Our One and Only God
I was on vacation last week, so I deliberately avoided controversy. But I did plenty of meditating on what it means to be a Christian. As it happened, I did much of this meditating while rereading the book of Exodus, reflecting on the building drama as the Lord sent the plagues upon Egypt so Israel could go free. These passages contain an answer to one of life’s most fundamental questions: With respect to ourselves, what prompts God to act?
Consider the opening of chapter 10, just before God unleashes the plague of locusts:
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and your son’s son how I have made sport of the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them; that you may know that I am the LORD.” (10:1-2)
Here it is: God acts so that we may know that He is the Lord. And it is not just the Israelites who are being taught in this way. In the previous chapter, He instructed Moses to make the same point to the Egyptians:
Let my people go, that they may serve me. For this time I will send all my plagues upon your heart, and upon your servants and your people, that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth. For by now I could have put forth my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth; but for this purpose have I let you live, to show you my power, so that my name may be declared throughout all the earth. (9:13-16)
All of God’s ways with men, whether rough or tender, are designed to produce a single and supremely merciful effect: To teach us that God alone is the Lord, on whom we must utterly depend, for there is no other.
During the plagues, it is the Egyptians whose hearts are hardened (that they may come to know the Lord), and the Israelites who trust in God (that they may come to know the Lord). For the self-same purpose on either side God makes the distinction between them clear. When He has Moses tell Pharaoh of the final plague, the death of the first-born, “from the first-born of Pharaoh who sits upon his throne, even to the first-born of the maidservant who is behind the mill; and all the first-born of the cattle,” (11:5) God notes: “But against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, not a dog shall growl; that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between the Egyptians and Israel” (11:7). It is precisely in making this distinction, in treating the Egyptians harshly and the Israelites tenderly, that God brings both sides to know that He is Lord.
So it is in all the days of our lives—if we would have the wit to see it! At times by severe trial, at times by wonderful gifts, Our Lord acts only to let us see more clearly Who He is—the great judge, yes, and the great benefactor, but above all the One, the only One. There is no other in whom it makes any sense to trust, simply because there is no other like Him who possesses all authority and power. But only slowly and by halting steps do we learn the lesson.
“I call you by your name,” proclaims the great prophet Isaiah:
I surname you, though you do not know me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I gird you, though you do not know me, that men may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none beside me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light, and create darkness, I make weal and create woe, I am the LORD, who do all these things. (45:4-7)
If that sounds terrifying, it is only because we don’t yet understand. God is pure love seeking to be known by those who were made for love and who, in the last analysis, need only love. There is no love apart from Him, and no Love but Himself. It is the essence of the Christian mission to help others to learn this lesson; it is the essence of the Christian life to learn it—over and over again—for ourselves.
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