The Transcendence Of God’s Mercy


God is transcendent, of that I’ve been sure. He is higher than His creation and therefore surpasses our ability to dissect Him, analyze Him, pigeonhole Him into our compartments of understanding. In fact, if He hadn’t chosen to reveal Himself, we would be forever shut out of His presence in ignorant misery — desperately longing, incapable of reaching.

In fact, one of my favorite passages of Scripture spells out this transcendent nature of God:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa 55:8-9)

I’d never thought much more of transcendence—just that God is. But one day, I came across a passage from Psalm 103 that caught my attention:

The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. (vv 8-11, emphasis mine)

There, nestled in the middle of the section (it continues for several verses) about God’s compassion, mercy, lovingkindness, is the same line Isaiah used to describe how high God’s ways and thoughts are above ours: as high as the heavens are above the earth.

I realize now I’d never taken the idea of God’s transcendence to its logical conclusion. If He is higher than we, if His thoughts are, His ways are, then it stands to reason that what forms Him, what defines Him as a person—His traits—also will be higher than ours. Hence His love will be higher than ours, His compassion higher than ours, His patience, His forgiveness, His justice, and His mercy—or as some translations have it, His lovingkindness.

Sometimes God’s lovingkindness mystifies me, and sometimes His justice does the same. Why, for example, did David who had Uriah killed become known as a man after God’s own heart? Apart from God’s mercy and forgiveness, it doesn’t make sense. And why, when Ahab let his wife Jezebel murder Naboth in order to take his property, and God said Ahab and his descendants would be removed from the throne, why, I ask, did God relent and tell Ahab he would leave him on the throne after all? In fact, why did one of his sons ruled for twelve years after Ahab’s death? God was merciful, and I’m pretty sure I would have been inclined to throw the book at the whole family. At once. No delay.

Yet how grateful I am for God’s delays in my life. He gives me mercy and help in time of need. He doesn’t slam His door in my face but graciously answers prayer. Over and over and over.

I originally connected this discussion of God’s mercy with the report I heard of an agent friend wh0 was diagnosed with brain cancer. At the time he’d received an all clear from the doctor, but his cancer came back, and he passed away.

More recently, my friend Brandon Barr, who had battled leukemia for a number of years, received a doctor’s report that he had 1 to 2 months to live. He died the day before Thanksgiving.

I had specifically prayed that God would be merciful. And I prayed for healing. But God didn’t restore either man to health. Did He extend His mercy to them? How can I know?

Trying to discern what God is up to is really impossible unless He tells us, because He has the big picture in front of Him. He certainly cares for us in the here and now, but this blip of time that He refers to as a vapor, as a fading flower, a bit of grass that’s here today and gone tomorrow, is not the whole story. God cares about the whole story. He cares about our eternal destiny. He cares about the people we can influence by our dying as much as by our living, by our suffering as much as by our victories.

We are limited in what we can see, as if we’re staring at the sky through a straw. But God has no such limitation. He sees the big picture and He sees it from beginning to eternity.

So really, when it comes to understanding God’s great, transcendent mercy, pretty much all I’ve got is His word. His word and my experience of His keeping His word. His word and my experience and the experiences of believers across time and from all over the globe.

But still, when we can’t know the eternity side of things, how do we know that God is merciful to people like Jim Elliott who was martyred or Betsy ten Boom who died in a concentration camp or Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was executed mere months before Germany signed the peace treaty. How do we know?

Because He promised. He has told us that His mercy endures throughout all generations.

He followed that up by promising a Messiah. Then Jesus came. Died. Rose from the dead.

Could anything be a greater demonstration of God’s great mercy?

A verse in Romans explains:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom. 8:33—ESV)

God already took care of our greatest need. Is He going to overlook lesser needs now? He won’t. Our problem is that we are still looking at the night sky through a straw. More often than we like, our view of things is bleak, as if Satan is winning.

Unless we fix our eyes on God’s transcendent mercy that shows us our Savior, that shows us Himself. We can’t actually see the crowns, the glory, the joy, the triumph. But we can see Jesus. Hebrews says as much:

But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.
But we do see Him (Hebrews 2:8b-9a)

If all things were subjected to him now, no one would be dying of cancer. We’re not there yet. But we do see Jesus, the One who rendered “powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” We have His act of mercy and His promise of mercy, and that transcends anything we can see through our straw.

Some of this post is revised from an article that appeared here in December, 2011.

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Published in: on November 29, 2018 at 5:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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God’s Wrath And Mercy


Some years ago at a Christian writers’ conference a fairly well known Christian novelist spoke. One of the things he camped on was that truth in fiction was like a diamond—it shown brightest and best when displayed on a black background.

That analogy has been repeated many times as a rationale for writers to include the details of life in fiction, and not just the way we wish things were.

To put it in terms of Biblical visual art, Jesus ought not always be wearing a white robe and there shouldn’t always be a halo over His head. He shouldn’t have perfectly straight, white teeth, and his features ought to be a little less clean cut.

Same with our stories, contemporary or otherwise.

I understand the point, and I mostly agree. Not everyone does. I had a friend who said he wouldn’t read any more of a certain author because there was a near rape scene in one of that writer’s books.

In writing, this whole subject has become a lot more sticky as political correctness sweeps through our culture, taking books like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with it.

But the analogy stands: diamonds do show their brilliance best against a black backdrop.

And what does that have to do with God?

First, God is holy. We imperfect, sinful humans don’t really understand what holiness is all about, but the other day I started thinking of it in terms A. W. Tozier used. He explained that all of God’s attributes are interlinked with His other attributes. Well, he didn’t say it in exactly that way.

But take God’s quality as an infinite being. That idea doesn’t just mean that He has no beginning or end, but rather also that there is no end to His goodness, to His mercy, and, yes, to His holiness.

So what connection can infinite goodness, infinite holiness have with the very thing that would bring an end to those qualities—evil? There simply is no place for the two residing together. Either holiness is apart from evil and infinite, or it is in contact with evil and limited.

Hence God’s wrath.

Yes, Scripture teaches that wrath is also a quality of God, one that identifies how He feels toward that which would spoil His holiness and the goodness He created.

Thinking in visual terms again, imagine God’s wrath as the backdrop for His mercy. Without His wrath, we actually have a lesser view of God’s mercy. We don’t see it as well without the stark contrast. We don’t know how radically different our lives would be if we experienced His wrath instead of His mercy.

I picture the veil of God’s wrath separating humankind from God’s holiness, but His mercy ripped that veil in two.

Romans 5 explains it this way: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (vv 8–9).

Some people are uncomfortable with the idea that God saves us from Himself.

Of course that isn’t the whole picture because in Colossians He tells us we are “rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (1:13). In other scriptures we learn that God frees us from the slavery of sin, breaks the chains of the Law, takes away our guilt.

But it kind of all starts with His wrath and the brilliance of His mercy that His wrath showcases. Well, maybe it really starts with His holiness. Or it could start with His infinitude. Regardless, by understanding God’s wrath better, and the rightness of it, the necessity of it, I understand His mercy more.

Man’s Way Versus God’s Plan – A Reprise


One View Of God's Sovereignty

Some time ago I saw a humorous depiction of what Man expects in life versus what God gives us, similar to the one I recreated above(though I don’t remember the captions).

I suspect the point, besides the humor, was to show how we believe our way with God will be easy, free of suffering and hardship, when, in fact, God never promised such a thing.

When I saw the original, I laughed, but then I thought, How unlike God. My thinking was that the picture, not identifying any reason why God would take us into rough terrain, makes Him seem arbitrary and cruel, even masochistic, as if He’s yanking our chain simply to see us suffer.

But also, the first panel shows Man in the most positive light. Yes, he expects an easy path, but he’s steadily moving forward, growing, improving, reaching toward that final destination.

Actually, I don’t think either panel captures reality clearly. First, the truth about Humankind is that we wander, take wrong turns, leave the path, go our own way. We aren’t focused on moving further up and further in as we should be.

Man's Actual Plan

The above diagram is a more accurate depiction of the path we take. But there’s another version.

God's Work To Move Us Toward Him

God, because of our waywardness and because of His love for us, directs us back to Himself.

That’s it. Like a loving Father, He spanks our hands or puts us in time out or grounds us or takes away our cell phone or car keys or whatever it takes to move us away from our willfulness because He loves us too much to see us go the wrong way. He is most definitely not capricious and He is NOT cruel.

But His kindness and mercy mean He will sometimes withhold the rain or let the Philistines conquer the land or keep us in the wilderness because He wants us to know Him, follow Him, trust Him, love Him instead of going our own way.

– – – – –
My apologies to any actual artists! 😉 This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in May 2014.

Man’s Way Versus God’s Plan


Recently I saw a humorous depiction of what Man expects versus what God gives us, similar to the one I recreated (though I don’t remember the captions).

One View Of God's Sovereignty

I suspect the point, besides the humor, was to show how we believe our way with God will be easy, free of suffering and hardship when God never promised such a thing.

When I saw the original, I laughed, but then I thought, How unlike God. My thinking was that the picture, not identifying any reason why God would take us into rough terrain, makes Him seem arbitrary and cruel, even masochistic, as if He’s yanking our chain simply to see us suffer.

But also, the first panel shows Man in the most positive light. Yes, he expects an easy path, but he’s steadily moving forward, growing, improving, reaching toward that final destination.

Actually, I don’t think either panel captures reality clearly. First, the truth about Humankind is that we wander, take wrong turns, leave the path, go our own way. We aren’t focused on moving further up and further in as we should be.

Man's Actual Plan

God, then, because of our waywardness and because of His love for us, directs us back to Himself.

God's Work To Move Us Toward Him

That’s it. Like a loving Father, He spanks our hands or puts us in time out or grounds us or takes away our cell phone or car keys or whatever it takes to move us away from our willfulness because He loves us too much to see us go the wrong way. He is most definitely not capricious and He is NOT cruel.

But His kindness and mercy mean He will sometimes withhold the rain or let the Philistines conquer the land or keep us in the wilderness because He wants us to know Him, follow Him, trust Him, love Him instead of going our own way.

– – – – –
My apologies to any actual artists! 😉

Published in: on May 29, 2014 at 6:40 pm  Comments Off on Man’s Way Versus God’s Plan  
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The Transcendence Of God’s Mercy


God is transcendent, of that I’ve been sure. He is higher than His creation and therefore surpasses our ability to dissect Him, analyze Him, pigeonhole Him into our compartments of understanding. In fact, if He hadn’t chosen to reveal Himself, we would be forever shut out of His presence in ignorant misery — desperately longing, incapable of reaching.

In fact, one of my favorite passages of Scripture spells out this transcendent nature of God:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa 55:8-9)

I’d never thought much more of transcendence — just that God is. But today, I came across a passage from Psalm 103 that caught my attention:

The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. (vv 8-11, emphasis mine)

There, nestled in the middle of the section (it continues for several verses) about God’s compassion, mercy, lovingkindness, is the same line Isaiah used to describe how high God’s ways and thoughts are above ours: as high as the heavens are above the earth.

I realize now I’d never taken the idea of God’s transcendence to its logical conclusion. If He is higher than we, if His thoughts are, His ways are, then it stands to reason that what forms Him, what defines Him as a person — His traits — also will be higher than ours. Hence His love will be higher than ours, His compassion higher than ours, His patience, His forgiveness, His justice, and His mercy — or as some translations have it, His lovingkindness.

Sometimes God’s lovingkindness mystifies me, and sometimes His justice does the same. Why, for example, did David who had Uriah killed become known as a man after God’s own heart? Apart from God’s mercy and forgiveness, it doesn’t make sense. And why, when Ahab let his wife Jezebel murder Naboth in order to take his property, and God said Ahab and his descendants would be removed from the throne, why, I ask, did God relent and tell Ahab he would leave him on the throne after all? In fact, why did one of his sons ruled for twelve years after Ahab’s death? God was merciful, and I’m pretty sure I would have been inclined to throw the book at the whole family. At once. No delay.

Yet how grateful I am for God’s delays in my life. He gives me mercy and help in time of need. He doesn’t slam His door in my face but graciously answers prayer. Over and over and over.

So after thinking about God’s transcendent mercy, I logged onto the computer this morning to handle email. First up was a note that agent Lee Hough had a journal entry posted. For those who may not know, Lee, an agent with Alive Communications was diagnosed in April or May with a brain tumor — an especially deadly kind. Here’s an excerpt from one of Lee’s recent entries that explained the data he received at his first meeting with his oncologist — a Dr. Cheerful, so named for the upbeat way he presented a trial procedure to Lee:

Soon we’re cha cha’ing out of the office all grins when I asked, “Could I have a copy of the report?” I wanted to read more happy details about my soon-to-be prolonged life. Dr. Cheerful made me a copy.

“Glioblastoma, the most common primary brain tumor in adults, is usually rapidly fatal.”

That was the opening line of the report. Bluebirds started dropping dead all around me. Don’t panic. A couple of paragraphs later it said, “. . . survival is generally less than one year from the time of the diagnosis.” No “Happily ever after” there. Instead I’m starting to feel like I’m drowning in doom. And then, hallelujah, I finally got to the graph page, a beacon of hope in this medical shop of horrors. The graph will throw me a lifeline of good news. But bad news had another twist of the knife. The glioblastoma cancer patients who participated in this trial? When the researcher followed up with them after 28 months, “480 patients (84 percent) had died.” Now I’m completely undone, horrified. First for those “patients” – people just like me whose hopes were undoubtedly just like mine. Second, because of the scalding realization that I’m not reading a “report” anymore, I’m reading my obituary.

The coup de grace was delivered just before the graph. I was still holding out hope in the doctor’s fabled “significant increase in life span.” And here it finally came. The total life span gain of the simultaneous therapy approach: “The median survival benefit was 2.5 months.”

Wait. Are you serious? Not 10 years or 5; not even 2.5 years. 75 days.

December 2 Lee had his first scan after the treatment. Again in his words:

Because grade 4 glioblastoma tumors are so hard to kill and so good at killing, the doctor wants me to have an MRI every three months. If the Lord chooses to heal me, it appears that I’ll rediscover that truth in three-month increments for the rest of my life. Starting with December 2nd.

And the first results are in. Lee is cancer free. Will he be cancer free again in three months? If God so chooses. His mercy, after all, is transcendent.

Published in: on December 8, 2011 at 6:04 pm  Comments (4)  
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