Embracing God’s CharacterOctober 13, 2016
What is God's personality like? Author Jen Wilkin explains the self-sufficiency of God, as well as His eternality, which means He is not bound by time like we are, but exists outside of time.
Show Notes and Resources
What is God's personality like? Author Jen Wilkin explains the self-sufficiency of God, as well as His eternality, which means He is not bound by time like we are, but exists outside of time.
Show Notes and Resources
Embracing God’s Character
Bob: One of the things the Bible teaches us about God is that He is eternal. Jen Wilkin says it’s good for us to remember that we’re not—we’re finite.
Jen: We tend to become idolatrous in the way we think about ourselves when we are either stuck in the past, or always consumed with what’s going to happen in the future, and then, we take for granted the present. We have to recognize that we are bound by time—and not because there’s something wrong with us—but that’s the way we were created to be. And then we should live within those boundaries in a way that is glorifying to our Creator.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, October 13th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Today, we’ll explore how our understanding of who God is has an impact on how we live our lives, day in and day out. Our guest is Jen Wilkin. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Was there a time in your life when you can remember that your understanding of God kind of went from, “Oh, He’s this,” to “Oh! He’s this!”—I mean, the picture got enlarged for you?
Dennis: Yes. I would say I was a junior in college. I wasn’t exactly walking with God / experiencing Him—didn’t really care about Him. But when the spiritual lights began to come on in my life and I began to understand, through the reading of the Bible, that God’s love was still coming at me, whether I loved Him or not, I’ve never gotten over that. It was like, “How can that be?” because I, as a human being—you know, I don’t love perfectly / I don’t keep on coming after people—but God’s not like me. He is totally different than me.
We have a guest here who’s actually written a book pointing out the differences between us and God.
The book is called None Like Him, and the guest is Jen Wilkin. Welcome back to the broadcast, Jen.
Jen: Thanks for having me on!
Dennis: She’s really talking about the characteristics of God. She’s a Bible teacher, mom, wife, and has written other books: Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds.
This book you’ve written, None Like Him—this book really kind of leans into our minds; does it not?
Jen: Yes. I’m asking people to think hard about who the Bible says God is—who the Bible says God is—is not something that we would probably arrive at, intellectually, on our own; because we would want to make a god who fits into a box a little better than the God of the Bible does.
Bob: I’m thinking of some of the big, thick, old books I’ve seen on this subject. A.W. Pink wrote a book called The Attributes of God.
Bob: I mean, I don’t know how many pages you have, but he has more pages than you on the subject.
Bob: This is something that people, centuries ago, thought about more than we think about today.
Jen: Absolutely. Stephen Charnock has one that’s just huge—The Existence and the Attributes of God. It’s a topic that I feel like is so important. One of he reasons I wanted to write this particular book is because I think, sometimes, we forget to go back to people like Arthur Pink or Stephen Charnock. Arthur Pink didn’t live that long ago; and even A.W. Tozer—not everyone has had access to The Knowledge of the Holy.
I wanted to take what those men had written on and extend it, because I loved that they gave you a heightened vision for who God was; but I also wanted to add a practical piece to it: “How is it that we actually try to mimic these things that are only true about God?” and “Why is that such a dangerous and unhealthy way for us to live?”
Bob: And what happens when somebody’s picture of who God is—is or it’s less than who God really is?
When you have kind of that dumbed-down view of who God is—which I think is where a lot of us start in our spiritual journey—how does that affect our lives?
Jen: Well, I think that, initially, we think it will be comforting to have a manageable God. Then we begin to realize that, if God is manageable, then we’re the ones who have to manage all of the big issues. I think about the story of Gideon in Judges, and how he wanted to make God sort of play his game—so he’s laying out these fleeces and telling God: “Oh, now, make it wet,” / “Now, make it dry.”
What you see in that whole story is that he ends up being more panicked than he was at the outset of the story, because he’s still in control of things. As long as he—we think that we want a God whom we can command; but the truth is—we want a God who is commanding us / who is absolutely capable of being in charge. That’s what Gideon learned, and it’s what we must learn as well.
Bob: Whether we want that for God or not, that’s the God who is.
Jen: Right! [Laughter]
Bob: At the end of the day, that’s what we have to come around and understand—is it’s not the God we want—it’s the God who is that we’re called to worship.
Jen: Well, and you think about the first command. I thought about the first command so much as I was writing this book, because I’m writing about all these things that are only true about God—His infinitude, and just how He is immeasurable and unquantifiable, and so much bigger than anything we ever would have come up with on our own.
When you learn about who God is described to be in Scripture, it becomes really apparent that there cannot possibly be any other gods. That’s essentially what the first command is telling us when it says, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” It’s saying it because there are no other gods. When we focus our attention on who the Bible proclaims God to be, it helps us obey the first command; because we realize the insanity of thinking there could be any rivals.
Bob: Talk about the self-suffiency of God—it’s one of the attributes that you talk about. We are dependant creatures / God is self-sufficient. He doesn’t need us for anything; does He?
Jen: Right! That’s a little bit disappointing to some of us. I think that some of us grew up with a narrative that God created us to fill a little human-shaped hole in His heart. And yet, God has always had complete sufficiency. He didn’t need our love—He had that within the Trinity. The Triune God has always had love and fellowship. He wasn’t lonely; and we don’t supply Him with anything, which intuitively makes sense once we’ve acknowledged that He’s the origin of all things. He can’t possibly have been dependant on any of the created things if they didn’t exist prior to Him speaking them into existence.
So then we get left with: “So then why does He love me? Why did He create me?” We know we’re created for His glory; but we’re not really told why He loves us, other than that it was according to His good pleasure.
Dennis: We’re talking about how God is self-sufficient. I find the paradox here is that God wants to teach us to be dependent upon Him.
Dennis: He wants to wean us away from being self-sufficient. I was actually thinking of a neighbor I had for a number of years. This guy could do anything / he knew the answer to everything—he was self-sufficient. But he was a very proud man. Ultimately, he died without Christ even though I went to talk with him—and sat on his porch and talked to him about how he was an eternal being and that there was a God he was going to stand before someday and give an account of his life. He was so self-sufficient he could not bend his will to depend upon Jesus Christ for his salvation.
Comment on what God’s trying to do in our lives here, teaching us not to be self-sufficient.
Jen: Sometimes, the greater obstacle to the gospel is not, “I’m such a wretched sinner,”—it’s—“I’m pretty awesome, and I’m doing okay on my own”; right? It’s that whole, “I have got the game.”
But then I think the other issue we run into is thinking that to be needy is somehow to be flawed. If you look at the garden of Eden, you can see that human beings did not become needy after the Fall—now, certainly, we developed a whole new set of needs and a certain kind of needs that were born out of brokenness—but we had needs before that whole issue with the serpent, and the lies, and everything that came after. Why?—because we were created to acknowledge that we had need of our Creator. That way, we would offer right worship to Him.
So to be human is to need. We’re created, not just to need God, but also to need one another—to live in community with one another. That’s Adam and Eve—created for one another and created to rule and subdue the earth together. Those two relationships get messed up once sin enters into the picture, but it’s not the neediness that is the issue; it’s the sin factored into the neediness that then makes it reach out to have less than excellent things meet the needs.
Ultimately, we have to recognize that our greatest need is met in the work of Christ / in His restoring a relationship to God. Then we’re able to place our needs in the order that they ought to be, and use them as ways that cause us to worship and have right dependence instead of in ways that cause us to raise up idols of things that aren’t capable of bearing them.
Bob: And what is our greatest need? If you’re just zeroing in on the thing we need more than anything else, what is it?
Jen: We need restoration—we need our sins removed by the atoning work of Christ.
Dennis: Yes. It was thinking about the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. This year, we’ll have about 84/85 of these events—have about 48/50,000 people attend these conferences. At the conference, when we talk about the purpose that God had for marriage, one of the things we talk about is that God chose to create a need in man that could only be met by God.
He made us with a need that can only be filled by the person of Jesus Christ engaging us, entering our lives, coming and dwelling inside of us, and us surrendering ourselves—back to self-sufficiency again—us surrendering ourselves to Him.
For some people at the conference—when they begin to see this big, grand picture—all of a sudden, marriage moves out of this arena where it’s two people trying to make each other happy to two people who were made in the image of God with a high and noble purpose of showing God off to a planet full of broken people.
It’s really a great privilege to engage God, and to know God through the person of Jesus Christ, and to have Him begin to change your life, and to teach you how to love—how to love another broken person / another selfish person—and how to repent and ask for forgiveness when you’ve offended another person, just like He’s forgiven you.
Marriage is really one of the great training-grounds, I think, for showing God off in our world today.
Jen: And I think that the whole issue of neediness within marriage—there are right things that we should need from a spouse. Those things grow the longer that you’re married to them. That’s one of the interesting things—is you find yourself becoming increasingly interdependent. That can be a strange feeling to the person who has gravitated towards self-sufficiency.
But there’s also—the sin problem means that we have a tendency to want to need things from them that they cannot and should not be giving to us. They can’t be the source of our ultimate fulfillment. We cannot put them on, as you would say, a pedestal and make an idol out of them. It’s a delicate balancing act—to recognize: “This is a legitimate need that this person can meet,” and “This is a need that can only be met by God.”
Bob: Let me ask you about the issue of eternality—God’s eternality—because we’ve talked about the fact that He’s infinite.
So to talk about the fact that He’s eternal—there’s a nuance there.
Let me just say, by the way, we’re talking to Jen Wilkin about the attributes of God. She’s written a book called None Like Him, which is a book that we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com if you’re interested in getting a copy of the book or finding out more about it.
What’s the difference between eternality and the infinite nature of God?
Jen: His infinitude touches His eternality, because it means that He has an infinite amount of time; but it’s probably more proper to say that He’s not bound by time / He’s not limited by time. He exists outside of time; but then, we would also say that He exists within time, fully present.
He doesn’t—you know, I think I give the example in the book of taking a trip to Paris and how I wanted to remember it—I wanted to remember what the Eiffel Tower was like. So I kept a journal and I took photos. But God doesn’t have to remember it, because He is in the past / He’s still there; and He’s in the future.
What a comfort to us that He is the God of the past and the God of the future, and tell us: “You know what your responsibility is?—right now. If you would just live in the present, that’s all you need to be.”
We tend to become idolatrous in the way we think about ourselves when we are either stuck in the past or always consumed with what’s going to happen in the future. Then I would say the third way that that can look is when we take for granted the present. We have to recognize that we are bound by time—and not because there’s something wrong with us—but that that’s the way we were created to be. And then we should live within those boundaries in a way that is glorifying to our Creator.
Dennis: I’ve never forgotten this statement—I don’t know who said it: “It is upon time that all of eternity depends.” I think one of the things we’re not talking about, in terms of who God is and also the existence of eternity—that we are going to spend eternity somewhere.
We are living souls that will either spend it in fellowship with God—in eternity / in heaven—a place He’s prepared for us—or there is a place of judgment. It’s a place called hell, and it is a place of eternal torment.
Comment, if you would, just about the lack of discussion today in our Christian community about the contrast between heaven and hell and calling people to evaluate, “Where are they going to spend eternity?”
Jen: Well, I think we tend to be a little embarrassed about hell. The problem with that is that the person who talks about it the most in the Bible is Jesus. So you have to have some theology around it—and a good theology would be—just look at the parables. They talk again and again about—there is time, and time, and time, and then there is no more time. The time for decision is past. Jesus did not shy away from emphasizing this.
He actually seems to have placed greater emphasis on it than He did on other themes.
We also ought to ask ourselves, “Do we spend enough time weighing our own lives in light of this?” and also dealing with other people, who we’re in relationship with, in light of these truths that are very important.
Bob: You had to kind of get your head around the whole idea of the reality of eternity when you got a diagnosis that—it’s the same diagnosis my dad got, and it took his life.
Bob: It was maligna melanoma. When was that?
Jen: I had just had my first child—so that was 1996. I was 27 years old, and I had gone in for a routine skin check. The first doctor sent me home, said, “I think nothing needs to come off.” I said, “I just really think I’d like you to look at this one.” I went and scheduled another appointment / went back in. They removed it; and while I was waiting for the pathology reports, I got a pregnancy test back that I was pregnant with my second child.
Jen: Yes. And then, eventually—you know, I kept getting the no phone call coming / no phone call coming, and then, “The doctor’s going to call you.” So you just knew it wasn’t going to be good; right? They were able to remove it with a wide excision—praise the Lord—and then I ended up being actually a patient at M.D. Anderson for 15 years after that, going in and just having everything removed—I’ve had upwards of 90 moles taken off over those years.
You know, I look back on that and I think, “What was the Lord…”—I remember, at the time, having—I had four kids in four years / I kept having these kids. I’m staring my mortality in the face and thinking, “What is the Lord wanting to teach me in all of this?” and not wanting to learn it, frankly. You know, when you’re 26, you don’t want to think about that; but I can see the Lord’s faithfulness.
I had to get to a place where I could look at my children—and rather than say, “What will they do if I’m not here?”—be able to say, “I can trust the Lord; and that if He is the God of the Bible, then my not being here will ultimately [emotion in voice]—not in the moment—would ultimately be something that is for their good in some way that I can’t possibly understand.”
It was a good chance—thanks for making me cry on the show, guys!—it was a good chance for me to examine—you know, it’s both your significance and your insignificance—is kind of what you have to pull into sight there—because it definitely changed the way that I spend my time. I see every day as more precious than I might otherwise have. And it changed the way that I parented, because the crazy thing is—is that God is able to bring eternal results from our time-bound efforts.
I see that with my children in particular, where I thought: “I’m not going to be distracted. I’m not going to let this be a day where I’m pulled into a thousand different directions when there’s a chance to build something eternal in these young lives that have been entrusted to me.
“I don’t know—I don’t know how long I’m going to have with them, but I’m not going to fritter it.”
Dennis: And, there was a reason why you could have a peace. You made a commitment to Jesus Christ that secured that peace in your soul, so you could look at eternity without fear. Explain how a person, who’s listening to us right now—maybe in listening to us, they have come to grips with the reality that this life is terminal.
Bob: —they’re terminal.
Jen: Yes. Everybody—
Jen: You know, that’s actually what my dad would say to me. You have to know my dad—he has a great sense of humor / loves me deeply. He’d say: “How was your doctor’s appointment? Did they tell you you’re not dying?—because they lied.” That was his way to add some levity into—
Dennis: What a great dad; huh?
Jen: No; I know it makes him sound like a troll, but he’s actually—I mean, he knew it’s exactly what I needed to hear. So that’s the message, I think, that we all have to come to terms with—is, as you said, “We’re all terminal.”
Dennis: And “It is upon time that all of eternity depends.”
Jen: Yes; absolutely.
Dennis: Where you’re going to spend eternity is determined—by decisions and where you place your faith—while you’re here, in the midst of time.
Jen: You’re going to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord, whether you do it now or whether you do it as you enter into eternal wrath. So—
Bob: Every knee will bow.
Bob: Every tongue will confess [based on Philippians 2:10-11]. It’s just a question of whether you do it willingly or whether you do it unwillingly as you face the judgment that’s before you.
Dennis: And what I would say to the person who’s listening to us right now: “If you don’t know where you’d spend eternity—if you’re not certain you’re forgiven by the Lord God Almighty / the Creator of the universe because of the work that He did through His Son’s life, and death, and resurrection from the dead—if you don’t know that forgiveness through Jesus Christ, yield—deny the desire to be self-sufficient and say, ‘Lord, God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’”
If you do that, I have it on good word, the Bible, that you will be forgiven. If you cry out in faith upon Jesus Christ to forgive you, He will forgive you; and He will take residence up inside your life, and He will begin to change you from the inside out.
Bob: You know where this is explained—if you go to our website, at FamilyLifeToday.com, there’s a link to what’s called “Two Ways to Live” that lays out very clearly what it is you’re talking about—the difference between living a self-directed life and living a God-directed life / the difference between living with yourself at the center or with living a life where God is at the center of your life. You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and just click on that link for a clear explanation of what it is that Dennis has been talking about here today and an opportunity to examine your own life and say, “Whom am I living for?”
You can also find Jen Wilkin’s book available online. It’s called None Like Him: Ten Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing). It would be a great book to use in homeschool / in family devotions. This might be a book you’d want to go through with others in a small group setting. We have copies of it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Again, it’s called None Like Him. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order from us online. It’s FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order Jen Wilkin’s book—1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, back in 2008—there’s a couple, who live in Catonsville, Maryland—they were getting married, and their pastor sent them to a Weekend to Remember® as their marriage was getting started.
They have told us that that beginning for their marriage led them, not only to have a healthy relationship in their marriage, but it really lit a fire under them to reach out to others in their community. They’ve developed a ministry called Keys of Philadelphia, based on the church in Philadelphia in Revelation, Chapter 3. Their names are Mark and Tove Baker. Today is their eighth anniversary: “Happy anniversary!” to the Bakers; and we pray for many more anniversary celebrations to come.
Our goal, here at FamilyLife, is that what happened with the Bakers would happen with more and more couples. First of all, that your marriage and your family would be firmly grounded in God’s Word; and then beyond that, that you would have a fire lit underneath you to want to help the marriages and families of those around you in your community, in your neighborhood, in your church—wherever God leads you. We want to effectively develop godly marriages and families who will change the world one home at a time.
And we have partners who help us with this. It’s those of you who contribute to the ministry of FamilyLife Today. Every time you contribute, you’re contributing so that couples like the Bakers will get a solid foundation for their own relationship and then turn around and help others in their community. So “Thanks!” for your support of this ministry. We’re grateful for your participation in what God is doing through this ministry.
If you can help with a donation today, we have a thank-you gift we’d like to send you. It’s a new resource Barbara Rainey has created—a banner that hangs in your home that declares that your home is an embassy of the kingdom of heaven. It’s a good reminder that our hope is in heaven, that our King is in heaven, and that our allegiance belongs to Him. You can request the banner when you make an online donation at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY and donate over the phone and request the banner. Or you can request the banner when you mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we’ll continue talking about the attributes of God. We want to talk about the age-old question: “If God is all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful, why is there still suffering in our world and in our lives?” We’ll talk about that tomorrow with Jen Wilkin. Hope you can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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