© 2018, Charles A. Clough
Our Relationship with God in 2018: Estranged or Intimate?
A Study of the Character of God as He has Revealed Himself
vs. the Substitute Idols of our Neo-Pagan Culture
God Alone has ONMISCIENCE; God Alone has PERFECT STABILITY (IMMUTABILITY)
2018 North Stonington Bible Church Labor Day Conference
Charles Clough Lesson #04
September 2, 2018
[Note: The slide numbers referenced throughout refer to the
number in the lower right corner of the slides]
I want to congratulate the choir and what a nice choir you have. At our church we lost the man who headed up our choir and we don’t have one now. So Carol and I miss it, and we so enjoy when we hear your choir here; that was outstanding, and so thank you choir for your ministry; good theology.
We need to think something a little bit about music, maybe you’re unaware, but music was developed by the Christian faith. I had a graphic illustration of that when a friend of mine in our church, who is a former Muslim who left Iran years ago with his father, getting out before the revolution happened, and fled to this country, basically penniless, and worked his way up, owning a business, now in cabinetmaking; a wonderful man, and he’s been teaching the Framework approach to Muslim-background believers in Washington, DC for some time. His mother, now a believer but wasn’t back when this incident happened, she just wanted to go hear her son teach the Word of God, and they were driving home from Washington back up to Baltimore and she said to him (his name is Jik), “Jik, you Christians sing, we don’t sing in the mosque,” and that’s true, they don’t have choirs in the mosque, at least in the conservative mosque, and so he turned to his mother, and I thought this was so insightful, so succinct, he said, “Well mom, we have something to sing about,” and I thought that captured the whole concept of music.
Remember, music was developed in the Middle Ages, in the so-called dark ages, but it was developed by Christians, and it was developed with the motive of worship. So, it’s striking that once again, one of these things we take for granted, that if you trace the roots they go back to the gospel of Jesus Christ and its influence on humanity.
If you look in your hand out, we are on Lesson 4, we’re going to follow the same outline that we’ve been doing which is to go through each of the attributes. Let me caution you here, it’s somewhat artificial to go through the attributes one by one of our Lord because they’re mixed. When you read the text of the Scriptures, you’ll always see them combined. Rarely do you ever see one particular attribute.
But in order to think about the nature of God we need to break His nature down by attributes. Hopefully when we’re done you’ll have kind of like a little devotional outline here to discipline your thinking by focusing in the middle of all the chaos and all the distractions of life, when you want to get calmed down and oriented, to pick a couple of the attributes and think about them and think about the blessings they are to us. Think about the fact that if we operated as unbelievers without those attributes, or rather, with the attributes suppressed, because we basically are uncomfortable talking about God and relating to Him, where would we be in the middle of the crises of life?
So, we are going to resume our motion forward here and our first attribute today will be omniscience. Let’s look at omniscience and I’m picking out these verses, not that they’re the only verses, but I’m picking them out just because they tend to focus on one aspect. This particular one looks at God’s omniscience of us—of His penetrating ability to see who we are, how we think. The Bible refers to us as totally naked in His sight. The idea here is that He penetrates to our heart so we’re not going to hide anything from Him and we might as well admit that.
That’s kind of a relaxing thing to know. The other relaxing thing that comes about by this is when you think that He loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for us, knowing what we are with all the creepy stuff in our fallen nature, and it’s pretty amazing that He was that gracious.
In this case we have that incident where Jesus runs up against Nathaniel here, and prior to this verse, if you look at the context, they’ve [Philip in John 1:43] talk about, “We found the Messiah, we found Jesus,” and Nathaniel said, “Where is He from?” “Galilee.” “Ugh, no good thing comes out of Galilee.” He’s a guy that says what’s on his mind and he doesn’t particularly care whether you like it or not.
So, this is the play on words now. Watch Jesus’ response: “Jesus saw Nathaniel coming toward him and said of him, ‘Behold an Israelite indeed in whom there is no deceit.’ ” Now part of that is a pun because it’s his [Nathaniel’s] abrasive nature, and when Jesus says he has no deceit, He means he lets it all hang out because it’s an immediate picture of Nathaniel’s character. You tend to read it fast and you don’t pick that up that there’s a little nuance to Jesus’ words there: “Yeah, he’s an Israelite, all right, there’s no deceit in him.”
So, Nathaniel said to him, “How do you know me?” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you are under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathaniel immediately knows that he is known by that first sentence: there is no deceit in you; you’re just a loud-spoken Jewish guy,” and then the response is: “Well how do you know me?” Then by saying that: “I saw you under the fig tree before you came here”, it’s a claim for His omniscience. So, there’s a case illustrating omniscience of our hearts; omniscience of our character.
Here’s another one: David in Psalm 139. This is a loaded psalm. This is the psalm when saw the video yesterday afternoon of childbirth—thinking of the baby being engineered—all of the systems ready for that event of the birth. Psalm 139 addressed that: “You know my sitting down and my rising up, you understand my thoughts. You formed me in my inward parts when I was made in secret in the womb. Your eyes saw my substance being yet unformed.”
Then there’s a stunning statement here and we have to kind of reflect on this, as far as our life—the different things that happened to us 10 years ago, 15 years ago. Think about this: “And in Your book they were all written. The days fashioned for me when there were yet none of them.” So, there’s God’s omniscience focused on who we are, how He’s designed us. In modern vernacular, there’s our identity. He knows our identity and He is the source of learning about our identity.
Another example of His omniscience in a slightly different vein is the fact that He knows all of history. He knows the former things and here’s the verse for that. This is a verse from Isaiah, around 40, 41, and 42. The prophet Isaiah is trying to prepare Jewish believers for a catastrophe. The catastrophe is going to be the collapse of their nation and in that collapse, they’re going to be exiled and go to live in a Gentile culture.
So, Isaiah is being used of the Lord to teach them their basic roots, and of course, the basic root is: who is God, because they going to go to a society with pagan gods and goddesses. This is why Isaiah has stuff like this in this section of his Book. Let’s look at it. He’s talking about the idols and it’s written as though it’s a challenge. Its as though God is saying to the idolatrous priests, to the cult leaders of the Gentile culture, this is God’s challenge.
Notice what His challenge is—what he’s challenging them to do. “Go ahead, argue your case, present your case, says the Lord.” See there’s a legal term right in there; he’s talking about a trial. “Present your case, says the Lord. Show the former things, what they were, and know the latter end of them. Show the things that are to come, that we may know that you are God.” So, there is God challenging any idle competitor: are you omniscient of history? Do you know how history began, and do you know the end of history?
Think about that: if you don’t have access to divine revelation you have to go with a pagan substitute, it’s that simple. It’s either we go to an omniscient deity of the Bible or we don’t, and if we don’t, we’re left without omniscience, a source of truth.
Finally, God not only knows our hearts, He not only knows everything about creation down to the subatomic particle, He knows also the former things, the latter things of history, and the verse that we showed before, that is this verse from the Gospels, He knows the “what ifs.” He knows the “what ifs” of history. In this case Chorazin and Bethsaida: “If the mighty works that had been done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” That’s a “what if”. It didn’t happen, but God in His omniscience knows that if it did happen, these would have been the consequences. So, this is an enormous claim of knowledge on God’s side.
That’s the first part in our four-part analysis that we’re doing on all the attributes of God. There is what special revelation is revealing about omniscience.
Now our second layer is we ask ourselves, okay, we are made in God’s image, what in our hearts and in our souls corresponds with His omniscience? That’s pretty easy: our experience observing and thinking about life situations. We think all the time about this, we are seeking knowledge of our life; we are seeking meaning to our life.
One of the tragedies in our day is the increasing number of young people committing suicide. There have been a lot of studies about why we’re having this rise in young people committing suicide, and the Christians have responded that this is the fruit of years of secular education.
You think about it, the humanist back in the 1930s laid out what they were going to do: we are going to wipe Christianity out of culture and we’re going to do it through the public school system, and the way we’re going to do it is we’re going to teach every subject as though God doesn’t exist or if He does, He is utterly irrelevant to the subject. This has gone on from kindergarten all the way up to the 12th grade. It’s sad but people who are in that, and all of us have come out of that, it takes you years to alter your thinking up here [in the head] from the Word of God to straighten all that stuff out because what you have learned has a bias to it.
You have to become aware of the bias to start with, and then it’s this whole series of week after week, month after month, year after year, of “oh, this is what the Word of God says here,” and correcting that programming that has been part of our secular culture. If you don’t have meaning, when pressure comes, when suffering comes, there’s a temptation to end your life because it will be the end of discomfort, you think. Of course, that assumes that you know what’s going to happen to you after you die. But the point is that life can be painful, felt pain—enough so that it drives people into absolute depression and to commit suicide.
One of the poignant videos that was on the news not two or three weeks ago about the boy that shot up the school in [Parkland] Florida. There was a security camera inside the interrogation room where the detective was talking to him and the detective leaves the room to go get some paperwork or something and the camera is still rolling of this boy sitting at this thing and he’s beating his head and then he’s trying to chew his arm and it’s a case of this fellow, obviously now he has to live with the fact that he slaughtered people, and he saw the bullets hit, he saw his friends die, and that will live with him for the rest of his life.
He has to bring this to the Lord or he’s going to be in this same situation, of wanting to literally destroy himself because in the final analysis, in spite of all the criminal work, in spite of all the violence, at base bottom he is a creature made in God’s image and that was sin, and he knows it was sin. He has this residue that, “I’m responsible for that. I can’t blame it on my DNA and I can’t blame it on the availability of guns.”
We had guns and young people all through the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and we didn’t have any school shooting. The problem is not the guns, the problem is the boys using the guns. But that’s part of sin and the effect in our culture.
So, our analog is: we’re striving to think through our life and that happens every day. We know what it is to start thinking; using the laws of logic we know, those of you are interested in science and engineering, you have to make use of formulas, you have to know the uniformity of nature. Those are the analogs that God has built into your soul to be used.
Then we move from God’s special revelation of omniscience to our finite experience and now to the perversions. The problem unbelief has is this: you have to assume, if you’re holding to the idea that you can think truly, you have to assert the uniformity of nature and the environment. If the environment is changing on Tuesday to what you thought on Monday, you have to start all over, don’t you, to redo it? So you have to assume that things are not going to be changing like this and that’s something that unbelief can’t do. Darwin himself, when he wrote On the Origin of Species, knew that because Darwin’s struggle as he was trying to think through the effect of evolution theory, he said, “How can I assume that an evolved monkey’s mind can attain truth?”
That’s a good question; Darwin never answered it. Just like in his book, On the Origin of Species he doesn’t show origin of any species. The whole book is mistitled. So, unbelievers who have thought about this know this.
Yesterday I showed you that quote by the geologist at Harvard who said that there’s no answer out there. We have to make it up ourselves, so forget trying to seek an answer. Well, that’s the dilemma that unbelief has. They’ve always had this. And in history right now, here’s the movements that we’re fighting with. Back three or four centuries ago there arose, particularly in Germany and the continent, the so-called Enlightenment. The essence of the Enlightenment movement was that “we can think reason alone without input from any higher level,” i.e., God.
So, the idea of the Enlightenment is reason without revelation. That’s why I showed you earlier the two books: Thomas Paine (1737–1809) Age of Reason, written during the forming of our country, and Elias Boudinot’s (1740–1821) counter to that book, The Age of Revelation. Remember I said he wrote it to his daughter. He was afraid his daughter would yield to all this deism, so he dedicated the book to his daughter. These two men, Boudinot by the way, the representative to the New Jersey [Constitutional Congress] convention, Boudinot and Patrick Henry (1736–1799) …
Somebody asked me after one of the lectures who was the second outspoken evangelical in the Founding Fathers, and the other one is Patrick Henry. Not that there weren’t other believers there, but those two men were very articulate evangelicals. If you go to Richmond, VA sometime there’s the church building where Patrick Henry gave that famous speech, “Give me liberty or give me death!” When you hear the context of what was going on in that meeting, the problem was: are Virginians going to take up arms to defend themselves against the increasing tyrannical regulations of the British people who would come to your house and say, “We’re going to take over your house”? And they would station soldiers in your home.
There is a whole list of about 15 to 20 different things in the Declaration of Independence and you can see what was going on that led to all this, and these guys in Virginia saying, “Well, you know, we don’t really want to do that,” and they messed around talking about it, and that was why Henry got up at the end and he just pounded the pulpit and said, “You give me liberty or give me death!” It was his frustration at working with these, well, “we don’t know what we’re gonna do” type guys. But he was an outspoken evangelical.
The other movement that started with Walden Pond right here in New England was Romanticism. The Romantics were people, and we’re not talking about romance the way we would use the word romance, the Romantic Movement was a movement based on feelings. They said if we think of reason alone, that’s cold. Real people have feelings and we’ve got to honor our feelings. And so the Romantic Movement tended to be feeling-centered.
I’m telling you all this because of the subsequent history of what happened. The Romantic Movement countered the Enlightenment and today the derivations of that Romantic Movement almost triumphed. Rosaria Butterfield in her book, Openness Unhindered, points out that the idea that your identity and my identity can be defined by our feelings was actually gelled by Sigmund Freud (1856–1939).
Sigmund Freud was an outstanding atheist, and what Freud had done in his writings, going back to the beginning of the 20th century, these ideas are not new, it just takes a century or two for them to sprout—the seeds go in the ground and they stay there for a while and then they sprout. We are seeing the sprouting of this in the identity crisis, all based on feelings, that started with Sigmund Freud, the founder of modern psychotherapy.
Freud’s argument threw out the idea that we are ultimately designed in God’s image, and that we are designed for eternity. Freud turned it around and said we are designed with feelings for time, not for eternity. So now he reversed the whole thing and out of this comes this whole idea of your identity; what feelings are crucial? Freud’s answer was: the feelings of sexual orientation. So, he said that’s the source of your identity. Is there any wonder then what we’re seeing on the college campuses?
We’re seeing the playing out of Sigmund Freud, it’s not some new idea, it’s been kicking around for a century, and it’s interesting. If you get in a conversation with some diehard people with that one response you can say is, “Well, I follow Jesus and you’re following Freud,” and they probably never even thought about that, but that’s true. You can’t build your identity on feelings because you don’t know your heart; I don’t know my heart.
What does Jeremiah say? The heart is desperately wicked, who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9) That’s Jeremiah, so stop trying to say that we know so much about our own heart that we can define our identity. Baloney! You don’t know your heart well enough and I don’t know my heart well enough. I have to listen to what God says is my identity and so do you. So that’s the end of the identity crisis. It’s an artificial thing as a result of all this other stuff for the Romantic Movement and we shouldn’t waste our time on it.
Alright. What are the blessings of knowing that God is omniscient? Well, one of them is that we have a sense that even though we are limited in our knowledge, we all know we’re limited in our knowledge, but at least we have the idea that we can know some things and we know things surely.
We know that nature has a design to it. It’s not going to change next Tuesday afternoon; it’s going to be there. So, we have a basis for assuming that we can at least know some things truly and we can know them, that they are enduring.
The other thing that we can know is that God knows me better than I know me; so that’s the identity issue that we just talked about. The third thing is: we need to stop knee-jerk responses to other people. Sometimes when the annoy us, James 1:19 says: “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry”. You know we all are slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to get angry—a knee-jerk response.
I think the way to discipline ourselves about that is, people will often say stuff that comes out of all kinds of stuff going on in them, and we don’t know them well enough to know, “What prompted that?” Now it doesn’t mean we accept everything they say. But it’s just calming a little bit to remember that people will spout out stuff and we’ll react to it like a knee-jerk response, but it helps us be more patient with other people when we think about, “Wait a minute, I’m not omniscient; I don’t know all the deal with this person.”
So many times we say we can’t judge a book by its cover, well, so many times I know I’ve been wrong in my first impression of people and I create this image of who they are and then I talk to them after a while and they’re totally different than what I thought. I think we have to acknowledge that, and that’s one practical application of the fact that God is omniscient—you and I are not. Then there’s another one; another thing that incentivizes the praying that God will know what’s best for me in my prayer life. It incentivizes acceptance that when God says, “No,” He knows me better than anybody else, and He knows what is going to be good for me.
I want to read a little section of a book; some of you who were homeschooled or some of you who are Christian parents who have probably bought this series for your child called The Narnia Chronicles, and they’re a wonderful set because C.S. Lewis (1898–1963) wanted to teach biblical truth, but he knew if he came in the front door we’d slam the door in his face. So the strategy that he used was childhood fantasy stories, and he said: I want to come in the back door and kind of sneak in so people don’t get their defenses up right away.
He teaches this wonderful series The Narnia Chronicles, but I want to read a section. It’s out of the book, The Horse and His Boy. The background of this is, notice it’s not the boy and his horse, it’s the horse and his boy, see how he’s reverses the pronouns, because he takes you into this world of fantasy where this boy is growing up as an orphan, not knowing his mom and his dad, and he gets involved in a whole series of these events. The Christ figure in The Narnia Chronicles is Aslan the Lion; notice the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5), how he does this. If you’ve ever heard it professionally done, it’s a wonderful story for the kids.
But let me read just two pages of the story to glimpse how C.S. Lewis artistically pictures God, not just in His omniscience—remember I said that His attributes mix—but it’s not only His omniscience, but His omnipotence and His sovereignty. But look at how using the picture of this lion, notice what he does.
He has Shasta (Shasta’s the boy) it’s at night, it’s dark, and he’s riding a horse, and he’s totally discouraged by everything that’s going on. So, Shasta says, “After all, this road is bound to get somewhere,” and so on, but then he goes on and he says, “I think that I must be the most unfortunate boy that ever lived in the whole world. Everything goes right for everyone except me. Those Narnian lords and ladies got safe away from Tashbaan; I was left behind. Aravis and Bree and Hwin are all as snug as anything with that old Hermit: of course I was the one who was sent on. King Lune and his people must have got safely into the castle and shut the gates long before Rabadash arrived, but I got left out,
“And being very tired and having nothing inside of him he felt so sorry for himself that tears rolled down his cheeks. But what put a stop to this was a certain scary thing. Shasta discovered that someone or somebody was walking beside him. It was pitch dark and he couldn’t see, and the thing was going so quietly he could hardly hear any footsteps. But then he heard the breath, and the idea is that he could hear this <exhalation> breath, and it darted into his mind that he heard that long ago there were giants in the northern countries. So, he bit his lip and terror and now he had something really to cry about.
“The thing went on beside him so very quietly that Shasta began to hope he had only imagined it. But then again he heard a deep rich sigh out of the darkness. This couldn’t be imagination. Anyway, he felt the hot breath of that sigh on his chilly left hand and if the horse been any good, if he had known how to get the horse to run, he would’ve galloped away, but didn’t know.
“So, Shasta said in a whisper, ‘Who are you?’ And then the voice of Aslan comes in: ‘One who has waited long for you to speak,’ said the Thing. Its voice wasn’t loud, but it was very deep. ‘Are you a giant?’ said Shasta. You might call me a giant said the Large Voice, but I’m not like the creatures you call giants. ‘Well, I can’t see you.’ ” He’s staring in the darkness. “ ‘You’re not something dead are you? Please, please, do go away. What harm have I done to you? Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world.’ ” It’s a picture of depression.
“And once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face. ‘There’, it said. That is not the breath of a ghost. ‘Tell me your sorrows.’ ” And then Shasta goes on and he narrates all of the bad things that happened to him.
“Shasta was reassured by the breath, so he told how he had not known his dad, not known his mom, had been brought up sternly by this fisherman, and then he told the story of his escape, and he goes on and on and on telling him about all these things. ‘I’m so unfortunate.’ ” Lewis captures the depression of this young man. And then the Large Voice says, “ ’I don’t call you unfortunate.’ ‘Well don’t you think it was bad luck to have so many lions after me?’ ”
This is one of the events. “ ‘There was only one lion,’ said the Voice. ‘What you on earth do you mean? I just told you, there were at least two lions the first night and …’ ‘There was only one, and he was very swift afoot.’ ‘Well how do you know?’ ‘I was the lion.’ And Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing. The Voice continued.”
And what I think Lewis captured so well is that what Aslan is going to do is he’s going to show what he was doing in this boy’s life through all these events that the boy was interpreting as bad things that happened to him. This is an eloquent illustration I think, so artistically done, that C.S. Lewis is picturing how God knows us. He knows our heart. There’s a plan for our lives. We get so frustrated at times we don’t back off and see what He’s doing.
So, watch what happens: “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion that drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the horses the new strength of fear that last mile, so you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion, you don’t remember, who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man, sat wakeful at midnight just at the right time to receive you.”
And then of course one of the events that happened was this girl that he knew, and the lion attacked her and scratched her back. So now he realizes this Thing that he’s talking to, which he doesn’t recognize, is God. Aslan, is asked by the boy, “Well what will you do to her?” Now this is where Lewis picked up something at the end of the Gospel of John (John 21:21–22). Watch this: “ ‘Then it was you who wounded Aravis?’ ‘It was I.’ ‘What for?’ ‘Child,’ said the Voice, ‘I’m telling you your story not hers; I tell no one any story but its own.’ ‘Well who are you?,’ said Shasta. ‘Myself,’ said the voice very deep and low so the earth shook.” “Myself”, a depiction of what God said when Moses asked them, “Who do I say is my God,” and God replied, “I AM.” (Exodus 3:14). So there is a skilled writer trying to teach us omniscience and what it means personally.
The second attribute we’re talking about today is another word: God is “immutable.” He has perfect stability, He doesn’t change. “I am the same yesterday today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8). How do we know this? We know this by direct verses: “I have not changed, I am the same yesterday today and forever.” But I’m going to show you another way of arriving at this truth. Dr. [William F.] Albright (1891–1971), who was one of the deans early on of Biblical Archaeology in America, said this; very insightful observations by a man who knows his archaeology. He knows all the evidences. Look what he says: “Only the Hebrews, so far as we know, made covenants with their gods or God.”
I want to pause for a moment here; we’ve talked about this in previous years. He is saying only the Hebrews, “as far as we know.” We don’t know any other people group in history; no other tribe has ever come up with the idea that God made a covenant with them. He says, “made a covenant with God.” We would reverse it. God made a covenant with the Jews.
But my point is, look what he’s saying. What is a contract? Let’s pause here and think about this. The word “covenant” has got a religious connotation, and if you look up berit, which is the Hebrew word for covenant, it turns out it’s the same word that Abraham used when as a sheep rancher he needed a water supply for his flock of sheep and he had to make a deal with the guys that owned the wells. That deal was called a berit. Now doesn’t that tell you the real meaning of berit isn’t some religious hokey pokey stuff? It is an actual real business contract.
Okay, now we established what it is. Let’s look at what the consequences are for us. Why do we establish contracts at all? Why, when you get a loan from the bank, does the bank enter into a contract with you? It’s because they’ve transferred money to you and they want to make sure you pay the money back. But what does the contract deal with? The payments per month and other deals. What happens if you default? How it is adjudicated? and so on.
So, it presumes that we are in a personal relationship. Yes, it’s a legal relationship, but it’s a defined relationship. The bank isn’t interested in what kind of clothing you wear. The bank isn’t interested in where you live. All the bank is interested in is by the terms of the contract are you going to pay us back. That’s what the contract is about.
The contract focuses on something in a personal relationship and monitors it because paying off the car might be 48 months, paying a home may be 15 to 30 years. So over the time the contract is in force, they’re watching to see if the payments come in. They’re not just hands off because we made a contract. It’s going to be a monitored contract.
Alright, when God lays forth the three things to Abraham in a contract, the God of the universe is coming down to earth and locking Himself into a personal relationship with a human being. Now think how that is—no other religion has this. There is no other example in all of history, of God coming down and locking Himself in a contractual relationship. This is purely something out of the Old Testament.
Modern Islamic theologians would never permit Allah to enter into a contract because it would be demeaning to Allah, because it would bind Allah. In Muslim theology Allah must have unhindered volition. That would hinder his volition because he is limited to his choices now.
But God (YHWH) willingly enters into contracts. Well, when God says to Abraham, “I will bless you, I will bless the world through you, and I will give you land.” Now here’s why there are genealogical references to the Messiah—that’s the Davidic Covenant and the other things, but I’m just going to encourage you in some of the reading.
You read through some of these Old Testament passages and it talks about “this tribe went into this area and this land, this tribe went over there to this land,” and then you read through the genealogy of the Old Testament, “so-and-so begat so-and-so, and so-and-so begat so-and-so.” What is this for? In case I can’t sleep at night? Why do we have these kinds of boring passages in the Bible?
They’re legal records. They’re to show that God literally fulfilled the terms of the contract. They are a contract maintenance and performance record. So, read those documents. They’re not to put us to sleep; they’re actually to keep us awake so we understand the faithfulness of God. So over and over you see this. Let’s watch how that shows up in Scripture.
Here’s an interesting typical passage of the Bible. Here’s Psalm 89: “Nevertheless, my lovingkindnesses I will not utterly take from him, nor allow my faithfulness to fail. My contract [My covenant] I will not break nor alter the word that has gone out of my lips. Once I have sworn by my holiness I will not lie to David.” You won’t find that in any other religion. There is God making a contract and saying, “I keep My word.”
Now what do we learn from that? Lots of things, but for our benefit here this morning, it’s surely the fact that God is stable, God doesn’t change, God is faithful. You’ll notice there are two words here and when you read your Bibles, you see these words again and again and again. We want to give these words content. They’re not just nice words to read.
See that first word there: lovingkindnesses? That’s a word that refers to His contractual faithfulness. Why I’m making a point here is that here are objective, historical records that our God is faithful over centuries of time, with multiple parties, with great detail. How do I know God is faithful? Because of His behavior with these contracts. It’s the guts of the Old Testament.
Prophecy, that sort of thing, is part of it. We have the Bible, written in three languages, 40 authors, over two millennia, and we have a historical record of point after point after point of His contractual faithfulness, so that when we read passages like this in the Bible, and there are many, many of them, when you see lovingkindness, think of contractual performance. He is proving His faithfulness.
Notice right here, faithfulness: “I will not break or alter the word.” So, God has come down to our level from the infinite God our Creator. He comes down into history and He makes a deal and He keeps the deal and He asks us to trust Him and if we were to challenge Him I’m sure He would say, “What do you think, haven’t I demonstrated My faithfulness to you? Look at history, look at all the people that have been involved with this thing. Look at all the centuries of time that I have demonstrated My faithfulness sufficiently to incriminate anybody that challenges Me by saying, ‘I’m not faithful.’ ”
So, there is God’s stability, His immutability, His faithfulness, and the analog that we have as human beings is that we expect uniformity of nature, that nature doesn’t change. We also expect that in our personal relationships we have some stability with folks.
It’s very frustrating when people change their mind, isn’t it? I mean you have people in business and all of a sudden they’re changing the company’s direction every week. You can’t work in those kinds of environments. You’ve got to have stability. It’s rooted into our very heart that we need stability in our environment.
And what is the perversion of that? Well, to get stability in historical science, a lawyer by the name of [Sir Charles] Lyell (1797–1875) about 1830 decided he would create a new doctrine. Not only would he argue that natural law doesn’t change, but he went further and he invented a term that’s called “uniformitarianism”. What he did was argue not just that natural law doesn’t change, but he argued that the rates of change don’t change, which meant that he eliminated the idea of catastrophic geophysical phenomena.
I’ll give you two counterexamples: one is Mount St. Helens. When Mount St. Helens exploded, not only did it create a mess in the atmosphere, putting aerosols in the air, creating all sorts of problems with air traffic, but amazing things happened. It turned out that video cameras have been installed to watch what was going to happen and on the video it shows what’s called a slurry mix. A slurry mix is a chaotic mix of sand, rock, and water. That slurry mix slides off the Mount St. Helens with speeds up to 90 miles per hour. Nobody’s ever seen one of these happen before. And afterwards it leaves a laminar flow; laminar rock that looks like it took thousands and thousands of years to accumulate.
I asked Steve Austin, who has done a lot of work with this area, mathematically, this is a very complicated fluid dynamics question, and he said that he’s raising money to hire mathematicians to try to figure out how to model what a slurry mix does because it’s not well understood why a bunch of chaotic stuff when it’s laid down, lays out nice orderly layers. How does that happen? We don’t know how that happens, but the point is that Lyell never saw it happen, yet he is saying, “The same process at the same rates have always gone on.” That is not a normal rate. That’s an abnormal catastrophic exception that was just witnessed.
I’ll give you a second example that has happened recently. Remember the tsunami that hit Japan? I have a Japanese daughter-in-law and she’s always watching the Japanese television channel and she translates it to my son about what’s going on. The Japanese news isn’t like our news; it’s more like a National Geographic special. After the tsunami, Japanese scientists came on and said the entire archipelago of Japan—remember, Japan’s a series of islands—and the day when that tsunami hit the entire archipelago moved 8 feet east!
Now you the figure the force needed to move the entire archipelago, the main island, and all the sub islands 8 feet. Tell me how many bulldozers is that going to take? There is an example of a process that is catastrophic. But because of Lyell’s uniformitarianism: “Well, we can’t believe, we don’t believe, any processes that aren’t the same rate.” Well what do you do with that?
That’s why creationist scientists who work on models of the Flood have pointed out that in the pre-Flood world the continents were probably all together. That’s why South America looks like it came out of Africa and Pangaea. The idea is that you had enormous tectonic plate movements, very much faster than 8 feet, but the idea is that God allowed that tsunami to move the islands 8 feet at least to show us, “Hey guys, wake up, there are potentials for catastrophic things and you better input that one in your uniformitarian model to understand.”
So that is how unbelief has tried to assure that we have stability by creating artificial doctrines like uniformitarianism. Here’s what happens when we seek stability in relationships that aren’t there: we over-trust individuals because we seek stability, so we over trust. We put so much weight on someone else that we’re shocked when they change or something happens to them and it’s endless disappointments, micro-disappointments, but they’re cumulative over our life.
Now we’re not justifying erratic behavior. I’m not advocating that. I’m just saying that people are going to change at times and they’re going to surprise you. So, if you’re investing all your weight on some person’s stability and you’re pushing down on this and building your life on it, you’re setting yourself up for disaster. It’s not going to happen. Things happen and so the core of your being has to focus on God and the fact that God alone doesn’t change.
What are the benefits of this then? It gives stability, a belief in God’s immutability, it gives us stability in social situations. It gives us stability in life. It gives us stability in natural law. It gives us stability in abiding truth. And it gives us stability in the sense of what is right and what is wrong.
Okay, we’ve covered two attributes today: omniscience and immutability. We’re going to continue this evening and we’re going to go into more of the attributes of God. But keep in mind that in real life they’re all mixed together. It’s just that you have to think when you read Scripture if you want to strengthen your faith, when you read the Bible ask yourself, “What does this text tell me about the character of God?”
You can teach children this. Children can pick up these attributes. They know what the words are you can teach them the words; they’re quick to do this.
One of the funny things that happened in our home was Carol [Clough] would sing to the boys at night when they were very, very young, to just them to calm down. She had a little attribute song based on the children’s song, “Praise Him, Praise Him, All ye Little Children”, and she would sing the attributes of God to my boys. One of them, the oldest one, picked up the word “omniscience.”
One day Carol’s mom was taking the boy by the hand and they were walking down the street. All of a sudden there’s an incident on the front lawn as they’re walking by this house. This little kid obviously has done something and he’s lying to his mother. The mother comes out the door, “What did you do there?” The boy gives her some long song-and-dance story. Well, Carol’s mom and my oldest son look over at this and he pipes up with this thing—it’s spontaneous—and he says, “See that boy? He’s lying, and God is omniscient.” Grandma looks down at him and says, “What?”
But it shows you that he understood the term, even though the word was big, because Carol would sing to him every night and he absorbed the meaning of those words. It was an eye-opener to us because we realized that he’s just a little kid, but he’s already mastered the idea of thinking in these terms.
So, it’s not too hard to do this. Children will pick up on the attributes of God and it’s a wonderful start for their faith. Because if they can just learn this, it almost acts as a vaccination against secularism, because you’ve preprogrammed them to be safe, as far as you can, to be safe, to understand who their Creator is, who the Savior is. He is like this, and we go through the attributes.
“Father, we thank You for our time this morning. We thank You that You have spoken to us in history. We thank You for men like C.S. Lewis who have been so effective as Christian authors that can tell the story of truth in new ways that will communicate to children, as well as adults.
“We thank You for the events of Scripture, that You have not remained silent, but You have spoken; that You have given us this wonderful record. And though we face a time of collapsing culture around us, we know what we learned the first night, “But God”—“Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world”, and may each of us be assured of that now today. In Christ’s name, Amen.”