Jul 14 2019 Rick Reynolds: God's Character
14th July 2019
The Character of God
Years ago when I worked for a trucking company I talked to the drivers a lot on the phone. I remember one driver in particular who I thought -- by the sound of his voice -- would look like the typical picture of Santa Claus – medium height and a little rotund. A couple of months later he came by the office and I met him in person. Was I ever surprised. He was about 5-6 and about as thin and wiry as you can get. From the only thing I knew about him, his voice, I had painted a pretty poor picture of what he really looked like. I learned to stop trying to figure out what someone looked like just from hearing their voice.
When you first meet someone, how do you know what their character is like? Some people can be hard to read, while others present themselves one way but are actually quite different once you get to know them. Sometimes people are like chameleons and change their spots a bit. It usually takes time to observe how they act and how they treat people. You can also ask others what their experience has been with the person. Over time, you begin to paint a picture of them in your mind. You begin to understand how they think, act, react, treat others, etc.
What about God? What picture have you painted in your mind about God’s character?
During the spring, the Adult Bible Study looked at Exodus each Sunday morning. One of the key things we came away with was the awesome character of God. We gained insights to God that many of us had not seen before, because we hadn’t studied Him enough.
In preparing for this morning, I started to list all the ways that God orchestrated the lives of people and events in the book, but quickly realized it would take our whole time this morning just to go through the them. Why did God act the way He did? Because He loved them
Through an unbelievable series of events over a few hundred years, God’s people found themselves in bondage in Egypt. God sent Moses to lead his people out of Egypt. Over and over again he displayed his mighty power over people and nature to bring about his will and to show the whole earth that He is the one true God. That was His purpose through all of that.
Once they had escaped Egypt, God promised to take them to a land he had picked out just for them. They probably numbered 2-3 million people at this time, so it took a lot just to keep them together and moving in the right direction. God again showed his love for them by providing daily manna and quail to eat and by providing water when they needed it.
After a few months, he brought them to Mt Sinai, where he met with Moses directly and passed down his guidelines for how the people should live and get along with each other. The short version is called the Ten Commandments. God gave the Ten Commandments (and more) to show how to live and how to fellowship with God.
The Israelites were God’s chosen people, and he did extraordinary things to bring them out of bondage and to show them how much he loved them. What a display of his character, love, and faithfulness. We saw many sides to God’s character while studying Exodus.
When I was studying for this sermon – I came across one author – and when I first read this article – it was pretty long – and I thought he was nuts – his premise was that God has no emotions. But we see it in the Bible all the time – Love, Hate, Jealous, Anger…
Does God Have Emotions?
How we as humans react to things around us – and it usually involved bodily changes – and you can tell what emotion is affecting someone by looking at them! But the problem – what we are doing – reacting to a situation – someone cuts you off – and you react! But the author states that God doesn’t react to situations, but He responds to them. Rather, He has attributes to how He responds.
Before we continue with the second half of this story, I would like to insert something I came across while studying for the message. I was doing a search on the emotions of God and came across an article I completely discounted at first. But, the more I thought about it I started to understand what the author was getting at and went back and read it a couple of times
The author, Matt Slick, stated that God does not have emotions. My first reaction was, What a nut case! Of course God has emotions. We see it all through the Bible. He loves and hates and gets angry and is jealous.
One of the first things I did was look up the meaning of emotion.
An emotion is a conscious mental reaction (such as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as a strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological behavioral changes in the body.
In other words, emotions are how we, as humans, react to something happening around us or to us. And it usually includes physiological changes such as a flushed face, quickening heartbeat, clenched fists, or a specific look on our face. Its often quite easy to tell which emotion is affecting someone. What we are doing is reacting to something.
The author states that God doesn’t react to situations, but responds.
The author’s premise is that God doesn’t have emotions that show how he reacts to situations, but he has attributes which govern how he responds. What’s the difference?
An attribute is a quality, character, or characteristic ascribed to someone or something.
If a child spills milk at the supper table an emotional reaction might be to become upset and chastise the child for being so careless. Someone else might respond by quickly getting a towel to mop up the milk to keep the damage to a minimum.
The first person reacts, often without thinking and it often affects our mood – how we are feeling. The second person responds because they don’t let their emotions get in the way and it doesn’t affect their mood.
Now let’s apply this to God:
God does not change; He has no mood swings. God’s feelings and actions toward His creation, His judgment and forgiveness, His justice and grace, are all consistent with who He is. James 1:17 tells us, Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.
God is concrete – we are like silly putty! He doesn’t change – here is how He loves, feels, chastises, shows anger – it is all set in stone.
We’ve come to know and relate to God as a feeling Person, one who loves and hates, grieves and laughs, feels anger and compassion. He loves the righteous and hates the wicked.
This isn’t to say that our emotions and those of God are exactly the same. We sometimes speak of our emotions “clouding our judgment” because our sinful nature has corrupted our emotions. But God has no sin, and His emotions are incorruptible. For example, there is a vast difference between human anger and divine anger. Man’s anger is volatile, subjective, and too often out of control. God’s anger is rooted in divine justice. God’s anger is perfectly righteous and predictable, never capricious or malicious. In His anger, He never sins. How often do we sin in our anger?
So, why do we see God as having emotions? Because that’s the only way we know to describe it. God created us as emotional beings, and since we see these same traits in him, we want to say He has emotions, too. But, you can see how saying He has emotions doesn’t adequately describe the character of God. He has attributes that perfectly describe who He is and how He acts.
If you’re in a car accident, you don’t want the EMT to react, you want them to respond!
God’s ways have been recorded for us in terms that we can understand and relate to. God’s wrath and anger against sin are real. And His compassion for sinners is steadfast and genuine. His works reveal His mercy and unending grace. But most of all, His love for His children is endless and unshakable. God not only has thoughts and plans; He has feelings and desires, too. In contrast to the unreliability and instability of man’s sin-tainted emotions, God’s emotions are as completely dependable and immutable as He is.
There are two wonderful things concerning God and emotions: first, He understands our emotions (since He created us with the capacity to feel them), and, second, His own emotions continually flow from His perfection. God will never have a bad day; He will never change His feelings toward His redeemed.
Does God have emotions? Yes – but He doesn’t REACT, He responds.
Now let’s get back to the second part of the message. We left the Israelites at Mt Sinai, where God had just given them the Ten Commandments. I think God actually spoke to them and they heard Him. They were terrified by the smoke, earthquakes, and fire coming from the mountain.
So they send Moses back up the mountain – and 40 days later, they grow impatient, and get Aaron to have them gather their gold and create a god. They did not know how to worship God, so they became like the world. Not that they were running away from God, but they didn’t have something to worship – so they molded an idol, following the way of the world.
One commentator put it this way: “Though God is transcendent, we’ve come to know Him as a personal, living God who engages intimately with His creation. He loves us in ways we cannot fathom.”
But then the commentator continues with the rest: He is immeasurably pained by our sin and rebellion against Him.
I want to finish by talking about an attribute of God we don’t talk much about: anger. But in order to understand God’s anger, we need to take a look at our responsibility in the issue. If we want to avoid God’s anger, we need to make sure we do our part. Lets look at the example of the Israelites.
How did this play out for them? We’ve already talked about God demonstrating his love for them over and over, but several times during the months after leaving Egypt, they complained about how God was handling things. Right after God spoke the Ten Commandments to them, he called Moses to the mountain for more instruction. After 40 days, the Israelites decided it had been too long and took matters into their own hands. Moses’s brother Aaron made a golden calf for them to worship since God didn’t seem to be interested any more. They had the Ten Commandments only 40 days and were already breaking them in a major way.
Can you imagine? They had seen God perform miracle after miracle on their behalf over the last months, but after just a few weeks they began to wander away from God and his commands.
What was missing? They did not fear the Lord even though they had seen what happened to the Egyptians because they had no respect or reverence for God.
We need to have a healthy fear of God to keep things in perspective.
What do I mean by fear? In scripture, fear denotes a healthy, overwhelming reverence for God. It is an orientation toward God that overshadows any desire for early position or possession.
Commentator Sheriffs says: “’The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil’, and the evil concerned is not demonic or cosmic, but the down-to-earth evil of human ‘pride,’ ’arrogance’ and ‘perverted speech.’
It is in this sense of moral choice that ‘the fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, so that one may avoid the snares of death’”.
Listen to what the Bible has to say about fear of the Lord.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Here, FEAR is a good thing.
“And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; And to depart from evil is understanding.’”
We have to be fearful of the Lord – He is an AWEFUL – AWESOME -
Lets look at Psalm 111. Here’s how the Israelites should have handled the situation:
Praise the LORD!
I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart, In the company of the upright and in the assembly.
2 Great are the works of the LORD; They are studied by all who delight in them.
3 Splendid and majestic is His work, And His righteousness endures forever.
4 He has made His wonders to be remembered; The LORD is gracious and compassionate.
5 He has given food to those who fear Him; He will remember His covenant forever.
6 He has made known to His people the power of His works, In giving them the heritage of the nations.
7 The works of His hands are truth and justice; All His precepts are sure.
8 They are upheld forever and ever; They are performed in truth and uprightness.
9 He has sent redemption to His people; He has ordained His covenant forever;
Holy and awesome is His name.
10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
A good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever.
That’s where the children of Israel should have been – reminded of all that He had done. People STUDY the works of the Lord.
Next is Psalm 112, which tells us the blessings of fearing the Lord:
Praise the LORD!
How blessed is the man who fears the LORD, Who greatly delights in His commandments.
2 His descendants will be mighty on earth; The generation of the upright will be blessed.
3 Wealth and riches are in his house, And his righteousness endures forever.
4 Light arises in the darkness for the upright; He is gracious and compassionate and righteous.
5 It is well with the man who is gracious and lends; He will maintain his cause in judgment.
6 For he will never be shaken; The righteous will be remembered forever.
7 He will not fear evil tidings; His heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.
8 His heart is upheld, he will not fear, Until he looks with satisfaction on his adversaries.
9 He has given freely to the poor, His righteousness endures forever;
His horn will be exalted in honor.
10 The wicked will see it and be vexed (or angry), He will gnash his teeth and melt away;
The desire of the wicked will perish.
Here are the blessings that can be ours when we fear the Lord – Knowledge – Blessing…
In case you think fearing the Lord is something that only applies to the Old Testament, look at Acts:
So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.
If we fear the Lord, we have more knowledge of Him and understand Him better.
If we don’t fear the Lord, if we don’t have full-out reverence for him, then we invite his displeasure and anger into our lives. We invite chastisement and punishment. Here’s what happened to the Israelites when God saw their disobedience:
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. 8 They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’” 9 The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. 10 Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.”
God loved them so much, He gave them everything – but leaves them alone for a few days and now God was ready to destroy them for their unbelief and disobedience!
The problem with the Israelites was they wanted to be like the nations around them. They were used to idols and worshipping many gods, because that’s what they saw the Egyptians and other nations doing. They wanted to be like the world. They wanted to worship God, but they only knew how to worship a god by worshipping an idol. Instead of listening to God and following his pattern, they became like the rest of the nations.
There is something we have to be careful of…
We have to be so careful that we don’t get sucked into the same thought pattern. We can’t adapt our relationship with God to the world; it won’t work. People try to bend God’s word to make it fit their worldview. So many people are struggling with issues today. Things like sexuality, morality, abortion, politics, work and life ethics. So many are trying to figure out how to make these issues work within their relationship with God. Unfortunately, we see that many are bending their Christian principles to fit around whatever issue they want to keep in their lives.
Back to emotions for a minute - So many people and groups today use emotion as their argument for or against something. They try to cloud our judgment by appealing to our emotional side instead of looking at the facts and making a logical decision. We have to stand fast on the Word of God and evaluate things from His perspective. Our emotions are sin-tainted, so we have to try to respond as God would respond. My emotions will lead me astray and cloud my judgment – so we can’t respond emotionally, but through the Word of God, evaluating things from God’s perspective
Following the world instead of following God didn’t work for the Israelites and it won’t work for us. If we don’t hold fast to God’s way and his commandments, we will find ourselves on the wrong side of God’s will. Listen to the warning God gave the Israelites:
15 “But if you do not obey the LORD your God by carefully following all His commands and statutes I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overtake you:
16 You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country.
17 Your basket and kneading bowl will be cursed.
18 Your descendants will be cursed, and your land’s produce, the young of your herds, and the newborn of your flocks.
19 You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out.
God continues for another 50 verses describing the things that will happen to them if they fail to follow him.
So I admonish you today: Fear the Lord. Have a healthy, overwhelming reverence for Him and His word. God has proven throughout history that His character never changes. He is always faithful, loving and just. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.