How to fill in the blank? How to define God? One way is to lay out a list of attributes.
Infinite, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, perfect, gracious, merciful, patient, righteous, holy, sovereign, wise, matchless, the creator of all things, love.
The list is impressive, but inadequate.
There are problems with God as a list of attributes.
- It’s hard to have a relationship with a list of attributes.
- We begin to use our imagination to picture what each attribute might actually mean. Then we’re back to God imagined again.
- God as a list of attributes leaves us with God as an abstraction.
Abstraction: Ab /strac /tion – noun. The act of considering something as a general quality, apart from concrete realities, specific objects, or actual instances. An impractical idea, something visionary and unrealistic.
We need something more.
This is why I love the gospel. It presents us with concrete realities, specific objects, and actual instances. It moves beyond abstractions and gives us Jesus – in the flesh.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt in our midst… No one has seen God at any time, but God the only Son… has revealed him. (John 1:1 & 1:14 & 1:18).
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life– the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us (1 John 1:1-2)
This is how we fill in the blank about God. Actually, God himself fills in the blank. Now, we have something concrete and specific to go along with that list of attributes. Now, we have Jesus – God showing up – not just in a vision, or a dream, but in a physical body and a life lived in the dust and grime of this world.
No wonder the New Testament writers were obsessed with Jesus. They simply had to tell the story, filling it out with concrete realities, specific objects and actual instances. Here is Jesus the infant, swaddled and lying in a manger. Here is the boy Jesus asking questions in the temple, confounding the priests. Here is Jesus the man, thirsty and sitting on a well in the mid-day sun, or turning over the tables of the money changers, or touching and healing a leper, or forgiving sins, or calming the storm with a word, or raising Lazarus from the dead, or washing the disciples feet. Here is Jesus crowned with thorns and dying on a cross for our sins. Here is Jesus the risen Lord speaking to his disbelieving disciples:
See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24:39)
There it is, concrete and specific, just a small Gospel sampling, filled with tangible objects and real people. Each and every event in the life of Christ, from birth, through death and resurrection, each one reveals something specific about the invisible God, for Jesus is the exact image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). This is God revealed: exactly what we need to move beyond God imagined.
Want to see God? Look at Jesus. Turn to the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Take in the details. Let each word and action of Jesus fill in the blank about God and give definition to that list of attributes. Let the gospel portrait of Christ capture your heart and mind. Then read on. Listen to the words of the apostles in the rest of the New Testament as they expand the picture of Christ – who he is and what he has done.
All along the way, give your whole self – heart, soul, and mind – to Jesus. This is the first and great commandment. This is the point. This is what it means to know and love God.
Next post: Jesus, The Man of Steel, and How Ideas Get Muddled