Five Bible Passages that Shape How I Think about God

If it’s not bad enough that I’m posting a second consecutive list (classic clickbait for bloggers), today I’m shamelessly ripping off an idea from Peter Enns, who two weeks ago shared ten passages from the Old Testament and ten from the New that shape how he thinks about God. Of course, Peter Enns knows the Bible at least four times as well as I do, so I’ll limit myself to a quarter of his twenty selections. That also leaves plenty of room for readers to share their own passages.

Michelangelo, "The Creation of Adam"
Michelangelo, “The Creation of Adam” (1511-1512) – Wikimedia

Genesis 1:26-27

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

It’s staggering enough to know that I have a creator, but I bear his likeness? I’m made in the image of the same God who created everything that is? Oh, and he’s entrusted care of that creation to people like me?

If nothing else, this verse explains my deep interest in human rights, and my abiding concerns that “rights-talk” is both a necessary and insufficient way of describing the dignity of human life.

Isaiah 55:8-9

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

So I’m made in the image of God, but hold on: I am not God.

It’s why I’m so glad humility was one of the central virtues running through our forthcoming book on Christian higher education: if any image-bearers are to be tempted that our thoughts are on par with God’s, it’s those of us who derive status, influence, and a sense of identity from our knowledge.

Gauguin, "Baby (Nativity of Tahitian Christ)"
Paul Gauguin, “Baby (Nativity of Tahitian Christ),” 1896 – Wikimedia

John 1:1,14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

I’ve had three Bethel freshmen interview me in the past couple weeks, each asking a standard question for the assignment: What does faith-learning integration mean in your discipline? Leaving unspoken my reservations about that phrase, I told each of them the same thing: Christians should care about history because God entered history.

Romans 8:38-39

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If Luther was right that Romans is “the most important piece of the New Testament… almost bright enough to illumine the entire Scripture,” then this chapter illumines the rest of the epistle for me. I could easily double the length of this list just by quoting other verses (“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now…we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words”), but I pray that my memory never fails to bring these two to mind. If only more Christian theology was written with such beauty…

14th century tapestry of the New Jerusalem
14th century tapestry of the New Jerusalem – Wikimedia

Revelation 21:1-5

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

     “See, the home of God is among mortals.
     He will dwell with them;
     they will be his peoples,
     and God himself will be with them;
     he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
     Death will be no more;
     mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
     for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

For the longest time, I refused to read Revelation. In my experience, it had primarily been the source of division between Christians who followed competing schools of thought I could barely spell, let alone understand. And I’d prefer not to spend much time contemplating judgment. (Even here, note that I stopped short of v 8.)

But a colleague of mine convinced me that ignoring the apocalypse is a First World luxury; those who have firsthand experience of the Four Horsemen know that there is no justice without judgment.

And I’ve come to realize that hope is no virtue absent direction; it requires a telos.

As it’s happened, Revelation 21:1-5 has been on my mind more than any other passage in Scripture this year. At a church leadership retreat this past Saturday, it’s what I mentioned when our pastor asked us to share verses with special meaning for us. But while it was v 5 that inspired the conclusion of our attempt to cast a Pietist vision for Christian higher education, on Saturday I found myself talking more about the two that precede it. What does it mean that God is making all things new? That his home is among us, that he wants to tabernacle among those bearing his image. That he will wipe away every tear, as death itself ceases to exist.

It also happens that this is the one choice I share in common with Enns, who wrote of Revelation 21:1 (and 22:2): “The entire biblical story is summed up. The Bible ends where it begins; creation is restored. Everything else in between, God’s story as a whole from Abraham to Christ, is about how God makes that happen.”

Your turn! If you were to add to this list, which Old or New Testament passages would you nominate?

3 thoughts on “Five Bible Passages that Shape How I Think about God

  1. Hi Chris,
    Thanks so much for your very inspiring comments here about five Bible passages that have shaped how you think about God. I found these verses and your understanding of them to be exceptionally encouraging and thoughtful — not to mention timely as we continue in the advent season. I also love the images you provided.

  2. Wonderful post and great food for thought. Here’s what I’d include: 1 Kings 18:27 and Acts 12:6-16 — The fact that these passages are part of the Bible indicates to me that God has a sense of humor. (1 Kings 18:27 is essentially potty humor, depending on the interpretation.) Hosea 2:14-16 and many other passages — God’s love is amazing and incomprehensible. Isaiah 53:2 — Appearance means nothing to God. Isaiah 58:6-8 and many other passages — God cares deeply about social justice and wants us to care deeply, too. Luke 6:20-26 and many other passages — God’s kingdom is an upside down kingdom.

  3. Chris — You made some excellent choices. The Isaiah passage contains a larger surprise than your commentary allows. There’s a very old interpretation which suggests these verses are often misapplied as referring to God’s unpredictability. This is cleared up for us when they are seen as referring to the last part of verse 7: “Let them turn…he will have mercy… he will freely pardon.” “Humans won’t pardon but I am not like them,” says the Lord. “…your ways are not my ways…”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.