STUDY TWELVE: THE HEART OF GOD

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020

In Study 2 we saw that God is both good and loving. In the previous study we saw that God is not quick to judge, but in his mercy and grace holds back his judgement. Also in the previous study we saw that God so loves his people that his most severe judgement is reserved for those who have caused his people to suffer.

We will now look more closely at the heart of God. It is necessary that we do this, because sometimes the suffering of the world, and our own suffering, is so intense, and so prolonged, that, often, if we were to walk by sight rather than by faith, we would easily conclude that God is neither good nor loving. Sometimes circumstances seem to be screaming at us that God isn’t there, and, if he is there, he doesn’t care.

But the Bible assures us of God’s goodness and love. It is to this affirmation of the heart of God towards those who are suffering that we now turn.

 

A. LESSONS FROM THE INCARNATION

In section C of Study 6 we looked briefly at the heart of Jesus. We saw both his compassion and his anger in the presence of suffering. We will now take a longer look at Jesus, the Son of God, in order to increase our understanding of the heart of God. We do this because to see Jesus is to see the Father, to know Jesus is to know the Father.

What do these verses say about knowing God by knowing Jesus?
John 1:18

John 10:30

John 12:44, 45

John 14:6 – 9

1John 5:20

Now think about these questions (refer back to Section C of Study Six if you need to):
What did Jesus do when face to face with a person who was suffering? Give examples.

 

 

How did Jesus feel outside Lazarus’ tomb?

How did Jesus feel when hard-hearted men tried to stop him from healing?

From these truths about Jesus, what do you learn about the heart of God?

 

 

A.1 Jesus, the wisdom of God
Proverbs 8 personifies ‘wisdom’. Many scholars believe that this is a reference to Jesus Christ. The New Testament associates ‘wisdom’ with Jesus Christ.

What connection do these verses make between Jesus and wisdom?
1Corinthians 1:24

1Corinthians 1:30

Colossians 2:3

 

In fact, the New Testament presents Jesus Christ as the unveiling of God’s ‘mystery’ which has been hidden for ages but is now in Christ made known.

What do you learn from these texts?
1Corinthians 2:1 – 16

 

 

Ephesians 1:9, 10

Ephesians 3:2 – 11

 

Colossians 1:25 – 2:2

 

Our questions about God are answered when we look at Jesus Christ. It is important to remember this. God has not left us adrift in a seemingly senseless, suffering world. We do not have to work things out for ourselves. God has revealed himself. God has made himself known. God has spoken. In creation. In his word. And, in a final and powerful way, in his Son.

Our questions may not be fully answered. In many of our questions we do not even understand our questions. But they are answered.

Is God really a God of love? Yes. We see that love in Jesus.
Is God really a good God? Yes. We see that goodness in Jesus.
Is God really a God of power? Yes. We see that power in Jesus.
Does it matter to God if and when we suffer? Yes. In Jesus we see God’s compassion and grief.
Can God do anything about it? Yes. We see Jesus actively intervening in human lives.

A.2 The humility of Christ
There is an important aspect of God’s self-revelation in Christ that is often overlooked. Paul refers to it in Philippians 2, when teaching the Philippian believers how they should relate to each other.

He says; ‘Do nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus …’ (Philippians 2:3 – 5).

Paul then goes on to describe the incarnation of Christ and the self-denial and the abasement that the incarnation involved. Christ was more concerned about us and our salvation than about his own reputation and glory.

He was in very nature God. But he let it go. Although, as the Old Testament often tells us, God is a jealous God, and will not give his glory to another, here we have God the Son, not grasping hold of, but putting aside his divine glory, for us and our salvation.

He made himself nothing … taking the nature of a servant. He came to this world empty of reputation. He who from eternity enjoyed the worship of the angels, came to our world as a weak, helpless, insignificant baby … he was born in a stable, grew up in despised Nazareth, and worked as a carpenter. He who crafted and sustains the entire universe, he upon whom all life and all that exists depends, now depended first on a woman’s body, then later on his own physical work to sustain his own physical existence.

… made in human likeness. He did not look like God. He was so obviously human. He was just the carpenter from down the road. He had sisters. He had brothers. He was just one of the crowd. There was nothing remarkable about his appearance that would give away his divine identity.

He humbled himself and became obedient to death… The Lord and giver of life died so that we, who are dead in sins, might live.

… even death on a cross! … The death that Jesus died was the death of a sinner. It was an incongruous death: a death decreed by God to be ‘cursed’ is here applied to the Holy One, the one who is of purer eyes than to look upon iniquity. Here he bears the curse for us, so that we might be forever blessed by God.

In this self-sacrifice, in this self-abasement, in this self-denial, Jesus the Son of God, reveals to us the heart of the Father. Here we learn that God loves us so much that he puts himself in a very compromising position. He loves us so much that he is willing to be misunderstood and maligned. He is so committed to our well-being that he surrenders himself to be condemned and cursed. Incognito. Unrecognized. Rejected. Despised.

Who, looking at this weak, helpless baby, would ever think that here lies the Almighty God?

Who, looking at this very ordinary human carpenter, would ever think that here stands the one who fashioned the universe?

Who, seeing Jesus baptized with a sinner’s baptism, would ever think that here is the Holy One, separate from sinners?

Who, hearing the hateful verbal attacks against Jesus, would ever think that here is the Judge of all the earth who holds in his hands the eternal destiny of those who so deride him?

Who, witnessing his cruel death, would ever think that here on this cross hangs the one who is the source of life?

But that is who Jesus is. The truth is far greater than what is obvious. And this hiddenness of God challenges us to believe him, even when we cannot see him. To believe that he is good, even when we see nothing but evil around us. To believe that he is all-powerful, even when he seems to do nothing to stop the suffering. To believe that he is loving, even though at the moment we cannot see his compassion.

When people look at the suffering of the world, they voice all sorts of opinions about God, questioning his goodness, questioning his power, questioning his love, questioning his existence. And they are all valid questions, generated by the observable evidence. But what we see is not all that there is. Just as the incarnation of Jesus hid the truth about Jesus’ eternal deity, so the suffering that exists between Genesis 3 and Revelation 20 veils the truth about God.

In this God has given us exactly what we chose in Genesis 3 … we rejected God, we chose life apart from his presence and his word.

But we do not have the last word. God, in the greatness of his mercy and love, is still there. Still sustaining the universe he created. Still giving us life. Still working out his grand and glorious purpose. We cannot dispose of him by our disobedience. We cannot silence him by our unbelief.

 

B. BEFORE THE BEGINNING

We have already looked twice at a number of verses that tell us that our salvation in Christ was planned in eternity. These verses teach us that even before we sinned in Eden, even before God created us, he knew that we would sin, and he had already planned what he would do to reverse the impacts of that sin.

Let us look at what those verses say again:

1Peter 1:20 – Christ was chosen before the creation of the world.

Revelation 13:8 – Jesus is ‘the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.’

Revelation 17:8 – the names of believers were written in the Lamb’s book of life from the creation of the world (in contrast to those whose names have not been written in the book).

1Corinthians 2:7 – the message of the Gospel, God’s secret wisdom, was destined for our glory before time began.

Matthew 25:34 – the kingdom was prepared for believers since the creation of the world.

Ephesians 1:4 – those who believe in Christ were chosen in Christ before the creation of the world.

2Timothy 1:9 – the grace of the gospel was given to us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.

Titus 1:2 – the hope of eternal life was promised by God before the beginning of time.

There is something very deep and powerful going on here that is beyond our sinful human minds to comprehend. Because this is something that we ourselves would never do. We would look at the risk. We would look at the amount of pain involved. And we would say, ‘No way. I’m out.’ But God’s ways are very different from ours. God’s heart is far more steadfast in love and mercy than ours.

What does Isaiah 55:8 & 9 teach us about the difference between God and us?

 

 

 

C. THE DEEP GRACE OF GOD

In Genesis 1:26 we read four simple words ‘Let us make man …’

In these four simple words the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – expresses a decision, a commitment, of incredible and incomprehensible grace.

We must not overlook the fact that God is omniscient: he knows everything. God made this decision, this commitment to create us knowing all that would happen thereafter: he created us knowing all about Genesis 3. He created us knowing we would turn our backs on him. He created us knowing how our choice in Genesis 3 would result in his ‘very good’ earth being cursed and corrupted and subject to millennia of suffering. He created us knowing that in the fullness of time the eternal Son would become flesh to live among us and to die for our redemption [Galatians 4:4,5]. He knew all of this.

And yet he went ahead and created us ‘in him image’.

He could have made us machines – like the inanimate world – and we would have automatically fulfilled his creative purpose for us with robotic precision.

He could have made us puppets, whose strings he held in constant and intricate control, and we would have inevitably always danced to the tune he piped for us.

He could have made us animals, programmed to live by instinct, able to ‘choose’ only within the boundaries set by those instincts.

But he created us ‘in his image’ – not robotic, not mechanistic, not controlled, not programmed, not predetermined. Able to choose. Free. Able to say ‘no’.

He created us with what scholars call ‘free will’. And therein lay the risk. Therein lurked the possibility of Genesis 3. This ‘free will’ is assumed in the Genesis 2:17 prohibition: don’t do this, because when you do … Here in this ‘when you do …’, this ‘on the day you eat of it …’, we perceive God’s omniscience: he knew that we would. He did not plan that we would, but he did know. And knowing that he embedded into the universe he created all that would be necessary to procure our ultimate redemption and restoration.

God knew what we would do with this freedom. But still he created us in his image. And the question screams at us ‘Why … Why … Why?’ Why on earth would he bother? What on earth is the point? Would it not have been better to have created nothing at all? … not to have created us at all?

Two answers to this infinite ‘Why?’ present themselves from our knowledge of God in the Bible, one at each end of God’s purpose: grace and glory.

[The above is excerpted from this this study . ]

Here, right at the beginning, is evidence of the deep grace, the overwhelming mercy, the immeasurable love that is in the heart of God towards us.

When he created the first hill, he knew about the hill called Golgotha.
When he formed the first tree, he knew about the old rugged cross.
When he formed the first iron, he knew about the Roman nails and hammer.
When he fashioned the first human hand, he knew about the hand that flogged the back of Jesus, the hand that made the crown of thorns, the hands that jolted the cross into the ground.

But he still created. He still created us.

Paul, understanding the deep, deep grace of God, prays that we ‘may have the power … to grasp how wide and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge ..’ (Ephesians 3:18, 19).

When we look at the suffering that surrounds us and that touches us personally, let us never conclude that God is not loving. His love is far greater, far deeper, than we can ever imagine.

Out of his deep love and grace he created us, knowing the suffering that would follow our rebellious choice, but knowing also the great glory would be ours beyond the suffering.

 

D. GOD’S FIRST QUESTION: WHERE ARE YOU?

We were made for a close relationship with God – a relationship so close that we were created dependent on God not only for our existence, but also for our identity. Our identity – our meaning, our purpose, our sense of who we are and what we are here for – derives from this close, dependent relationship. In this relationship we reflect his glory, and we are ourselves glorious.

But Genesis 3:1-7 severed that relationship. There we broke away from God – away from dependence, and also away from our true identity, our true purpose as humans.

We moved away.

But God comes to us with this first and fundamental question: Where are you? (Genesis 3:9)

God knows what has happened. But by this first question he forces us to realize what we have done. We have disbelieved him. We have disobeyed him. We moved. Not God. We are the ones who moved out of the relationship with him for which he created us. Yet God still comes seeking us.

Like the shepherd seeking that one lost sheep.
Like the woman searching for that one coin.
Like the father rushing to meet and welcome his wayward son.

Read these three parables in Luke 15. What do they reveal about the heart of God towards our human lostness?

 

 

 

E. THE HEART OF GOD – OLD TESTAMENT

Scattered here and there in the pages of the Old Testament are insights into the heart of God for his suffering world. God is not untouched by our suffering, nor is he untouched by the suffering of the physical world. And when he acts in severe judgement upon persistent and escalating evil, it is not without grief that he does so, and he often withholds the full extent of the deserved judgement.

What do these texts reveal about the heart of God when he sees human sin, suffering and judgement?
Genesis 4:10

Genesis 6:5 – 7

Deuteronomy 32:36

Judges 2:18

Psalm 103:7 – 14

 

Isaiah 40:1, 2, 11

 

Jeremiah 2:9 – 13, 19

 

Ezekiel 18:30 – 32

 

Hosea 11:1 – 11

 

 

F. THE HEART OF GOD – REVEALED IN CHRIST

The New Testament shows us even more clearly the heart of God. As we have seen previously, Jesus, the Son of God, revealed the Father. In Jesus we see the Father’s heart, a heart deeply grieved by human sin and suffering.

Read these verses. What do you learn about the heart of God?
Matthew 23: 37 – 39

 

Luke 7:11 – 15

Luke 9:37 – 41

Luke 19:41 – 44

 

John 11:33 – 36

 

John 16:27

 

G. THE HEART OF GOD – ACCORDING TO THE APOSTLES

The apostles, having seen the risen Lord Jesus, and understanding acutely the greatness of what was accomplished by his death for those who believe in him, had no doubts about the deep love of God. Even the context of suffering, both common suffering and suffering for his name, did not undermine their confidence in the love of God.

Study these verses. Note the richness, power and the greatness of God’s love, mercy and grace.
Romans 5:6 – 8

Romans 5:17, 20

Ephesians 1:7, 8

Ephesians 2:4 – 7

 

Ephesians 3:14 – 19

 

Colossians 1:19, 20

1Timothy 1:12 – 17

2Timothy 1:8, 9

1Peter 1:3

1John 3:1

1John 4:8 – 10

 

H. THE JOY OF THE LORD

There is another aspect of God’s heart – joy. And this joy is conditional on our response to his love.

Read these verses. What do you learn about how God feels when he saves us by his love?
Isaiah 53:10, 11 (read in several translations)

Zephaniah 3:14 – 17

Luke 15:3 – 7

Luke 15:11 – 32

Hebrews 12:2