f we believe the biblical Story is about a God who did not choose to be God without creation and humankind so he loved us into existence. [See Psalm 136.] He did that with a view to completing his purpose concerning us by bringing us into the image of Jesus—the immortal man, glorious in righteousness and who as a human is the perfect image of God. If we believe the Story it means that God purposed fellowship, communion, life together and that human response is to be human response and not simply God responding to himself. In short, he freely chose out of his infinite joy and love of life to have a family of holy and joy-filled companions.
With the advent of sin (which came as no surprise to God) it might have been thought that God would jettison the entire enterprise but not him—not this God! He had committed himself and would see the enterprise through and despite the God-denying look of much of human life that was the gospel that was proclaimed in numerous ways down through history. As surely as God’s overarching purpose was true companionship with creative human response just that surely he wanted people to work with him in securing it.
So woven into the fabric of the entire biblical witness is the picture of God walking through the earth looking not only for the lost and the troubled but looking for people who would trust him; people whose gallant faith would test him and provoke him to come up with the substance of the things he led them to dream about and envision.
More often than enough the search came to nothing and there were times when faithlessness became so marked even in his own people that he would say things like, Go find me one righteous man and I’ll forgive the city! (Jeremiah (5:1), or to Ezekiel (22:30), Find me one man to stand in the gap and I won’t destroy the city!
To faithless Israel he said (Isaiah 48:18); If only you had paid attention to my
commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea. See this too in Asa in 2 Chronicles 16:7-9 and in trustless Ahaz to
whom he said (Isaiah 7:10-11), Test me and I’ll meet your request no matter what it is. In fact, when the prophets (OT and NT) looked over Israel’s history it might be fair to say that their summary would have been Isaiah 65:2-3, All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people…a people who continually provoke me to my very face. But Hebrews 11 makes it clear that his search wasn’t always a failure and that he had reason to go back to the Land of the Trinity smiling to himself and with a sparkle in his eye. To the prematurely old Abraham and his barren wife (see Genesis 17:15-16 and 1 Peter 3:6.) he said, I will make you father and mother of countless children—can you trust me to accomplish that? They said yes and God walked off with a smile saying, I’ll be back. (See Genesis 18:10.)
And then there’s that marvelous psalm (Psalm 23) where some glorious believer couldn’t keep his mouth shut any longer and jumped up in church to say, I just want to say that I trust God come what may!
Whatever Genesis 1 and Exodus 14:10-31 taught the ancient Jews, it taught them that God was the Lord of the waters and everything else that existed. He spoke and it obeyed him (see also Isaiah 17:12-14). The sea was no god to be worshiped as it had been worshiped in Egypt, where Israel had spent so many years. Still, its restlessness, its destructive power and the fact that they couldn’t control it were enough to make it a symbol of threat and chaos. They often spoke of it in those terms. Isaiah said (17:12) Oh, the raging of many nations—they rage like the raging sea! Oh, the uproar of the peoples—they roar like the roaring of great waters.
Hear the pounding of huge waves as they smash against one another with destroying force is a graphic picture of clashing armies. In their wickedness they never ceased to cast up muck and debris (Isaiah 57:20). It was out of the restless Mediterranean (the Great Sea) that the four great Gentile kingdoms arose like monsters from a science fiction movie, devouring all before them and oppressing the people of God (Daniel 7:1-8). It’s no wonder then that when John describes the condition of the new heaven and earth in which the enemy has no place that he says of it, And there was no more sea—Revelation 21:1 with 13:1 .
With thoughts and images of cruel seas circulating in a little nation that for centuries had felt the power of oppressors, the psalmist’s defiant words in 46:1-3 ring out all the finer and braver and more trustful. People who had known no trouble didn’t sing the words he speaks—they’d known more than their share! These weren’t the words of a people who thought the world could be fixed if only people were given enough information. This man speaks for his entire people who expected the world to be wild and oppressive and who knew that either today or tomorrow they’d feel the hurt that powerful nations bring to weaker kingdoms. Knowing all that, fully aware of all that, certain that it will come to that, here’s what he says:
God is our refuge and strength,
An ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
And the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
Though its waters roar and foam and the mountains
Quake with their surging.
Picture this believer at some point in his life standing on top of the cliff, watching the huge waves building out there and then rushing toward him, picking up speed and power and they come. Imagine the shudder he feels in the ground when they thunder against the cliff face, again and again, unrelentingly, threatening to bring down the entire mountain and him along with it. Think of him, then, looking landward, to his home and people and the irresistible forces lined up against them.
It’s with all those images and realities in mind that he sings into the wind and later in church: Read again what he defiantly sings out of a faith-filled heart.
Modern believers also sing that song. I know many of them personally! They’re intelligent, wide-eyed, politically aware, as realistic as any you could meet and when they feel the shudder under their feet they take note of it and get on with their business of world-transformation by gospeling in all the ways that they do that; they’re some of the people, ancient and modern, who test God by placing their faith in him.
But no one ever tested God the way Jesus did! No one ever challenged God to the limit as Jesus did by his life of ceaseless devotion and trust. He laid it out before his Holy Father from the beginning right up to the moment when even in the midst of his awful feeling of abandonment on the cross he committed his spirit to his Father’s keeping.
His entire life and vision is described by Peter in the words of David (Acts 2:25-28 and Psalm 16:8-11):
I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.
As the psalm shows us, David knew the reality of a faith like that in his own life but only Jesus could fill his words to the utmost—nobody tested God as he did! But the words as a description of Jesus depth and breadth of trust in God, give us Jesus’ view of God. He saw God as worthy of even a perfect trust like his! In life Jesus gave his stamp of approval to all the lives and words of God’s ancient servants who told a worried nation in troubled times: “God can be trusted!”
Still, even the best of them wavered at times, whether it was Abraham, Moses or Samuel—but Jesus never did! Since the dawn of time God has been calling people to trust him and there were times when he got a grand response but one day he called to a child named Jesus and said, “Trust me!” and the little boy said, “I do and will!”
And one Friday, when He consummated his entire life of sinless holiness and warm righteousness, when he offered himself up in death, he laid it all out before God and said: “Match that!” And He did it with the utmost confidence that his Holy Father would do just that—He would match it!
And then came Sunday morning!