Who is God, and what does it mean to believe in Him?

Chapel Message

June 20, 2023

 

The goodness of God has carried my wife and me through some of the most difficult experiences of our lives.  But it also challenges leaders and laypersons alike to consider again the foundational questions of the Christian faith.  Who is God, and what does it mean to believe in Him?

Whether he knew it or not, Moses and the people he led were struggling with these questions as they stood at the foot of Mount Sinai.  The golden calf incident demonstrated that Israel did not understand God, and, in the absence of Moses’ protective leadership, they traded their fidelity to God for something that they did understand.

Clearly, these developments made Moses angry.  He could not understand why the people would so quickly abandon their God, much less why Aaron would help them.  But Exodus 33:1-17 hints at another emotion lurking just beneath the surface of Moses’ mind—fear.

More than anyone else in the camp, Moses had experienced God’s awesome power and ferocious holiness.  Perhaps Moses wondered whether he ought not get too close to this God, else it might lead to his destruction.  But Moses also knew the dangers that awaited both him and the nation, and he wanted no part of confronting those dangers without God’s approval and protection.

It is in this context that Moses makes a surprising request—and receives an even more surprising answer.

 

Then Moses said, “Now show me Your glory.”
And the Lord said, “I will make all my goodness pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence.  I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.  But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live.”
Exodus 33:18-20 NIV

 

When Moses asked to see God’s “glory,” he was asking to experience God’s majesty, to get lost in the weightiness of God’s royal power.  For His part, God seems at first glance to grant Moses’ request—until we recognize that one key word has been changed.  Instead of showing Moses His “glory,” God will show him His “goodness.”

It is not immediately obvious (at least to me) why Moses makes this request or why God grants it in an altered form.  What is apparent, however, is that we often echo the yearning of our forefather in the faith.  In seasons of fear, failure, and frustration, we often plead with God to make His power known in our situation, to show the world that conspires to destroy us who is really in charge.

But what if that is not what we really need?  What if we really need to know that God is good, regardless of how bad things seem around us?  And what if the challenge we face is trusting God’s goodness, even when we do not see His glory?

I am convinced that the challenge of trusting God’s goodness becomes even more acute as we grow in our understanding of and fidelity to the gospel.  Our risen King demands that we deny ourselves and take up our own instrument of execution (Matthew 16:21-27 and parallels).  The only way that works is if we are convinced that God is not a narcissistic, maniacal sadist.  It only works if God is truly and irrevocably good, if He is the definition and embodiment of enduring and beneficent love.

I have wrestled the demons of fear, failure, and frustration.  I know the lies they whisper into the ears of lonely, hurting people.  And if you are in one of those seasons of despair right now, I will not offer you pious-sounding platitudes.  They are inauthentic and ineffectual.  But I will remind you of this.  God’s Enemy never claims to be good.  He has no interest in your well-being.  His only interest is power, and his means for obtaining that power are always malevolent.

God, by contrast, asserts His goodness almost from the beginning of His relationship with His people.  Throughout history, God has acted benevolently on behalf of individuals and communities.  If you can start by at least giving God the chance to demonstrate His goodness to you, I am confident He will do so.  And trusting His goodness will help you find your way out of the darkness.

For the rest of us, I urge us to remember the challenge that comes with a gospel of self-mortification, but I also encourage us to always keep the goodness of God before our eyes.  Much mischief has been made by portraying God as something other than He really is.  If we, and the people we lead, can keep the beneficence of God at the forefront of our thinking, our praying, and our proclamation, we will do much to advance the gospel and to help the hurting in our midst.

Published: Jun 22, 2023

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