This past week we started a new Friday night series called "Big Theology" - on regular youth nights this spring we will be covering the "big" themes of Christianity, including God, Creation, Humanity, Sin, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Salvation, The Church, and The Future.
This week we started with the rather large question, "Who is God?" Of course, we are dissecting these topics during the message and small groups on Fridays and are only able to give a brief outline for each theme. Students are welcome to submit questions for us to address in future weeks - they can ask their leaders, submit them in the raffle, or anonymously ask them at our Ask.fm account (we have dusted this account off after our last series on dating, marriage and sex - hence the responses to old questions!)
So... who is God? This is an overview of what we talked about:
God allows us to call him by many names in the Bible - including Yahweh (I am who I am), Elohim, Jehovah, and Adonai. Yahweh also crops up in the Bible with many variations, which can give us insight into God's character:
- The Lord will provide
- The Lord sanctifies
- The Lord is my banner
- The Lord is my shepherd
- The Lord who heals
- May the Lord send peace
- The Lord is there
- The Lord of righteousness
The many descriptive names of God can also show us more about who he is. I read many of these descriptions out at the end of the sermon - there are over 100 names! Just Google "Names for God" and you'll see what I mean :)
God reveals himself to us in 2 ways:
- General revelation - how he generally reveals that he exists to the whole world - through nature. We can look at nature and learn many things: God is artistic, creative, organized, created rationally, scientifically and with imagination, cares for his creation, etc. I passed around a sea urchin from my seashell collection to show this - check out a picture to see what I mean!
- Special revelation - God's word, the Bible. This is how he shares special details about himself, his works, history, miracles, etc. The best way to study theology and learn about God is through his word.
- Example to combine both - Psalm 19, a passage from his special revelation, talking about his general revelation. Read it in the Message to compare!
Despite these 2 forms of revelation, we can never understand ALL of the mysteries about who God is. That's okay! It shows us that he wasn't invented by human imagination. It's okay to ask tough questions and wrestle with the answers, or lack of answers.
Tensions around God:
- He is both immanent and transcendent (near and far). He is larger than the universe and our problems can seem too small for him, and yet he is near and cares for each of us, and even our smallest problems, deeply.
- He is unchanging, but sometimes we view him differently (e.g. in the Old and New Testaments, how our relationship with him looks different than other people's relationships).
What is God NOT?
- Deism is the belief that God created the universe, but since then has been uninvolved and uncaring towards his creation – a “hands off” approach – he lets it run on its own without intervention, and is unresponsive or incapable of personal response. This is incorrect because God cares deeply for his creation and has revealed himself to take a vested interest in each of us, even pursuing those who turn their backs on him
- Pantheism is the belief that God is identical with the universe – everything composes God and he is one with his creation – he is in the animals and trees and stars but is not a personal God – this is incorrect because God created the universe, it has a beginning and did not exist infinitely back in time – God intentionally created in a rational and logical way, as a designer – he is above creation, not the same as what he created, the way that you can create a painting or a photo or a coffee table and still be its creator, not the art itself
- Panentheism is essentially a combination of theism (God as a supreme being) and pantheism (God is creation) – God is everything in the universe but is also greater than everything in it – events and changes in the universe affect and change God – not true because it casts doubt that God truly is supreme if he is still everything
The Trinity - easy to explain partially, difficult to explain fully or truly comprehend! Here is the best explanation I've seen:
Another explanation is that God is one in essence, mysteriously revealed as 3 persons. They are each part of one God, of the same substance and purpose, not 3 gods. Easy, right?!
What the Trinity is NOT:
- Modalism – God takes turns being each of the 3 parts of the Trinity – e.g. Father in the OT, Jesus in the NT, and Spirit today – wrong because he is always 3, and we see evidence of all 3 in the Bible, such as Jesus’ baptism – Father speaks, and Spirit descends on him like a dove
- Tritheism – 3 Gods who share a similar nature, but not exactly the same – wrong because they are one God with the same nature
- Subordinationalism – branch of tritheism that believes that there is a hierarchy – Father, then Son, then Spirit – but we know that God didn’t create Jesus
Our next "Big Theology" installment is Creation, which we are talking about on Feb 13.