December 14, 2017

iMonk Classic: Worshiping the Missional God

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From a classic post by Michael Spencer — June 2007

I’ve been thinking about how much we can know about God. In particular, how does a deeply missional God work the knowledge of himself into a life like mine?

…I’m looking at Abraham, and I’m wondering what he knew about God and how that knowledge worked in his life.

Abraham is the person the Bible looks at most to demonstrate the life of faith. He was a person who began from point “A” with a missional God. In a lifelong journey, God revealed himself, one step at a time, as Abraham learns who it is who has called him and who it is that he trusts along the way.

God called Abraham, it says in Genesis 12, and told him what he would do for him if he left his family, city and security to bet everything on a God whose name he didn’t even know.

He told him nothing else. There had to be dozens — hundreds — of questions, all unanswered.

Abraham said yes to the One he knew. I’m sure it must have been hard to explain this to the rest of the family. “Not that God…or that one. Actually, I don’t know who I am dealing with here. It’s a God without an image or even a name.”

God took Abraham to Canaan, where the land promised was the land occupied, so immediately on to Egypt and Abraham’s first sincere, but boneheaded, attempts to make God do things his way. There it became clear that this wasn’t a God of the Egyptians either. This was a God without boundaries, powerfully in covenant with Abraham, but manipulated by and belonging to no one. A God with his own purposes, his own map, his own timetable.

It must have been a lonely road of faith. In Genesis 14, Abraham meets Melchizedek, the high priest of a God called El-Elyon. They worship together, and it seems that Abraham has learned that his God is the creator God of heaven and earth, and he is not alone in knowing him. Others worship and obey him; others know him in ways Abraham does not yet.

Still, this had to be a difficult journey. God talked to Abraham, but also left him on the silence of faith for years at a time. Abraham’s mistakes along that road are the mistakes of a man who yearns to know more, but can only see parts of the mystery. Most men look at Abraham and see themselves: yearning for God to speak, treasuring what he does reveal, but never connecting all the dots together into all the answers.

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Abraham sacrificing his son, Chagall

In Genesis 15, God and Abraham have an all-nighter. God tells him, straight up, that the promises will be kept beyond his dreams, and beyond his time. He also enacts a covenant ceremony worthy of an X-files episode and sends Abraham a night-vision of events centuries in the future. It was a revelation of God that surpassed what he’d known up to that point. What did Abraham do with this new information?

Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

It’s hard to not come away from this convinced that knowledge of God has one point: faith and trust. Reliance on God. A worshipful, obedient believing. A believing that follows. God and Abraham are in covenant, but it isn’t a covenant based on knowing all the answers or having a systematic description of “the Christian Worldview.” It’s a covenant where Abraham knows and trusts this covenant making God in a deeply personal way. He’s betting everything on him now, and will teach his descendants to do the same.

It’s important to remember that Hebrews says Abraham spent his life looking for what he never saw or possessed. It is faith, not knowledge. In fact, faith in the face of much that was unknown. Of course, with God, what is known is a light that illuminates much darkness, and the darkness can not overwhelm him.

God eventually repeats the covenant to Abraham a number of times and clarifies Abraham’s part in it. He includes Abraham in his plans to destroy the cities on the plain. Abraham takes what he knows of God and makes a case for mercy, a certain mark of one who knows the missional God of the Bible.

Abraham comes to know God as creator, provider, sustainer, righteous judge, warrior, protector, saviour, mercy giver and covenant keeper. Abraham had come to know God far beyond the unknown God of his beginning.

And then comes Genesis 22. In one revelation, Abraham’s experience with God is turned upside down. Certainties about God dissolve. Questions and doubts must have returned to assault everything Abraham believed.

Yet he remains on the journey. “God will provide for himself the lamb.”

In the aftermath of Genesis 22, I imagine that Abraham was a man with a deep, personal, existential, experiential knowledge of a missional God. He became a man with unshakable certainties anchored in simple faith. He stood at a place where God’s work in history was gathering momentum into a family that would become a nation that would produce a Messiah to save the nations.

So how much can I know about God? In some ways, I know volumes more than Abraham, but in other ways I know far less. Despite all the facts of the Biblical story that are on my shelf, the journey with God kind of knowledge is a thin book. I’ve thought of God as one who meets me in church, or in theological questions. For Abraham, God was the one who met him in the journey, at the crossroads and on the mountain.

I worship a missional God, the God who calls me on the same journey as Abraham. I know the Messiah that saves the nations, but the majority of my journey is intellectual. Abraham hung onto God for a ride that surpassed any roller coaster. Along the way there were moments of light and many moments of confusion, but Abraham believed God and hung on.

This missional God is not a professor or a computer. He’s the God that Abraham walked with. He reveals himself in the journey. Scripture takes the journey with me, but it is not the journey. The journey is my life. Words about God in scripture are not God. God is the living presence on the road of faith.

Recently I’ve been consumed with theological questions that seemed to be important to answer to face challenges to my faith. I’ve learned, however, that the knowledge of God that “answers” my life’s quest isn’t always another book by another scholar. It is the kind of knowledge that comes when God meets us, wakes you up, surprises you, shows you your place in the Kingdom, but sometimes shuts the door to all your questions. The knowledge of God that God wants to give me is the existential kind that sustains the journey, not only the kind of knowledge that organizes God into a principle.

A missional God is taking his kingdom and Gospel across the barriers of culture and to the nations. My life often gives evidence of a god who wants to win a debate or help me be right about what I believe while I retire from the journey to pursue the hobbies of an American Christian.

I need to return to the God Jesus worshiped — the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God who reveals himself to journeyers who believed in God with the tenacity of adventure and desperation.

Comments

  1. Debate and being right seem to be the hobbies. The paragraph that contains Phil 3:15 gives me hope.

  2. Rick Ro. says:

    Wait a second! This implies Abraham did NOT go through classes on Spiritual Formation to attain his place in the Bible and with God!!! Scandalous!!! 😉

    A classic piece by Michael. Thanks for the re-post.

  3. Thank you for this post and the reminder that God is indeed found along the faith journey rather then the theology books. Faith is so often neglected and knowledge celebrated in our modern Christianity. It is my experience though that it is faith in this God that Abraham walked with, that sustains and forms a solid foundation in my daily life, rather then knowledge. Good food for thought to begin the week.

  4. I think that sometimes the reason we settle for the God of perfectly hammered out theological detail and debate instead of this God is because THAT God will never ask us for the impossible, the thing we don’t want to give or the thing we don’t understand. This God is immensely more terrifying, which I suppose creates that much more space for wonder.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      +1

      Several of us discussed a similar notion at church yesterday. There is the “Who we think God is and should be” God and there is the “Who God really is” God. The two are not the same. One is built by study and tradition, the other is found through faith and experience. The former is a shadow of the latter. The key is to worship the real God and not get angry or disappointed because He’s not what we’ve made Him.

  5. dumb ox says:

    “This missional God is not a professor or a computer. He’s the God that Abraham walked with. He reveals himself in the journey. Scripture takes the journey with me, but it is not the journey. The journey is my life. Words about God in scripture are not God. God is the living presence on the road of faith.” – iMonk.

    “The knowledge of God that God wants to give me is the existential kind that sustains the journey, not only the kind of knowledge that organizes God into a principle.” – iMonk.

    “Missional” is a word with so much hair on it. It reminds me of Elton John’s song, “Levon” (And he shall be Levon
    /In tradition with the family plan), where there is no relatiohsip with Levon apart from engaging him in his ambitions.

    I think Michael had it right. Our relationship with God is NOT about making us happy or meeting our goals, but it isn’t strictly about fulfilling the mission, kind of like the Griswalds on their way to Walley World. It’s about the journey with Jesus, where the journey has a purpose and ultimate destination, but there is meaning to the relationship along the way.

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