March 6, 2017

Does God Like Me?

There’s a difference between loving and liking.

David Asscherick

How could a God like You love a person like me?”

How many of us have asked God that question? It would be the rare person, even the rare, committed Christian, who hadn’t in some form wondered that very thing: Why should God be interested in me? Indeed, the psalmist said, “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Ps. 8:4).

We’re going to look at one of the central themes of Scripture: Genesis 1 and 2, Creation.

The very first words of Scripture are: “In the beginning” (Gen. 1:1). But the first words God spoke were “Let there be light” (verse 3). In Genesis 1 God is presented as speaking things into existence. The psalmist would later say, “For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (Ps. 33:9).

So God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God’s Word, apparently, is creative in and of itself. When God says something, it comes to be.

When Jesus was at Lazarus’ tomb, He said, “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43), and Lazarus came out.

In Genesis 1 and 2 God speaks things into existence. “Let there be light,” and there was light. “Let there be a galaxy,” and there was a galaxy. “Let there be a planet,” there’s a planet.

The picture presented in Scripture is of a God who says, “Let there be light,” and light happens. He is a God who speaks things into existence. He just spoke, and the universe came to be.

A More Personal God

In Genesis 1 we’re presented with what might be called a sequential or chronological picture of Creation. In Genesis 2 Moses recapitulates Creation. Genesis 1 is largely sequential and chronological; Genesis 2 is largely relational: “Then the Lord God formed a man” (Gen. 2:7). But how did He form man? “From the dust of the ground.” In the opening chapters God is speaking: “Let there be light,” and there’s light. But Genesis 2 says the Lord God formed a man, humankind, Adam, from the dust of the ground.

Moses paints a picture of a God who is close, who is intimate, a God who is invested. Moses is painting a God who, we may well imagine, is on His hands and knees. He’s in the dust, in the dirt. There’s dirt under God’s fingernails, and He’s digging in the dirt. He’s forming. He’s fashioning. This is a God who’s invested, who’s close.

He didn’t say, “Let there be Adam,” which He could have done. Moses has already made it abundantly clear that God can speak things into existence. He could have said, “Let there be a man,” and there would have been a man. But no.

It’s OK to speak universes into existence. It’s OK to speak galaxies into existence. But when it comes to making a companion, you have to get close. So the picture is of God on His hands and knees forming a man. This is a God who’s invested. This is not a distant God. This is an intimate God.

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground,” and what does your Bible say? “And breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7). Talk about proximity! There are only three people on the planet whose nostrils I am comfortable breathing into! My wife’s, and those of my two little boys. But here’s God: He forms a man. The man’s not alive. He’s not thinking; he’s not acting. He is a cadaver. He is not yet the companion of God. So God breathes into his nostrils.

And the first thing Adam sees is God’s face. And God says, “Welcome to life, Adam.”

So the first thing we’re introduced to in Genesis 1 and 2 is a God who is distant in a sense. He speaks the universe, the planet, these things into existence. But when it’s time to form a man, God is invested, God is involved. God is with humanity.

Still More Personal

Let’s go now to Luke 1. A woman named Mary is pregnant, and she’s confused about her pregnancy. An angel appears to Mary and says, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus [Yeshua, Deliverer]” (verse 31). An angel also told Joseph, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

Matthew applies a messianic prophecy from Isaiah to Jesus: “ ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’)” (verse 23).

In Genesis 1 and 2 we have this picture of God’s proximity, of God’s investment, of God’s intimacy with humanity. But humanity’s rebellion, obstinacy, and sin caused a division. Jesus came to repair that breach! And the fullest, most powerful application of this name, Immanuel, would apply to the incarnate God. The Incarnation is the “infleshing” of God. God becomes a man. God becomes a man so He can be with us!

There are billions—some say 200 billion—galaxies in the universe, and most of those galaxies contain hundreds of billions of stars. The God who made it all, the God who spoke it into existence—that God became human!

The reason God became human is that we couldn’t relate to Him if He hadn’t. Theologians use the expression “wholly other,” that is, entirely different from us. How could we possibly understand God? God is omnipotent, all-powerful. None of us is all-powerful! You and I can’t relate to that.

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God is omnipresent. It means that while He’s here, He can also be there. We are bound by this thing called space. God, in His godness, is not confined by space. But when God became a man, He couldn’t be in Jericho if He was in Galilee. And if He was in Jericho, He couldn’t be in Jerusalem. God’s presence was limited to where He could get by walking. If Jesus wanted to go to Bethany, He walked. We can’t relate to omnipresence, but we can relate to walking.

God is omniscient: He knows everything. We can’t relate to that, either. We can’t relate to any of these things. The apostle Paul said, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses” (Heb. 4:15). Why does he put it in the double negative? Because it’s the very thing we would be tempted to think: How can God relate to me? Paul’s double negative anticipates this objection. He says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses.” He could have truncated the double negatives and said, “We have a high priest who can empathize,” he anticipates our doubt and reassures us with “God can relate to you!”

Isaiah’s Immanuel promise declares, “He’ll be with you.” In Genesis 1 we see God with humanity face to face. And now, sin notwithstanding, there’s a very real sense in which we have already seen the face of God. The apostle Paul wrote: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). We have seen God in His incarnation, but we have not seen the face of God in its full glory.

Future Intimacy

We find this idea of God’s proximity again in Revelation: “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea” (Rev. 21:1).

Many of us have wondered about that verse: “there was no longer any sea.” Is John making a geographical or a geological statement? Hardly. Where is John when he receives the Revelation? He’s on the island of Patmos, a penal colony located 25 miles into the Aegean Sea. John was put there because of the testimony of the Lord and the Word of God.

He may have been in his 80s or even older, the last living apostle, separated from everything near and dear to him. For him, the sea meant separation. Then the Lord showed him “ ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and [he says] there was no longer any sea.” He’s saying, “The thing that separates will be gone.”

Notice verse 2: “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” You cannot get a more intimate picture than that. Then he writes in verse 3: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’ ”

Three times John says God will be with us, and we will be with Him. There will be no separation.

Bridging the Gap

God begins close to humanity. Then there’s separation, that which comes between. It’s humanity’s obstinacy, humanity’s rebellion, humanity’s disobedience.

But a Man named Jesus would come, called Jesus because He would save His people from their sins. Sin separates! But Jesus is also called Immanuel, which is God with us! He’s bridging that gap.

In Revelation we see that gap completely bridged. John says, “He will be with us, and we will be with Him! We will see His face” (see Rev. 22:4).

This is one of the great themes of Scripture: to have proximity restored. Our Bibles have two covers. On one cover there is Eden—Genesis 1 and 2. On the other there is Eden restored—Revelation 21 and 22. Everything in between is God seeking to restore that face-to-face relationship. Scripture reveals God’s desire to be with His people.

Loving and Liking

Now a simple question: Do you like to spend time with people? Whether we’re extroverts or not, God has made us social beings.

And a second question: Whom do you like to be with the most?

Perhaps you have heard of this clever and significant distinction between liking and loving someone. What if we applied the consideration to our relationship with God? The Bible is perfectly clear about God’s love for us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16). We say God’s love is unconditional. That means that God’s love for us is not conditioned on our response. God doesn’t love us more if we do a, b, and c. Neither does He love us less if we do x, y, and z. God’s love, His unconditional love for humanity, tells us a great deal about God.

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But does God like us? What if God likes me? Is that different? It is. Totally different.

In 2 Chronicles 20 a man named Jehoshaphat is praying. The Ammonites and Moabites are coming against Israel, and Jehoshaphat and all of Israel are concerned. Jehoshaphat stands in the congregation of the people, and begins to pray. His prayer makes no distinction betwee the God who loves and the God who likes: “Then Jehoshaphat stood up in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem in the temple of the Lord in the front of the new courtyard and said, ‘Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you’ ” (verse 5).

Translation: “You are God! No one can withstand You. You are mighty. You are powerful. You are God!”

And he continues: “Our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?” (verse 7). For King Jehoshaphat, the God who rules, the God who is mighty, the God who is omniscient, omnipotent, eternal, had a buddy named Abraham. Abraham was a friend of God’s. How radical is that?

In Christianity it’s perfectly appropriate to ask, “How is your relationship with God?” We understand very well that we can have a relationship with God, that God is invested in us. But Scripture teaches that the sovereign and subject relationship is not the overarching theme of Christianity. Christianity says that Abraham was a friend of God’s. Not just His subject, or just a good citizen of His kingdom; he was God’s friend.

In case someone inclines to think that this only applies to Abraham,we should note the comment of Exodus 33:11: “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.”

No one can communicate this adequately. But God, the infinite, illimitable, eternal God of the universe, has people for friends!

Our Friend, Jesus

Jesus, speaking to His disciples, said, “Fellows, I’m leaving. But don’t be troubled. You believe in God? Believe in Me. In My Dad’s house are many mansions. I’m going to go and prepare a place, and I’ll come back and receive you unto Myself, that where I am, you’ll be there with Me” (see John 14:1-3).

The very next chapter He talks about the vine. “If you abide in the vine, you will bear fruit” (see John 15:4).

Then He turns to His disciples in those poignant, somber, sad moments just before the cross, and He says, “No longer do I call you servants. I can’t call you servants anymore. There is too much limitation to the strength of the servant-sovereign metaphor. I’ll call you My friends. A servant doesn’t know what his master is doing, but I’ve told you everything; you are my friends” (see verse 15).

Abraham was a friend of God’s. Adam was a friend of God’s. Moses spoke to God face to face. And Jesus says to us all, “You’re My unique you. You’re it, and you’re special, and I like you just that way!” God doesn’t just love us; He likes us.

When we look in the mirror we may think, My nose is too big. My ears stick out. My teeth are crooked. But when God looks, He thinks, I like that! There’s something about that little crooked tooth. I like the way she laughs, the way her cheek kind of goes up. God says, I like the choices she has made. When I look down at her, she is growing and maturing. She’s becoming one of My beautiful daughters. I love her. I loved her when she did that, although I wish she hadn’t done it. And she wishes she hadn’t done it. But that’s not the person she is anymore. I don’t just love this girl, I like her. She’s My friend!

Moses and Elijah

When Moses died on top of Mount Nebo, it looked like quite a sad story. We think, Ah, Moses didn’t even get to go into the Promised Land. But that’s just a half-truth: “The archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you’ ” (Jude 9). Jesus came down to get Moses.

He missed him. He couldn’t leave Moses in the ground. He missed him! And in anticipation of the cross, in anticipation of redemption, He said, “I know what’s coming, and I’m confident. So I’ll resurrect him. Moses, come with Me.”

God started to like this guy Elijah. Elijah was a bit of a scaredy-cat. He could stand up to 850 false priests, but he was afraid of a woman, Jezebel. Apparently Elijah was afraid to die. So God said, “You know what? I won’t let him die. I’ll bring him to heaven. Elijah, step out of that fiery chariot. Meet Moses!”

On the Mount of Transfiguration, when Jesus’ face was as bright as the sun, Ellen White says in The Desire of Ages that Elijah and Moses were whispering in Jesus’ ears, “Please go through with it, because we like heaven, we like God. So please go through with this.” She says that Jesus on the Mount was strengthened by their words—Moses representing those who will be resurrected, and Elijah representing those who will be translated.*

Moses and Elijah showcase the fact that God wants to be with people. He likes people. Adam was a friend of God. Abraham was a friend of God. Moses was a friend of God. Jesus says, “No longer do I call you servants. Now I call you friends.” God invites you to be friends with Him, to be with Him today and forever.

* Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898): “The decease to be accomplished at Jerusalem is the subject of their conference with Jesus. . . . These men, chosen above every angel around the throne, had come to commune with Jesus concerning the scenes of His suffering, and to comfort Him with the assurance of the sympathy of heaven” (pp. 422-425).

David Asscherick is cofounder of ARISE, and is pastor of the Kingscliff Adventist Church in Chinderah, New South Wales, Australia. This article is adapted from a sermon he preached at Oakwood University in 2011.