Moses Breaking the Tablets of the Law (1659) by Rembrandt. Wikipedia

God's Word on Sunday: Bible offers defining moments with God

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  • May 31, 2020

Most Holy Trinity, June 7 (Year A) Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9; Daniel 3; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; John 3:16-18

How can mere humans understand and describe the infinite God? Many have tried, but any definition of God that could be contained in a doctrine, concept or physical form is not God.

Rather than defining God, the Bible gives us impressions and glimpses of God’s relationships with humans and actions on their behalf. In the Book of Exodus, God’s presence is near and powerful, manifested in many wondrous and even frightening deeds.

In this passage, the people of Israel rebelled against God in the notorious Golden Calf incident. In his fury, Moses smashed the two tablets containing the commandments of God. He went back up the mountain with two blank tablets for a “second draft,” but he was frightened and unsure. What if God was not in a forgiving mood?

The Lord “passed by,” but the manner of that passing and how it appeared was not given. This was how God wanted to be known: merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. This was constantly repeated throughout the Old Testament, through all of the painful and sometimes disastrous experiences of Israel.

This reminds us to be wary of negative stereotypes of God in the Old Testament. This divine self-disclosure gave Moses the courage to plead for forgiveness on behalf of the people, and God granted his plea. The tablets were re-inscribed and the people continued on their journey — until the next infidelity or rebellion!

We need to remember this divine disclosure — God desires happiness and well-being for us and always has our back. We should not be afraid to approach God or to plead for forgiveness.

On the other hand, it is a reminder that God’s patience is not without limit. God’s kindness, compassion and mercy also oblige us to respond with the same qualities, as well as obedience. We cannot take God for granted or attempt to manipulate God, for sooner or later we all encounter the consequences of our words and actions.

Humanity’s track record is marred by much infidelity, injustice and disobedience. One can only hope that the world’s present experience will awaken us to the presence of God and our divine call.

Paul believed that this response to God begins in our communities. He urged his followers to live in peace and love with one another. It is exceedingly difficult for the grace of Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit to dwell with us if we have hardened our hearts and closed our minds. A renewed church begins with the local community.

The “God so loved the world” passage in John’s Gospel is probably the most well-known of the New Testament. It appears in pamphlets, on T-shirts and occasionally on signs in the end-zone sections of football stadiums.

There are several reasons. First, it expresses the nature of God in one short verse and sums up the entire Bible; second, it (should) give hope to those who hear it.

The description of God as compassionate and merciful runs throughout the Bible and reaches a crescendo — we will see just how compassionate and merciful God really is. God gave what was most precious — His only Son — for the sake of the world and its people.

Jesus came into the world and journeyed to the cross so that we might have abundant life. That is what God wants for us, but we also must want it for ourselves and others.

John’s Gospel rejects the notion that Jesus entered the world to judge it. We do not need divine judgment — we do that for and to ourselves by rejecting love, mercy and new life when it is freely offered. In fact, the inability or unwillingness to give and receive love has been offered as a credible definition of hell.

But “God so loved the world” must be much more than a religious catchphrase or slogan. The only condition set was acceptance of the message and the messenger.

Acceptance of that message is far more than assent to an ideology or doctrine. It requires leaving all our baggage behind: unforgiveness, prejudices, opinions, materialism, the pursuit of power and control of others. This creates a sacred space for the compassion, mercy and wisdom of God to fill.

That is the perfect description of abundant life and the healing balm for our hurting world.

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