is said to be the symbol of a substitutionary death.

Throughout the Old Testament, without the shedding of blood, God could not be approached. The idea was that if they were to live (even though they had sinned), then something must be made to die in their place. In this way, the blood of animals were made to represent the life of the worshiper. The blood sacrifices would be a continual reminder to Israel of the true penalty for their sin. It is something that would look upon time and time again.

In all of these things, the Old Testament shadows and types pointed to Christ, who substituted his life-blood for that of his people, so as to overcome the alienation from God that sin had caused.

It took the blood of the perfect, sinless Son, so that I could approach God this morning. I can not take this for granted.

Seeking God: A Quick Look at Paul’s Rhetoric to the Athenians.

Can we feel our way toward the unknown God? Paul’s rhetoric to the Athenians at Areopagus (Acts 17:15-34) is very interesting.

The logic of his argument is clear. During his time among the Athenians, he observed the many objects of their worship. The reality of the religious nature of the people was undeniable. And yet, along with the many objects of worship in the city, there was also an altar to ‘the unknown God’ (Acts 17:23).

This is where it gets interesting. Paul explained that this limit to their knowledge was by God’s own design. God had sovereignly placed them within the “boundaries of their dwelling place” so that “they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (Acts 17:27). What is interesting, then, is that the language that Paul uses here. It seems to convey that there is indeed some ability for men to feel their way toward God. But, is that really what he is saying?

Though the Athenians might well  “perhaps feel their way” (Acts 17:27, emphasis added), the point he is making is that that they would never actually be able to arrive at any degree of certainly (as attested by the ‘mystery’ alter), unless God came to them and further revealed himself. Paul’s words are not intended to theologise man’s ability to seek God. Quite the opposite. They are part of his rhetoric, powerfully highlighting the relevance of his message. God had indeed revealed himself in Jesus Christ, and had proven so by the reality of the resurrection. This was the very reason that his message had implications for all men (not Jews only). God now commanded “all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).

The realities that are evidenced in the religious activity of the Athenians, serve as a microcosm for humanity at large. Certainly Paul believed that humanity does have an innate sense spirituality. And indeed this spirituality does allow him, in some way, to seek for God. This seeking, however, is part of man’s dilemma, not his hope.  He can seek only as a blind man seeks. He gropes in the darkness while looking for something that he cannot see, feel or touch. The reality of this kind of seeking does not show man’s ability to get to God, but rather his total dependence on God’s revelation in and through the Christ.

A Sacred Grip

In the last post I summarised a New Testament missional philosophy as ‘Closed-hand, Opened-hand, Go”. This is a truly important paradigm, and it presents many different facets of application. To begin with then, I’ll highlight one of these as it relates to the idea of ‘closed-hand’.

Remember that in talking about our ‘closed hand’ we are speaking about all things relating to the sphere of the sacred (and yes, contra to all that popular folk-theology out there, there is a very real distinction between sacred and secular in the Christian life). One of the main things in this ‘sacred’ hand, then, is our doctrine. We have an ironclad grip on our theology. No negotiating.

But just as surely, this means a willingness to swim against the stream. Missional philosophy these days will typically argue that in order to do mission well, we need to dumb everything down and restrict our theology to the basic essentials. If it’s not both absolutely vital and easy to understand at the same time, it has to go. Put another way, this approach asks the church to relax its ‘sacred’ grip, and like sand running through loosened fingers, let all the richness of biblical teaching fall to the earth. Only the pebbles remain, and even among these the sharp ones are jettisoned. This is the idea behind everything from liberalism to seeker-sensitivism: the sacred hand is opened for the sake of mission. But it never goes well.

Here then is a better way. Despite this constant pressure upon churches and ministers (the pressure of true wordiness), we must move in the opposite direction. Rather than open our ‘sacred’ hand, we close it — and tightly.  Moreover, we must work daily to strengthen this grip. We study our Bibles. We want more doctrine, not less. We want all of our theology, and we’ll even contend for it. We want the big, historic confessions–not the small, stupid DIY ones. We want deep Bible exposition on Sundays, not moralistic, therapeutic ‘Christian’ TED talks.  We want the whole Bible and all of its teaching, not a post-modern form of resurrected fundamentalism.