God Isn’t Mad

When you think about what God looks like, what comes to mind? Is He sitting on a throne with a big, white beard cascading down from a stern chin? What is the expression on His face? This last question may be more important than anything else. When God looks at you, what does His expression tell you?

I’ve heard many people talk about how they’ve disappointed God. I once heard a preacher say “the best way to keep from getting disillusioned is to not be illusioned in the first place.” Now, I don’t know how emotionally healthy that is, but it got me thinking about disappointment.

The root of disappointment is unmet expectations. I become disappointed when I have an expectation that isn’t met. For example, I expected a job promotion that didn’t happen; therefore I am disappointed. Or I expected someone to do something and they didn’t do it, or I expected that they wouldn’t do something and they did. Because of that, I become disappointed.

So can God ever become disappointed with us?

Think about it for a minute. We believe God is all-knowing. He knows everything past, present, and future. He knows every detail of your life before you are born. You cannot surprise Him. No matter how bad of a choice you make, He already knew that you would be right where you are. He knew your successes and your failures.

Can you surprise God? No. He already knows.

Then can you disappoint Him? What expectation of you does He have that you won’t already fulfill? He may have ideals and principles we are called to in Scripture, but He isn’t surprised when we don’t fulfill them — He already knew we wouldn’t. It’s not that God doesn’t want better for us than our foolish choices; the question is whether or not we can disappoint Him. There will never be a time in our lives when God has an expectation of us that we won’t fulfill to the letter. That is the power of being all-knowing.

I had a young lady in my youth ministry years ago. She was new to walking with Jesus and was doing well. Then she went on a senior trip that changed her life forever. It was the classic party scene and she indulged it to its extreme. And then she had all the shame that comes with such a choice.

She didn’t return for a few weeks after that. When I saw her again, I asked where she had been and she reluctantly began to unfold for me what had transpired. There was so much shame in her voice because in her words, she had disappointed God so badly.

It was one of those moments when I felt the Holy Spirit take over. I am not smart enough for this kind of thinking. I asked her if she believed God knew everything. She said yes. And did God know she would do some good things and some bad things even before time began? She said yes.

If that is true, then He knew everything that had happened on that senior trip — in all of its shame making nuances. At the very same moment, He said, “I love you, without condition.”

Maybe today it is good for us to know God loves us — every piece, even the broken ones — more than we could ever imagine. That cannot change when we mess up. Even when we mess up really bad, we don’t disappoint God. He is 100% loving to us.

The trick for us is to love what God loves about us, as mush as He loves it. May you find your true, eternal worth.

The Eastern Mind #8 — Metaphysic

There is a baseline truth to the way we see the universe. This is rooted in the worldview we hold. As westerners, we are Greek in our thinking, so it will be helpful to understand how Greek thinking has affects how we react to the world. It has fingers that I am sure we have not fully explored.

Metaphysics is a philosophical approach that wrestles with the questions of the fundamental nature of reality and being. In other words, what are the most foundational realities of the universe?

The Greek metaphysic is deeply rooted in our minds and shows up in all kinds of ways. The Greek understanding of the universe is that it is foundationally chaos. It is out of control and unpredictable. It is dangerous and can hurt you at any moment. Therefore, I must try to understand how everything works for the purpose of predicting and controlling outcomes.

This heavily influences us, even in how we understand God. Think about how it plays out when a surprise happens in the day. How do you respond? Tragedy strikes — how do you respond? This leads to panic that makes us cry out in fear to God, begging Him to solve it, and often feeling paralyzed to move forward until the chaos of that moment subsides.

Now, it isn’t all together bad. The insatiable need to understand for the purpose of predicting and controlling has led to some good things: medicine, understanding of diseases, DNA — much of the sciences come out of this drive to predict and control. But when it comes to things no one can control — natural disaster, famine, drought, even love — this need to control can leave us in a very insecure place.

The eastern view of the universe is drastically different. Rather than being chaos, the universe is foundationally ordered. And it is ordered by a God who in His very nature is good and loves us. He is not angry, nor does he need to be appeased to keep the chaos away. This also radically affects how we deal with the situations described earlier.

When chaos strikes our world, we do not have to panic. We can rest. We can rest in the truth that there is a God in the universe who is in control and He loves me. He is a good God who provides. This is very different than the pagan gods of other civilizations, which must continually be appeased and held at bay so they don’t wreak havoc in the world. But we are guessing about how to appease them, and they are not bound to honor their word, so they can still create problems even if we have done everything correctly.

This is the radical part of the creation story in Scripture. The writer of Genesis 1 is not trying to prove or disprove a certain scientific understanding of creation. The author’s desire is to show a whole new kind of God who is rooted in peace and safety, and one who has the universe under control and your best interests at heart.

That changes everything.

May you find rest in the grace of a God who has you safely in the palm of His hand. May you find the peace that passes understanding — not from letting go of caring, but from taking hold of the character of God.

The Eastern Mind #4 — The Nature of God

If I asked you, “What is God like?” — as a westerner you might answer something like this: God is love, God is all knowing, God is all powerful, etc. These truths we espouse about the nature of God are certainly true, and I pray you believe them to your core. But they all have one very important connection that needs to be pulled apart — they are all abstract, conceptual, and philosophical.

They are ideas, and this is how we describe God. That doesn’t make these ideas wrong at all. They are all quite right. However, this does present a potential issue. Once we make a philosophical assumption about God, we must then enter into real life, and we must make real life fit into our philosophical assumption. This leaves us with all kinds of questions.

For example, if God is all knowing and all powerful, then why do people starve? Why are people taken advantage of or abused by others? We must defend a conceptual idea or a thought that becomes muddy and even more abstract. This prepositional way of interacting with God forces us to defend ideas and concepts even when experience clearly seems to contradict the idea (at least on the surface). And yes, it is our task to mine deeper truths out of this experience about how an all-knowing and all-powerful God interacts with the world. But what if we didn’t even need to have that conversation?

If we asked an easterner the same opening question, we would hear very different answers. They might say something like, “God is a rock,” or “God is living water,” or “God is an eagle’s wings.” While this sounds like it isn’t all that different on the surface, it can make a huge difference in how we engage the God conversation in our culture.

Anchoring God to a concrete picture gives life permission to disagree, and yet we can still hold to how we see God. When difficult circumstances rear their ugly head, God can still be a rock, even though I wonder if He really knows or understands what is going on. In fact, my conviction that God is a rock may very well be the thing I need to get through the challenging circumstance.

I am not saying this changes the prepositional truths we hold to so tightly. All I am saying is that the eastern mind doesn’t need to prove a preposition, because from the beginning the way they talk about who God is rests in concrete word pictures, not abstract ideas that must be proven. And these pictures are rooted in experience. I know God is a rock because I have experienced Him as a solid place in my life that never changes. And I have heard the testimony of my friends and family, as well as the stories of those who have gone before us. I have felt the reality of the world blowing up around me, and having a solid rock to anchor my life to made all the difference in my weathering that storm well.

You can never take that experience away from me. I know God as a rock even when we wrestle with these hard questions of why things happen the way they do and how we are supposed to respond. We should wrestle with these things because the goal of our journey with God is not resolution, but tension. This is foundational to our understanding (and discussed in a previous post).

The thing to keep in mind is that because the Bible is eastern, it is not written to defend prepositional ideas about God. While we can point to passages that allude to these truths we deduce about God, we will not find many passages that directly state the character traits we believe about Him. And that is okay.

Those word pictures used to describe God may be far more useful and profound than we might have initially thought.

May we experience God as the rock in our storms, the living water in our deserts, and the eagle’s wings that carry us. May we be shade in the deserts of others as we see these word pictures take root in our own lives. And may we tell a powerful story of who God is, because future generations will need those stories.

The Eastern Mind #3 — Layers of Interpretation

The Jewish people have layers of understanding to any passage. Start down this road and you will begin to see that nothing written in the Bible means what it says — only. There is a surface interpretation, but there are layers and depth and interconnectedness that open up the passage in profound ways.

Westerners see the Bible with a certain close mindedness in the way we read. We are looking for “the” truth of the passage, which is often relegated to the truth of how it hits me where I am. And that is not wrong, but in the Jewish world, this is only one piece of layers of deeper and more insightful truth that opens up whole new worlds of understanding for us about who God is and how we function in the world and how we are supposed to see other people — even enemies.

There are four distinct layers of interpretation for any passage that allow us to see various angles of what God is trying to convey to us as we understand what He is up to in the passage.

Layer 1: Pshat. This is the surfaced layer of meaning. As you read, what does it mean to you? What is the basic, straightforward meaning of what is being said? How is it hitting you? What can we learn from that?

Layer 2: Remez. While it was not called remez at the time of Christ, this practice certainly exists in the first century. Remez means “hint.” The author will often drop a hint into the passage that anchors the passage to another passage. It is within the second passage where we find the bigger meaning of what is being written. This is true especially with parables.

An example: In the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus speaks of birds resting in the branches of the tree. Why do I need to know of these birds? What value do they bring to the story? In fact, they give us the meaning of the whole thing.

Another example: The temptation of Jesus is framed by three different tests. Did you notice that Luke’s account is in a different order than Matthew’s? Matthew is writing a Jewish gospel to a Jewish audience, and he is a Jewish author. What we might find as we pull apart Matthew’s account of the story is that he is dropping clues in his account to help us see the larger story of what is happening in this specific story.

Layer 3: Derash. This is the metaphorical meanings that could be understood from the second passage. This is where midrash fits into the interpretation process. In Derash, we begin to see how this passage could relate to many different areas of our lives. It gives us a way to take a passage about war, for example, and apply that passage to a struggle at work. Although it is not a real war, the struggle of the passage still crosses the context.

Layer 4: Sod (pronounced with a long “O”). This level is the deepest truth, and the most insightful. This can only be given by God. It is insight that impacts at deep levels. Here is an example from Matthew 16:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

The statement Peter makes is so insightful that only God could have given him that level of understanding. Only God could allow Peter to see the truth of who Jesus really is, and perhaps even a glimpse of the implications of that truth.

As we wrestle with this kind of approach to Scripture, we begin to see that each passage offers us living water and encouragement again and again at many different levels. Consequently, biblical study is not a destination, but a lifelong pursuit that deserves our utmost effort.

May we always be people of the Text.

The Eastern Mind #1 — Why?

The Bible is a very important book. For those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus, the book is central to who we are and functions as our guidebook for faith and practice. Therefore, it is safe to say that how we understand the Bible matters. This is the pursuit of every biblical scholar. The desire to understand the Bible has been a deep passion of mine and many of my friends.

The desire to understand the Bible has never been destructive to the Church. The desire to ask questions and challenge assumptions has never done anything to damage God’s reputation. I am not being sarcastic. That is the truth. There seems to be a fear among American Christians that if we allow challenging possibilities into the conversation and wrestle with them, then we will begin to undo the very fiber of our belief system. Our western goal is to resolve every issue. But the Bible is eastern. It was written by eastern thinkers in an eastern world with eastern ideology and systematic theologies (which is technically an oxymoron — more on that in a later post).

What has been so damaging to the Church over the years is the profound need to be right. This is not an American Christian problem; it is in the very fiber of our western mindset. We see it politics, sports, school, work — the need to perform, resolve, and be correct is everywhere, and this trickles into the Church without us even knowing it. I want to be upfront about what this series entails. It will open up a window to how the people who wrote the Bible understood what they were saying, and what the first hearers of the story might have heard and how that can shape our understanding of the story itself.

My goal is not to set this as a “right vs. wrong” way to understand the Bible. The goal is not to demean or undermine what we have learned through a “western style.” The goal is simply to open up the idea that when we realize the Bible was written by real people in a real place at a real time, and that time and place and people were radically different than modern America, it opens up all kinds of nuances that give the Bible deeper meaning and power and beauty than we ever knew could be there.

I believe this kind of understanding opens the door to inspiration for reading the Bible rather than making Bible reading a disciplined drudgery. It invites us to join the story rather than talk about a story that is mostly archaic and irrelevant to my life today. Seeing the Bible this way will force you to attack the Word of God with a passion and force of will that you didn’t know you could have.

I grew up in the Church, and my dad was a preacher. The foundation laid in my life by the western style of teaching is still very much at work in my life, and I would never want to undermine what was poured into me back then. I am not critiquing Bible college or Sunday school. I am simply offering the possibility that if we were to listen to the voices contained within the story, we would find a powerful message that is truly inspired and transformational.

What if we could find deeper and truer truths in Scripture simply by seeing additional nuances to the conversation? What if we could begin to see the spider web of connectedness within the Bible as each passage is lined up with the others to tell one amazing story? What if we could get a better grasp on the confusing passages in the Bible by simply understanding the context around what is being said? What if we had a passion for the Word of God born within us because of the diligent searching of what is there? What if…

May you become a student of the Word. May you always be open to challenging possibilities with which to wrestle. And may you be inspired and encouraged by what this series brings.

“Oh, Lord, deliver me from the cowardice that shrinks from new truth, the laziness that stops at half truth, and the arrogance that knows all truth.” Amen!