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Peace with God, Chapter 3: What is God Like?

By Billy Graham

      Canst thou by searching find out God? --Job 11:7

      WHO is God? What is He like? How can we be sure He exists? When did He begin? Can we know Him?

      Everyone has asked these questions either aloud or to himself, for we cannot look at the world around us and not wonder about its creation. We are daily faced with the miracle of life and the mystery of death, of the glory of flowering trees, the magnificence of the star-filled sky, the magnitude of mountains and of sea. Who made all this? Who conceived the law of gravity by which everything is held in its proper place? Who ordered the day and the night and the regular procession of the seasons? What about the infinity of the universe? Can we honestly believe (as someone has written), "This is all there is or was or ever will be"?

      The only possible answer is that all these things and many more are the work of a Supreme Creator. As a watch must have a designer, so our precision-like universe has a Great Designer. We call Him God. His is a name with whom the whole human race is familiar. From earliest childhood we have breathed His name. The Bible declares that the God we talk about, the God we sing about, the God "from whom all blessings flow!" is the God who created this world and placed us in it. Our exploration of space would be impossible in a universe ungoverned by the laws of God.

      No less a wise man than Benjamin Franklin said, "I have lived a long time and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see that God governs in the affairs of men." Another wise man, Blaise Pascal, wrote: "If a man is not made for God, why is he happy only in God? If man is made for God, why is he opposed to God?" This is our dilemma.

      But "Who is He?" you ask. "Where is He?" We know that He exists. We call upon Him in our hours of greatest difficulty and trial. Some try to let the thought of Him fill every waking moment. Others say they don't believe in Him, that He doesn't exist. And still others say, "Explain Him to me and maybe I'll accept God."

      For those who, at this crucial point in world history, are wondering "What is God like?" it has been simply stated: God is like Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus came to make God visible to mankind and to become our Redeemer, even so, on His return to Heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to indwell believers and enable them to live so as to make Christ visible to an unbelieving world.

      If that is how you feel, if all your life you have been hearing about God and talking about God, but waiting for someone to explain God to you before you could put your faith in Him, and Him alone, let us see just how concrete a description the Bible can give us.

      What Is God Like?

      Everyone would be seeking an answer to the Question, "What is God like?" Everyone should ask it, and everyone should make very sure of the answer. Everyone should know beyond a shadow of a doubt exactly who God is and what He is capable of accomplishing. The Bible says, "Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has showed it unto them" (Romans 1:19).

      It is the absence of the knowledge of God and man's refusal to obey Him that lie at the root of every problem which besets us. It is man's confusion about God's plan that has the world in chaos. It is man's unwillingness to learn and to obey God's laws that has laid such a heavy burden on our souls. So let us learn all that we can about Him.

      Where shall we go for this knowledge? Who among us can tell us the truth?   Are we not all finite creatures here together? Has God designated any one person here on earth to speak with final authority about Him? No -- the one Man who could do that lived two thousand years ago, and we crucified Him! How then, are we to find out?

      We can ask the learned scholars, and they may tell us that God is the expression of everything in nature and life, that all living beings are one with God, that life itself is an expression of His Divine Being. They will tell you that you can see God in the tiniest drop of water and in the great arch of the sky above.

      Ask a philosopher, and he will tell you that God is the original and immutable force behind all creation, that He is the Master Dynamo who keeps all the worlds in motion -- that He is the Power without beginning or end. The philosopher will say that every bit of life and beauty we see is a manifestation of this power which flows in an unending current out from the Dynamo and back again.

      Ask still further and you may be told that God is absolute, that He is All in All, and that no one can possibly know any more about Him. There are many differing definitions for God. Dr. Akbar Haqq says that originally all people were monotheistic in their concept of God. Every country, every race of people, every family, every individual has tried to explain the Great Being behind the universe. Men of all ages have tried to discover the Creator whose work they saw, but whom they did not know. Which of these varied explanations is right? Which of these many theories are we to accept? By which of these self-appointed authorities are we to be guided?

      As we have already seen in our previous chapter, God has revealed Himself in the Book called the Bible. In the Bible we have a revelation of God -- and based on it our minds can be satisfied and our hearts filled. We can rest assured that we have the correct answer, that we are on our way to knowing and understanding the true nature of God.

      God reveals Himself in hundreds of ways in the Bible, and if we read the Bible as carefully and as regularly as we read the daily papers, we would be as familiar with and as well informed about God as we are about our favorite player's batting average during baseball season!

      As a diamond has many facets, so there are innumerable aspects of God's revelation of Himself which would take volumes to fill. Suffice it to say, with our limited space we can cover four aspects of God's revelation of Himself which seem to be the most significant, and which we should carry with us always.

      'God Is Spirit'

      First: the Bible declares God to be Spirit. Jesus talking to the woman at the Well of Sychar made this straightforward statement about God: "God is Spirit" (John 4:24).

      What do you think of when you hear the word spirit? What mental image does it bring to your mind? Do you think of a wisp of vapor drifting across the sky? Does spirit mean the sort of thing that frightens children on Halloween? Is spirit just a formless nothingness to you? Do you think that was what Jesus meant when He said, "God is Spirit"?

      To discover what "spirit" really is, and what Jesus meant when He used that particular word, we must turn again in the Bible to the scene where Christ after His resurrection says: "Handle me, and see; for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have" (Luke 24:39). Therefore we can be sure that spirit is without body.   It is the opposite of body. Yet it has being and power. This is difficult for us to understand because we are trying to understand it with our limited, finite minds.

      As human beings deprived of the unlimited vision that God originally intended His creatures to have, we cannot comprehend the glory and the magnitude of the Spirit that lies so far outside ourselves. When we hear the word "spirit," we immediately try to reduce it to our puny size, to make it fit within the scope of our small minds. It is like trying to explain the sweep and majesty and awe-inspiring grandeur of the ocean to a person who has never seen a body of water larger than a mud puddle! How can such a person envision the boundless sea? How can such a person, looking into a shallow, murky pool, fathom the bottomless depths, the mysterious life, the surging power, the ceaseless roll, the terrible ruthlessness of ocean storm or the all-surpassing beauty of ocean calm? How could anyone who had looked only into a mud puddle know what you were talking about? What words could you use to describe the mighty sea convincingly? How could you make a person believe that such a wonder really exists?

      How infinitely more difficult it is for us to grasp what Jesus meant when He said: "God is Spirit." Jesus knew! His mind was not limited as our minds are limited. His eyes were not focused on the mud puddle of life. He knew full well the borderless reaches of the Spirit, and He came to try to give us some understanding of His wonders, His comfort, and His peace.

      We do know that the spirit is not something bound in a body. Spirit is not wearable as a body. Spirit is not changeable as a body. The Bible declares that God is a Spirit -- that He is not limited to body; He is not limited to shape; He is not limited to boundaries or bonds; He is absolutely immeasurable and indiscernible by eyes that can see only physical things. The Bible tells us that because He has no such limitations He can be everywhere at once -- that He can hear all, see all, and know all.

      We can't do any of that, and so we try to limit God as we are limited. We try to deny God the power to do things we can't do. We try to say that because we can't be everywhere at once, God can't be, either! We are rather like the person who, having heard about the ocean, finally makes his way to the beach one day and going down to the edge of the water, scoops up a few drops and holds them in his hands.

      "Ah," he exclaims, "at last I have made the ocean mine!   I hold the ocean in my hands, I possess it!"   True, he does have a part of the ocean, but at the same moment other people on a thousand other shores may be reaching down and claiming a few drops of the ocean for themselves. The world's millions could come down to the beach and reach out their hands to be filled with sea water. They could each take as much as they wanted, as much as they needed -- and still the ocean would remain unchanged. Its mightiness and power would be the same, the life in its unfathomable depths would continue unaltered, although it had supplied the needs of every single person standing with outstretched hands along its many shores.

      So it is with God. He can be everywhere at once, heeding the prayers of all who call out in the name of Christ; performing the mighty miracles that keep the stars in their places and the plants bursting up through the earth and the fish swimming in the sea. There is no limit to God. There is no limit to His wisdom.

      There is no limit to His power. There is no limit to His love. There is no limit to His mercy.

      If you have been trying to limit God -- stop it! Don't try to confine Him or His works to any single place or sphere. You wouldn't be bold enough to try to change the course of the moon, or to stop the earth as it turns on its axis! How everlastingly more foolish it is to try to limit the God who created and controls all these wonders!

      I am eternally grateful to my mother for many things, but one of the most enduring blessings she brought into my life was to teach me in the Catechism at the age of ten that "God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth." That definition of God has been with me all my life, and when a man knows in his heart that God is an infinite, eternal, and unchangeable Spirit, it helps to overcome the temptation to limit Him. It helps to overcome all doubt about His ability to accomplish things that we can't do ourselves!

      Some who doubt that the Bible is the true Word of God, doubt it because they are unwilling to ascribe to God anything they cannot themselves achieve. If you have any uncertainty about the inspiration of the Bible, go back and look at it again. Look at it in the light of a person who has been staring at a mud puddle all his life, and who is confronted for the first time by a view of the ocean! Perhaps you are only now catching your first glimpse of God's unlimited power. Perhaps you are only now beginning to understand Him for what He actually is. For if God is the Spirit that Jesus declares Him to be, there is no problem of providence, there is no problem of His sovereignty in the affairs of men, there is no problem of His inspiration of the men who wrote the Bible. Everything fits into place once you understand who and what God really is.

      God Is a Person

      Second: the Bible reveals Him as a Person.   All through the Bible it says: "God loves," "God says,", "God does." Everything that we attribute to a person is attributed to God. A person is one who feels, thinks, wishes, desires, and has all the expressions of personality.

      Here on earth we confine personality to the body. Our finite minds cannot envision personality that is not manifested through flesh and bones. We know that our own personalities will not always be clothed in the bodies they now inhabit. We know that at the moment of death our personalities will leave our bodies and go on to the destinations that await them. We know all this -- yet it is difficult for us to accept it.

      What a revelation if we could all realize that personality does not have to be identified with a physical being. God is not bound by a body, yet He is a Person. He feels, He thinks, He loves, He forgives. He sympathizes with the problems and sorrows that we face.

      God Is Holy and Righteous

      Third: the Bible states that God is not only a Spirit and a Person, but God is also a Holy and Righteous Being. From Genesis to Revelation, God reveals Himself as a Holy God. He is utterly perfect and absolute in every detail. He is too holy to tolerate sinful man, too holy to endure sinful living.

      If we could envision the true picture of His majestic righteousness, what a difference it would make in the way we live as individuals and as nations! If we could but realize the tremendous gulf that separates unrighteous man from God's perfect righteousness! The Scripture declares Him to be the Light in whom there is no darkness at all -- the one Supreme Being without flaw or blemish.

      Here again is a difficult concept for imperfect man to understand. We, whose faults and weaknesses are everywhere apparent, can scarcely imagine the overwhelming holiness of God -- but we must recognize it if we are to understand and benefit from the Bible.

      The chasm that separates imperfect man from perfect God is emphasized all through the Scriptures. We see it in the division of the Old Testament Tabernacle and the New Testament Temple into the Holy and Most Holy places. It is pointed out in the prescribed offering that must be brought if a sinner would approach God. It is underscored by a special priesthood to mediate between God and the people. It is emphasized by the laws concerning impurity in the Book of Leviticus. We see it in the many feasts of Israel, by the isolation of Israel in Palestine. The Holiness of God regulates all other principles of God.

      The Scripture declares that His throne is established on the basis of His holiness. It is because God is holy and man is unholy that so wide a rift exists between God and the unrepentant sinner. The Bible tells us that our iniquities have separated us from God -- separated us so completely that His face is hidden from us and He will not hear us when we call. "If I regard iniquity in my heart," says the psalmist, "the Lord will not hear me" (Psalm 66:18). On the other hand, the psalmist says, "The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry . . . . The Lord . . . will fulfill the desire of them that fear him: he also will hear their cry, and will save them" (Psalms 34:15; 145:18, 19).

      God is too pure to look with approval upon evil, which means that He is too holy to have any dealings with sin. Before sin entered into the human race, God and man had fellowship with each other. Now that fellowship is broken, and all communication between God and man is lost outside of Jesus Christ. It is only through Jesus Christ that man can ever again re-establish His fellowship with God. There are those who say that all roads lead to God. But Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me" (John 14:6). He also said, "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture" (John 10:9).

      Man is a sinner, powerless to change his position, powerless to reach the pure ear of God unless he cries out for mercy sincerely.   Man would have remained forever lost if God in His infinite mercy had not sent His Son to earth to bridge this gulf.

      It is in God's holiness that we find the reason for the death of Christ. Jesus was the only one good enough, pure enough, strong enough, to bear the sins of the whole world. God's holiness demanded the most exacting penalty for sin, and His love provided Jesus Christ to pay this penalty and provide man with salvation. Because the God we worship is a pure God, a holy God, a just and righteous God, He sent us His only begotten Son to make it possible for us to have access to Him. But if we ignore the help He has sent, if we fail to obey the laws He has set forth, we cannot cry out to Him for mercy when the punishment we deserve falls upon us!

      'God Is Love'

      Fourth: God is Love. But as with the other attributes of God, many persons who do not read their Bibles fail to recognize what is meant when the Scriptures say: "God is love" (1 John 4:8).

      We aren't always sure ourselves what we mean when we use the term love. That word has become one of the most widely misused words in our language. We use the word love to describe the basest as well as the most exalted of human relationships. We say we "love" to travel; we "love" to eat chocolate cake; we "love" our new car, or the pattern in the wallpaper in our home. Why, we even say we "love" our neighbors -- but most of us don't do much more than just say it and let it go at that! No wonder we don't have a very clear idea of what the Bible means when it says: "God is Love."

      Don't make the mistake of thinking that because God is Love that everything is going to be sweet, beautiful, and happy and that no one will be punished for his sins. God's holiness demands that all sin be punished, but God's love provides the plan and way of redemption for sinful man. God's love provided the cross of Jesus, by which man can have forgiveness and cleansing. It was the love of God that sent Jesus Christ to the cross!

      Never question God's great love, for it is as unchangeable a part of God as is His holiness. No matter how terrible your sins, God loves you. Were it not for the love of God, none of us would ever have a chance in the future life. But God is Love! And His love for us is everlasting! "But God demonstrates his love toward us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

      The promises of God's love and forgiveness are as real, as sure, as positive as human words can make them. But like describing the ocean, its total beauty cannot be understood until it is actually seen. It is the same with God's love. Until you actually accept it, until you actually experience it, until you actually possess true peace with God, no one can describe its wonders to you.

      It is not something that you do with your mind. Your finite mind is not capable of dealing with anything as great as the love of God. Your mind might have difficulty explaining how a black cow can eat green grass and give white milk -- but you drink the milk and are nourished by it. Your mind can't reason through all the intricate processes that take place when you plant a small flat seed that produces a huge vine bearing luscious red and green watermelons -- but you eat them and enjoy them! You can't understand radio, but you listen. Your mind can't explain the electricity that may be creating the light by which you are reading at this very moment -- but you know that it's there and that it is making it possible for you to read!

      You have to receive God by faith -- by faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And when that happens, there isn't any room for doubt. You don't have to question whether or not God is in your heart, you can know it.

      Whenever anyone asks me how I can be so certain about who and what God really is, I am reminded of the story of the little boy who was out flying a kite. It was a fine day for kite flying, the wind was brisk and large billowy clouds were blowing across the sky. The kite went up and up until it was entirely hidden by the clouds.

      "What are you doing?" a man asked the little boy.

      "I'm flying a kite," he replied.

      "Flying a kite, are you?" the man said. "How can you be sure?   You can't see your kite."

      "No," said the boy, "I can't see it, but every little while I feel a tug, so I know for sure that it's there!"

      Don't take anyone else's word for God. Find Him for yourself, and then you too will know by the wonderful, warm tug on your heartstrings that He is there for sure.

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See Also:
   Chapter 1: The Great Quest
   Chapter 2: The Indestructible Bible
   Chapter 3: What is God Like?
   Chapter 4: The Terrible Fact of Sin
   Chapter 5: Dealing With the Devil
   Chapter 6: The Despair of Loneliness
   Chapter 7: After Death -- What?
   Chapter 8: Why Jesus Came
   Chapter 9: How and Where to Begin
   Chapter 10: What Is Repentance?
   Chapter 11: What Is Faith?
   Chapter 12: The Old and the New
   Chapter 13: How to Be Sure
   Chapter 14: Enemies of the Christian
   Chapter 15: Guidelines for Christian Living
   Chapter 16: The Christian and the Church
   Chapter 17: Am I My Brothers Keeper?
   Chapter 18: Hope for the Future
   Chapter 19: Peace at Last
   Chapter 20: The Day After


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