Here is a surprisingly religious way to get stuck in our walk with God: meditate on the transcendent divine attributes of God. God is infinite, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. His ways are not our ways. Who are we to think we can know God or understand the mysteries of his providence? God’s will is irresistible so who am I to think God needs or even wants my help to bring about His kingdom on the earth. God is sovereign, and His will is inscrutable. Who can know Him?
This road block to growth and discipleship sounds religious, theologically deep, and even humble. It is not, you may have noticed, Christo-centric. To the degree that these ideas make God unknowable, it is unbiblical. When Philip asked Jesus, “Show us the Father, and it is enough for us,” Jesus was exasperated:
Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, ‘Show us the Father’? John 14:9
God is not the bad member of the trinity who in his wrath wanted to destroy us and Jesus the good one that took our place on the cross. They are one. The love displayed in the life and words of Jesus is the heart of the Father. Jesus makes God knowable.
Of course, we know this, right? It is the point of Christmas—the incarnation. In Jesus, God took on flesh to live among us that we might know Him and come to love Him. So how do we miss this experientially? I think we evangelicals too often reduce the gospels to sets of biblical principles and lose sight of the person of Jesus—who is the perfect revelation of God. Too often we arrange our Bible study doctrinally or topically and fail to read straight through the gospels so that the full force of the goodness of Jesus captures our hearts.
I sometimes challenge non-believers to sit down and read through the gospel of Mark. It is short and can be read in one sitting. I tell them to ask: “If God were like Jesus, would I love Him?” When we see all Jesus did in healing the sick, setting the captive free, rebuking hypocritical religious leaders, speaking tenderly to children and women, teaching with extraordinary wisdom and grace, we cannot help but exclaim, “This is a God I can love!” Jesus fulfills all our secret hopes for what God ought to be. It is good news that when we see Jesus, we see the Father.
It is hard to love what we don’t know, but when we realize God is just like Jesus our faith becomes an expression of love, not duty. And as important, we fall in “like” with God. It is easy to develop a vague religious, half-nostalgic, sentimental love for God, but never learn to like the ways of God. When I look at Jesus, I like the way he loved sinners and hung out with them. I like the way God used common folks—fishermen and tax-collectors—to be his messengers. I like the way God does stuff and this frees me from the tug-of-war behind my ways and God’s ways. I like God because He is just like Jesus. I am unstuck when I discover I like all the ways of God!
This truth may seem obvious, but it often isn’t in application. Some Christians ask how we can know whether God desires to heal people. They speculate that maybe sickness and affliction is God’s way to build Christian character or teach us important lessons that He can teach in no other way. They act like this is a deep mystery. If, however, we regard Jesus as the perfect revelation of the Father, we can’t ignore what Jesus did: he healed all who came to Him (Matthew 4:24, 8:16, 9:25, 12:15). We must regard Jesus’ healings as a revelation of God’s attitude toward sickness. If we look at what Jesus did, we see that he healed people and never apologized for robbing them of their character-building sickness.
Of course, this doesn’t answer every question about why some are healed when we pray, and others aren’t. It does, however, reveal that God is all about healing people. Jesus’ actions are as much a revelation of God’s will as his teachings. But today much of the church doesn’t look to what Jesus did as a revelation of God’s will or values. And of course, we could say the same about questions concerning the casting out of evil spirits and miracles that attest to the truth of the gospel. Jesus not only revealed God’s heart in ( his actions but he also gave his disciples authority to do those things (Matthew 10:1)
Jesus also called his disciples friends. This was an invitation to be friends with God. Friends talk. In other words, Jesus has revealed to us a God that desires to know us and be known. And there is even more good news. Jesus promised his disciples that after he returned to the Father, He would send the Holy Spirit through which both He and the Father would dwell in in the hearts of believers forever (John 14:16—17,23).
Of course, God is indeed sovereign, but one expression of His power is the ability to make Himself known and enter into relationship with us. We are not stuck in a static state of awe that paralyzes us. We can rise and walk in the Spirit of Christ who has called us to follow Him.