10 God Acting in History
When in former times God spoke to our forefathers, he spoke in fragmentary and varied fashion through the prophets. It is in the final age that he spoke to us through his Son whom he has made heir to the whole universe, and through whom he created all orders of existence.
(Heb.1:1-2 New English Bible)
In my previous message (Message no.9) I discussed the notion of God the creator, and emphasized the fact that the word 'God' does not refer to an entity in heavenly(spiritual) world or earthly(material) world. Rather the word 'God' refers to the transcendent activity of calling into existence the things that do not exist. Regarding the creation of man, the Bible states: "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him". (Gen.1:27) God is also spirit, therefore man who is created in the image of God also is a spiritual being. A man's spirit lives inside a body, a body just like the ones of other animals. The body of man is, therefore, subject to the principle of evolution.
Among several groups of human beings a small group called 'Homo sapiens' survived and spread until they filled the entire earth. It is often maintained that the most important factor that made this group of rather physically feeble beings survive and fill the earth is their ability to make larger communities with their languages to help each other. In making a community 'religions', common beliefs of the unseen world, were the most powerful ties. Religions were as old as communities of Homo sapiens.
In a previous message (Message no.7) I discussed the two-sided nature of mankind: its "holy" side, the one that transcends our human powers and daily experiences, and its "secular" side that exists within the confines of our everyday life and human abilities. In the course of our daily existence, we are often faced with strange or mysterious occurrences, something beyond the reach of our human understanding and abilities. We may refer to this mystery in life as being 'the holy' side of existence, thereby defining religion as the appreciation human beings have of 'the holy'.
For members of primitive societies 'the holy' permeated through all aspects of life. Everything in their lives was religious. Obeying religious regulations was a defining standard for their actions. Taboos, their religious prohibitions, were the most powerful of deterrents against forbidden actions. Therefore their religious leaders, usually priests, would also assume the role of community leaders. Religions and politics have been intertwined and indistinguishable throughout the course of human history, until very recent times.
Even in these primitive epochs, God was at work within people, His creatures. But people understood this work as manifestations of the holy's powers and proceeded to crafting complex mythologies in which gods were assigned roles for each aspect of their daily experiences. As a result many gods appeared on the basis of the many fragmentary aspects of human experiences. For example Greeks gave the name of Jupiter to the unfathomable thunder phenomenon and the name of Demeter to the productive power of the earth, and so on. They worshipped those manifestations of 'the holy' in their religious services with offerings. Their religions were necessarily rooted in polytheism.
When small communities started to unite into nations, larger communities with shared language and culture (way of life), their individual religions would also unite so as to encompass the various manifestations of 'the holy' these smaller communities had experienced. Thus many nations with polytheistic religions appeared on the earth. But one God who is their creator was working in those nations in various ways. God the Creator created human beings in His own image and loved them. He has been working in them to call back to Himself those who betrayed Him and went astray from Him. But people of all nations had not recognized the work of their Creator God yet, and worshipped the manifestations of 'the holy' as gods of convenience.
Among all nations on earth, God chose a small nation called Israel, the descendants of Abraham who believed in the words God had spoken to him. God began to manifest His plan in them in order to call back to Himself the whole human race who had gone astray. God spoke to them in various ways. When Israel was under the oppression of the Egyptian monarchy, God sent Moses to deliver them from Egypt. Through his instrument Moses, God provided the nation of Israel with a form of final deliverance from powers hostile to Him. When Israel experienced various national crises at the hand of the neighboring empires of Assyria and Babylonia, God sent them many prophets to warn, comfort and prophesy the deliverance. God acted in the form of prophets addressing the people, working his design through the history of Israel.
The God of the Bible (the Hebrew Scriptures) is God who was acting in history for the salvation of mankind. The Bible is the book of 'the history of salvation'. "When in former times God spoke to our forefathers, he spoke in fragmentary and varied fashion through the prophets." (Heb.1:1 NEB) The prophets told people that God was prepared to complete His final work over the course of the last age. God fulfilled his promise. He acted as He promised. He has spoken his final word. "But in this final age he has spoken to us in the Son whom he has made heir to the whole universe, and through whom he created all orders of existence" (Heb.1:2 NEB). God, the creator of heaven and the earth, has spoken the final word in Jesus the Christ. Early believers called Jesus the Christ "the Son," as the New Testament attests: "In this final age he has spoken to us in the Son." The word that was spoken in Jesus the Christ was the Creator's final and definite word to us.
Jesus is a historical figure. He was born in Judah and lived in the first half of the first century. He was a pious Jew but died on the cross after being sentenced to death by the Supreme Court of Judaism. However, his disciples testified and proclaimed that God raised him from the dead on the third day and declared him the Christ, the savior of the world anointed by God. God worked in the historical context of Jesus as the Christ and so spoke his final word to mankind in him. During his time on earth, Jesus kept on pointing to God through his good and mighty works with the sick and pointing through his teachings to what God wished for and from mankind. Surely God was working in him.
But the final and decisive word of God to mankind is the word of God spoken in the total event of Jesus as the Christ. What does God say to us in the history of Jesus the Christ who died on the cross but was raised by God from the dead? This will be the subject of our next message (Message No. 11).