The Bible’s greatest theme, the theme that constitutes the great truth of the universe, forms the foundation of our faith and is the cornerstone of all that believe. This great truth so pervades every aspect of our life that it is like oxygen, so universally near to us that we often live ignorant of it. This theme, articulated by the poet in Psalm 139, discloses the very personality of God, lays bare the nature of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and ties together every single truth in our faith. What is this great truth of the universe? It isthat the God who fashioned all that is, is personally interested in and personally involved in our lives.
The poet of the 139th Psalm has become enraptured with this insight, has become captivated by the realization
that we live and move and enjoy our being in the power of a personal God, a God intimately interested in the development of our character and personality. “You, O God, know when I sit down and rise up; you know my thoughts, my heart. You formed my inward parts and it was by your power that I was knit together. Your eyes, O Lord, beheld me even before my birth. And you, O Lord, can envision the horizon of my days.” The poet is captivated for a moment by the intimacy of God’s interest. It is a theological truism on one level, an assertion that could be considered merely trite and hackneyed, yet when one truly ponders the importance of this foundational assertion, it should send a shiver of awe through us all. The poet realizes that on one hand the personal nature of God is self-evident, and yet, when seriously grappled with, it is a profound wonder of which we generally live in ignorance. Indeed, the profound sense of God’s personal interest in his life so enthralls the poet that he cries out, “Such knowledge is too high for me. I cannot attain it.”
This fundamental truth of the universe is sometimes expressed in the Bible overtly. We think of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Sonthat whosoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.” Then again, sometimes the loving personality of God is expressed indirectly, as when Christ looks down upon doomed Jerusalem and laments: “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How I would have gathered you under my wingslike a mother hen gathers her chicks, but you would not come!” But whether overtly on indirectly, our entire Scripture courses with the great truth of the universe: God is interested in and involved in our lives.
The Lord is my shepherd,” says the Psalmist poet in wonder, ‘I shall not want.” He makes me like down in green pastures and leads me besides still waters. The God of the universe is interested in and restores my soul.” Rarely has anyone captured so movingly the personal involvement of God in our lives. And yet, do we really sense the intimacy of God’s investment in us? Do we? Corporately, every Sunday you and I invoke our Deity as “Our Father.” Our Father! We call upon the God of the universe as our Parent! Do we sense the wondrous intimacy of that claim? Do we sense what a privilege it is to address the Divine in that manner?
Obviously, our Bible stands as a resounding opponent of all atheistic views of the world. Our Bible expressly rejects the notion that all that came into being did so by accident and is moving purposelessly toward a void.
But our Scripture also counters all antiseptic presentations of theism that would present God as some sort of remote, disinterested Engineer who fashions the great Watch of the universe and then steps back to watch its gears grind down. No! Our Scripture depicts God as the very foundation of our personality, of all personality. God is pure personality in God’s own self. As the great writer Victor Hugo observed, “The All would not be All unless it contained a personality.”
Do you and I sense how this great truth of the universe regarding God’s personal involvement and interest in our lives unites everything we think and say about the Divine? This great truth communicates to us first and foremost that our universe is friendly. Our universe is friendly and we can trust it. But more than that, all of our statements about God make absolutely no sense unless we appropriate the principle that God is personally involved in our lives. Think of the multitude of Scriptures devoted to expressing praise of God. Gushed the Psalmist: “Bless the Lord, O my Soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name.” Fundamental to our theology is the notion that all of our blessings are God’s gifts, all of our talents are God’s entrustments. Why would we pause to praise and thank Someone who couldn’t care less about us? Our very expressions of praise and gratitude assume that God loves us and is interested in us!
This is actually true for every concept that we hold dear about the divine. Collectively, we just prayed this morning, (albeit remotely), “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” In uttering that injunction and plea we are assuming that our God is morally sensitive and merciful. If God couldn’t care less about us, why would we ask God to forgive us? We do so because we consider God to be a God of compassion. At the heart of our salvation story is that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Contained within that assertion is the assumption that God in God’s nature is redemptive, always seeking reconciliation. Our entire thinking about God hinges on the great truth of the universe, God cares. God is love. God is the foundation of all of our personality and at God’s core, God is love.
Of course, the fact that God loves us, the fact that God is invested in us, committed to us, means that God places a burden upon us. God invests in us and expects a response. God desires that we care about God’s caring for us. For many people this is an onerous concept. They would like to believe that there is no God involved in our lives, that there is no Divine Personality that undergirds us, because they do not want to feel the tug of God calling them to offer up a response in return. They do not want to care about God’s caring for them. But that is exactly what God desires of all of us, that having felt God’s love and sensed God’s investment in us, we respond back to God with all that we have and are. God wants us to care about God’s caring.
Think about the great events of the Bible where the whole history of salvation took a sharp turn— Moses gaping at the burning bush, Isaiah in his temple beholding the Lord upon his throne, Saul on the road to Damascus, struck to the ground, blinded by the stabbing light and voice of Christ. There the love of God comes in a dramatic, arresting moment, saying, ‘Stop going this way! Go that way instead!’ Yet most events in our lives are not that dramatic or definitive: a lover’s kiss, a grandmother beholding her offspring’s offspring’s first step, an unexpected forgiveness, an unmerited deliverance, an unlooked for promotion, an unanticipated wonder. There are a thousand thousand little events in our lives where God pulls back the veil and let us see how profoundly we are blessed.
Of course, such moments, while they can illumine us, they cannot sustain us. They can inspire us, but they cannot continually nourish us. In order to be sustained by God’s presence, we must root ourselves in an ongoing relationship with God. We must commune with God as we commune with our friends, daily accepting divine gifts of warmth and returning that warmth as best we are capable of doing. But when we appropriate the intimacy of God’s investment in us, we find that the assurance of God’s interest in us shapes our view of our lives and of this vast cosmos. Ultimately, every person must view their life in one of two ways. We either see life as sliding on ice, or we see life as our riding a divinely-wrought roller coaster. Think about it. There are many people who see all of life as accidental, who regard the cosmos as having come into being through random happenstance. Thus they see life as sliding on ice, a slide without meaning or true direction or control, sliding toward a future defined by no true purpose or utility. And indeed, if that is your view of life, you cannot help but live in a state of perpetual tension, beset by ceaseless anxiety.
But if you believe that the cosmos is a divinely-designed roller coaster, then you can accept life’s curves, its dips, rises, swerves, etc., because you believe that in the end, the Engineer has designed a ride that is going to bring you back safely unto God’s Self. That conviction makes all the difference. The apostle Paul talked of experiencing stonings and shipwrecks and snakebites and scourgings, yet he proclaimed triumphantly, “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things preset nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.” Such is the testimony who regarded his life as riding a divinely-designed roller coaster that would one day bring him back safely unto God’s self.
One of the most influential Christians of the twentieth-century was a man named Thomas Merton, whose spiritual autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain continues to exert transformative power. I think of the verse that Merton employed on the dedicatory page of that great work. Quoting Jesus, Merton said, “God is able to raise up children of Abraham out of stones.” Such, in fact, was Merton’s testimony. Throughout Merton’s early life he lived as a stone. He was impervious to God’s investment in his life. He was insensate to God’s providence for him. He cared about nothing but himself. Merton believed that his will, his way, was the only thing that really mattered in his existence. But over time God’s love and investment pierced the rock of his heart and raised him up to claim his status as a child within God’s fellowship, raised him over time to be a great witness for his Lord. There are many people who live like rocks and who live insensate to God’s involvement in their lives. But God continues to try and pierce their hearts and to raise them into children of promise.
The greatest theologian of the twentieth century, Swiss theologian Karl Barth, late in life made his way to America for a celebrated tour. As was his custom, he volunteered to preach the Sunday sermon at a local jail or prison in whatever city hosted him. Naturally, a throng of reporters covered one such event, and one of them asked Barth, “What do you regard as the greatest theological thought of the Christian faith?” Now Karl Barth was one of the most prolific writers of the twentieth century; his thick volumes cover an entire row in my office bookshelf. Everyone wondered which of Barth’s profound statements he would identify as his central tenet. His answer was a truth he learned as a child, “Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.”
The friendship of God, the involvement of God, the investment of God does not mean that God is simply there to do our bidding. The Psalmist does not say, ‘Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I will not have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death’. God’s friendship and involvement in our lives do not grant us immunity from suffering. What the Psalmist says is, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear – for I am not alone. You are with me.” For whether in an oncology ward, or a surgery waiting room, or an unemployment line, or a thousand thousand other places of heartache, anguish and humiliation, we do not walk alone. Rather, God is with us. God has designed the roller coaster of our life to bring us unto God’s self safely. And yes, sometimes we live like rocks, insensate to God’s love, impervious to God’s call. But when we allow God’s love to penetrate our being, then and only then can we fully appropriate the great truth of the universe and be fully live of soul.