Divine Image

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And the angel of the LORD appeared to him

 in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. 

He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, 

yet it was not consumed. (Exod 3:2)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Old Testament offers several glimpses of the Divine image. Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush suggests a natural Rorschach test. The image of God’s trinitarian nature underscores the importance of relationship and community. His later  encounter with God on Mount Sinai provided even more insight into what it means to be created in the image of God.

The Burning Bush

A Rorschach test, or inkblot test,  provides the psychiatrist insight into a patient’s default assumptions about life because the patient is asked to talk about what is seen in random inkblots. An optimistic, happy person might see sunshine and flowers while a fearful, anxious person might see darkness and monsters. A fire poses a naturally random set of patterns suggesting an analogy to inkblots.

In Moses’ account in Exodus, we learn is that God is present, available, and calling Moses into relationship and Moses responds to God’s call (Exod 3:4). Where God is, is holy ground (Exod 3:5). When God identifies himself, Moses responds in fear (Exod 3:6). God reads Moses’ deepest desire of his heart and acknowledges the suffering of his people in Egypt (Exod 3:7). God commissions Moses to deliver the people from Pharaoh (Exod 3:10). Moses again responds with fear (Exod 3:11).

God first created in Moses a desire to free his people and then God called on Moses to step up and honor his own desire. While the burning bush served as a Rorschach test, it did not project Moses’ attributes on God. Rather, God used the burning bush to teach Moses about himself, making plain his own desires. For Moses, this encounter with the burning bush served to call him into leadership of the people of Israel, which resulted in the Exodus from Egypt out of slavery and the latter establishment of the Nation of Israel.

The Trinity

When Moses encounters God in the burning bush, God’s trinitarian nature is already established and understood. Moses is the author of the Books of the Law, also called the Pentateuch (five books), so we have a glimpse of Moses’ understanding in Genesis in the creation accounts. The concept of the trinity is not a late development, as some have alleged who object, for example, to the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt 28:19)

In the creation accounts God the Father shows up in the first verse: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1) The Holy Spirit shows up in verse two: “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Gen 1:2) Later, in chapter three, we meet a personal God, who walks with us in the Garden (e.g. Gen 3:9). This is the early image of Christ. Reinforcing the idea of trinity, the primary Hebrew name of God in these accounts, Elohim, appears in the plural.

Being created with our spouse in the image of a Triune God, who is in relationship even within himself, suggests that our own identity is revealed in relationship. In ourselves, we are incomplete and we require community to be whole persons.

The Second Giving of the Law

Moses’ burning bush encounter with God is interesting because it helps us interpret how creation in the divine image affects us together with our spouses. The divine image is, however, more than an encounter with a mirror because creation has both physical and moral implications. Another important encounter that Moses has with God occurs after the second giving of the Ten Commandments.

Moses had an anger management problem that led him to destroy the first set of stone tablets when he descended from Mount Sinai and found the people of Israel worshipping a Golden Calf (Exod 32:19). Later, God gave Moses a second set of tablets and when Moses asked to see God’s glory (Exod 33:18): “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, the LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Exod 34:6). 

In describing his attributes, God effectively gave an interpretative guide to the Ten Commandments. When Congress passes significant legislation, the authorizing committee will in like manner publish a conference report to give attorneys an interpretative guide, should questions arise about the legislation itself. In this case, God uses his attributes to guide interpreting the Ten Commandments. For us, these moral attributes suggest what it means to be created in God’s image.

Exodus as Cautionary Tale

The Exodus from Egypt outlines the temptations and limits of freedom. Release from the tyranny of Pharaoh started with the crossing of the Red Sea, a kind of communal baptism, but it led to the need to survive in the wilderness and to respect for God and his servant, Moses. 

Self-reliance under God proved challenging for the people of Israel, as the Gold Calf incident suggests. Freedom did not mean living with abandon worshipping idols of our own making. The idols today are alive and well, as the popularity of the Wall Street Bull and the Fearless Girl attest. The biblical Golden Calf incident underscored the need for law, which had to be instituted by the sword (Exod 32:27-28). 

As Christians, we live under grace, but those resisting God remain under law. Even for Christians, the temptations of secular society are real, ever-present, and hard to resist. But we have the image of Christ given in scripture to guide us.

Divine Image

Also see:

The Who Question

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com


 

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Wholeness Prayer

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By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Heavenly Father,

We praise you for your gift of salvation available to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who, as our great high priest, transcends our weakness having been tempted as we are yet without sin (Heb 4:15). For out of Him, by means of Him, and into Him are all things created, sustained, and restored (Rom 11:36), for which we are grateful.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, work in us to complete our journey from isolation in our natural selves to the person that we were created to be, from isolation from others to persons able to offer hospitality to others, and from isolation from God to people of faith.

Enable us to follow the example of Jesus Christ who in life, in death, and in resurrection was merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exod 34:6), even during persecution.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Wholeness Prayer

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

 

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Jesus Models Image Ethics

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So Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, 

the Son can do nothing of his own accord, 

but only what he sees the Father doing. 

For whatever the Father does,

 that the Son does likewise. 

(John 5:19)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The creation account in Genesis offers an ethical framework that Jesus employs repeatedly in his teaching, as in Genesis:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Gen 1:27)

Because we are created in the image of God, our behavior should likewise follow God’s behavior—a kind of image ethic. For example, when God blesses us, we should bless others (Gen 12:3). This behavioral pattern is simple—God does A, we do A; God does B, we do B—and this pattern appears several places in Jesus’ teachings, such as in the Lord’s Prayer where we read:

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matt 6:10)

The phrase “on earth as it is in heaven” models this pattern while the phrase—“and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt 6:12)—reverses the pattern because we know God’s will.

In discussing forgiveness, Jesus pauses to repeat himself, for emphasis:

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matt 6:14-15)

In six simple verses (Matt 6:10–15), Jesus reverses this pattern (we do A, God does A; we do B, God does B) four times when God’s will is well known (God is merciful so he obviously forgives), as when God’s character traits inform us.

Accordingly, an important application of this pattern is to reflect and anticipate all of God character traits:

The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulnes. (Exod 34:6)

If God is merciful, then we are merciful; if God is gracious, we are gracious . . . Among the fruits of the Spirit, the Apostle Paul lists:

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22–23)

Almost all of God’s character traits are found on this list, albeit kindness only hints at mercy.

Do you want a blessing? Be a blessing! (Gen 12:2)

Simple. Clean. Convicting. Jesus loves image ethics.

Jesus Models Image Ethics

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/HangHome_2020

 

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Prayer of Confession and Blessing

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By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Merciful Father, Beloved Son, Ever-present Spirit,

We praise you, Lord, for your mercy, grace, patience, love, and faithfulness; for healing us of our afflictions, for forgiving our sin, and for your presence in our life; for in you we find faith, hope, and love, as nowhere else.

We confess that you alone are God, yet we make idols of machines, institutions, and our own pet theories. We have not followed the example of your son, Jesus Christ, and have set our own desires above our families, friends, and even your church. Forgive our sin; overlook our transgressions; and heal us of our iniquity—that we might be whole again and restored to your presence.

We give thanks for the many blessings that you have freely given us: our families, our health, our work, and even life itself.

We ask you now to bless us that we might bless others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Prayer of Confession and Blessing

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/HangHome_2020

 

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Mercy as a Path to Salvation

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Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice. 

For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. (Matt 9:13)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Asking for mercy and offering mercy both evoke tension with God because we prefer not to shine a light on our own sin or the sin of others. In dealing with our own sin, Jesus cites the same verse from the Prophet Hosea twice after the Fifth Beatitude (Matt 9:13, 12:7): For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hos 6:6) Pagan worship attempts to manipulate the gods with sacrifices, which today can take the form of offerings, overt righteousness, prayers, church attendance, or XYZ actions done, not out of thanksgiving, but out of a desire to manipulate God.

An important lesson on mercy shows up the story of the Good Samaritan when a lawyer asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). After telling the story, Jesus asks,“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (Luke 10:36), substituting the question—“who proved to be a neighbor”—for the lawyer’s question—“who is my neighbor”—and eliciting the lawyer’s response—“The one who showed him mercy.” (Luke 10:37) Notice how the story started out talking about neighborly love, but ended up talking about mercy? By turning a direct object (neighbor) into a verb (to be a neighbor) Jesus redirects the lawyer’s question from who can be excluded as a neighbor to how we can become a better neighbor.

Mercy is a fitting focus of the story of the Good Samaritan because Jews hated Samaritans. The Samaritan had to overcome prejudice (show mercy) in order to show love to the man left for dead. In the same way, we experience God’s love through his mercy, as in this verse: The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. (Exod 34:6) Notice that this verse includes both mercy and love, but mercy comes first.

James concludes much the same from God’s attributes when he observes: For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (Jas 2:13) Here James has restated Jesus’ Beatitude in the negative—it is a curse to be judged without mercy. Judgment requires truth, which—like love—follows mercy on the list of God’s attributes.

The link between judgment and mercy points us back to the atoning work of Christ, as the Apostle Peter observed:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Pet 1:3-5)

The path to salvation through Christ is by way of his mercy.

Mercy as a Path to Salvation

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Release_2020

 

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Core Values: Monday Monologues (podcast) June 15, 2020

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Stephen W. Hiemstra 2020 (Ken Burtram Photography)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on God’s core values. After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on this link.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Core Values: Monday Monologues (podcast) June 15, 2020

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net,

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Ready_2020

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God’s Core Values

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The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, 

slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 

(Exod 34:6)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Immediately following the giving of the Ten Commandments, God proclaims his attributes to Moses, much like a herald might introduce the titles and accomplishments of an important dignitary. Scripture underscores the importance of these attributes by repeating them, almost word for word, in Psalm 86:15 and Psalm 103:8, Joel 2:13, and Jonah 4:2. In the parallel context of the giving of the Law (Deut 4:31), only mercy is cited, underscoring its primacy in the Jewish understanding of God’s character.

The emphasis on mercy and the de-emphasis on faithfulness (or truth) in Exodus 34:6 suggests that God is soft-hearted. The passage mentions mercy, gracious, slow to anger (or long nostrilled), abounding in love (hesed), and faithfulness (emeth). Hesed love in the Hebrew is best translated as covenantal love because of the context here as God just delivered the Ten Commandments to Moses. Emethis often translated as faithfulness, but it also means truth. When Apostle John describes Jesus as full of grace and truth (John 1:14), he is making a claim of divinity with reference to Exodus 34:6.

Psalm 86 repeats each of the five words of Exodus 34 in the same order. Psalm 103 repeats the first four words, but drops faithfulness. Joel 2 repeats the first five words, but substitutes “relents over disaster” for faithfulness. Jonah 4 likewise substitutes “relents over disaster” for faithfulness but swaps grace and mercy. The emphasis on mercy and the de-emphasis on faithfulness in God’s attributes is important because they provide guidance on how to interpret law especially when conflicts arise or when a new context requires interpretation.

The primacy of mercy in the Jewish understanding of God’s character figures prominently in the story of the Prophet Jonah. Jonah refused God’s call to preach repentance to the sinful people of Nineveh (a city whose ruins lie cross the Tigris river from Mosul, Iraq; Nahum 1:1). Rather than answer God’s call, Jonah boarded a ship going the opposite direction (Jonah 1:2–3). After being caught in a storm, thrown overboard, and rescued by a whale, Jonah reluctantly responded to God’s call, traveled to Nineveh, and preached repentance to the Ninevites. When the Ninevites responded to his preaching, turned from their sin, and begged God to forgive them (Jonah 3:9-10), God relented from destroying the city.

Showing mercy to Nineveh seemed unjust to Jonah and it made him angry because Nineveh was the hometown of Sennacherib, king of Assyria who conquered Judah and made King Hezekiah his vassal (Isa 36-37), so Jonah:

prayed to the LORD and said, O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. (Jonah 4:2)

Jonah knew God’s attributes (citing Exod 34:6) and did not want to give the hated Ninevites the opportunity to repent and have God forgive them, as he knew God would.

Mercy is first among God’s attributes because as human beings we are born in sin and must acknowledge our sin before we feel any need for God. Our need is like that of a young man who, not liking the newly elected president, leaves the country, and tears up his passport; without being issued a new passport, he cannot return home. In our case, our passport into the kingdom of God is his mercy, without which we cannot experience God’s other attributes.

God’s Core Value

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Release_2020

 

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Tradeoffs, Desires, and Temptations. Monday Monologues, February 11, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I will offer a Decision Prayer and talk about Tradeoffs, Desires, and Temptations.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Tradeoffs, Desires, and Temptations. Monday Monologues, February 11, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Welcome_NY_2019

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The Person of Jesus

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

No description of God would be complete without an understanding of the role of Jesus Christ that starts with God’s transcendent nature. God’s transcendence arises because he created the known universe as revealed in the Genesis creation account:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1)

As creator, God had to exist before the universe that he created and he had to have been set apart from it. Time, as we know it, is part of the created universe. Consequently, God stands outside of time and space. Because we exist inside time and space, we cannot approach God on our own. He has to reveal himself to us. Likewise, we cannot approach a Holy God, because we are sinful beings, not Holy beings. Our sin separates from a Holy God and motivates our confession when we ask God to draw us to himself.

Thus, we cannot approach God on our own because he transcends time and space and because he is holy. Only God can initiate connection with unholy, created beings such as we are. No path reaches up the mountain to God; God must come down. As Christians, we believe that God came down in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, whose coming was prophesied from the earliest days of scripture. 

For example, the Prophet Job wrote: 

“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”  (Job 19:25-27)

The Book of Job is thought by some to have been written by Moses before any other book in the Bible and before he returned to Egypt, which makes the anticipation of a redeemer all the more stunning. Moses himself lived about 1,500 years before Christ.

Who then is this transcendent God that loves us enough to initiate connection with us in spite of our sin?

Later, after giving Moses the Ten Commandments for a second time on Mount Sinai, God reveals himself to Moses with these words:

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Exod 34:6)

Notice that God describes himself first as merciful. As Christians, we believe that God love is shown to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because God himself has provided the ultimate sacrifice of his son on the cross, Christians do not need to offer animal sacrifices—in Christ, our debt to God for sin has already been paid. This is real mercy, real love.

Listen now to the confession given by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the church in Corinth:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”  (1 Cor 15:3-5)

Jesus, as the perfect son of God, is the bridge that God has given us to connect with himself through the Holy Spirit, as Peter said on the Day of Pentecost:

“And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to pray to God with the assurance that we will be heard; we are able to read the Bible with the confidence that God will speak to us; and we are able to live our daily lives knowing that God walks with us each step of the way. In this way, as Christians we are always connected with God in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit. The Gospel is accordingly the story of Jesus in the context of Old Testament prophecy and how through him God came down from outside time and space to dwell in our hearts.

The Person of Jesus

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Transcendence_2018

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Monday Monologues: God’s Ethical Image, June 4, 2018 (podcast)

Stephen W. Hiemstra, www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I share a prayer for congruity and a reflection on God’s Ethical Image.

To listen, click on the link below.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

Monday Monologues: God’s Ethical Image, June 4, 2018 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Transcendence_2018

 

 

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