Week 1: Exploring the Nature of God

when we talk about the nature of a being
we are talking about that beings essential aspects the immutable
characteristics of that being what is the nature of God, God is omnipotent
omniscient and omnipresent these are theological terms that simply
mean God is all-powerful all-knowing and always present one theologian Paul
Tillich understood God as the ground of being the great philosopher Aristotle
expressed God as the unmoved mover these cosmological frameworks are ultimately
expressing the precept that God is, there is nothing before God nothing more
primary than God nothing beyond God God is and so the question then becomes well
how did God create the prevailing understanding is creatio ex nihilo or
God created out of nothing some argue this nothingness to have been
chaos but the more traditional view is nothing means literally nothing there’s
a joke that is often told about a scientist approaching God on behalf of
the scientific community and stating God we have decided we don’t need you
anymore we have perfected the miracle of creation because we can now clone a
human being so we can create and God responds very well if you’re as good as
you say you are then let’s use the method I used in creating the first
human being the scientist is excited and accepts the challenge now just as the
scientist is about to bend down and scoop up a bit of dust God says not so
fast get your own dirt this supports in a humorous way the understanding that
all that is was created by God and so God is or as I have expressed more
colloquially the isness of God now beyond this isness there is another
essential characteristic God is also good not simply that God can cause good
or that God can create good rather God is good now the minute we venture beyond
these two phrases God is and God is good in some ways we begin to fail because
our human vocabulary simply cannot express the totality of God our human
understanding cannot possibly grasp the full breadth and depth of God’s being we
must then leave room for the inherent mystery of God mystery that prevents God
from being fully and completely known and yet God is present with creation and
in creation in ways that allow us to have some understanding
Wesley offers an analogy to make this easier for us to grasp it
Wesley ascribes to God the model of a loving parent in the loving parent model
God is sovereign but God’s sovereignty is not disconnected
from concrete justice and mercy God cannot then by nature withhold justice
and love and mercy from creation further a loving parent is never threatened
lessened or demeaned by their child’s free will rather I believe their glory
is all the more revealed because they offer their child the freedom to love or
not to love them it isn’t forced nor coerced rather it is
waited upon even as the parent freely loves the child as Randy Maddox teaches
in responsible grace God’s sovereignty is expressed fundamentally in terms of
empowerment rather than over-powerment this is also what we know as prevenient
grace to go further scripture also tells us that God is spirit and it is
necessary to worship God in spirit and truth I want to park right there for
just a moment if I ask you to close your eyes and envision God close your eyes
envision God what do you see what is the image that immediately begins to take
shape now this requires honesty and
transparency if the image has a particular racial or national identity
that says something about how we view the Godhead if God is the ground of
being primary and before all else and we envision that God as inhabiting a
particular race or ethnicity or gender we’ve stated far more about ourselves
than we have about God and we must ask ourselves who and what are we privileging
with that image also who might we be limiting with that image this revelation
can be very helpful to us and don’t be afraid because none of us come to this
as a blank slate we all come to God and scripture with a particular lens
experiencing God through a particular history a worldview even our own family
system it is when we recognize this fact and work to grasp something larger when
we move beyond ourselves and our comfortable understanding into a more
holistic understanding that we are maturing in our discipleship how we
envision God or understand God’s nature I believe has a real impact on our faith
and how we live out our faith in community once again understanding the
isness of God as primary we do articulate other characteristics as well
God is holy righteous truth wisdom and peace some argue that there are two gods
the god of the Hebrew Bible and the god of the New Testament this is often done
to differentiate between the wrath of God displayed at times in the Hebrew
Bible and the God of love in the New Testament but I believe there is one God
and that God is consistent in God’s nature throughout the whole corpus of
scripture from Genesis to Revelation from the garden to the New Jerusalem we
see and Wesley teaches that God expresses God’s self through the
overarching profundity of love God created out of love God had no need to
create God was not compelled to create God was and is complete in the Godhead
and yet God called forth creation out of love God provided out of love God
forgave out of love God protected out of love got delivered out of love God
healed out of love God sent God’s only son out of love God redeems all of
creation out of love even the accountability and wrath of God cannot
and does not limit or withhold God’s love and when we really examine the
rationale behind that accountability when we really dig deep into the
pedagogy of that accountability and wrath it is at its core addressing
humanity’s attempts to be like God worship other gods disobey God or
oppress God’s people in the garden there was an attempt to be like God the
conversation between the Serpent and the woman in Genesis chapter 3 States did
God really say that you shouldn’t eat from any tree in the garden her reply we
may eat from the fruit of the gardens trees but not the fruit of the tree in
the middle of the garden God said don’t eat it and don’t touch it or you will
die the serpent then slyly offers you won’t die God knows that on the day you eat
from it you will see clearly and you will be like God knowing good and evil
I believe in addressing this God was addressing the sin of hubris arrogance
and humanity’s failure to trust God completely to meet all of our needs and
yet even in that accountability God did not forsake God’s creation God clothed
and provided for Humanity at their deepest point of need this story repeats
itself throughout the Canon we stray we learned the lesson of what happens when
we fail to trust God completely with our whole being God forgives and we’re
reconciled that is the nature of God that is love for Wesley the greatest
demonstration of God’s goodness is seen in the person of Jesus the Christ that
love is the same love that poured forth the universe that cares for all of
creation and that will redeem creation completely to the uttermost a survey of
Wesley’s sermons reveals this belief as does his hymnody one such example is
love divine all loves excelling it celebrates love divine all loves
excelling joy of heaven to earth come down fix in us thy humble dwelling all
thy faithful mercies crown Jesus thou art all compassion pure unbridled love
thou art visit us with thy salvation enter every trembling heart come
Almighty to deliver let us all thy grace receive suddenly return and never never
more thy temples leave thee we would be always blessing serve thee as thy hosts
above pray and praise thee without ceasing glory in thy perfect love in
each encounter with Humanity in the New Covenant we see an expression of love
over against custom convention law power rules regulations or any other man-made
construction healing on the Sabbath love talking to the outcasts love feeding the
marginalized love widening the covenant love rejecting artificial signs of
holiness love pouring out the spirit upon all flesh all flesh love the
boundaries that were constructed to lavish God’s love on some and withhold
it from others were eradicated through the person of Jesus the Christ and that
was done out of an overwhelming love I witnessed something recently that comes
to mind my husband and I attended the Maryland State Fair we decided to drop
by the birthing center and came upon a cow in
labor now the birth was imminent as the process was being explained to us we
were told by our narrator that although the cow was in immense pain during her
contractions she would most likely not utter a sound our narrator indicated
that the cow was instinctively aware that making a noise would cause
predators to be able to understand her location and they might descend upon her
making her and the yet unborn calf vulnerable in an effort to offer the
calf the greatest chance of survival the mother endured the pain in utter
silence and upon birth the mother began removing the remaining fluids because
they produce a smell that again would draw predators in the mother also nudged
the calf to immediately stand so that they can move to safety even as she
herself is still reeling from the birthing event this was an expression of
sheer sacrificial love although it pales in comparison I liken it to Christ’s
sacrificial love at Calvary God’s agape love God’s unconditional love I believe
this love this perfect love expressed through Jesus Christ and emanating from
God is inexplicably and inextricably community unity and oneness I concur
with Bishop Kenneth Carter who writes the call to guard the faith and seek
unity surely goes deeper than the current climate of church and culture or
a decision that flows from the majority will of a General Conference it is
grounded in the nature of God who is one as I preached during our most recent
annual conference we can pull away from one another we can decide to schism that
is a decision we have the agency to make however it does not free us from the
unifying essence of God’s being and God’s will for all creation humanity’s
corruption of God’s goodness through exclusion bias and marginalization
contradicts the unity of the Godhead itself
as persons created in the image and likeness of God the Imago Dei we must
fully reflect God when we love when we love one another and love creation
I believe this love this love born of the nature of God calls us to privilege
love over every other consideration when all else has passed away these three
remain faith hope and love and the greatest of these is love you

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