The Passionate God

December 17, 2016

It would be as incorrect to assume God’s disinterest and non-involvement in human affairs as it would be to assume His callous harshness in judging His erring creation. In actual fact, God’s deep distress is wonderfully expressed: “The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (Gen 6,v. 6). The word “grieved” is related rather pointedly to the words for “sorrow” and “toil” (Gen. 3:16-17) which were to be the unhappy lot of Adam and Eve after their transgression. In a very real sense God was not exempt from the pain and anguish which sin had introduced into His creation.

 

The thought that God was sorry He had made man is somewhat unnerving as any child knows who has been told by angry parents in a fit of pique that they are sorry “they had him”! But God is not piqued with man; He is grieved and distraught and is thinking in terms of grace even at the moment of judgment.

God’s Pleasure

 

To understand God it is imperative that due consideration be given not only to His righteous indignation but also His grace. The heart of God constantly overflows in loving kindness and tender mercies to His children. But not all of God’s children are interested in grace or moved by divine favor. God’s pleasure comes from dispensing grace and discovering those who warmly and willingly receive it. In the midst of the abysmal, widespread moral and societal destruction of his day stood such a man. “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” because he “was a just man, perfect in his generations.” In short “Noah walked with God” (Gen. 6:8-9).

 

 

The words used to describe this remarkable man point to his relationships with his contemporaries as well as the communion he enjoyed with his God. “Just” relates to proper behavior man-ward while “perfect,” which obviously does not mean “sinless,” refers to a wholehearted commitment to the Lord. One can imagine the delight with which the Lord watched His child Noah grace the sordid society of which he was a part. It is encouraging to remember that God has always had His witnesses and that at no time in human history have things become so dark that no ray of righteousness shone brightly for God.

 

 

Centuries later, at a particularly dark time in England’s history, God raised up a man called John Wycliffe. J. C. Ryle, the Bishop of Liverpool, wrote in his book, Light from Old Times, “England seems to have been buried under a mass of ignorance, superstition, priestcraft and immorality.” Yet in this kind of environment John Wycliffe shone brightly. Known as the “Morning Star of the Reformation,” even though he died about a hundred years before Luther was born, he was acknowledged in academic, ecclesiastical, and political circles as being “no common man.” For over twenty-five years the things that he said and the actions that he undertook spoke loud and long to his contemporaries. It is a fitting tribute that even though his body was exhumed and burned and the ashes thrown into a stream thirty-one years after his death, his name lives on in the ministry of hundreds of Wycliffe Bible translators who have reached out to the hidden tribes with the message of Christ. There has always been a Noah or a Wycliffe.

God’s Provision

 

The Lord took Noah into His confidence, explaining His deep distress at the human condition, outlining His proposed judgment, and then instructing him in the part that he was to play in the furthering of the divine plan. “Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch” (v. 14). Detailed instructions concerning size and structure were also provided in addition to specific details of the passenger list, food, and cargo. The details concerning measurement and design are tantalizing to some people, leading them to careful and occasionally not so careful study of the ark. I remember as a boy hearing a very detailed description of the ark, complete with artistic impressions, and being very reassured by the speaker that it really was seaworthy. His words carried great weight with me because he was a maritime engineer in the nearby shipyards and he was my grandfather! Francis Shaeffer also did his homework and came to the conclusion that the ark (the word means “chest” not “ship”!) was “almost exactly the size of the ‘Great Eastern’ which laid the first North Atlantic cable.”

It is interesting that references to a flood are to be found in ancient traditions and myths in all parts of the world. They vary dramatically in detail and credibility but they do suggest that somewhere in the human experience there was a common knowledge of such an event which became corrupted over the years. Reverent students of Scripture, however, remember the references of the Lord Jesus to Noah and are conversant with the explanation of the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews: “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with Godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Heb. 11:7). The idea was God’s; the responsibility to expedite was Noah’s. The creative initiative belonged to God; the willing obedience belonged to Noah. Grace flowed from the heart of God; faith appropriated it in the heart of Noah, and the eternal purposes of God went onward to their relentless conclusion.

 

 

The idea was ideal. If one bears in mind all that God wanted to accomplish in this dramatic intervention in human affairs it is clear that His provision through Noah and his ark was beautifully suited to do all that His heart desired. Man has always been the beneficiary of divine provision. However reluctant he may be to admit it, man must eventually concede that the best ideas come from God and that they are never less than ideal. To believe this thoroughly is to know God more fully.

 

 

As we saw in the very beginnings of our study, God ordained marriage as the basic structure of society. But down through the centuries man has devised methods of deriving the benefits of the marital state without having to accept the responsibilities of connubial bliss. We now call some of these human inventions “alternate lifestyles,” and of course that is a perfectly accurate description. But they also need to be recognized as illicit alternative lifestyles. In a strange way this apparently is beginning to dawn on the collective conscience of modern people. This is not because of a great spiritual revival in the hearts of the masses but rather because of the proliferation of sexually transmitted diseases through sexual activity outside the realm of marriage. Some would see this as a specific judgment of God, while others who would not wish to be quite so specific would agree that it is yet another reminder that the Lord knows what is best for us, and if we do it His way we will live under the warmth of His smile and the fullness of His grace.

God’s Patience

Presumably the God who had made the universe could have thought of other ways of judging the sinful and preserving the Godly without enlisting the aid of Noah and requiring the laborious task of building the ark. But throughout history He has shown Himself willing and eager to enroll man in cooperative ventures with Himself. This speaks not only of His grace in allowing us to be His coworkers but also pinpoints His remarkable patience. Peter speaks of the “longsuffering” of God as He “waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared” (1 Pet. 3:20) but also points out that Noah, during that period, was a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:5). No doubt Noah’s curious neighbors gathered around him to ask what on earth he was doing building a three-story “coffin,” and apparently Noah was ready for their inquiries. He preached righteousness to them; God was patient with them; but repentance did not come and eventually the judgment fell. God warns before He judges. He delays the promised wrath. He longs for people to come to repentance. But His patience should never be abused; it should be cherished.

 

 

God’s Promise

 

The word “covenant” is of profound significance in Scripture and it first appears in the account of God’s dealings with Noah. After outlining the sad news of impending judgment God told His servant, “But I will establish My covenant with you” (Gen. 6:18). God’s self-revelation has come to us in many different ways. First He showed Himself in Creation as the psalmist loved to remind us: “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1). The God of Creation can be desperately awe-inspiring. His “frowning countenance” shown in thunder cloud and overwhelming flood does not make for warm, intimate God-man relations. But His revelation in covenant does. Herein God shows Himself ready to meet with people, to promise a relationship with them, and to outline the details of behavior which will make this promised relationship warm and wholesome. Once this idea of covenant has been introduced in Scripture the theme persists right through to the new covenant, sealed in the blood of Christ whereby mankind is thoroughly reconciled to God. There are few things more encouraging to me than the thought that the God of Creation is the God of covenant. When I look into the heavens I am struck with the immensity of it all and the grandeur of my God. Humbled I bow in His presence and ask with the psalmist, “What is man?” (Ps. 8:4). Immediately I am reminded that the God of transcendence is immanent—He has spoken to me as He did to Noah. He has promised me that He will act on my behalf. To know this is to know Him even more intimately.

And He has spoken to you as well, by His Word, by His Spirit, by answered prayer or to your heart. He is the God that still speaks and keeps His promises.

 

 

Blessings from scumlikeuschurch@gmail.com

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