One of the fundamental questions we need an answer to is “Who is God?” When Philip wanted to know the Father he said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the father and that will be enough for us.” (John 14:8) Those of us who love Jesus have met him. Those days of our first introduction were days of joy and wonder and love. I remember going to my pastor years ago and saying, “Pastor, I’ve met Jesus and I know the Holy Spirit who lives in me, but I don’t know the Father.” I was comfortable with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but I think I was afraid of God the Father as I saw him as distant and holy which made me feel guilty and somewhat fearful. My pastor allayed my fears by quoting Jesus’ answer to Philip in John 14:9, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” But it wasn’t that easy for our Old Testament friends. They received small pieces of revelation of who God is a little at a time.
God started revealing himself by what he did such as: “I am your shield” (Gen. 15:1), “I am the Lord who brought you…” (Gen. 15:7), “I am the God of your father…” (Gen. 26:24, 28:13, Ex. 3:4), “I am God Almighty” (Gen. 15:7), and “I am the Lord who heals you.” (Ex. 15:26). God began like we begin when we introduce ourselves to others: “I am a teacher,” “I am a secretary,” “I am a nurse,” or even “I am a Christian,” but revealing what we do is only part of who we are. If we want a close relationship with someone we need to get to know them for who they are as well as what they do.
There are some gems in Exodus like: “I am who I am”(Ex. 3:14) which isn’t very helpful, “…I the Lord your God, am a jealous God…” (Ex. 20:5), and “When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.” (Ex. 22:27) But it isn’t until Moses meets God face to face on Mt. Sinai and says, “Now show me your glory,” that the Lord honors his request by revealing who He really is. “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” (Ex. 34:6-7 NKJ) Out of this list I see 7 attributes of God.
When I compared scripture translations and checked out their meanings in the dictionary this is what I found:
1 Merciful, compassionate
2 Gracious (marked by kindness, courtesy, being easily approachable, and being ready to respond to requests or proposals*)
3 Longsuffering, slow to anger (patient endurance*)
4 Abounding in goodness (state of being good*), loving-kindness, love (tender and benevolent affection*)
6 Keeping (faithfulness); (unswerving adherence to a person, thing, oath or promise*)
7 Forgiving (to grant relief from payment for, to cease to feel resentment against*)
*definition from Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary
Exodus was only the beginning of God’s revelation of who He is to His people. As I was thinking on these 7 attributes of God I also thought about how we speak of God in the New Testament. I think that we have basically boiled all of His attributes into one word: love. When I taught 3-year-old Sunday school years ago the one lesson we wanted them to understand was “God is love.” (I John 4:8, 16) I do think that this is a good starting place but what does God’s love mean? Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
On my journey to know God in such a way that I can hold on to him in the trials and tests of my life, I wanted more than the word love to describe who God is as love can mean many things to many people. Then I had an “ah ha” moment and turned to I Corinthians 13, the love chapter of the Bible, and put the Exodus words next to the I Corinthians words so it reads like: “Love is patient (long-suffering), love is kind (loving-kindness, gracious). It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking (gracious, goodness), it is not easily angered (slow to anger), it keeps no record of wrongs (merciful, forgives). Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth (truth). It always protects (faithful, merciful), always trusts (faithful), always hopes (merciful, goodness), always perseveres (faithful). Love never fails (faithful). (I Cor. 13:4-8) When I did that I began to see that all that the Lord showed Moses about who He was could easily be boiled down to love, but the words that were used to describe that love seemed more powerful in my everyday life. If I can remember that God is merciful and compassionate, that he is gracious, and slow to get angry with me, that He is good and wants the best for me, that He tells the truth in His word and I can believe in His promises as He is always faithful, and, that most of all when I have blown it, He is forgiving, then I can depend upon, submit to, and worship this God I am learning to know. I know that one of the great privileges of being a Christian is to walk in an ever revealing journey to get to know the God who loves us. I, after more than 30 years, have only begun a journey that will not only take a lifetime but an eternity in God’s presence. As I learn more about what God means when He says He is merciful, gracious, slow to anger (longsuffering), abounding in goodness (loving kindness) and truth, keeping faithfulness, and extending forgiveness ever available to me I believe that I will walk in an ever increasing revelation of God. That revelation will help me know God in greater depth and participate with him in growing more like Him.