Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The God who comes looking

In my last post I talked about the mission of God and how I understand it. One of the themes of my preaching over the last 20+ years has been this idea of the God who comes looking. The gospel is a story about incarnation. God becomes human, lives among a people and can be touched, heard, and seen. It is a cornerstone of the good news.

But it's not just a theological truth. It expresses something of the heart and passion God has to be amongst his people, the people he loves. It starts in the garden of the early chapters of Genesis and runs through to the later chapters of Revelation. God comes looking for Adam even though he knows he's broken the commandment not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. In Revelation, the final stages of the unfolding story are described in terms of the new city. A place where God "dwells among the people and they will be his people and he will be their God."

But this isn't just a neat literary device, neatly drawing the two ends of a long narrative together. It's fundamental to the whole story and woven throughout it's pages. God is seen regularly making special excursions into the lives of individuals. He speaks directly to some and does extraordinary things in the lives of others. I think God's great desire to live amongst his people is most clearly exemplified in the building of the Tabernacle. When you read the description of the tents and the design and layout of the Tabernacle, you might think it's designed to keep the people out. Clearly demarked areas and processes to be followed, threats of imminent destruction and judgement for failure to follow the rules might make you think that God was excluding them rather than including them.

But shift your perspective for a moment and ask yourself how does a holy, perfect God live right in the middle of an unholy and imperfect people without destroying them? If the natural outcome of an encounter between the unholy and holy is that the unholy is judged and with that judgement comes destruction, then the Tabernacle becomes the only way God could achieve his desire to be among the people without destroying them. Mercy does indeed triumph over judgement.

Ultimately this passionate desire to live in close connection with humanity is seen in Jesus Christ as the holy God becomes flesh and blood. Amazing isn't it, to think that there was a time in human history when a person could touch God without dying a sudden death. When God comes looking, it's because he loves you.

Yes, there are those salutary moments when judgement breaks out, when the holiness of God seems no longer to be able to dwell with the unholiness of humanity. But the overwhelming narrative of the Bible is that God comes looking for us and does so because in some way heaven is incomplete without us and he can't stand the idea of us not being there. He will do and has done whatever it takes to make it possible for us to live with him as he desires to live with us.

For as long as I get to keep preaching, I'll keep talking about the God who comes looking.

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