The central character in the Bible is God! But we only know that because the God of the Bible made that known to us humans and He made it known in ways that humans could receive it.
The God of the Bible is a God who cares profoundly for humans and (as Barth would put it) He didn’t will to be God without us and that’s why the human race came into being and continues to exist (Acts 17:25, 28). Furthermore, He did not want His history to be His and ours to be ours. He wanted it to be a shared history. In all this the love of God for humanity is made clear and that desire and sovereign will of God comes to it full revelation and its fulfillment in the Lord Jesus.
It has been and is the decision of the Triune God that the One we have heard spoken of as “The Word” is the member of the Godhead that would become incarnate and become known to us as Jesus of Nazareth. That one, said Paul, was raised out from among the dead “that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:18; Romans 8:29 and note John 16:13-14). And that must be true in the pulpit or behind the lectern—wherever— Jesus must be given the preeminence, certainly by teachers and the Covenant People at large.
But shouldn’t we speak about humans and their human life and troubles and their sorrow?
We should indeed but it should always be spoken of within the narrative of God’s self-revelation and overarching purpose. Without that there is no fuller sense of the glory of being a human—there is no fuller sense of our sinful perversion of our identity, there is no fuller sense of our loss, of how far we’ve fallen or how evil our evil as a human family is.
Nor can believers get the fuller sense of what they’re singing when they sing, “A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord.” We underestimate the strength of the entrenched satanic power that we turned loose and so we underestimate the complexity and glory of the rescue presuming we’re allowed to remain human rather than turned into puppets. And the glory and hope-filled mystery when redeemed humanity comes to be like Jesus Christ (1 John 3:1, 3; Philippians 3:20-21) cannot be richly visioned if Jesus is sidelined. Let me say it again: these matters and more cannot be faced with realism and assurance and living hope if Jesus is not permitted to be the center!
“Therefore as dear children, be imitators of God and walk in love as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us…” (Ephesians 5:1-2)
The wording in that text isn’t troublesome but because of the nature of things it does not say enough. There can be no development of “imitate God” or “walk in love as Christ has loved us.” For some of that we must go to other texts but even the other texts cannot tell the entire Story. Nothing can tell the entire Story for it is too complex, too rich and too much that is beyond us at present.
Nevertheless, in light of the Holy Scriptures and the embodiment of God in Jesus Christ, God speaks to us in living people who by God’s grace learn the thought, speech and behavior of love. And when believers choose the image of Jesus Christ they have the confirmation that they are indeed (though not flawlessly) imitating God.
That is a living response to God! But the living response to God will not flesh out the same for every human. In some areas of life there will come a clear cut “NO” from God that will accompany a comprehensive “Yes” from Him. This means there will be vast areas of life that are common to sincere believers in Jesus Christ and the divine “NO” will only be in support of the “YES”. But there will not be an exhaustive biblical “blueprint” for living. Teachers who wish to micromanage the lives of believers are injurious. But the divine “NO” in “You will not have a god before Me!” is a non-negotiable and it’s a non-negotiable not only because God merits that devotion, not only because the gods are a human and destructive creation but because without Him there is no fullness of life and He longs for humans to have just that!
Heinrich Heine after quoting the Homeric description of the feasting gods, says:
“Then suddenly approached, panting, a pale Jew with drops of blood on his brow, with a crown of thorns on his head, and a great cross laid on his shoulders: and he threw the cross on the high table of the gods so that the golden cups tottered and the gods become dumb and pale, and grew even paler till at last they melted away into vapor.”
The gods exist! But they exist the way hallucinations, illusions, delusions and other mental constructs exist. They have no existence apart from us; we create them and then depend on them for our existence. We did that kind of thing when we were children riding on our stick horses. We made and were holding up the horses and carried away by the game we were in we acted as though, and even half-believed that, the horses were supporting us.
How I live out my life in response to God will be like yours in crucial and inevitable ways but it can never be just like yours nor should we expect it to be. (Believers who marry close doors to many wonderful things and open doors to many other lovely things. The lives of the married and the unmarried will diverge remarkably and they will live out their response to God in varying ways.)
Once more, however you live out your life in the uniqueness of your person-hood and life-situation means it will differ from mine but as believers in the Lord Jesus we pledge to love Him, imitate Him and walk in covenant love with one another.
The Heine quotation ends like this:
“Anyone who sees his god suffering finds it easier to endure his own pain. The merry gods of the past, who felt no pain, did not know either how poor tortured human beings feel, and a poor person in desperation could have no real confidence in them. They were holiday gods; people danced around them merrily, and could only thank them. For this reason they never received whole-hearted love. To receive whole-hearted love one must suffer. Compassion is the last sacrament of love; it may be love itself. Therefore of all the gods who ever lived, Christ is the god who has been loved the most.”
(Taken from: “Die Stadt Lucca” The City of Lucca “Reisebilder, Bd. 4” Travel pictures, Vol 4 1831.)
(Holy One, confront us with your wonderful self that we might be shaped by Your presence and come to know what is Your good and perfect and acceptable will for ourselves as part of your much -loved Covenant People. This prayer in Jesus Christ.)