Tuesday, May 28, 2013

God's Delight

God’s Delight  
Prov. 8:22-31[1]
  When I was in college, one of the required readings in Sophomore Literature class was Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  Edwards was one of the driving forces in the “First Great Awakening” in the early 1700’s with his insistence that we recognize and repent of our sin.[2]  But the image of God in this sermon is one that seems positively sadistic.  God is depicted as dangling sinners over the fires of hell like someone might dangle a spider over an open flame.[3]  Not an image that makes you want to get very close to God.  In fact, I’d say it’s an image that makes you want to run as far away from God as possible.
  But the biblical view of God is very different.  The Bible presents us the God of love, the God of relationship, and the God of community.[4] In fact, God himself is depicted in this way, which is why we believe in one God who is three.  As one of our confessions puts it: “One God who is the Creator and Sustainer, the Savior and Lord, the Giver of life within, among, and beyond us”[5]  Since love requires a counterpart, it should come as no surprise that God has counterparts in the Bible—especially Jesus the Christ and the Holy Spirit.  This one God who is three exists in a relationship of love and community with one another.  This is central to our faith, because the love it represents is the basis for everything God does—including both creation and salvation.
  We sometimes skip over creation with all our focus on salvation, but creation is the basis for our faith as well.  God creates everything out of the same love that motivates him to save.  Creation comes from God’s desire to have a relationship with those who can choose to return God’s love and share God’s love.  Our lesson from Proverbs for today is a beautiful image of all this.  In it, God creates as a master craftsman, as a skilled artist.  And like a skilled artist takes delight in a sculpture or a painting, God takes great delight in the creation.[6]
  And surprisingly, though it pre-dates Jesus by several centuries, there is already hint of God having a counterpart.  Our lesson describes “Wisdom” as God’s companion in creation.  But more than that, Wisdom is God’s counterpart, not only applauding with joy at every aspect of creation but also working with God to make sure everything fits—as a “master craftsman.”[7]  I like the way Gene Peterson translates it in The Message : “ I was right there with him, making sure everything fit. Day after day I was there, with my joyful applause, always enjoying his company, Delighted with the world of things and creatures, happily celebrating the human family” (Prov. 8:30-31).
  The interesting thing about Wisdom in Proverbs is that Wisdom is more than just practical knowledge; wisdom is personified as a woman crying out in the streets, seeking those who are simple-minded and going astray from the truth to return and live the life God intended for them. I find it fascinating that a book of the Bible from the days when women had few rights portrays the one who acts on God’s behalf to call people to the truth, the one who is God’s counterpart in creation, as a woman![8]
  In the New Testament, Jesus has pretty much assumed the roles of “Lady Wisdom” in proverbs.[9]  But there is another counterpart of God’s that gets overlooked at times—the Spirit of God.  According to our lessons from John’s Gospel recently, the Spirit is the one who will comfort the disciples in Jesus’ absence, who will remind them of all he taught them, who will guide them as they seek to continue his work, and who will empower them to do even greater works. I don’t know about you, but it sounds to me that in our day and time, the work of “Lady Wisdom” from the Book of Proverbs has been assumed by the Spirit of God.[10]  Does the Spirit of God also have the feminine quality of Wisdom? [11]  It’s hard to say for sure.  But there’s something about the Spirit that seems to fit a feminine image in my mind.  For me, the idea of the Spirit as a feminine image enhances the comfort of knowing that we are constantly supported by God’s presence.
  In our day, not many people have much use for the idea of God as Trinity.  It seems an abstract and far-fetched concept for theologians to debate.  But I think nothing could be further from the truth.  The point of our belief in the Trinity is that God is a God of love—not just love that cherishes from afar, but love that acts for us and among us.  Love that reaches out to us and seek a relationship with us.  “One God who is the Creator and Sustainer, the Savior and Lord, the Giver of life within, among, and beyond us.” This is an image of God who takes great delight in the beauty of the natural world, and takes great delight in the human family.  That’s right—all this means we are all a part of God’s delight!

[1] © 2013 Alan Brehm.  A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm at First Presbyterian Church of Dickinson, TX on 5/26/2013.
[3] Edwards says, “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire.”  Cf. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/sermons.sinners.html.
[4] Jürgen Moltmann, God for a Secular Society: The Public Relevance of Theology, 101: The biblical image of God is “God in community, rich in relationships. ‘God is love.’”
[5] Presbyterian Church in the United States. A Declaration of Faith. 117th General Assembly (1977), reissued by Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 1991.
[6]Cf. Pheme Perkins, “Beside the Lord,” The Christian Century (May 17, 1989) 522: “The Lord rejoices in her [Wisdom] as she rejoices in all of creation, including the human race. This image of creation is very different from the mechanical putting-it-together activity that we might regard as part of making something. Creation is shared. It is an object of beauty, order and delight.”  Cf. also Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation, 311.
[7]Cf. William P. Brown, “Proverbs 8:22-31,” Interpretation 63 (July 2009) 288: Wisdom is God's full partner in play, and all creation is hers to enjoy. The world was made for her sake, for her flourishing and delight, and it is her delight that embraces the world.  Cf. also Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation: A New Theology of Creation and the Spirit of God, 9: “Through the energies and potentialities of the Spirit, the Creator is himself present in his creation. He does not merely confront it in his transcendence; entering into it, he is also immanent in it.”
[8] Cf. Roland E. Murphy, Proverbs, 280.
[9] Cf. Moltmann, God in Creation, 95, for a description of the “Wisdom Christology” that attributes creation to Jesus as the Logos.
[10] Cf. Moltman, God for a Secular Society, 103: “According to Wisdom literature, this creative Wisdom can also be called God’s Word or God’s Spirit. But it is the presence of God in all things which is invariably meant, a presence immanent in the world.”  Cf. Similarly, Jürgen Moltmann, Science and Wisdom, 185.
[11] cf. Jürgen Moltmann, Science and Wisdom, 185: “According to Wisdom literature (Ecclesiasticus, for example), this creative Wisdom can also be called God’s Word or God’s Spirit. But what is meant is always the presence of God immanent in the world and present in all things.”  Cf. also Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, 46.

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