Bethel Evangelical Lutheran worshiping Jesus at 8th and N. East Ave. in York, NE.402-363-0022

August 20, 2017

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Jeremiah 23:23-24

Dear Friends in Christ,

What’s your view of God? It has been said that we all make God in our own image. Because we are all born with a sinful nature, that is our tendency. We all try to imagine who God is and what God is like based on what we know about ourselves. Those who try to represent God, or Jesus, in art most often make him look like they do, in their image. European artists picture God, or Jesus, as a European man. African artists picture him as African. Asian artists picture him as Asian. But the truth is that none are correct. God is spirit, a supernatural being without a body like ours; and Jesus, who is God in the flesh, was Jewish, a descendant of Abraham and David according to his human nature. One reason God commands us not to make an image of him is that most often we end up worshiping the image instead of God himself. Another reason might be that no image does him justice. There is nothing we can make that can represent him accurately.

The false prophets of Jeremiah’s day had a problem with their view of God too. Their view of God was too small. They imagined that God was limited, that he was only a God nearby. They weren’t too worried about what they said about God because they didn’t think he heard the lies they were telling about him; and if he did, they thought that they could hide from him, that he couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything about it.

It was a common view in those days that each country or nation had a god that watched over them, and that god’s influence extended only as far as the territory of that nation. If your nation extended its borders and defeated another nation it was because your god had become stronger than the other nation’s god. Jonah was at least hoping that this was true about the one true God, the LORD. That’s why he got on a boat and tried to sail as fast and as far as he could from Israel. He found out the hard way that the one true God, the LORD, is not limited in any way. He is not only a God nearby.

Today we tend to laugh at those like the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day, or at Jonah; at those who have such a small view of God that they think they can hide either themselves or their words from him. But there are many today who also have a small view of God. They are the people, some who even claim to be Christians, who claim to believe in the God of the Bible, who read the creation account and say, “God couldn’t have created all that exists in six days.” That’s a small view of God. It’s saying that God is limited; that there is something he couldn’t do even though he said he did it. So, in addition to saying God is only a God nearby, that he is limited in what he can do, you are really calling him a liar.

People tend to excuse their small view of God in regard to creation by saying, “it’s no big deal. It doesn’t really matter how the world got here.” But if you think of God as limited, that there are things he can’t do, or things he didn’t do even though he says he did them, it is a big deal. If God is limited, there must be some prayers he can’t answer. If God is limited there must be times when he is unable to help you. If God is limited how can you be sure your sins are forgiven? How can you be sure he will take you to heaven, or that there even is a heaven? If you think that God couldn’t create all that exists in six days as he says he did, then it won’t take much for Satan to convince you that God, at least the god you are thinking about, is weak and not worth believing in or serving.

God asks, “Am I only a God nearby,” declares the LORD, “and not a God far away? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the LORD. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD. He reminds the false prophets that he is not a local God. He is not limited to a certain area. There isn’t a place anywhere in the universe where you can hide from him. He reminds the false prophets that he has heard every word they have spoken, especially the lies they have told about him. God fills the heaven and the earth. Nothing escapes his notice.

Like the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day there are some today who have a small view of God, but there are also those who would switch things around and think of God as only a God who is far away. They view him as “the old man upstairs;” someone who is way out there somewhere past the farthest star. They think of him as so far away that he really has no contact with, or interest in us puny humans. They think of God as so big, and so far removed from us, that he doesn’t really care that much about what we do or say; he has more important things to be concerned about.

The truth is that God is both a God who is far away, and a God who is nearby. He fills the heaven and the earth. He is omnipresent. He is not limited to being at one place at one time. He is everywhere all the time. As the Psalmist says, where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. He is omniscient. He knows everything. He not only knows every word we speak, but even what we are thinking. The same Psalmist says, you know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. He is almighty. As the angel told Mary, nothing is impossible with God. There isn’t anything he can’t do. The truth is that God is both more powerful and more concerned with our every thought, word and action than we can possibly imagine.

Viewing God as he reveals himself to us in his word, as eternal, as omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent, is both scary and comforting at the same time.

It’s scary to think that nothing you say, think, or do escapes God’s notice because there are a lot of things that you think, say, or do that are sinful. When you realize that God heard that unkind thing you said about your neighbor; when you realize that God saw you roll your eyes behind your parent’s, or your boss’s back and he knew what you were thinking when you did it; when you realize that God saw you looking at things you shouldn’t have been looking at even though you were sure no one else was watching and you made sure you were browsing anonymously; it should scare you. God is angry when his laws are broken. Broken laws demand punishment. We can try to hide like Adam and Eve, or run away
like Jonah, but it won’t work. There is nothing we can do to escape the punishment we deserve for every sin we have committed.

So, where’s the comfort? Only a God who is eternal, all knowing, all powerful, and always present could have a plan for saving us that actually works. Only such a God could institute that plan as soon as Adam and Eve fell into sin. Only a God who fills the heaven and the earth could guide the events of the universe from generation to generation so that when just the right time arrived, Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. Only such a God could take on flesh and blood, withhold judgment on those who deserved it, keep his own law perfectly, and then offer himself as a sacrifice of atonement and reconciliation in the place of those who deserved his judgment. Only an eternal, all knowing, all powerful, and ever-present God could devise and perfectly carry out such a rescue plan. Only a God who is love and grace would be willing to do it.

God tells us how we are to view him. He tells us who he is and what he is like. He tells us that he fills the heaven and the earth. He is both a God nearby and a God far
away. That fact ought to be a constant reminder that no sin, not even a sinful thought, is hidden from God’s sight. But it ought also to be a constant reminder that God can, has, and will do everything he has promised. He can and will answer every prayer in the way that is best for us, and be our helper in every time of need. He promised Adam and Eve a savior, and he has kept his promise, just as he can and will keep every promise he has made us. When the right time comes the sun will not just go dark in a certain area because of an eclipse. When the right time comes the sun will go dark because it will be obliterated by Jesus who has come to judge the living and the dead. The sun will no longer be needed, because he will provide perfect light for all who trust in him forever.