October 25, 2014

Worshiping the Missional God

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

The “pomo warning light” is now on at TR Blogwatch Central, but I’m not going down that road. 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.

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. i’ve never commented before but felt compelled because this was something i needed to hear.

    thank you and continue to write from your heart, people can tell.

  2. I don’t see Abraham or Genesis 22 that way.

    Even though God was “unknown” in Ge 12, He was still convincing enough for Abraham to leave civilization and go live in Canaan. That’s a huge step for anyone — particularly someone Abraham’s age — yet he packed up his whole family and did it.

    As a result of walking in faith, Abraham got to know God particularly well. So well, in fact, that God does two things that are distinctly unlike Him: He assumes human form, and He later demands a human sacrifice.

    Your average Christian doesn’t know what to do with the first one — I’ve heard all sorts of theories including an angel, a prophet, a pre-Incarnational appearance of Christ, etc. Even though we know by now that God can (and did) become human, we still wouldn’t expect Him to show up at our door for a meal. Then years later, human sacrifice? Our typical response would be, “Well, that’s not God. Can’t be. He doesn’t do that. It must be the devil, trying to test us.”

    Abraham, in both cases, knew God well enough to recognize Him both times. He didn’t question; he knew. The knowing came as a result of faith, but when we never take the first steps of faith, we never get to know God so well that when He asks us to accept strangeness, we can. We just fight the strangeness, and miss out on the blessings that could have followed but didn’t.

  3. “…with the tenacity of adventure and desperation.” The latter comes naturally, but the former? What if we’re not a spiritual Cristobal? :)

    “…sometimes shuts the door to all your questions.” Maybe that’s the very sort of thing that prompted David to pen that shorty Psalm (131):

    “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast…O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and for evermore.”

    Alas that you teach back in Kentucky, 2/3s of the continent away, Michael. Reading this essay, I’d give the world to audit your Bible courses. Like your literary twin, Brooks Alexander (of SCP fame), you have an amazing knack for making “I’ve-already-read-it-100-times” Bible stories jump to life (from one who’s usually more interested in Biblical ideas and doctrines, that’s an industrial strength compliment :)). Could you take a whole passel of these and get them published as a collection? (Maybe even by SCP?) Definitely missional material.

  4. Thanks for this thoughtful and life provoking post. Abraham royally screws up a number of times, especially when he puts Sarah in jeopardy to save his own skin. He does not yet trust God as he should. I can identify with this lack of trust.

    I’ve been on a similar journey and have tried to configure in the following way what it seems to me that you’re posting on: being in community with the missional God and with each other is not less than knowledge, but so much more. God call us into community, which goes far beyond a principle or a book. It is a wild and wonderful theodrama, in which I have a part, a role on the stage with others as we attempt to faithfully perform the Script ure, as God works out his mission to us and the world in the renewal of all things.

  5. nicholas anton says:

    I believe it was Francis Schaeffer who wrote the book, “The God Who is There”. This God, according to the author of “Hebrews”, “…who spoke in sundry times and in divers manners unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son”. This Son was God in the flesh, a historical Jesus. Our only record of Him is the pre historical prophetical record as promised in the Old Testament, as revealed to us in the incarnation, as recorded in the New Testament, and affirmed by general history, and not one imbedded in our intuition and psycho-spiritual experiences.

    The basis for my faith is historical and factual, and not as an old song states, “You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart”. My spiritual sojourn is more closely reflected by the song writer who wrote; (The copyrights for both songs have expired)

    I know not why God’s wondrous grace
    To me he hath made known,
    Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
    Redeemed me for His own.

    I know not how this saving faith
    To me He did impart,
    Nor how believing in His Word
    Wrought Peace within my heart.

    I know not how the Spirit moves
    Convincing men of sin,
    Revealing Jesus through the Word,
    Creating faith in Him.

    BUT I KNOW WHOM I HAVE BELIEVED.

    Jesus God is a historic propositional God Who speaks to us in our day in His Word, the Bible. My response is to hear, believe, trust and follow.

  6. You said, “He told him [Abraham] nothing else. There had to be dozens- hundreds- of questions, all unanswered.” Actually, we don’t know that, but assume it becasue the story doesn’t tell any more. But for all we know to the contrary God had a lot more to say to Abraham. We must remember that Abraham didn’t record the story for us, and we only know what God gave Moses to say.

    I don’t bring this up to question the depth, or value of Abraham’s faith. Mine should be so strong. I think the main point of the story to us is given by Paul. Faith is saving. We must simply believe God, and act on that belief.

  7. Michael, very good post, thank you for the post and the site! Greg, just got a copy of your book and hope to begin this weekend.

  8. Nathanael says:

    Wonderful post, brother.
    I am actually going to be teaching on the 24th from Hebrews 6:13-20. And this is a wonderful perspective to help me as I study.

    Thanks.

  9. So many people seem to me to speak with almost absolute certainty about God, what God wants, what God says, etc. I always wonder how they know, but, then I remember Abraham who just left his home not even knowing where he was to go, only that God would tell him when he got there. He couldn’t even call AAA to ask for directions to his destination, as he didn’t know. It seems to be that we believe, have faith, or however you want to put it. We may be right, or we may be wrong. We do as Abraham did, we move forward trusting God, never having all the answers.

  10. jmanning says:

    Michael, is this why Barth would say God confronts us in the Bible with revelation in an I-Thou encounter rather than propositional information?

  11. I’d have to give that some thought jmanning. Don’t have an answer.

  12. jmanning,
    If indeed Barth holds this position I would ask, Why the rather? The Bible is not less than propositional, but it is far more in that these propositions have a referent and directedness that leads to an encounter with God.

  13. jmanning says:

    Because propositions are information. Anybody who has fair reading skills can exegete Romans as well as a biblical scholar can if they spend time on it. Not everyone who reads Romans is encountered by God’s Spirit through it. It doesn’t seem the propositional truth is the revelation, more like the vehicle. I don’t think revelation happens apart from it though (like all the people asking Barth why he didn’t preach from a phone book if the proposition wasn’t revelation)

    I think the propositional due to the incarnational aspect of Christ can house revelation if the Spirit of God inspired it, preserved it, and channels through it to enlighten the affections of the reader to His claims. But I don’t think basic words on the page are effectual.

  14. jmanning says:

    Just for clarification on my previous post, I think a non-saved average reader can understand the Bible just like a Bible scholar. But I don’t think they can love the message without conversion. I think revelation is the changing of our affections to the word by the word. That drawing may bring us to propositional truth, but it doesn’t come from blind propositional truth.

  15. I’ve been reading and lurking for a while now, having drifted this way from the Mayberry Driven Church, but I finally felt moved to comment.

    Well done on an excellent post! The narrative approach to what the Abraham story *means* is very effective. In preaching and teaching in my own church, I’ve done a lot of that kind of narrative teaching.

    Scripture is so full of good, compelling stories, and part of our work of evangelism is sharing those stories. If we don’t do a good job of sharing the stories with the people who need to hear them, what are we doing?