Monday, October 30, 2006

What does God do?

John 5: 17-23
[17] Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working." [18] For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

[19] Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. [20] For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. [21] For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. [22] Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, [23] that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.

Please bear with me on this one, but what does God do?

In considering my responses to the questions posed by the Hillbilly Atheist, one observation (or perhaps I should just call it a hypothesis) kept coming back to me - God generally does everything through people, not independent of people. Or, to turn that around, God does nothing (or almost nothing) by himself.

Think of any miracle as recorded in the bible. It was actually carried out by someone empowered by God, right? Not by God himself. (For reasons described elsewhere in this blog, I'm discounting everything up to and including the flood here, sorry.)

Who parted the read sea? Moses, empowered by God.
Who got water out of the rock? Moses, empowered by God.
Who brought the lightning down in front of the prophets of Baal? Elijah, empowered by God.
And so on.

In almost every instance I can think of (with the possible exception of 'manna', although that ceased when Moses died, so may have been through Moses), the miracle is carried out by means of a person. Not by God directly.

Is this right? Does God only work through His people?

If this is true, then it means that people can over-rule the will of God in certain circumstances. For example, suppose God empowers a certain person to heal another person, but the empowered person decides not to do the healing, then the sick person remains unwell.

It may also account for some of the apparenly un-loving miraculous acts in the bible. Take the example of Ananias & Sapphira (Acts 5). Peter was empowered by God (perhaps just for general ministry purposes) but Peter used that power to kill the two offenders. Were those deaths God's choice, or Peter's?

It also may give the final answer to the big questions of suffering and death. Why did God allow the 2004 tsunami? Because He needs to work through people - and the people either didn't know or didn't have the faith or whatever to stop the tsunami.

But this brings me to the passage above - Jesus says he only does what he sees the Father doing. So we must assume that the Father does something independent of people, but what?

The passage goes on to be confusing, because if Jesus only does what he sees the Father doing, and the Father does not judge, then how can Jesus judge? But that is a side issue.

No answers here I'm afraid, only questions. What does God do today?


Marcus Green said...

What does God do today...

Love us so much that we might overflow and love others?

Is that enough to start with? Knowing how hard I am to love, I find it rather a lot.

And even more than this, he softens my heart so that it might well receive that love, like a gentle rain that prepares the ground for the deluge it needs. If just the deluge came, I would be washed away, lost, overwhelmed and angry; so he loves me gently, a little at a time, and slowly he captures me, bit by bit, and fills me, inch by inch, so that imperceptibly the water-table of my heart is deepened and filled and overflowing for others yet I do not drown. I live and am loved and selfish man that I am I too discover I may love.

It's not a parting of the Red Sea, nor is it 5,000 fed in a moment. For me it is a far greater wonder than that, and a far greater wonder still is that if he does it even in me - how many other hearts and minds and souls are experiencing this and more?

Anonymous said...

A very interesting post, as usual!

My belief of what God does is speak to us, advise us, and I think, occasionally do things. I don't think he always does things through people, for instance, when I recieve answered prayers, I believe God has taken action.

I agree with Marcus, I think God wants to just change the world and change us through his love. The only thing I don't like is the idea of "softening our heart", because, personally, I believe we make our own decisions, and personally can choose whether to do as God wishes or not, and he cannot force us.

So basically, I believe that God answers prayers, loves us, communicates with us, but I don't think he can affect the human will, perhaps just influence it with dreams and speaking through the spirit.

Ricky Carvel said...

Marcus, Mike,

Hi. Good to know that two of the folk that I consider as 'regular lurkers' are still here.

Sorry, when I wrote this post I wasn't really talking about what I think of as 'the work of the Holy Spirit' - that is, the direct interactions between God and the hearts and minds of His people, through the Spirit. I know all about this work and certainly don't deny it.

I was really thinking about the interactions (or apparent lack thereof) between God and his creation. Can you point to anything current in nature and say 'God did that' or 'God changed that'. I don't mean the creative act itself, but once something in nature has been created, does God ever directly interact with it, or are all his (inter)actions done through His people?

Mike, I wonder if you'd care to give examples of the answered prayers - and here again, I'm not talking about the interaction between God and the minds of people (where he caused someone to behave in a certain way towards you, for example), but of the physical interaction of God with his world?

This line of thinking is working towards an answer to the big 'why does God allow...?' type questions. If God doesn't ever interact then the answer is (comparitively) easy, but if God could interact but sometimes choses not to, then the answer is very complicated.