Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Humble God

Yesterday, I argued that God is a lot of things, but one thing He cannot be is 'fair' (primarily because 'fair' does not exist without explanation, justification, and God never wanted to put us in the place of justifying Him; He justifies us). Recently, I was reading something and the author referred to God as 'humble.' That one stopped me.

Is our God humble?

Now certainly, of course, we know our God humbled Himself (Philippians 2:5-11). We know it took a considerable amount of humility to come as a man, to be born in a stable, to grow up in the Temple, to minister on the seashores, to walk toward Golgotha, to die, to be buried. I get that. Jesus was a humble man, for sure. On all accounts. 

But God?

Humble is not the first word anyone reading through the Old Testament would come up with for God. After all, this God created an entire world just for Himself, just for His own glory. Humble persons don't do anything for their own glory; God did literally everything for it. God made rules forbidding His people to consider any other Gods; He declared Himself the one and only for them. Humble persons don't require such devotion. God destroyed countless human beings for turning against Him; humble persons don't take their own revenge. He ordered the destruction of many more, and for what? For the importance of His people, His plan, His mission in the world. He's not sounding very humble, at least in human terms....

But God was not human; God was God. This is where humility comes in.

There were plenty of gods in the ancient near east around this time. We encounter some of them in our Scriptures - Baal, Astarte, Molech, and many others. What's interesting about these so-called gods is that they existed to serve the needs of the people. These gods were responsible for fertility, of men and of fields; they were responsible for the weather; they were responsible for the sun and the moon and the stars. These gods literally ran the day-to-day for the people who believed in them. But they required that these people serve them first. You want fertility? Bring me something in exchange. You want good weather? Perform a pleasing rain dance. You want the sun and the moon and the stars? You got 'em...as long as you give me what I want. People were so interested in pleasing and appeasing these gods that they would even burn their children alive as sacrifices to them, in exchange for...whatever it was they wanted from the god. 

Israel's God was no such god, however. In Israel, this paradigm was turned on its head. This God, too, was responsible for fertility, of men and of fields; He was responsible for the weather; He was responsible for the sun and the moon and the stars. But this God...this God embraced His responsibility and simply set these things in motion. He didn't create an exchange for them. He didn't hold them hostage. He created the world for Himself, yes, but then He gave that world to His Creation. He has, yes, exercised His control of these things from time to time, just to remind His people of the grace in the gift. But this God gives first, without having received. 

The sacrifices this God requires are not bribes; He won't do anything in exchange for your rams, lambs, or male goats. He won't do anything for your wine. In fact, He has no use of these things at all. The sacrifices this God requires are measures of thankfulness. What He's done is create a way for His people to recognize His generosity with their own. We sacrifice because He first sacrificed. We give because He first gave. Not the other way around. Remember that the vast majority of the offerings of the people...went back to the people. Only a small, small portion went into the flames. Only the tiniest little bit became the aroma pleasing to the Lord. The choicest meats were given to the priests; the offerings of grain were piled in the storehouses; the bread was broken and shared. Where the other gods were taking sacrifices for themselves and creating emptiness in the world where good things once had been, the God of Israel was sharing sacrifices across Creation and creating fullness. 

All of a sudden, it starts to come into focus, this idea of our God as a humble God. He gives without receiving, and releases His portion to His people. When you desire to honor Him, He takes your sacrifice and spreads it across Creation, giving again instead of taking for Himself. In a surface reading, it's easy to say that everything God's done is for Himself, for His own glory, but if you look at what God truly has done, everything He does is for His Creation. The story of God is one of Him continually pouring Himself back into His world. He empties Himself for our sake, but His fullness never runs out. 

That is the true mark of humility.

So of all the things our God can be, things like just and loving and righteous and faithful and holy, let us not forget also that He, unlike the other gods of the ancient or modern worlds, is truly a humble God, too. And let us humble ourselves. 

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