God’s Attributes, God’s Image, Non-IFB Spirituality

We are God's Image

‘…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling [Philippians 2:12].

‘The Message translates it as “reverent and sensitive before God.” I think that sounds much more gentle.’

Dear First time caller:

I think your reading of Phil 2:12 arises from God’s image, which you are. We are God’s image; but we don’t all image God the same way. Each of us images God uniquely. As I unpack this, I hope it will be for you a window to gain perspective on HOW we can read Scripture with ‘new eyes.’

God’s Attributes, God’s Image

A list of God’s attributes will include such things as God’s perfection, love, holiness, faithfulness, goodness, justice, mercy, grace, truth, wisdom and power, etc. But some attributes we recognize also as traits in others — traits by which they reflect God’s attributes. We’ve all heard things like:

Mary finds faith so easy — nothing seems to shake her! John is so persevering – for all he’s faced, he just keeps plowing! Amy is so gracious — she can put herself at anyone’s disposal in an instant and never resents it! Bill is so giving — he would hand the shirt off his back to the stranger who just cussed him!

Some call this ‘spiritual giftedness.’ Perhaps it is; but this is also how we uniquely image God’s character. One has the wisdom/insight to navigate a minefield of logical traps and linguistic chicaneries. Another can declare truth prophetically to the nation. Dietrich Bonhoeffer comes to mind.

No one reveals all God’s attributes; no one reveals any attribute in all its glory. Jesus Christ alone is ‘the exact representation’ of God’s being. We are smaller, much dimmer reflections of God’s being. But we do reflect God’s glory by virtue of our being God’s image.

Attributes as an Interpretative Aid

If with our spiritual makeup/gifts/calling we uniquely image God, how could this NOT also inform and shape our reading of Scripture?

When you said, ‘I think that [reverent and sensitive before God] sounds much more gentle,’ you read Scripture through the lens of God’s gentleness. In other words, God’s Spirit IS leading you already…just as promised.

Can God’s gentleness guide us to spiritual understanding? Can it lead us into practices that honor God, that imitate Christ, that bring grace to our communities? Can God’s gentleness teach us to discern how God is with us, leads us, deals with and saves us? Can God’s gentleness function as a lens by which to read Scripture with new eyes? Those questions require another post! But several more points before closing this installment.

Why all this Matters

  1. Why turn to ‘gentleness’ as a possible, preferred reading of Phil 2:12? Perhaps I’m wrong, First time caller, but I think the likelihood is good that you did so because THAT is how God made you. If you met your Christian friends and all discussed what they see in each other, I suspect that you’d be nominated for the ‘gentleness’ award.
  2. If I’m off the mark and some other aspect of God’s nature more naturally quickens your faith, THAT attribute can also aid spiritual understanding and function as a key to reading Scripture with ‘new eyes.’
  3. Evangelical and Fundamentalist sects are overpowered by a tendency to elevate a few aspects of God’s nature above all others. God’s goodness, mercy, kindness, loving-kindness are mentioned as a point of orthodoxy. These are quickly set aside. Then God’s rage, authority, judgment and a few more fill the whole picture. These define how God is perceived. These become the starting point for their initiates’ relationship with God.
  4. Beyond teaching us to think about God in distorted and unhealthy ways, such ‘theology’ fosters extreme spiritual debilitation. It also means IFB members have little opportunity to relate to God or to reflect the aspect[s] of God’s character for which God primarily made them.

An Alternative to IFB Sects

Such an environment does not support spiritual growth. It does not aid believers to read Scripture through ‘new eyes.’ It is no surprise that IFB sects come to regard ‘maturity’ as church busyness — drive the bus, teach church school, sing in choir, go witnessing, lead the youth group, etc. Nor is it any surprise that ‘knowing the Bible’ means little more than being able to cite the stock passages on any given IFB line.

But once God’s attributes and God’s image are recognized as a key for spiritual growth and reading Scripture, a world of possibilities opens to us. We can now study passages from the perspective of any number of attributes of God. We can study passages to discern which aspects of God’s nature seem most at work in a passage. And we can ask what it means for us to reflect that aspect of God’s character from the text in our lives.

 

3 thoughts on “God’s Attributes, God’s Image, Non-IFB Spirituality”

  1. The term “spiritual gifts” is one I’m familiar with, but not in the sense you mean. I guess it’s important to first “define the terms” in a discussion, to avoid speaking past each other. You have done that well. I’m not exactly sure how to define what I have understood about spiritual gifts in the past, but I know it has much more to do with how we are to be “used” in our churches. I’ve never considered that these attributes of our nature are a reflection of God, or that it affects how we read scripture.

    What you have said makes much sense. I know, and have known for a while, that I was missing something. Something big, that I just can’t seem to understand. Maybe this is part of it.

    Gentleness. I’m not sure. Maybe I need to research what the word means. I’m not sure what “spiritual gift” I may have. I wonder if the reason I’m drawn to a translation that is “gentle” is because I’m trying to find in God what I can’t find in others. I WANT to see God as loving, and maybe, particularly, love expressed through mercy and gentleness. But, it’s difficult for me to get past the Biblical descriptions of God as an angry father. How can someone be loving and gentle, and yet desire to crush and destroy His enemies? I don’t desire to see my “enemies” crushed or destroyed… I desire to see them loved towards reconciliation and peace. I cannot possibly be more loving than God, so why would He desire to see His enemies destroyed?

    I think I am drawn to gentleness because I want God to be gentle. But I’m still not sure that He is. I want to rest in a Love that is kind and gentle, but am not yet able to. To me, God seems a bit bipolar. And when I see his loving or gracious side, I still cannot forget His wrath. I am hopeful, though, that as I find that “thing” I am missing, I will be able to see Him as He is.

  2. I was trying to study Ephesians this morning, my mind feeling a bit blocked from comprehending anything I was reading, until this sort of popped out at me:

    “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” Eph 1: 17-19a NIV

    It seems pertinent to the discussion here, I think. Seeing God’s word with fresh eyes, knowing who He is REALLY, instead of just what I’ve been told about Him, or what I’ve feared Him to be. Not discounting the need for study, and for knowing how to study… but I wonder if maybe what I’m seeking is something that God Himself has to do. I’m not sure how that happens, or why it seems like I’m just not getting it, but these verses seemed to be there for me this morning as I try to find the answers I’ve been needing.

    Not sure if this is helpful to anyone else… but thought I’d throw it out there in case I’m not the only one who is searching.

  3. When I saw the post right after this about God’s gentleness, I wanted to comment, and I’m glad that I went back and read this first because I found that you’d already said something I was going to say: “God’s goodness, mercy, kindness, loving-kindness are mentioned as a point of orthodoxy. These are quickly set aside. Then God’s rage, authority, judgment and a few more fill the whole picture. These define how God is perceived. These become the starting point for their initiates’ relationship with God.” Yes, that’s it exactly. They can’t NOT mention God’s gentleness, but they seem to be afraid of it, afraid that if they emphasize it, people won’t take following God seriously. So they brush it off, emphasizing other aspects of His character. That trait of Gentleness was something that truly jumped out at me as I read Scripture to make sure that I wasn’t going off the path in leaving fundamentalism, that I was staying true to Biblical truth.

    But I hadn’t really thought of how the doctrines affect us: “Beyond teaching us to think about God in distorted and unhealthy ways [this is where I kept focusing], such ‘theology’ is fosters extreme spiritual debilitation. It also means IFB members have little opportunity to relate to God or to reflect the aspect[s] of God’s character for which God primarily made them.” It’s a great thought, and one I want to chew on more. I do know that I was thinking along those lines when I realized that not everyone wants to evangelize by knocking on strangers’ doors and that’s OK. We might be gifted in a different way.

    (I can’t remember what my screen name was, and, per usual, my computer seems to hate me and failed to remember it for this blog. I could go search other posts for my other comments and see what I called myself, but I’ll just write down something on the fly.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *