Summary: There is a great confusion about who God is. Is the Elohim God the same as YHWH?
Who is Your God?
Someone once said that our view of God determines who we are. If we picture God as harsh and judgmental, uninterested in the value of human beings, then that will be our modus operandi in life. So if God is the centre of our life and work, what does that make us? We have all heard some pretty terrible things about what people have done because they thought God was in it. Sept. 11 has demonstrated to the world what religious zealots can do, but I am not interested in that kind of extremism—an extremism that is just as much at home in Christianity as it is in Islam or Hinduism or any other religion you can think of.
The centre that I am interested in focuses on what God is like, not on the actions of some of His misguided and self-deceived followers. The Psalmist advises us not to trust in the arm of flesh, and that we are fools if we do. But if we are to trust God as a basis for our present existence and future security, what sort of God is He? You have all thought about this, but have any of us exhausted it?
Let me share some insights from two Biblical accounts that paint God in an incredible light. One from the OT and one from the New.
The first two chapters of Genesis have provided theologians with a lot of material to debate over the centuries, not least of which is the significance of the names of God. When Julius Wellhausen united and popularised many drifting theories of the time and developed the JEDP strands of the documentary hypothesis, his main inspiration was the 2 different names for God in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2.
In chapter 1 we meet Elohim, who creates by speaking things into existence:
5. Water life/Birds
He also creates by dividing and separating:
1. Light from darkness – by proving night and day
2. Waters from waters – by providing a “firmament”
3. Dry land from the seas – by providing Earth
4. Plants, grasses, tress – by providing each their “kind”
5. Lights in the heavens to separate day from night – provided sun, moon, and stars
6. Water creatures and birds – according to their kinds
7. Livestock, swarming things, wild animals – according to their kinds
8. Separated man from the creatures – by giving him dominion over them
9. Food identified (separated out) for man, animal and bird
But in chap. 2 we meet YHWH whose creative activity focuses on things coming out of the bare earth:
2. Garden of Eden
4. A river
But notice that the process of separation continues:
10. A day of rest was separated from the other days
11. A garden was separated out from the world
12. The Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil were separated out from the other trees
13. A river was separated into 4 “heads” to cover the whole earth
14. Eve was separated from Adam – (a rib from his side)
Do you notice what is happening here? God set fairly distinct boundaries, and He meant for them to stay put. This, by the way, is where the concept of holiness comes from—separating something out from the rest. But, sin came along, and what happened?
The food that God had separated out was now joined together and included with the food that God had given them. And that set off a chain reaction that eventually sent everything back together again:
1. light and darkness
2. waters above and the waters below
3. land and sea
4. plants, trees, grasses, animals, fish, birds, people, all swept up together in a big soupy conglomerate
5. and again the earth was without form and void.
Sin had reversed creation.
Enter Umberto Cassuto. He was one of the first to credibly challenge the documentary hypothesis by studying the two names for God. This is what he found:
God described in abstract terms God’s ethical nature highlighted used by thinkers meditating on lofty themes (King of the Universe) used in the context of the faith of the people (Our Father in Heaven) depicts Divine attributes in hazy/obscure terms depicts Divine attributes in clear terms used to arouse sublimity used in a more familiar sense Transcendent Immanent used in relation to the nations used in relation to God’s people refers to universal tradition refers to Israel’s tradition
So in Genesis 1 God is portrayed as the King of the Universe, enthroned in eternity, clothed in majesty and surrounded by ten thousands of His holy ones. Theologians describe this as His transcendence.