It has been said if you ask a room filled with 10 people what their opinion is on any matter, you are likely to get 25 different responses. Everyone has an opinion – and many people have more than one opinion about the same thing. Opinions are important, but they are not sacred and above discussion. They are grounded in things that are much deeper; things that define how you form opinions and the foundation of what you believe to be truth.
The best description I have heard for thinking about this in light of biblical matters (although it would most likely work in other areas as well) is a concentric circle approach. Like a water drop hitting a lake and rippling outward, the concentric circle approach works as follows:
At the centre of the circle is Christ, followed by what I have called “Core Beliefs”; those central truths of christianity. Next are doctrines; the way different denominations or groups of people explain or expand upon these central truths. Finally, we have opinions; our own ideas about faith.
This short book is definitely a collection of opinions and while it has been thought through extensively and informed by many minds far wiser than my own, these are opinions that have changed significantly over time and no doubt could change again as people bring new information and insight to my attention.
What I want to showcase in this chapter of “ground rules” is that these opinions are based on deeper “Core Beliefs”, which I consider to be central to Christian faith. At the same time, I fully understand others may not see these as core beliefs, but stating these up front will, hopefully, help you to better understanding where I am coming from and why I have arrived at my opinions (1).
Core Belief #1 – Jesus is fully God and completely shows us the character of God. He answers the question; “Who is God and what is he like?”
“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.” – Hebrews 1:1-3 (emphasis mine)
There is really not much more to be said than what Hebrews 1 says about Jesus. He is THE reflection of God’s glory and the EXACT IMPRINT of God’s VERY BEING! That’s a lot of “all-caps” there, but I think this perfectly makes the point much of the New Testament is written to prove – Jesus is fully God and the exact representation of his character. As we have read before, John puts it this way; “…the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Later in the book of John, Jesus says; “I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them.” (2)
John is making the very clear point that Jesus is God and then goes on to describe Jesus’ task on earth – to make God’s name known so we can have the same love in us that has been experienced between the triune God for eternity. This means Jesus reveals who God is and, in doing this, allows us to experience what true love looks like.
Another important thing to recognize here is when Jesus is speaking about God’s name, the ancient world would have viewed this as God’s character more than simply a name by which to call someone. Think of all the times someone experiences God in the bible and their name is changed – Saul becomes Paul; Abram becomes Abraham; Jacob becomes Israel – names meant a lot more in the ancient world than they do to us in our culture. The same is true of God, which can be seen very clearly when Moses asks God to pronounce his name. He says;
“The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name, ‘The LORD.’ The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed,
‘The LORD, the LORD,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin …’” – Exodus 34:5-7
When God proclaimed his name to Moses, he did not simply say “Yahweh”, he proclaimed what he stood for, what he was like and what his very essence consists of. Jesus came to make this known in a much clearer way than we see in other parts of the bible. Jesus came to reveal God in his fullness. As Paul says in Colossians 1:15; “He [Jesus] is THE image of the invisible God”. He was the exact representation of who God always has been and always will be – a God of love!
All images of God found in our bibles – or in our minds – need to be moulded and shaped to reflect the true love found in Jesus. We may have to dig for “hidden” images or wade through mis-interpretation, conditioned understanding and/or any other barrier, but it is essential that we view all images of God through the lens of Jesus.
Core Belief #2 – God is love – he is always working, striving, longing and desiring the good of his entire creation
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” – 1 John 4:7-12
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (NIV)
“That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” (The Message) – Romans 8:28
Above we noted that Jesus reveals the true character of God and this can only be seen as self-sacrificial love. What this means is truly a life changing discovery. This means that the God who created the universe, holds it all together and will one day bring the fullness of his righteousness to a new earth would rather sacrifice his own life than see us suffer the consequences of sin. He is at work in any situation we find ourselves in to bring about our good – our well-being and growth. He is not willing that a single person, plant or thing in his creation be anything other than he intended it to be and is actively at work to restore the world to its original purpose.
This, of course, is a task that involves a great deal of risk to Himself and led to him paying the ultimate price in allowing his creation to execute him on a cross in order to demonstrate his love toward the very people who were crucifying him. Think of the selflessness displayed in the words “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing”.
This is no ordinary God. This is not a God who is distant and disinterested. This is a God that is personally invested in the well-being and restoration of his creation. This is a God that is committed to a goal of seeing his creation flourish, live the lives they were always meant for and share in the life-giving, self-sacrificial love of the trinity for eternity.
Core Belief #3 – God is faithful, he can be trusted and his character cannot change
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel… For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith” (NRSV)
“It’s news I’m most proud to proclaim, this extraordinary Message of God’s powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts him… God’s faithfulness is revealed in the way he acted in faith, which provides us a way to faith, trust and belief.” (Brian’s Adapted Version) – Romans 1:16-17
This last paraphrase of Romans 1:16-17 is my own adaptation of two versions – The Message and the NRSV. It is my attempt to build on what I believe to be one of the central themes of Romans (and the bible) – God’s faithfulness. I am hoping to show one potential reading of this passage. Later in Romans 3:3-4, Paul points out that even if everyone else is proved to be a liar, God will be proved true. The fact his chosen people (both then and now) do not always represent him very well, cannot be seen to reflect poorly on him. In fact our failures further confirm he is faithful because, after all we have done we still sticks with us and provides a way to remove the barriers we place between us and Him.
God can be trusted and his character never changes. The primary nature of God is constant. He may work in different ways in different situations, but all with the same purpose and motivation. He loves us unconditionally and is at work in all things for our good and for the sake of his name.
These are the core beliefs that have shaped my understanding of God as it relates to the question of how we see God consistently throughout the bible. Our opinions are shaped by core beliefs and these are the key ones as they relate to my understanding described in the coming pages. We must always view portraits of God through the lens of Jesus Christ and what was done for us on the cross out of self-sacrificial love. As stated earlier, any portrait of God that appears not to show a God of love with positive intentions for his creation, needs further exploration in order to understand it better and how it truly does reveal God’s infinite love.
Coming Next: Chapter 3: Jesus & Judaism
If you missed the first couple sections, you can start here:
2. A Brief History of God
4. Jesus & Judaism
5. As It Was vs. As We Are
6. 100% God – 100% Human
7. Revealing God or Revealing Culture? (pt1)
8. Revealing God or Revealing Culture? (pt2)
9. A Gradual Revelation (pt1)
10. A Gradual Revelation (pt2)
11. Checklist Time
12. Wrath + Love
13. The Vindication of God
14. Who is God & What is He Like?
(1). Note – this is not an exhaustive list of everything I consider to be core beliefs in Christianity; rather this is a brief list of those core beliefs that have shaped my opinions in this writing.
(2). John 17:26