This post is part of a weekly series focused on the National Geographic Channel’s documentary miniseries “The Story of God with Morgan Freeman.” I’ll be tackling the topics of that series from a Christian perspective over the next weeks, posting on Tuesdays. This post is based on the next episode, “Who is God,” which will air on 4/17 at 9 p.m.
Who is God?
This is the driving question of humanity. It’s the reason religions exist. It defines our lives. And it’s the hardest question I’ve ever had to write about.
I’ve junked and restarted this post seven times in my attempts to tackle it. Also, I’ve been informed that people tend to check out of blogs after about 1,700 words. So, no pressure; just create the Reader’s Digest condensed answer to the deepest question of our souls. There’s a reason I usually stick to writing about movies.
But as I’ve wrestled, I’ve realized a wonderful thing: We don’t have to search far for answers about God’s identity. Christians believe God is perfectly happy to tell us who he is.
The entire Bible reads as kind of a “getting to know you” story between God and humanity that grows in intimacy and depth as history progresses. In scripture’s oldest book, Job demands God show himself and God does — even if it’s more than Job bargained for. Sixty-six books of the Bible tell the story of God making himself known and humans wrestling with that knowledge. Throughout scripture, God is the one who takes the initiative. Most religions are lifelong searches for God; in Christianity, God comes to us.
Perhaps knowing our finite minds would take eons to understand him, God revealed himself progressively. Romans tells us he’s visible in creation, without any extra knowledge of the Bible. In the early Old Testament, he seemingly drops in and out at will. He answers Job out of the storm and shows up randomly to guide Adam, Noah and Abraham. It’s not until Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt that we see an organized system of rules and sacrifices, reminders that God is a righteous and sovereign king who desires obedience from his people. But even then, God’s kind of aloof. He guides his people, but from a distance. Only a chosen few see him face to face. Access to him is limited to priests, and even then it’s once a year. He rules through judges and speaks through prophets. He rains down wrath upon enemies and rebels, and goes silent for several hundred years when his people continuously fail him. This is where we get the idea of an “Old Testament God” — one who stands apart from everything, blesses those who obey him and wipes his enemies off the map.
And then Jesus. If the Old Testament showcased a creator who broke through to talk to his creation, the gospels are the story of a writer who becomes one of his characters. Jesus, as some theologians have said, is “God with skin on.” He breaks into the story and lives among people, befriending and loving them. Jesus, Christians believe, is God. He validates that through miracles and the fulfillment of prophecy. Through his life, message and interactions, he models what God values. After years of God being an imposing, intimidating being, we see a loving, compassionate, forgiving and sacrificial savior who is intensely personal. He comes alongside, puts his arm around us and demonstrates how to live. He shows the full extent of his love for us by dying and reiterates his godhood by rising again.
If that were it, it would be enough. A God who cares enough to make himself human, serve others and then willingly die. That’s a God you pay attention to. But there’s more to reveal, something even more intimate and personal. Before his death, Jesus promised that a “helper” would come to his disciples in his absence. Christians believe this is the Holy Spirit, who lives in us, strengthens us, reminds us of truth and helps us pray. We believe the Holy Spirit is still active today and is just as much God as the Father of the Old Testament and Jesus (the Son) of the gospels. This is who God is — a sovereign, powerful, loving and multifaceted person who compassionately lives alongside and inside his followers.
Every revelation shows more of God’s character, beauty and love. Every step is more intimate than the one before, showing a God who isn’t at a distance waiting for us to seek him but who takes the initiative to live alongside us in the closest way imaginable. Even typing these words, I’m struck by how revolutionary that concept is. Few religions believe in a god who communicates to his creation — and if he does, it’s to bark orders or smite evildoers (some Christians, unfortunately, still hold this concept). But I can’t think of another faith whose god is so personal. Who not only revealed himself to his creation and guides them, but who made himself part of history, died for them and lives within them today. It’s astonishing. These words feel too feeble to contain that truth.
And it’s convicting. I tend to be very intellectually minded in my faith. Having spent years in a Reformed Protestant tradition, I’ve come to cherish doctrinal rules and theology. But too often, that turns God into a data point or a concept. That too often turns worship into an analytical exercise instead of a personal response to a personal creator and savior. That’s when it stops being a faith or relationship and starts being a constrictive, soulless religion. I need to take time to put down the Bible, breathe and marvel that God makes himself known to me, guides me throughout my day, protects my step and helps me be a better man. That’s not just a God. That’s a friend.
Additional posts on “The Story of God”
— Apocalypse: Leaving Rapture Culture Behind