Thursday, January 2, 2014

Perfect and Unchanging

A football field is perfect. It is balanced from end to end and side to side. And every American
football gridiron is exactly the same – 120 yards long (including endzones) and 53.33 yards wide. Whether oriented north or south, east or west, the gridiron is, well, cast in iron.

You know that already. So why the emphatic explanation?

In high school I was in marching band. I reckon I've marched in close to fifty half time shows and practiced another two hundred times on top of that. I loved the experience and my bandmates… except for that one girl who would melt-down every time we arrived at an away game and had to march on a field that was "backwards" (meaning the pressbox on the wrong side).

Somehow, this girl was convinced that the field was backwards because it differed from her personal point of reference.

You see where I'm going with this, right? Let's get a couple words from our Sponsor:

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (James 1:17)

“For I, the LORD, do not change…" (Malachi 3:6)

What we think about God determines what we think about ourselves. If God changes (His mind, His plans, His promises, etc) then we would never know where we stand with Him. Even worse than that is to decide what we think God is like and approach Him based on our thoughts not His.

I take God at His word, He does not change. So what?

One of the most common conversations I have with people is that God does seem to change. Many people, good-hearted people with sound judgment, look at the Old Testament and see a God who is cranky, if not outright angry. He's always smiting people. Thousands and hundreds of thousands die from God-made disasters and wars. Parents are told to stone unruly sons and fornicating daughters. Many people see a smear of blood across the pages of the Old Testament.

And then in the New Testament, God has finally waked up in a good mood. He's kind and loving. He sends Jesus to be born to a virgin at Christmas surrounded by fuzzy sheep and cheer-filled singing angels and such. Jesus walks around telling people to turn the other cheek and love one another. There's even that woman caught in the act of adultery and Jesus doesn't do anything about it.

It's almost like the 1960s. Across American hippies were spreading love and flower power, while in Southeast Asia, the authoritarian and autocratic American government was burning the forests (and people) with napalm. Which one truly was America? How do you reconcile those irreconcilable contradictions?

What we all know is that nations and any group of people are "heterogenous" – a chunky stew of differences. God is and must be "homogenous" – everything He is and does has to be the same across the great span of time and eternity in either direction beyond time. Has. To. Be. “For I, the LORD, do not change…" (Malachi 3:6). If God changes, then He lacks integrity by violating what He "used to be".

Let me clean up this marching band thing. It is only our perception that suggests something is "different". My bandmate couldn't get her head around the fact that all fields are the same because she had created a reference point "off the field". We do the same thing with God when we apply our values and morality to what God does.

Let's do this? What bugs you about God in the Old Testament? The Genesis flood? God destroying Sodom and Gomorrah? God sending those horrible plagues (including nation-wide death) on Egypt? The Ten "Thou Shalt Nots"? The book of Joshua where the freed-from-Egypt Israelites slaughter all the inhabitants of The Promised Land?

If you're really interested in this, email me and I'll be happy to dialogue with you about these events. I want you to see the New Testament-style love and grace that is readily found in each of these circumstances. But let me give you one example to illustrate my point. Two verses (Genesis 6:3 and 2 Peter 2:5) tell us that before God killed everyone on earth with a flood, Noah the boatbuilder was also a "preacher of righteousness" for 120 years. He was telling the world about the coming judgment, but offered anyone who would accept God's grace a place on the ark. That's the message of John 3:16. You can perish if you want, but if you accept God's offer of grace, you'll be saved from destruction.

So way back there in Genesis 6, we see the perfect, unchanging balance of God. He is righteous (hates sin) AND He is loving (not wanting to hurt His creation). Maybe one more word from our Sponsor will help:

"As I live!" declares the Lord GOD, "I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?" (Ezekiel 33:11… Old Testament!)

There you have it. The God that supposedly was so angry in the Old Testament era was actually sad and sorry that things turned out that way. I believe He offered grace to everyone in that era just as He does today.

CHS after a Homecoming parade...
The sixty or so years covered in the New Testament is just a snapshot in time compared to the 4000 years covered in the Old Testament. But make no mistake, God hates sin just as much now as then. Ask Herod in the book of Acts if the New Testament God is only happy and gentle. Ask a couple named Ananias and Sapphira what God thinks about something simple like lying. And what about that gentle, meek, and mild Jesus who only showed the sweet, happy side of God? Ask the loan sharks who were cheating people in the Temple what they thought when Jesus braided a whip and beat them.

Let's pull back out for the big picture. That football field, regardless of where you stand on it, is the same everywhere at all times. Whether you come in from the west endzone or the east endzone, there are 50 yards to mid-field. Likewise, while it is easy to suppose that the God portrayed in the Old Testament is wholly different from the God of the New Testament, that only happens when you look at God from your vantage point, possibly with flawed perceptions or assumptions. The more we truly consider what God has done from beginning to end, the better we perceive the fullness of God. And that's all I want… to know who God really is!

Clark H Smith


  1. Wow..... amazingly well put! Thank you!

  2. This reminds me of a classroom discussion we tried to have our senior year in English when we attempted to dissect the Bible as a work of literature. Many, me included, did view God as a vengeful character in the Old Testament. But those who truly understood his love kept trying to get us to understand that he was a loving God.

    Took me years to "get it", and this explanation helps even more.