Not long ago, while puzzling over the difficulties that bear down hard upon most lives—things like job loss, illness, financial ruin, conflict and other maladies, it occurred to me that the emotional pain we feel as a result of our troubles is often magnified by a colossal misunderstanding, one common to the human race. This misunderstanding arises from our lack of vision.
Most of the time, we see neither ourselves nor our circumstances nor the God we love clearly. As Paul says, we are always looking "through a glass, darkly" (1 Corinthians 1:12). So our vision is to some extent blurred, limited, and confused, putting us into the foreground while everything else recedes to background. Our fears, our aspirations, our troubles—these are the focal points that command our attention.
This pattern of distortion happens to everyone, Christian and non-Christian, even though God has revealed truths about Himself that should untangle and upend our twisted view of what is really going on. Despite the fact that God is now in the picture, we Christians often relegate Him to the blurry background.
When I was a child I was introduced to a God who was all seeing, all powerful, and all knowing. But to my child's mind He looked like someone distant, fearful, and untrustworthy. How could you warm to a god who held you in disdain for your many failures, a perfect god whom your flawed self was incapable of pleasing? Fortunately, that imbalanced and distorted vision of God eventually gave way to the understanding that God loved me, indeed that He had saved me by coming into the world and taking away my sins.
In the years that have followed, I have watched as the church has jettisoned the hard god of my youth in favor of a much softer god, one who is always tender and tolerant and who does not demand too much of his people, in which notions of holiness and awe have receded to background or disappeared altogether. But that soft god produces only soft followers, spiritually enfeebled and vulnerable to the shaping power of the surrounding culture.
What am I arguing for? A return to the hard god? By no means. Let's not discard one distortion so that we can embrace another. What we need is something only God can give—a true and deeper vision of who he is as the Almighty, Everlasting God--one who is holy and yet merciful, jealous and yet loving, righteous and yet forgiving. This is the God of Abraham and Sarah and Moses and David and Mary Magdalene and Peter and John and all the faithful who have preceded us. They lived with a sense of God's majesty, a life-shaping knowledge of his greatness and goodness. As A.W. Tozer has said, "the great Church, has for centuries lived on the character of God. She's preached God, she's prayed to God, she's declared God, she's honored God, she's elevated God, she's witnessed to God…."
Let us not settle, then, for a vision of God that is thin and anemic, one that will fall to pieces when life becomes more difficult than we can bear. Instead, let us pray that God will draw us out of our complacency so that we might hunger and thirst for more of Him.
One way to do this is to study Him both prayerfully and humbly. In Jewish tradition, study undertaken in this way is the highest form of worship. But how can we possibly study God? Perhaps one way to begin is by resurrecting an old-fashioned word. The word is "attribute," (n. a-truh-byoot). God's attributes are facets of his character that the Bible reveals. Some might object that it is impossible for human beings to comprehend God. And they would be right. But God can enable us to experience Him in deeper ways. Why else would he reveal Himself if He did not want to be known?
While studying His attributes, we must resurrect other old-fashioned words like holiness, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, righteousness, sovereignty, and transcendence. (Do I hear you snoring yet?) But rather than boring us to death, excavating the biblical content of these words may end up thrilling and freeing us from the colossal mistake of concluding that God is too weak or too removed or too soft to enable us to live with joy and fearlessness regardless of the problems we face. Who knows, a thorough-going study of the attributes of God may even show us that God is far bigger and far better than we think.
Ann Spangler is an award-winning writer and speaker. Her best-selling books include Praying the Names of God, Praying the Names of Jesus, Women of the Bible (coauthored with Jean Syswerda) and Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus (coauthored with Lois Tverberg). Her fascination with and love of Scripture have resulted in books that have opened the Bible to a wide range of readers. Together, her books have sold nearly 3 million copies. For the chance to win a free copy of one of Ann's books visit her website at: annspangler.com
Tozer, The Attributes of God, Volume 2 (