25 July 2011

Uncommon Grace: the Rain God

Baal statuette
14-12th cent. BCE
I ONCE HAD A PROFESSOR who repeated a particular mantra throughout the course of his class on the first five books of the Bible: “Rain + Grain = Life.” His point was simple enough: in the tribal atmosphere of Canaan, the Israelite’s loyalty to the true God alone (see Deut. 6:4–5) would have constantly been challenged. But they needed to remember that their God (not Baal), was also the creator God. As such, he was the one who brought rain needed for grain, which, of course, was needed for sustaining life itself. Here we see how creation and promise-keeping are bound together: if God promised to Abraham that through him all the nations would be blessed (Gen. 26:4), then God was determined to sustain the family (Israel) through which that would happen (in other words, praying for rain was to 'remind' God of his promise).

Importantly, it wasn’t just the Israelites who received such kindness from God; everyone around got it too. The big difference (or ought to have been) was that God’s chosen people thanked him for such kindness. The same principle applies to us today, of course. One major difference between Christians and the rest of the world is (or ought to be!) the simple act of expressing gratitude to the one and only God, our utterly faithful Lord, for his kindness in giving us the things we take for granted everyday.

Such blessings even extend to the smallest details—like birds, lilies, and the hairs (no matter how few) on our heads (Matt. 6:26–30; 10:29–30). Hopefully, this doesn’t give us the picture of a really big and powerful meddler. Rather, I hope the picture is one of a really big, powerful and personal God, one who doesn’t so much meddle in the affairs of men as much as lead, in love, all creation toward his goal, which is, in brief, to fill his creation with his glory (Isa. 6:3).

This particular point, that God lovingly directs his creation for a purpose, to a destination, is often called God’s “government” of the universe. In Romans 8:18–21, the apostle Paul writes about how all creation can hardly wait for what is coming next. Both creation and the history of humankind are moving toward that end (or is it a beginning?), which, according to the author of Hebrews, is a big part of the Messiah’s work, to bring creation to that goal, for he is carrying the world from one point to another through time (Heb. 1:3).

This goal toward which all of creation is being driven, again, shows us that God’s continued kindness in sustaining the universe becomes something of a self-imposed necessity. After all, if his renewal plans for the cosmos include the cosmos, he’s going to have to sustain the cosmos until that day. It is as if God continually calls every moment into existence. “The creation of the world was completed . . . but its administration is perpetual, and God incessantly works in maintaining and preserving its order. . . . all things stand so long as the Spirit of God enlivens them, and they would immediately cease if they were deprived of his vigor” (John Calvin, 1536 Institutes 6.1). Creation, while certainly having a beginning, must also be thought of in terms of being continually sustained by the power and kindness of God.

This is not because, as we’ve already seen, that to keep the universe together is to keep God himself together. Remember, the two are separate, even if the creature is utterly dependent upon the creator for life. Stressing this distinction again also highlights the destiny for which all things were created—to be filled up with the glory of God—because currently it’s not. This stated purpose doesn’t mean the universe itself will become part and parcel of the triune God, but it does mean that God will be in everything, that his glory will fill his creation to the brim (see 1 Cor. 15:28).

God’s preservation of his creation reminds us simply of the fact that everything besides God needs him to survive. Without that intention, as mentioned in previous posts in this series, all the galaxies of the universe would be reduced to a heap of scrap.

*This is part four in what I'm thinking will be a six-part series.


Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha