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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

One

“But he is one, and who can turn him?” (Job 23:13).
Job said it about God to his companions as he suffered.

God is one. That can be read in many different ways and has a bunch of implications, certainly more than Job had in mind at the time:

One vs. Three

When the Unitarian says, “Good, God is one; that puts paid to this nonsense about a trinity,” he is making a theological point. He’s wrong, of course. Don’t use the word trinity if it bothers you. Don’t refer to the ‘persons of the Godhead’ if you find it a non-scriptural or extra-scriptural turn of phrase. That’s certainly a position one can take. But if you can read your Bible without noticing that God manifests himself in three distinctly different ways, modes — or possibly, um, ‘persons’ — well, you’re just not reading the same thing I’m reading.

But despite all that being very much the case, we read that God is one.

Only One God

Someone may say, “There is one God”, meaning that all other ‘gods’ are the lies of demons or the hallucinations of man. That is certainly true and the subject of other writers in the word of God, but it’s only a very basic starting point. James says even the demons believe there is one God in that sense. At least the demons tremble. If only there were a pantheon of squabbling deities one might possibly hope to escape their scrutiny.

But God is one, so good luck with that.

Another Implication

A scribe once overheard the Lord Jesus disagreeing with a group of Sadducees about the resurrection of the dead, something that sect didn’t believe in. The scribe saw that Jesus had “answered them well” (Mark 12), meaning that he had stumped the Sadducees with the words of their own law. Unsurprisingly, he knew it better than they did, since he was its author.

“Which commandment is the most important?” the scribe asks him. Jesus responds in a way I’ve never quite understood, because his first sentence doesn’t appear to address the question. After all, it’s not a commandment. He says:
“The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one’.”
Then he gets to the commandment. He goes on, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”.

When the Lord quotes the Jewish law here (Deut. 6), he isn’t making a theological point about the trinity. Neither is he saying that God is ‘one’ in the sense that he’s the only true god. He’s saying, among other things, that God is entirely unified in purpose. He is one. He is wholly and utterly consistent and dependable. He is “not a man, that he should change his mind”. He cannot be swayed by circumstances, emotion or whim. He doesn’t suddenly realize he’s forgotten something and recalibrate his position with respect to mankind.

And he’s telling us that the ‘one-ness’ of God is a motivator for every facet of human love, since from his unity springs his other attributes. He is one, so his love endures forever. He is one, so his justice is never arbitrary. He is one, so his grace is perpetually sufficient. He is one, so his mercy is everlasting. He is one, so he will not relent from his ultimate purpose (though he may change his methods from time to time for our sake) because his ultimate purpose is always our good.

God’s One-ness and Job’s Pain

Job, in all his pain, got this. The ESV translates our verse this way: “He is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does. He will complete what he appoints for me”. That prospect terrified Job because he was thinking at the time only of God’s justice, power and unrelenting nature.

What Job couldn’t see in his pain was that the one-ness of God demanded that he be rewarded and restored, for he was a righteous man, about whom God had said to Satan, “He is blameless and upright, who fears God and turns away from evil”. God could have chosen to reward Job in eternity. He chose to reward him in life. But he was most certainly going to reward his servant one way or another. Job's suffering did not mean that his redeemer had forsaken him.

“Will not the judge of all the earth do right?” Abraham once asked rhetorically.

Indeed he must, for he is one.

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