This post is part of an ongoing series. You can find links to all the posts here.
Over the last several posts, we have spent a good deal of time looking directly at specific biblical texts. First, we looked at texts that have traditionally been used to teach that creation will be destroyed or that we will go away to heaven with Jesus when He returns (and I have argued that those texts have been poorly interpreted). Then we looked at texts that point to cosmic redemption, that the salvation that God brings about through Jesus will be both wholistic and restorative. We followed that up by looking closely at portions of Genesis and Revelation and seeing what they tell us about the broken reality of our world and the Story that Scripture is telling. Most recently, we examined passages related to the resurrection of Jesus and our own resurrection. All of that to say, this study has been significantly based upon looking closely at biblical texts.
This post will be different from all of those in the sense that today I am not going to look at specific texts, but I am still going to be making biblical arguments. But, rather than pointing to a variety of specific texts, I want to draw on our general knowledge of Scripture and use this information to help us get a picture of the nature of God.
Here are the basic questions we want to consider in this post:
- According to the Bible, what is God’s character? What is He like? Obviously, these are massive questions and we are not going to try to answer them exhaustively (it would not even be possible to do so). Rather, we will seek to answer them in ways that relate specifically to this study.
- Related to the first question, which perspective better fits God’s character as revealed in Scripture: the idea that God will destroy His tainted creation and we will “go up” to live with Him eternally, or that God will fix His tainted creation and “come down” so we can live with Him eternally?
In other words, the Bible gives us pictures of what God is like. Which of the views that we have been discussing fit better with the biblical pictures of God?
The Fixer of the Broken
In the Genesis account, God looks at what He has created and repeatedly calls it “good”. He says this of humans as well. Over and over again, the refrain is repeated. Clearly, God values what He has created. Tragically, though, God’s good creation becomes tainted by human sin. We have spoken about that at length.
So, what is God like? Is He someone who throws things away when they become tainted, or does He work to fix them?
In the story of the people of Israel, do we see a God who throws His people away when they sin against Him, or who lovingly, painfully walks alongside them for hundreds of years despite their rebellion? Even in the Exile, do we see God abandoning His people and the covenant promises He made to them, or do we see God with His people, even in Exile, working for their good and remaining faithful to the promises He has made, ultimately restoring them to their homeland and sending His Son to them, through Whom all peoples of the earth would be blessed?
Through His sinless life, death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead, that Son makes possible for us to be reconciled to God, despite the fact that we are sinful, tainted creatures. This is at the center of our faith, isn’t it? The idea that God doesn’t just throw us away when we are tainted by sin but rather that He has done everything possible to fix us and redeem us for His own?
I believe that; don’t you?
If God is going to annihilate His creation—creation that He called “good”—because it was tainted by sin, why should we be confident that He won’t do the same thing to us? After all, we are part of creation, and He called us “good” too.
In other words, which view—annihilation of creation or redemption of creation—is more consistent with how we generally view God?
Constantly in our language—in almost every sermon we hear—we speak of a God who wants to fix what is broken within us and make us right and whole. Which of these eschatological views fits better with that picture of God?
The One Who Comes Down
There’s another picture of God that I want to consider which is prevalent in Scripture from the beginning to the end.
When God creates everything in the first chapters of Genesis, He also forms the Garden of Eden, and this is where Adam and Eve dwell. God has interactions with Adam and Eve, and where do those take place? Do Adam and Eve go away somewhere to be with God? No, God comes down and walks in the Garden in the cool of the day. He interacts with Adam and Eve where they are.
Later, God calls a man named Abraham to leave his country and family and go to a distant land, where God will bless him greatly. At one point, God tells Abraham about the child of promise that will be born to Abraham and Sarah, and also to inform him of the judgment that will come upon Sodom and Gomorrah. How does this communication occur? Is Abraham whisked off to heaven for a conversation with his Creator? No, God comes down and conveys the information to Abraham.
Fast forward many generations and Abraham’s descendants, the people of Israel are enslaved in Egypt. Their slavery is bitter and hard and they cry out for rescue, and God hears their cry. How does He respond? He comes down and appears to Moses in a burning bush, and through Moses, rescues the people.
Once the people are rescued, God establishes a covenant with them and gives them Torah—teaching, instruction, law—to guide their living. How is this given to them? God comes down to Mt. Sinai to meet with Moses and deliver the Law to Him.
What about Jesus? In the fullest revelation of who God is, did God transport someone up into heaven so we could get a report of what He is like? No, God comes down. In the incarnation, the Word became flesh and Jesus walked among us.
After Jesus departs, does God leave us on our own? Does He then transport someone up into heaven to give us further instructions? No, the Spirit of God comes down and indwells His people.
And what do we see in the end? Again, God comes down. In 1 Thessalonians 4, Jesus comes down and we meet Him in the air to return with Him. In Revelation 21, the Holy City comes down so that the dwelling of God can be with humanity.
So, according to what we see in Scripture, what is God like? Is the Scriptural pattern that we go up to Him, or that God comes down to us? Both literally and theologically, over and over again we see the latter. God comes down to us. He rescues us from our mess. He comes to give us guidance. He comes to reveal what He is like. He comes to live with us eternally.
Which view—annihilation of creation where this world is destroyed and we “go up” to be with God somewhere else, or redemption of creation where God “comes down” to a redeemed world to be with us—is more consistent with the picture of God from Scripture as One who Comes Down?
We can now return to our original questions and seek to answer them:
- According to the Bible, what is God’s character? What is He like? There are a lot of answers to those questions, but two we see from Scripture is that God is the Fixer of the Broken and the One Who Comes Down to us.
- These pictures of God make no sense if creation is going to be destroyed and we are going to go off to be with God somewhere else. On the other hand, they fit seamlessly into a vision of the end times where God redeems His creation and comes down to live among us forever, and as we have already seen in multiple texts throughout this series, this is exactly the picture that Scripture paints.
You might object: “The Bible clearly teaches that God is going to redeem His people!” I certainly agree with that, but as this study has shown, there are multiple passages in Scripture that indicate the same reality about creation as a whole. Thus, we would expect Scripture to be consistent in its portrayal of God as desiring to fix what is broken, and it is.
I am referring to Genesis 18. This passage talks about “three men” talking to Abraham, but the text begins by clearly stating that it is the LORD who appears to him. The consensus of biblical scholarship considers this to be a theophany, or appearance of God.
I am not denying that there are examples that may not seem to fit the pattern, such as Isaiah’s vision of God’s throne room, or Paul’s vision of the third heaven. But if these are visions (and they seem to be), then they actually represent God coming down to impart information to His people through visionary experiences.
There is also the example of Elijah being taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, but this is obviously exceptional in human experience and does not negate the general pattern established here. In an earlier post, I discussed the intermediate state and the possibility that those in Christ go to heaven upon death, but this is not clearly established in Scripture, and, regardless, this precedes the resurrection, and is not the final state of the faithful dead.