Recently, we have been asking ourselves the question, “What do we think about God?”
This is a big question, and the way we answer it is important. Our understanding of God not only shapes how we see and respond to God, but also how we see and respond to everything and everyone else.
Brian Zahnd formulated a beautifully simple way of approaching the answer to this question:
God is like Jesus.
God has always been like Jesus.
There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus.
We have not always known what God is like—
But now we do.
A recent pair of lectionary texts (Job 42:1-6 and Mark 10:46-52) provide a glimpse of this truth worked out in conversational encounters. The first occurs between Job and God:
In Job 38, God responds to Job’s complaints and questions, saying,
“Who is this that questions my wisdom
with such ignorant words?
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Have you ever commanded the morning to appear
and caused the dawn to rise in the east? (Job 38:1, 4, 7)
Having been thoroughly put in his place, Job replies,
2 “I know that you can do anything,
and no one can stop you.
3 You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’
It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about,
things far too wonderful for me.
4 You said, ‘Listen and I will speak!
I have some questions for you,
and you must answer them.’
5 I had only heard about you before,
but now I have seen you with my own eyes.
6 I take back everything I said,
and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance" (Job 42:1-6).
The next conversation in the lectionary texts is between Jesus and Bartimaeus, a blind man:
46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.
Notice the differences between the two encounters:
In Job, God sounds like the crowd that insists on the silence of the blind man in Mark’s gospel.
You said, ‘Listen and I will speak!’ (Job 42:4)
“Be quiet!” many of the people yelled at him (Mark 10:48).
There’s nuance here—certainly there are times when we need to stop speaking and listen, but I wonder if many of us who are hard on ourselves can be in danger of confusing the voice of God with the voice of the mob!
Then, note the similarity in the responses of Job and Bartimaeus:
I had only heard about you before,
but now I have seen you with my own eyes (Job 42:5).
And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, I want to see!” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go, for your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see (Mark 10:51-52a).
These two encounters are different, to be sure. In Mark, Bartimaeus is dealing with literal blindness, and Job is having a metaphorical veil lifted to see God. But perhaps Bartimaeus’ experience with Jesus is also a further working out of Job’s words to God: “I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes.”
In Mark, Jesus shows us God's character, so we can envision Bartimaeus repeating the words of Job, saying, “I had only heard about you before, Jesus. But now I have seen you, the true God, with my own eyes.”
Not only can we read the scene in Mark as an imaginative re-working of the Job narrative, but it might also be a helpful turning point for those of us who assume God is only interested in punishing us for our wrongdoing.
God is like Jesus. God has always been like Jesus. Once we thought God had it out for us. Now we know that the God revealed in Jesus is beckoning us to come to Him.
When we hear Jesus, we see God. As is the case for Bartimaeus, Jesus opens our eyes to see God.
Jonathan Martin, a pastor and author, makes three well-phrased proclamations that explore the implications of the truth that God is, and always has been, like Jesus:
1. Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about you. Jesus came to change your mind about God. Jesus does not come to appease the Father. Jesus comes to reveal the Father. This runs counter to a narrative that many of us who have grown up in evangelical circles that God can’t even look at you because of your sin. It’s up to Jesus to make God change his mind about us. God’s mind is already made up about you. Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about you. Jesus came to change your mind about God!
2. Jesus comes to save us from sin, the devil, and ourselves; he does not come to save us from God. We need saving, but God is not nor has he ever been the one you need saving from.
3. Sin does not change how God sees you; sin changes how you see God. You are not strong enough to change God’s mind about you. What makes sin so toxic is that it alters how we see God. Not only does sin not make God unable to see you, it makes God attentive to you in your own blindness!
If Jesus is any indication, our blindness moves God’s heart, and he invites us in our need, saying, “What do you want me to do for you?”
One final look at the two texts reveals a marked contrast between the responses of Job and Bartimaeus:
"I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance" (Job 42:6).
Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road (Mark 10:42b).
These two responses brilliantly capture the importance of this transformed understanding of who God is. Job sits in the dust; Bartimaeus kicks up the dust.
May we catch a glimpse of God revealed in Jesus, and may our recovered vision of Jesus, the one true God, lead us to follow him on the way!