Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Beautiful Things

Beautiful Things

 Bob Rakestraw
October 29, 2014 (first posted December 30, 2010)
“The New Benediction Project”

I’m sick and tired of ugly—anything and everything ugly. I’m sick of violence, war, famine, human trafficking, disease, rape, materialism, injustice, idolatry, hunger, rage, lying, adultery, greed, loneliness, grief, self-hatred, addictions, corruption, senseless noise, and a thousand other evils!

Here I want to focus on beauty. The Oxford American Dictionary defines beauty first of all as “a combination of qualities that give pleasure to the sight or other senses or to the mind.” I believe there is more beauty than ugliness in our world, and I trust my reasoning will become evident in the thoughts to follow. Here are a few of my favorite beautiful things.

Christian Character.  Other than God himself, a mature, wise, virtuous person, living in harmony with his or her Creator and Lord, is the most beautiful individual thing in the world. Nothing else that I know of meets so well the definition of beauty mentioned above.

Is there a man or woman you know—perhaps several—with such a sterling Christian character that you long to be around them, listen to them, and try to learn what makes them tick? This person, among other things, is unselfish, kind, and suffers well. He or she is concerned for children, teens, the differently-abled, the elderly, and “working” adults (what a strange term). The man or woman of deep Christian character has a beautiful soul. This person is not perfect—just beautiful! (I Cor. 13:4-8; Gal. 5:22-23­)

Personal Relationships. Real beauty, flowing from the person of Christian character, can be seen when two or more such persons are living, working, discussing, studying, worshipping, playing, or serving others together. There is not a lot of beauty in the one, however appealing he or she may seem to be individually, who cannot exist in harmony with others. The home, the church, the school, the workplace, the playing field—these are the places where real beauty can shine. I love to see people in close friendships, strong marriages and effective working arrangements. This does not mean that there are never disagreements—sometimes vigorous ones—but that love and unity of purpose sustain the relationships for the good of all (Ps. 133:1-3; Rom. 12: 9-18).

Loving Churches. At first I was inclined to write “vibrant” churches or “Spirit-filled” churches. As I thought about it, however, I realized that love (closely aligned with unity) is the true mark of a Christian and a Christian church. “They will know we are Christians by our love.” This is biblical (Jn. 13:35; I Cor. 13:3).

When the Pharisees asked Jesus “which is the greatest commandment in the Law” (they had 613 laws), Jesus said it was to “Love the Lord your God.” He then added the second most important: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:34-40). Strong Christian individuals amid solid personal relationships and loving churches constitute a triad of beauty superior to every other created thing, including the choirs of angels and the wonders of nature. A loving church not only cares for its own but for those in its community, its country, and its world. Such churches consist of loving and humble Christians committed to promoting justice and mercy and the whole truth of God until the end of the ages. (Mic. 6:8; Mt. 28:18-20)

God. Above all else, there is God. Above all angels, natural wonders, creations of humankind, loving churches, strong relationships, and men and women of excellent Christian character, there is God. The reason Jesus said to love God above all else is because God IS above all else. To love anything else supremely is to love something less than God, and that is idolatry.

God has always existed and will forever exist as one God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Mt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14). This is a great mystery, especially concerning the incarnation. The doctrine of the trinity is beyond our full logical comprehension but is not illogical.

The Bible also teaches that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8), but how can this be? Can this teaching assist us to understand the trinity? Some have suggested (helpfully, I believe) that God as a single person—a “monad”—could not give and receive love without an “other,” an object of that love. Thus the Godhead must exist as a “dyad” (two persons) at least. But in order for these two persons to have a nonexclusive love, a love that is shared, there must be at least a triad—a Trinity. God’s threefold eternal dance of love “within” the Godhead and “outside of” the Godhead is complete and perfect, and serves as the supreme model for all human love.

God is the only uncreated beauty. Although he is beautiful beyond description, we do well to ponder some of the qualities of our great God. Theologians often distinguish between God’s perfections in himself (such as eternity and omnipotence) and God’s perfections that extend to his personal creatures (such as mercy and justice). Sometimes these are called the non-moral and moral perfections (attributes) of God. To God, however, these are all one, and never conflict within themselves.

Lord, you are altogether lovely, and nothing I desire compares to you. Help me not to focus on the ugly, but on the beautiful. (Phil. 4:8)


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

God's Mouth

God’s Mouth

Job 23:10-12
Bob Rakestraw
September 10, 2014 

“The New Benediction Project”

What is your mouth? What is my mouth? Sometimes when I think of my mouth I consider it to be just a hole in my face, surrounded by lips. It is such a hole, but it is not just a hole. Our mouths are so much more than moist caverns that open and close at our command.

We use our mouths to eat, drink, speak, shout, whisper, sing, laugh, kiss, make funny faces and, if necessary, to breathe.

Inside every adult’s mouth are, among other things, a set of 32 teeth, four curved sections of gums, a tongue, a throat, vocal cords, pads of soft flesh that form the insides of the cheeks, and a hard palate at the roof of the mouth.

God, who made such a remarkable mechanism as the human mouth, also has a mouth. His is very different from ours, of course, because God’s mouth is not physical.

The scriptures tell us several things about God’s mouth, the most notable being that he uses it—in harmony with his whole being—to communicate with and providentially guide his creation.

God created the universe by his mouth: “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth” (Ps. 33:6). He gives his law with his mouth (Ps. 119:13, 72, 88) and makes promises with his mouth (Ps. 40:3-5). In addition, with his mouth God teaches (Deut. 8:3), pronounces judgment (Isa. 1:20) and destroys (Ps. 18:8)—sometimes with a sword in his mouth (Rev. 2:16; 19:15).

One of the most powerful and awe-inspiring sayings in the Bible—“for the mouth of the Lord has spoken”—is used after some statements to emphasize the non-negotiable truth of God’s words. These are sometimes words of great comfort (Isa. 40:5; 58:14) and sometimes words of both comfort and warning:

If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the good things of the land;
But if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken (Isa. 1:19-20).
For the remainder of this discussion I would like to focus on the voice of God—the most important aspect of his mouth. And I can think of no better place in the Bible to demonstrate the truth about God’s voice then the 10th chapter of John’s gospel. Here we find the words of Jesus concerning the shepherd and his sheep.

The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep….and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice” (vss. 2-5).

In this remarkable paragraph Jesus tells of a flock of sheep and how they relate to the voice of their shepherd. (From the rest of the chapter it is clear that he is speaking of himself as the good shepherd, with those who know him being the sheep.) Implicit in the words of Jesus are four phases or steps that the sheep (and we) may move through.

First, before the shepherd even speaks to them at a certain moment, they already know his voice. They have spent so much time together with him and have heard him so often that, even when he is not speaking, they have a built-in sense of his distinctive voice. They know how he will sound because their ears are so attuned to his special way of communicating with them.

Second, they recognize his voice. Whether the shepherd speaks softly to them in a quiet pasture, or calls to them from the midst of a busy marketplace, they recognize his voice immediately. Because they have already come to know his voice in their minds they are able to detect his presence at once.

After knowing the sound of their shepherd’s voice, and after hearing and recognizing it, the sheep then listen to his voice. In order to hear well—in such a way that blocks out the surrounding noises and voices—the sheep tune in intently to their shepherd’s unique voice and sounds.

Finally, after these three phases of communication (which, in some cases, may occur almost simultaneously), the sheep follow the shepherd. Because they have come to know and trust him so well they will go wherever he leads. If the sheep could speak, each might repeat these words from the most beloved of all psalms: “The LORD is my shepherd,….He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:1-3).

We are God’s flock, and when the voice of our Great Shepherd comes to us in our need it is full of wisdom and comfort, and sometimes correction and rebuke (Isaiah 30: 19-21). But he always speaks and guides us from his heart of love for us.

Our responsibilities, then, as God’s precious sheep, are to know his voice within us at all times, recognize it and listen to it at special times, and follow it immediately with confidence and joy in his sovereign care. Moses reminded ancient Israel, and Jesus repeated, “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4).

If we nourish ourselves from the scriptures regularly, we will be able to say with Job, even in the midst of the most severe sufferings:

But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I will
       come forth as gold. …
I have not departed from the
commands of his lips;
I have treasured the words of
his mouth more than
my daily bread (Job 23:10-12).

Friday, July 18, 2014

God's Arms

God’s Arms 

Bob Rakestraw
July 17, 2014 

“The New Benediction Project”


Leaning, leaning, safe and secure
from all alarms;

Leaning, leaning; Leaning on
the everlasting arms.

For many years God’s people have been singing these comforting words from a hymn written by Elisha A. Hoffman. This greatly-loved song expresses the words of Moses shortly before his death:

The eternal God is your refuge,
and underneath are the everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27).

In the same chapter of the Bible, in which Moses pronounces a blessing on each of the tribes of Israel, we read:

Let the beloved of the LORD rest
secure in him,

For he shields him all day long,
and the one the LORD loves rests
between his shoulders (vs. 12).

While this verse does not mention God’s arms, but rather his shoulders, the picture given is that of someone lying on the chest of a strong, protective person, with that person’s arms embracing their loved one. 

God’s arms and our arms are interesting to compare and contrast. Our human arms are used for many important purposes, and one of these is to help others. One way we may do this is to give protection (and its partners comfort and security), as the above scriptures declare so eloquently about the strong arms of God.
Another way we may use our arms to help others is for rescue, as when we reach down into a pit and lift out an injured child. When God promised the Israelites that he would rescue them from slavery in Egypt, he said, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment” (Exodus 6:6).  God’s “outstretched arm” is mentioned often in the Old Testament, frequently combined with God’s “mighty hand.” Referring again to the Exodus, God asks:

Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes (Deuteronomy 4:34)?

We may also use our arms to help others with important work they cannot do alone. When a barn burns to the ground in an Amish community, for example, all the neighbors use their arms to rebuild the barn. They give their power and strength, and exercise mercy, toward those needing help. God does the same for his people, and often uses only one arm to accomplish his will. 

Perhaps surprisingly, when speaking of God, the Bible uses the singular form “arm” much more than the plural “arms.” However, if we notice the many references to God’s “wings,” then the amounts of plural and singular terms seem to be closer together.  

God’s “wings”—another term for God’s strong arms and nurturing hands—are mentioned beautifully in the words of Boaz to Ruth: 

May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge (Ruth 2:12).

One more way we may use our arms to help others, in addition to giving protection, rescue, and labor, is to offer invitation and welcome. In the same way that the father of the rebellious son ran to him, “threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20), so we may, by God’s grace, extend such an invitation and welcome to someone who has hurt us deeply. 

Similarly, our gracious Lord will welcome us back to himself after we have departed from him, as we see in these sad words of Jesus: 

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing (Luke 13:34).

The biblical invitations and welcomes of God to enter and receive his kingdom are very real and very sincere to everyone, but Jesus insists on one condition:

‘Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them (Mark 10:15-16).

God longs for us to have the humility and trust of a small child, yet even when we go astray, and then repent, he uses his strong arms to gather and restore us.

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms

and carries them close to his heart;
He gently leads those that have young (Isaiah 40:11).

With all of these glorious teachings about the arms of God, we do well to cry out to our Lord as Isaiah did:

Awake, awake, arm of the LORD,
clothe yourself with strength (51:9)!

As we live day by day, and throughout each day, we may be greatly encouraged by the biblical truth about God’s arms. With his strong arms he protects us, rescues us (even when we are not aware of danger), works mightily to help us in our daily labor, and continually invites us to come closer to him and receive his welcome and blessing.

God’s arms never, ever weaken, but our arms, as well as our other body parts, lose their strength regularly. Even our will and courage falter. When this happens, the book of Hebrews has just the right words for us.

      Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for your feet,’ so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed (12:12-13).

Monday, June 30, 2014

God’s Heart

Jeremiah 32: 37-41 

Bob Rakestraw
June 28, 2014 

“The New Benediction Project”


God has a heart, but he does not have a physical heart like we do. Where the Bible writers refer to God’s heart, they are using a figure of speech for God’s emotions, thoughts and desires.  

Hundreds of years before the time of Jesus, the prophet Jeremiah (appropriately called “the weeping prophet”) wrote about the heart of God, the hearts of God’s rebellious people, and his own grieving heart—grieving over the sins of his fellow Israelites. Sometimes Jeremiah recorded the words of God himself, as when God spoke of unfaithful Israel (here referred to as Ephraim):  

Is not Ephraim my dear son,
the child in whom I delight?
Though I often speak against him,
I still remember him.
Therefore my heart yearns for him;
I have great compassion for him (31:20). 

Here we see God’s heart, yearning not only for the Jewish people of long ago but for every Jewish person today, for you and me, and for everyone on earth.  

Every human being also has a heart. Actually, we have two hearts: a physical one and a mental/emotional/spiritual heart. We have no choice in the matter, and it is good for us to be mindful of both hearts. 

Hardly anyone ever thinks of the remarkable reddish-brown organ beating in their chest.  I know I didn’t, until I learned that I had a heart problem. My heart illness worsened until I needed open heart surgery and eventually needed, and received, a heart transplant. My old heart was so weak that, when the surgeons opened my chest and looked at my heart, it was barely moving. It was trying hard to pump but was merely quivering. It was very, very close to stopping completely when the doctors removed it and put another one in its place. 

It has now been over ten years since one person died and, by filling out a donor form while alive, provided me with a new heart. Every day my new biological heart, like yours, beats about 100,000 times and pumps about 2,000 gallons of blood. Think of a gallon container of milk. Then place 2,000 of these containers on a parking lot or on the street in front of your house. You may arrange them in a rectangle 20 jugs wide and 100 jugs long. 

Now think of these gallon containers not as white but as red. This is the amount of blood your little, eleven-ounce heart pumps in one day. Every day. Without a break, except for the half-second of “rest” between beats. For 70, 80, 90 or more years! 

God has made our physical hearts so strong that if you take a tennis ball and squeeze it tightly, you will feel how hard your beating heart has to work each time it pumps blood. No muscles in the body are as strong as those of the heart, except those of a woman’s uterus when she delivers her baby. 

God has also given each of us a non-physical heart. When the Bible refers to the human heart in this sense it is speaking of the mental, emotional and spiritual “center” of our being. This is not our brain nor our physical heart. Perhaps we may think of it as our soul-spirit, or simply as our “spiritual heart,” or even our inner “control center.” What we love, hate, desire, think about and choose—these all come from our spiritual heart, which the Bible says is “deceitful above all things and beyond cure” by human improvement schemes (Jeremiah 17:9).  

Fortunately, our spiritual heart, when quickened by God, is able to cry out to God for mercy, inner peace, purity of mind and soul, and genuine love for God and others. 

When our spiritual heart is truly made alive by the new birth (John 3) we have an almost unlimited capacity—by God’s indwelling Holy Spirit—to pump adoration to God, holiness to our lives, and compassion to others. “May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” (1 Thessalonians 3:13) . Because our spiritual heart is the powerful control center of our lives, the Bible warns us solemnly “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).   

I want to close this brief essay by saying a little more about the characteristics of God’s heart. When we think about the truly remarkable strength of our physical heart it will be good for us to dwell on the infinitely more powerful, wise, holy and compassionate heart of God.  

Isaiah the prophet records words that almost certainly come from God himself, although they express the heart-cries of the prophet as well. After lamenting, “My heart cries out over Moab” (15:5), the Lord declares, “So I weep, as Jazer weeps.…I drench you with tears!...My heart laments for Moab like a harp, my inmost being for Kir Hareseth” (16:9, 11). 

Yes, God grieves deeply over sin. He hates it, and sometimes must chasten us to bring us back to himself. But his compassion never fails, as we see in his words to his people Israel. 

I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. They will be my people and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action.…I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I…will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul (Jeremiah 32:37-41). 

In much the same tone the Lord says, “Return, faithless people…. Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3:14-15). These words, along with the following words of the Good Shepherd while on earth, reveal the astonishing depths of God’s ever-inviting heart. 

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). 


For you who would like some very encouraging material for your personal or group Bible study, I include here this outline from The NIV Study Bible, 2011 edition, page 2239. (The initials NIV refer to the New International Version.)


God’s Relationship to the Human Heart: 

He knows it (1 Samuel 16:7)

He searches it (Psalm 7:9; Jeremiah 17:10)

He tests it (I Chronicles 29:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:4)

He influences it (Ezra 7:27)

He directs it (Proverbs 21:1)

He opens it (Acts 16:14)

He touches it (1 Samuel 10:26)

He makes light shine in it (2 Corinthians 4:6)

He cleanses it (Hebrews 10:22)

He writes his law on it (Jeremiah 31:33)

He strengthens it (I Thessalonians 3:13)

He keeps it loyal (I Chronicles 29:18)

He gives a new heart (Psalm 51:10; Ezekiel 11:19)

Remember, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).


Thursday, May 1, 2014

God's Nostrils


God’s Nostrils
2 Samuel 22:7-16 

Bob Rakestraw
May 1, 2014 

“The New Benediction Project”

God does not have a nose. At least, there is no mention of one in the Bible. But the Bible does speak of God’s nostrils and God’s smelling.

If anyone wonders how God can have nostrils without a nose (try picturing that!), it is helpful to keep in mind that God’s “body parts” mentioned in the Bible are not physical. The Bible writers often used figurative language to try to picture God, because is actually “indescribable.”

As recorded in the book of Exodus, God divided the Red Sea and then closed it up, drowning the entire Egyptian army that pursued the escaping Israelites (14:21-31). Moses and his sister Miriam sang a song of praise to God for this miracle. Here is part of that song.

By the blast of your nostrils
the waters piled up.
The surging waters stood up
like a wall….
The enemy boasted,
“I will pursue, I will overtake them.…”
But you blew with your breath,
and the sea covered them (15:8-10).

The only time you and I blow from our nostrils is to clean them for better breathing. But at the Red Sea, God used a “blast from [his] nostrils” to part the waters (also in Psalm 18:15). It may be that one reason the Bible writer uses “nostrils” here instead of “mouth” is to show how effortlessly God delivered his people.

The most we can move by blowing air from our nostrils—unless we block one side—is perhaps a thin piece of paper or a feather. We can move more by blowing from our mouth. But for God, his nostrils are all that he needed to divide the impassible waters. As human beings, the “mighty things” we accomplish are due to the strength of our arms, shoulders and legs. God blew the Red Sea apart with his nostrils! 

The Bible also refers to smoke in relation to God’s nostrils. Sometimes smoke goes into his nostrils. Concerning his own chosen people who engaged in pagan rituals, God said, “Such people are smoke in my nostrils, a fire that keeps burning all day” (Isa. 65:5).

Sometimes smoke comes out of God’s nostrils. At times, when God chooses to rescue his chosen people, he goes after their enemies like an angry, raging bull.

Smoke rose from his nostrils;
consuming fire came from his mouth.
burning coals blazed out of it….
The valleys of the sea were exposed
and the foundations of the earth laid bare
at the rebuke of the LORD,
at the blast of breath from his nostrils (2 Sam. 22:9, 16).

Foul-smelling smoke goes into God’s nostrils when his people persist in rebellion against him. Angry smoke comes from God’s nostrils when he pursues our enemies.

Sometimes, however, pleasant-smelling smoke goes into his nostrils, as when Noah, after the great flood, sacrificed burnt offerings to God.  “The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart” that he would never again curse the ground nor destroy all living things with a flood (Gen. 8:21; 9:11; 15-16).

Every time we see a rainbow we do well to remember that it is God’s verification of this promise—a promise he made just after the pleasant aroma entered his nostrils.

Smells other than those from burning sacrifices may give pleasure to God. Concerning certain material gifts the Philippian church sent to Paul, the apostle wrote, “They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:18-19). Have you ever thought that, at the moment you give your offerings to God’s work and God’s servants, a pleasant fragrance may be entering his nostrils?

One glorious truth remains: as devoted followers (captives) of Jesus Christ, we ourselves—in our very being—are a pleasing aroma to God! “We are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ” and this pleasing aroma is also—remarkably—“among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life” (2 Cor. 2:14-16). God actually, and always, “ leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere” (v. 14).

Simply by being who we are as captives of Christ—walking, talking, working, worshipping, serving—we are spreading an aroma. This is the “pleasing aroma of Christ” to fellow believers and even to those who are perishing and smelling this “pleasing aroma” as “an aroma that brings death!”

If we are faithful Christians, even many nonbelievers will notice something “pleasing” about our presence. Our employers will often value us for our work ethic and our ability to work smoothly with others. Our neighbors—often but not always—will detect this pleasing aroma of Christ.

If “those who are perishing” respond to the grace of God calling them to himself through us, they will become “those who are being saved.” We who were formerly “an aroma that brings death” to certain people (because of their rejection of the Lord of life and death within us) will then be—to such ones who come to believe—“an aroma that brings life.”

If we are faithful followers of Christ we do not have to “try hard” to leave a pleasing aroma of Christ. We are “the pleasing aroma of Christ”—to God and to others. And we do not have to “try hard” to ensure that God will protect us from our enemies: God will use a blast from his nostrils to do that!

We are privileged as captives of Jesus Christ to be living sacrifices and faithful givers to his work. In these ways you and I will radiate a pleasing fragrance to God and to the thousands of people we will encounter during the course of our lives here on earth.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

God's Body (Revised)


God’s Body

 Bob Rakestraw
April 19, 2014 

“The New Benediction Project”

A very unusual—yet very interesting—area of thought concerns God’s body and parts of God’s body. In the Bible God is said to have eyes, ears, arms and other body parts.

But what can these things mean? How can we think about God’s body, since God has no physical body nor material substance? Why, then, does the Bible often mention God as having bodily parts?

Because God is a spiritual being (the apostle John says that “God is spirit” in John 4:24), and because God is present everywhere at the same time (this is called “omnipresence,” and is seen in Psalm 139), then we know that God has no actual body.  If God would live always in a physical body, then God would be limited to time and space and could not be with everyone in heaven and earth at the same moment.

But what about God’s body parts? To help us understand an infinite God with our finite minds, the Bible writers—led by God’s Spirit—frequently refer to God’s characteristics, actions or emotions in human terms. Such descriptions of human qualities in God are known as anthropomorphisms, with the accent on “morph”.

The study of God by means of such colorful figurative language is a valuable method to help us understand God better than we might otherwise do. Any language or picture-thinking—reverently considered and biblically balanced—that may assist us in coming to know our Lord better is worth investigating.

May these brief studies of God’s “body” be used by God to guide us into a fuller knowledge—both in our heads and our hearts—of our Creator, Redeemer and Friend.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

God’s Ears

Psalm 34:15-18

Bob Rakestraw
March 30, 2014 

Ears are very common devices. There are over seven billion people on our planet, so that means there are over 14 billion ears. You almost certainly have one on each side of your head, as I do. Even though we seldom think about them, they are vital parts of our bodies and our daily lives.

According to the popular book by J.D. Ratcliff, Your Body and How it Works, we usually think of oureyes as our most important sensory organs. Yet, without our ears, we would be “doomed to solitary sonic confinement—far more emotionally disabling than blindness.”

Author Ratcliff imagines an ear speaking. It is the right ear of a 47 year-old man named Joe. “I [Joe’s ear] have enough electrical circuits to provide phone service for a good-sized city. I am also a kind of automatic pilot, keeping Joe from toppling over.” In the ear canal—a one-inch twisted channel connecting the outer ear to the eardrum—“a profusion of hairs and 4,000 wax glands act as a flypaper trap for insects, dust and other potential irritants.”

“My eardrum…is where the intricate business of hearing starts. Sound-bearing airwaves strike it—like a stick beating a drum. Even faint vibrations from a whisper can push it inward—but ever so little, perhaps only a billionth of a centimeter. [A centimeter is about four-tenths of an inch.] This minute displacement is then changed, in an awe-inspiring chain of events … into meaningful sound for Joe. … Thus, Joe hearswith me, but in his brain.”

God has ears too. While God’s ears are not physical organs, they are also very finely tuned, only infinitely more so than ours. If even a whisper may move a human eardrum a billionth of a centimeter, how much more does the slightest prayer affect the “eardrum” and “brain” of God!

A highly encouraging section of the Bible, attributed to King David, is Psalm 34:

The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous,
and his ears are attentive to their cry;
but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil,
to blot out their name from the earth.

The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them;
            he delivers them from all their troubles.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
            And saves those who are crushed in spirit.

For some 3,000 years the people of God have been heartened by these remarkable assurances: God hears their cries, delivers them, is close to them, and saves them.

But these are not unconditional promises. God does these things for “the righteous”—those who are serious about doing right and being right in their hearts in the light of God’s revealed truth. Even those who have not yet been made righteous by the transforming grace of God in salvation—even those, if they hunger and thirst for righteousness—will be heard by God and filled with him.

These all need to “cry out” to him, however. God expects us to bring our requests to him in faith, whether we cry out outwardly or deep within our hearts only.

But who are “the brokenhearted” and “those who are crushed in spirit”? It seems to me that these are ones who are hurting so deeply that whatever hopes and positive expectations they once had concerning their problems, these have now been shattered. Such ones may be broken and crushed due to circumstances such as severed relationships, serious health issues, crippling financial setbacks, job and career disappointments, or the terrible pain of sin—their own or that of others.

When we who desire to do right and to be right cry out to God for mercy and hope, “his ears are attentive to [our] cry,” and he hears us and sustains us in ways that we may not sense at the time. As David wrote elsewhere, “a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Psalm 51:17; see also Psalm 130: 1-2; Hebrews 4:16; James 5:4).

While our circumstances may not be as crushing as those of others, it is likely that everyone reading this is burdened in some way or ways. Yes, life has its more serene times, but quite often it has its turbulent times. Our heartaches are sometimes known only to ourselves or to one or two others. They are always, however, known to God. His ears are always attentive to our cries.

But what about our ears? Jesus and the prophets spoke often about those who have ears but do not hear, and those who have stopped their ears so that they cannot hear.

Remember Joe’s right ear? He has more to say. “Joe’s hearing started declining almost the moment he was born. It is now going down each year as my tissues lose elasticity, hair cells degenerate and calcium deposits invade critical spots. When Joe was a baby he had a hearing range of 16 to 30,000 cycles per second (vibrations). … Now [at age 47] he hears nothing above 8000, and if he reaches the age of 80, that will be down to about 4000. He will then hear conversation reasonably well in a quiet place, but may have difficulty in a noisy area.

“Perhaps the biggest thing Joe should be worrying about right now is noise pollution.” According to Joe’s ear, some things that will wreck him are loud rock music, the whine of jets, the rat-a-tat-tat of riveting machines and the repeated burst of a shotgun.

“Joe has his eyes examined regularly, and I would like the same attention. If Joe only knew how limited and lonely the world of silence is, he would take all possible steps to preserve my partner [Joe’s left ear] and me.”

With our spiritual ears, we too must guard against noise pollution. The noises and voices of the world, the flesh and the devil will surely, over time, decrease our ability to hear the voice of God.

We may even become spiritually deaf, just as people become spiritually blind. And so Jesus repeatedly warned his listeners: “Whoever has ears, let them hear.”