Thursday, March 16, 2006

Yesterday, today, forever?

When I was young, one of the popular songs that was sung in Sunday school went like this:

Yesterday, today, forever, Jesus is the same
All may change but Jesus never
Glory to his name...

That song and those words are permanently imprinted on my memory. I guess its based on Hebrews 13 v. 8 (which actually seems out of context when you read it in context!).

But what does it mean? And what does it mean for us?

On one level it can't be true - Jesus was born a baby, grew up, was crucified, died, rose again and ascended to heaven where he was given the name above all names. All that shows a process of change from boy to man, from un-scarred to permanently scarred and from not-the-name-above-all-names to name-above-all-names.

Perhaps the words are meant to apply to the post-ascended, name-above-all Jesus - maybe it was at that point that he started not changing?

I've generally understood the words to mean that God/Jesus will always treat us the same way, but I began to question that assumption several years ago when I read the book "The Disappearance of God: A Divine Mystery" by Richard Elliot Friedman (read chapter 1 online here). The book is split into three sections, the second and third of which are a lot less interesting than the first and which I won't discuss here. The first section however looks at the way God interacts with his people in the Old Testament. It makes the astounding observation that the way God has dealt with his people has progressively changed through time!

For example, consider the following biblical people:
  1. Adam: spoke with God face to face; disobeyed and was severely punished.
  2. Abraham: spoke with God face to face; tried to persuade God to change his mind (re: Sodom) but wasn't able to; unquestioned obediance was expected.
  3. Moses: spoke to God but didn't see his face; negotiated (sucessfully) with God; when commanded to do something was able to persuade God into letting him take his brother along with him; when commanded to speak to a rock to produce water he struck it instead but the miracle still worked (Numbers 20); but was still punished for this weakness.
  4. Joshua: didn't have the same level of contact with God as Moses; yet still was accompanied by numerous miracles etc.
  5. The judges: much fewer miracles; much less direct communication from God. Note the way that Samson behaves - that sort of behaviour wouldn't have been tolerated in the time of Abraham or Moses, but God seems to let it go here.
  6. Samuel: is the last named person in the bible who God 'revealed' himself to.
  7. Solomon: is the last person in the bible who God 'appeared' to.
From there on in, God speaks only thorough the prophets, and their writings and communications diminish in volume and in the number of 'thus sayth the Lord' as time goes on. By the time we reach the last (chronological) book in the old testament, the book of Esther, God does not feature as an explicit character, he is not even named and there is no communication from him, only prayers to him.

Anyway, there's whole lots of interesting things to be deduced from that process of change, but one thing is clear - God does not behave the same way to all people at all times.

So even if we know how God treated his people in biblical times, how can we be sure how he will treat us in the future?

Comments anyone?


Chris Hamer-Hodges said...

God's nature is unchanging. He is not fickle or double-minded. The qualities that make him who he is: his holiness, justice, righteousness, mercy, love, faithfulness, power are the same yesterday, today and forever. We do not have a temperamental God, who we come to with uncertainty as if "what will he be like today?" We have confidence to approach him because he is unchanging.

You are right however, that his relationship with us is a dynamic thing. The unchanging nature of God does not make him predictable, like a video game which if you push the same buttons at the same times you get the same response. He is a person, who interacts with us on a personal level. He is also a father - the Father. And just as it is natural that the way we react and respond to our children changes as they grow up, so it is the same throughout redemptive history. It does not denote that God is changing, but that his people were changing.

Karuna said...

Numbers 23:19 says "God is not a man, that he should lie,nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?" I guess this answers your question fully, God does not change 'like' man changes. So its not God who changed, it was man who changed (like chris says). God did not leave us without planning and caring for us. We have more reason to believe how "WELL" God will treat us, because of all the prophecies He has fulfilled so far.Here's something from John 14:2-4 "In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am". In the light of all this I think God will treat us very well (as He does even now)and the question now is how do we treat God in our relationship with Him, with doubts, with anger, with unbelief, with disobedience?

God Bless.

Ricky Carvel said...

The verse from Numbers 23 is interesting, because at various parts of the bible it is clear that God did change his mind (e.g. he 'repented' of his actions in the flood and decided never to do it again) and even was persuaded out of a course of action by a person (e.g. Moses persuading God not to destroy the Israelites after the incident with the gold calf). At various points in the OT God is described as having some very human responses.

And Chris, I don't think our confidence in approaching God comes from his unchanging nature, it comes because Jesus bought us the right to enter his presence. But that is just a minor point, I do generally agree that God's qualities are unchanging.

Karuna said...

In all what we see regarding God having "human nature", we must remember "WE were made in His Image" and not vice versa. We have distorted the image of God that we were originally made in, by sin. I didn't find God's repentence anywhere but I did find God being deeply grieved for making man who had chosed to use God given abilities for evil.(Genesis 6-9). Even in that terrible condition (when man was doing as he pleases) God made sure he found Noah and saved his entire family and does so for all the people who are yet willing to have a relationship with Him.
I think, if every single person in the world started doing what they felt like(in their free will) and there were no believers in the Living God, we wouldn't all be living in peace the way we do now.There would be every act, opposite to the 10 commandments all over the place,what would one do to resolve this?
God always wanted fellowship with His people.Man in his pride, of free will, went away from God the very first opportunity he got wanting to be like-God in his own way.
About Moses, I wonder, since God knows the end from the beginning, wouldn't He have known that Moses would intercede for the Israelites? Its amazing when we find, that God already knows and makes it seem as though 'we' did that amazing task ourselves.
Every good work that we do now has already been planned by God, its up to us to do it or not.(Ephesians 2:10:
10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.)

Ricky Carvel said...

Good point Godzheart (and thanks for linking to my blog on yours:

But I've never been too comfortable with the doctrine that you express, where it is assumed that God knew how Moses would behave and so arranged things to look like Moses was persuading God, but actually God did just what he had intended to all along. If you follow that line of reasoning then our freedom of choice is reduced to nothing - beacuse everything we ever do is what God planned. And that applies to serial killers and rapists just as much as to Godly believers.

Have a look at Matthew 16v19:
"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

Here Jesus gave Peter (and, hence, the rest of the Church which was built upon him) the authority to make decisions and the promise that whatever Peter decided would be put into action in heaven and earth. This would be an empty promise if all it meant was "I'll pretend to give you authority, but actually I'll make all the decisions and although you think you made them, it was actually me, you just did what I planned for you...".

I believe we have the choice to do good or evil. I believe we have the choice to pray to God. I believe that if we pray we can move the hands of God! But the flip-side of that is that I also believe that there are situations where if we do not pray then God will not act, even if bad things happen as a consequence.

Hmm, this thread sure is shifting away from the original topic...

Karuna said...

Hi Ricky, I hope we could discuss this, (sorry for shifting the thread :) )maybe in another post or somewhere.Anyway, all the "good deeds" were planned by God, however man chose his own will to not do the 'good', like the rapists etc that you mentioned. We all make choices everyday. When I was in college, I was learning to live a life for Jesus and the "WHat would Jesus do" was catching on amongst all the believers in the college. I used to travel by bus from the city to our college, about 45 minutes trip. Sometimes the bus would be so full, that we would be grateful for just getting a seat on the bus.However every time some one old or having a child, boarded the bus, I could choose to either offer them my seat or look the other way. Sometimes I did the good (offer the seat)and sometimes not.A very day to day example but I'd say its the same with these guys (killers and the likes) they can choose to do right if they want and live in harmony with people, but I think they've given themselves away to disobedience and so shut their ears to God, that even their conscience doesn't prod them any more.So, man has the free will to choose to do the good deeds God has planned or to not.
By the way, I like your blog because of the genuine doubts you post, that any christian might have. I had doubts like this before, but I started understanding them little by little. I am glad your blog is a blessing to all who want to find the truth.

God Bless.