John T. Willis

Friday, September 09, 2005

The People of God: God's Wife--I

A second metaphor the Bible uses often to describe God's relationship to his people is that of a husband and wife. God (or, sometimes in the New Testament,Christ) is the husband and Israel (or Jerusalem or the church)is the wife or bride: Hosea 1-3 (and scattered throughout Hosea); Isaiah 1:21-26; 50:1; 54:1-8 (and elsewhere in Isaiah); Jeremiah 2:1-8; 3:1-4:4; 31:31-34; Ezekiel 16; 23; Romans 7:1-6; 2 Corinthians 11:2-3; Ephesians 5:21-33; Revelation 21. This metaphor communicates several important truths concerning the relationship between God and his people.

1. God's relationship to his people is personal, intimate, and daily, not impersonal, cold, and sporadic. God has strong inner feelings toward human beings, and yearns for them to respond with similar strong inner feelings. The primary feeling in this relationship is love, which is genuine, personal, ongoing affection coupled with unbreakable commitment. God initiates this love "with no strings attached," and yearns for human beings to react in like kind out of genuine gratitude for his prior love. 1 John 4:9-11, 19:
"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: NOT THAT WE LOVED GOD, BUT THAT HE LOVED US and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so lovedus, we also ought to love one another. . . . WE LOVE BECASUSE HE FIRST LOVED US."
Human love does not and cannot initiate the relationship we have with God. God initiates that relationship, and all we can do is to respond appropriately: by loving him in return for the great way he has already loved us.

2. Another strong feeling God has for human beings, closely associated with his love, is his faithfulness. Passage after passage after passage in the Bible exalts God's "steadfast love and faithfulness." The author of Psalm 89 begins her/his long poem with these words addressed to God in verses 1-2:
"I will sing of the Lord's STEADFAST LOVE forver;
with my mouth I will make your FAITHFULNESS known through all generations.
I will declare that your STEADFAST LOVE stands firm forever,
that you established your FAITHFULNESS in heaven itself."
The shortest psalm in the Bible (Psalm 117) says:
"Praise the Lord, all you nations;
extol him, all you peoples.
For great is his STEADFAST LOVE toward us,
and the FAITHFULNESS of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the Lord."
God wants and expects his people to be faithful to him as he is to them, like a wife is faithful to her husband, who is faithful to her. Sadly, often those who claim to be God's people, God's wife, are unfaithful to him--still, he remains faithful to them. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:11-13:
"Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
if we are faithless,
he will remain faithful,
for he cannot disown himself."

Throughout the centuries, one of the greatest human failures is unfaithfulness: to God, to one's spouse, to one's children, to one's commitments, to one's moral standards and values, to one's friends, to one's faith community, and on and on the relationships go. This is very disorienting; but in the midst of it all, it is reassuring that there is one who always remains faithful: our husband, God.

John Willis

Thursday, September 08, 2005

God''s People--God's Child--IV

That a group of people is "the people of God" indicates that collectively they are his child and individually they are his children (sons and daughters). This suggests certain feelings and actions which are appropriate for the child or the children in relationship to God the parent:

1. God's children love and are genuinely thankful for all God their parent has done and is doing for them. Thus, the first and great commandment is: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Jesus himself commends this attitude as the highest of all the commandments (Matthew 22:34-40; Luke 10:25-28).

2. God's children joyfully receive and observe the commandments or instructions of God their parent. 1 John 5:2-3 says: "This is how we know we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome."

3. God's children enthusiastically follow God their parent's example. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:1-2a: "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children, and live a life of love. . ." Jesus says in Matthew 5:44-45a: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven . . ."

4. God's children depend on and trust in God their parent under all circumstances, especially when the going gets tough. Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:6-7: "In this [your salvation from God--see verse 5] you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."

It is unbelievable that human beings, with all their limitations and flaws and inconsistencies and deceptions and sins, can be children of God. 1 John 3:1 puts it this way: "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" May God help us grow more like him as he shapes us into his image through Jesus Christ.

John Willis