The Attributes of God

Counseling and the Spirit

Counseling and the Spirit

Theology is intensely intimate. Michael Bird excellently summarizes theology as “speaking about God while in the very presence of God.” We have deeply engaged with the subject of our study.” a This theological intimacy builds a particular type of worshiper. This worshiper, then, is aware of the nature of his relationships and his relationality with the Triune God. The theological enterprise, which has mostly become a rarely pursued journey by the typical parishioner, has fallen into the hands of armchair theologians. Instead of finding theology an intimate quest, they see it as an academic exercise to be used at a fair distance from the subject of their study. They have academized theology.

But theology, properly understood, is a project of the people of God for the sake of the world. Undoubtedly there is room for academic expertise, but this expertise will not bear fruit unless applied. And part of this distaste for theology has come from the official divorce between theology and counseling. Simply put, we have abandoned the Holy Spirit while pursuing theology. In doing so, we have broken the Trinitarian commitment to knowledge and life. The Spirit is the divine matchmaker. He puts together man and God. He does this by providing in man a need for the divine. The Spirit’s work in us is to make us into needy beings who can only find fulfillment in a giving God.

Counseling is necessary for theology. It is the Spirit-side of theology in the Trinitarian diagram. The Spirit is the comforter and our advocate. When others drive us to madness, the Spirit is the One who reminds us that our sanity comes from the Father, and though we have been painfully beaten to the point of mental breakdowns, the Spirit says that our sanity is from above, and no one can take it away.

John Frame was right when he asserted that Christians understand the distinctness of the Father and the Son, but they view the Spirit “as a kind of impersonal force or power associated with God.” b This un-trinitarian tendency c has infected the theological enterprise. Though most evangelicals are careful to avoid sounding like Mormons, they still practically approach theology as a Spirit-less process. Of course, orthodoxy has always affirmed that there is no conflict in the Trinity. There is mutual glorification among the persons of the Trinity. d But practically, our orthopraxis contradicts our orthodoxy. Though Jesus is promised to be a “wonderful counselor” (Isa. 7), the Spirit is promised to be an abiding counselor; the one sent by the Son to abide in every Christian ( Jn. 14:26).

To a great measure due to the misunderstanding of the trinitarian nature, the Spirit has been left out of the counseling room. He is not called nor petitioned to enter the process. But the Third Person of the Trinity is the key to the theological intimacy we must all seek. Paul writes:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

This transformation/transfiguration comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. Counseling stresses the Spirit dependency counselees must have to be transformed from glory to glory. The work of theology, Frame stresses, “is not simply to repeat the language of Scripture, but to apply the language of Scripture to our thought and life.” e The Spirit applies theology that changes for He is the source of change.

The type of intimacy I am advocating in counseling is the intimacy that communicates the need of the Spirit and the application of truth to all of life. If only truth is stressed f you lose the relationality of the Spirit of God, but when truth is joined with a conspicuous dependence on the Spirit, then true change from glory to glory begins to take place. Theology must be an intimate pursuit. It is there we discover the Spirit of God who provides true fellowship with the Father and the Son. g

  1. An Evangelical Theology, Bird.  (back)
  2. Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Christian Belief, 477  (back)
  3. cult-like  (back)
  4. see Frame, 480  (back)
  5. Frame, 482  (back)
  6. certain counseling paradigms operate strictly from this premise  (back)
  7. II Corinthians 13:14  (back)

Imitative Theology

We are imitators by nature. God made us this way. We are, after all, image-bearers. To copy is human. We know this in a very profound way when we become parents. Children very early on begin to reflect our temperament and repeat our most cherished lines ( a frightening idea at times).

My daughter recently put diapers on her set of Curious George monkeys. She saw my wife changing our little one time and again, and of course, she did what she thought was normal: imitate. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, not always. Sometimes it is the sincerest form of idolatry.

Many have made fine contributions to the nature of idolatry in our day. Beale’s labors on a theology of idolatry is the most sophisticated demonstration of this. Professor Beale argues that idolatry is theological imitation. People become what they worship, and in this becoming, they are transformed into lifeless idols. They cease to hear and to see. They become imitators of death (Ps. 115:4-8). They transfer trust from Yahweh (life) to idols (death). And in this transfer, they become theologically de-humanized.

Imitation of the Triune God is the sincerest form of honor to that God. Other imitations are just cheap expressions of idolatry. You can only serve one master. Choose you this day.

Not a Primitive Philosophy

Will Willimon writing for the Christian Century asserts that truthfulness is most clearly seen in its practical force. “How shall they know you are my disciples? When you love one another.” This was Jesus’ simple response. At the same time we must not forget that truth is contextualized in history by the writer of history. Life cannot be divorced from truth. Life is formed and lived out by truth if it is to be lived out accordingly. Pagans may conform externally to the law, but manifest “enlightened self-interest” in their actions. The Christian faith, on the other hand, sees truth affecting both external and internal motivations. These motivations are self-less and are shaped by the God/Man who was the embodiment of truth Pilate wondered about. As Willimon concluded:

Christianity is not another philosophy  or some primitive system of belief; it is a community  of people who worship the Jew whom Pilate sent to the cross.

This devotion to the Jewish Messiah is what enlivens the Christian truth and what changes the world.

The Ascension of our Lord: A Brief Introduction

The Church celebrates the Ascension of our Lord this Thursday. Since most churches are not able to have Thursday services, traditionally many of them celebrate Ascension on Sunday.

The Ascension of Jesus is barely mentioned in the evangelical vocabulary. We make room for his birth, death, and resurrection, but we tend to put a period where God puts a comma.

If the resurrection was the beginning of Jesus’ enthronement, then the ascension is the establishment of his enthronement. The Ascension activates Christ’s victory in history. The Great Commission is only relevant because of the Ascension. Without the Ascension the call to baptize and disciple would be meaningless. It is on the basis of Jesus’ enthronement at the right-hand of the Father, that we image-bearers can de-throne rulers through the power and authority of our Great Ruler, Jesus Christ.

The Ascension then is a joyful event, because it is the genesis of the Church’s triumph over the world. Further, it defines us as a people of glory and power, not of weakness and shame. As Jesus is ascended, we too enter into his ascension glory (Col. 3:1) This glory exhorts us to embrace full joy. As Alexander Schmemann once wrote:

“The Church was victorious over the world through joy…and she will lose the world when she loses its joy… Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy.”[1]

But this joy is given to us by a bodily Lord.

We know that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father. He is ruling and reigning from his heavenly throne. He has given the Father the kingdom, and now he is preserving, progressing, and perfecting his kingdom. He is bringing all things under subjection.

We know that when he was raised from the dead, Jesus was raised bodily. But Gnostic thinking would have us assume that since Jesus is in heaven he longer needs a physical body. But the same Father who raised Jesus physically, also has his Son sitting beside him in a physical body.  As one author observed:

Jesus has gone before us in a way we may follow through the Holy Spirit whom he has sent, because the way is in his flesh, in his humanity.[1]

Our Lord is in his incarnation body at the right hand of the Father. This has all sorts of implications for us in worship. We are worshipping a God/Man; one who descended in human flesh and who ascended in human flesh. He is not a disembodied spirit. He is truly God and truly man.

As we consider and celebrate the Ascension of our blessed Lord, remember that you are worshiping the One who understands your needs, because he has a body just like you; he understands your joy because he has a body just like you.

[1] Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World. Paraphrased

[2] Gerrit Dawson, see http://apologus.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/ascension-and-jesus-humanity/

The Repentance of God, Part 3 final

This is not foreign to the Biblical text. Jeremiah 18 says exactly what God will do in these situations: If a nation turns from evil, God will not destroy her; if the nation does not turn from evil, God will destroy it.

Let us go back to Jonah 3. In 40 days God will destroy Nineveh, but Nineveh repented and God turned His wrath away. Prophecy works in different ways so we cannot assume that every time God says something it is related to His eternal decrees. We maintain that when God decrees something, no human action will change His plan.

There are two primary forms of prophecy:

a)      Some prophecies are promises of what God will do. They are connected to a divine oath. They are tied to covenant promises: a) The prophecies of a Messiah, b) the promise of a Final Judgment, c) the recreation of the world, etc. These are not contingent on man’s response.

b)      The second form of prophecy is relational or covenantal. God’s relationship to His creatures may change over time. We need to understand that prophecy is not future-telling; prophecy is ethical and evangelistic. If we approached all prophecy in a que sera sera manner, we might as well be Muslims. The God of Islam does not relate to His people, but the God of the Bible is a relational, covenantal God. So in Jonah 3 God is giving them a conditional threat that did not necessarily need to happen. There is an implicit condition in the threat.

Listen to Calvin’s words in the Institutes:

Who now does not see that it pleased the Lord by such threats to arouse to repentance those whom he was terrifying, that they might escape the judgment they deserved for their sins? If that is true, the nature of the circumstances leads us to recognize a tacit condition in the simple intimation. Institutes 1.17.14

There is a tacit condition implied. God does not operate like an unmoved mover, but He operates as a heavenly Father. Pastor Rich Lusk says:

God is passionate, involved and consistent, but you never know what He is going to do next. We are not to de-personalize God. God is jealous; He expresses joy and delight; he shows patience and wrath and even repentance.[1]

Does God change His mind? What does Jonah 3:10 mean?

We are to learn two important truths:

a) God’s eternal decree does not change. God can’t be surprised or mistaken and He is not dependent on His creatures in anyway.

b) But on the other hand, God does change His mind in the sense that He is involved, engaging and He is in a personal relationship with us. He is intimate. In the end, we better hope that God changes His mind, because this is the heart of the gospel. This is the point of Nineveh where God turned wrath into grace; and God changed His mind about us as well. God changed His mind at the cross. God relented at the cross.[2] He decided not to send us all to hell, but to give us eternal life through Christ our Lord.


[1] Sermon series on Jonah 3.

[2] Quote from Lusk.

The Repentance of God, Part 2

Let me prove this point from the Scriptures:

Daniel 4:35: All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”

In Daniel, God does what He pleases in heaven and on earth.

We see in that long chapter in Lamentations 3 that good and bad things come from the Lord.

Proverbs 16:1 The plans of the heart belong to man,
but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.

In Proverbs, God controls the steps of man.

In Ephesians 1, God is the author of salvation. He calls and elects us according to His good pleasure. And even Jonah admits this in the end of his prayer in 2:9: Salvation is of the Lord.

James 1 says that God is unchanging. Whatever He decrees He performs.

But… in the Bible we find another set of passages, which seem to be in tension.[1]

The Bible uses terms like “repent,” “relent,” “regretted,” “grieved” to refer to God’s actions towards a particular situation. So, which is it? Is He sovereign or is He a mutable/changing/limited God?

At this point, let me give you an important principle of interpretation. The principle is that when either/or seems to do injustice to the Bible, consider both/and.

Ask yourself the question: “Would a both/and approach harmonize the Bible better than an either/or?” Do not feel that you always have to choose one position or the other? Sometimes both sides are complementary rather than antithetical. For instance, God is only a God of love! No, God is a God of love and a God of wrath. He is loving when He deems divinely appropriate to be loving and He is wrathful when He deems appropriate to be wrathful.

Sometimes two different ideas may be two sides of the same coin.[2]

Let give you an example from I Samuel 15:

The chapter begins with God telling Samuel to anoint Saul as king. God tells Saul to destroy everything in the city of Amalek. Saul is not to spare anything or anyone; women and children included. Saul destroys the city of Amalek, but then asks that they spare Agag, the sheep, lambs and so on. Then a few verses later, God says in verses 11: “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” In a matter of verses God regrets having made Saul King. Then the last verse of the chapter stresses this point again: And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel. More

The Repentance of God, Part 1

Jonah 3:9-10 – Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish. When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

According to verse 9 in Jonah, the one who is hopeful of God’s repentance is the King of Nineveh. This is not coming from a prophet of God, though the prophets do affirm this truth elsewhere. The King of Nineveh is defending a view of God that is compatible with the prophet Jeremiah.

In fact, let us read Jeremiah 18: 7-10:

If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. 9 And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.

These verses provide a framework for the Biblical view of God’s repentance. This is the clearest passage in the Bible about the relationship of God with nations and kingdoms.

I want to come back to this point, but first I want to lay groundwork for the Biblical position of divine repentance.

First, let me first explain that the idea of “repentance” has a two-fold significance. The Greek word for repentance is the word metanoia and the Hebrew word here used is nacham {naw-kham’}. Both ideas are identical. They speak of turning from one thing to another. It can also be translated as to be “moved to compassion or moved to pity.” When we speak of human repentance, we are speaking of turning from sin. This is not what we are talking about when we speak of divine repentance, because God cannot sin. What we are talking about is a change of mind. However you parse the word “repentance or relent,” we are still left with the Biblical idea that God changed His mind.

Secondly, let me defend the Biblical view of God’s sovereignty, because that ought to be first and foremost in our minds when we consider the question of God relenting.

You cannot read the Bible, no matter what tradition you come from, and deny the sovereignty of God in some sense. I want to emphasize the sovereignty of God in every sense. To echo one of my heroes Abraham Kuyper: “There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine! This belongs to me!'”

The Bible simply affirms this truth.

The Omnipotence of God in Psalm 139, part 2; Final

At this point let me go back to our working definition of omnipotence. God’s omnipotence means that a) He can do anything He pleases and that b) nothing is too hard for Him. But we have seen that in some cases He is not pleased to use His power because they are contrary to His nature. So God can do anything that is compatible with his attributes.

The great Puritan Stephen Charnock says the following:

“The power of God is that ability and strength whereby He can bring to pass whatsoever He pleases, whatsoever His infinite wisdom may direct, and whatsoever the infinite purity of His will may resolve. . . As holiness is the beauty of all God’s attributes, so power is that which gives life and action to all the perfections of the Divine nature. How vain would be the eternal counsels, if power did not step in to execute them. Without power His mercy would be but feeble pity, His promises an empty sound, His threatenings a mere scarecrow. God’s power is like Himself: infinite, eternal, incomprehensible; it can neither be checked, restrained, nor frustrated by the creature.” (S. Charnock).[1]

Let’s consider the implications of God’s power to our lives.

We have often picked up a systematic discussion like the omnipotence of God and we are prone to say: “What does this have to do with me?” In similar words: “How does this apply?” Theology tends to sound very intimidating. When you think of words like omnipotence, if you are not particularly engaged in these types of discussions day-to-day, you might think that theology is reserved for the theologian or the pastor or the bright layman or laywoman. In fact, if you trace the history of the definition of theology in the last 400 years, you will notice that some have defined theology as an art like biology or physics or mathematics. It becomes fragmented or compartmentalized. That is, if you like physics, you study physics; if you like math, then you study math; if you like theology, then you study theology. If you take this definition, then theology is only reserved for the armchair theologian; the guy who sits in his chair with a pipe and a book and who can’t carry a conversation about anything else, but the intricacies of theological discourse. Some seminary professors fit this profile very well. More

The Omnipotence of God in Psalm 139, Part 1

Providence Church (CREC)

Sunday School

Second Sunday of Epiphany, January 18th, 2009.

The Omnipotence of God in Psalm 139

I would like to continue thinking through Psalm 139 this morning. And I am going to focus on a particular dimension of Psalm 139. I learned this in seminary, that when you try to cover too much material, which my professors were experts in doing, you end up not covering much at all. With that in mind, let me narrow our attention to one particular aspect of Psalm 139, and that is the omnipotence of God.

This morning we worked through the four stanzas of Psalm 139. If we were to give systematic categories to the four stanzas, here is what we have:

a)      Psalm 139:1-6 – God is all-knowing, Omniscient

b)      Psalm 139:7-12 God is all-Present, Omnipresent

c)      Psalm 139:13-18 God is all-Powerful, Omnipotent (Remember Handel’s Messiah based on Revelation 19, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth – He reigns with all power.

d)      Psalm 139:19-24, The Holiness of God.

Our focus will be on the systematic discussion of the omnipotence of God. Let me begin by giving you a working definition of this term. God’s omnipotence means that a) He can do anything He pleases and that nothing is too hard for Him.[1]

Our Westminster Shorter Catechism question four asks the question: What is God? Answer: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.

There is a sense in which all these attributes are found in Psalm 139. And there is another sense in which all the attributes of God are inter-related. For instance, God’s power is eternal, unchangeable, good, true, and so on and so forth.

In simple terms, God’s omnipotence means that God can do whatever He pleases and whatever he pleases to do is not hard for Him to accomplish. More