A History of God
Now we know who He is
From everlasting to everlasting” (Ps. 90:2).1 History presumes a past. But God, in His house of eternity (Isa. 57:15), is never yesterday; He is. And He has never gone into reverse to catch some better glimpse of what was transpiring as He drove by. Everything to Him is today. He announces, from the beginning, what the end is, or, from our perspective, will be (Isa. 46:10). His name is “I AM” (Ex. 3:13-15).
“Yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). Paradoxically, the God of permanent present tense also speaks of Himself in terms of yesterday and tomorrow: He was the same yesterday as He is today; and tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow He will be as He now is (verse 8). So there may be some justification for thinking of Him in historical terms, though any thinking about God already provides us paradox enough.
Human existence is constrained by mass and minutes that are in constant tension with the almost-boundless reality we call thinking. Human life thus sustains its own perpetual paradox. Still, the God idea remains our most mind-boggling concept: none of us has ever existed without a body; but God is spirit (John 4:24), which, according to Him, is distinguishable from humans by having neither flesh nor bones, defining elements of human bodies (Luke 24:39). Awkwardly enough, some humans consider the God idea immaterial just because God is not material. Their attitude has been deemed “inexcusable” in the light of ample demonstration of God in His nature book, the material, visible creation (Rom. 1:20).
Besides His nature book, God’s book of providence deals with His particular or general care for His creation: “The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food in due time” (Ps. 145:15); “You give to them, they gatherit up; You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good” (Ps. 104:28).
God’s books of nature and providence provide secondary support to the primary sources on His history, that is to say, the Word of God and the incarnate God. The status of these sources depends on their composer’s authority, not on the time of their composition. From Adam onward, humans have been reading and sharing contributions about nature and providence, books of the category of natural revelation. On the other hand, the Word of God and the Word made flesh are supernatural or special revelation, the latter, conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35), and Scripture, the former, inspired by the same authority (2 Tim. 3:16). Interpreting our other texts without them breeds frustrated guessing, dependent on human limits of time, body, and otherwise. But with them we may contemplate regions otherwise inaccessible and realities otherwise inconceivable, so long as we begin with Moses, “from everlasting . . .”
Beginning the Beginning
“Before the world was” (John 17:5). In that everlasting time “before the darkness filled the spaces of [His] reign; all was radiant, all was joyful; none knew loss, and all knew gain.”2 The idyll of flawless reality pulsed and flourished through countless seasons of eternity. Then God’s triune genius elected to begin beginnings by creating seraphim, cherubim, and more, of which we still may only guess. They lived, reigned, and rested in His glory; played, worked, and shared in His galaxies; feted and served and worshipped through wondrous eons of His space-time, beyond any notion that His caring solicitude toward each of them deserved critique. His total knowledge and power, equally with His eternity and prodigal affection, were obvious to them: their best proof was their own existence (see Rom. 1:20).
A New Notion
“God is love” (1 John 4:8).Somewhere along in the streaming of millennia an astonishing notion began to occur, one that still survives, that all reality should be measurable. From the first beginnings of beginnings, things begun had always been measurable, whether absolutely, like the amount of dark matter in the universe, or relatively, like the superior persuasiveness of the covering cherub’s arguments relative to those of some other angel. God, on the other hand, had never been considered quantifiable. The core of the question “How much?” asked in relation to God, was simply nonsensical.3
Once mooted, though, thoughts about the precise extent of the much-vaunted divine love, as well as other virtues and powers, became more difficult to blithely dismiss: it seemed intellectually responsible to question whether God really cared so completely, or if it was simply that He had a monopoly.
What if there were other ways of caring, perhaps even better than His? Why was no one permitted to demonstrate, or even explore, these other ways? If seraphim and cherubim could be so accurate about dark matter, why couldn’t they develop instruments that determined the dimensions of divine knowledge, or at least explored its edges? Again, did claims about His total power facilitate frank and free discussion, or simply silence alternatives? Besides, what accounted for His arbitrarily extolling the greatness of one of His sons over all the others (Ps. 2:7; Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5-12; 5:5)? After all, they were all His sons (Job 2:1; 38:7)! So how could that be fair?4 At their root, the questions could all be summarized into one: What kind of lover God is He?
“The wages of sin” (Rom. 6:23). These intriguing queries about fairness and trust included a latent function: simply thinking of them made angels feel different, burdened, as if an invisible weight rested on their shoulders or their heads. The gratitude protocol, too—life and its sustenance have a unique Source, to whom all praise belongs (Rom. 11:36)—seemed to increase the burden. It became almost obvious to the sight which angels were carrying this weight. And besides appearances, some angels remembered the great lift of spirit they sensed when they determined to trust their Ruler rather than harboring ideas about how to measure Him.
Nevertheless, the new preoccupations led to an unprecedented development in God’s history: a significant number of spirits concluded that they and their questions were not being treated as they deserved; that the discrimination in favor of one particular son needed to be stopped; that God was probably just as autocratic as the covering cherub suggested; that they could no longer conscientiously continue under these oppressive working conditions.
It all related to an outrage that God’s chief angel, whom we know as Lucifer, felt had been perpetrated upon him: the Godhead had laid plans for creation of Planet Earth without soliciting his opinion.5 Many of his companions exulted at the new creation. He found no joy in it, only offense at his exclusion, a disappointment he shared with willing listeners.6
Eventually, when God’s patient forbearance determined that it was time to handle the issue openly, Satan (a name he earned for his adversarial behavior) spoke boldly against the fairness of God’s rule, against his omission from the divine council, and particularly concerning discrimination being shown in the arbitrary exaltation of Michael, the Son of God.7 He made clear that the Son could expect no subjection from him and that he had a large following. Loyal angels could not contain their grief as he cast aspersions on their loving Commander. Whereupon the Father announced that he and his followers must be turned out of the realms of glory.8
Their concerted reaction produced a “celestial earthquake.” In the subsequent outbreak of hostilities between the Father and the would-be liberators, Michael, the exalted Son, directed the loyal hosts and expelled the malcontents from the center of universal operations.
God and Planet Earth
“In the beginning God” (Gen. 1:1). Sin-inspired self-centeredness may exaggerate humans’ sense of their importance to the scope of God’s history.9 But God does care completely about humans. He has no intention of ever losing us, though we have been as treacherous to Him as might be imagined: we answered the scintillations of His Creation week (Gen. 1; 2) by turning to Satan and plunging the whole world into chaos (Gen. 3); the world’s descent into global violence necessitated His cleansing it with a global flood (Gen. 6-9); Abram’s descendants through whom He meant to give His history of love to the world chose instead to be like the world He had called them from (1 Sam. 8:1-5), and ended up under the sandals of Assyrians (2 Kings 18:11) and Babylonians (2 Kings 25). After He restored them from exile to reconstitute His holy nation, they perpetrated history’s most dastardly crime, the murder of His Son, whom He sent to rescue the world for love (Matt. 21:33-45; 27; Mark 15; John 3:16).
But these disastrous responses of ours to His care have only exposed it more: “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20). Paradoxically, the Son of God we murdered was God’s gift of Himself as the perfect sacrifice we needed to satisfy the demands of His unchangeable law (2 Cor. 5:14-21). He gave Himself for our salvation (Gal. 1:4; 1 Tim. 2:6; Titus 2:14). “There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin; He only could unlock the gate of heaven, and let us in.”10 And He did, proving beyond any human conceit, how completely we matter to Him.
Interestingly enough, Satan understands this love so well that it influences his planning: he assured his followers that once he led Adam and Eve to disobedience, God’s determination to restore them would open doors for the reinstatement of the rebel angels as well.11 Against all his slander of God as tyrant Satan knew that it was the Lord’s mercies that kept him from being consumed, and he continued to presume upon God’s compassions (see Lam. 3:22).
Satan’s success with the first man and woman mirrored his earlier success with angels: he persuaded Eve that her arbitrary God was withholding from her what she deserved. Then he led Adam to focus on the misery that life would be without his Eve (Gen. 3:1-6). Both successes depended on doubting God’s love. Then, just as he predicted, God’s unconquerable love immediately unfurled a plan for their rescue and reinstatement, a plan that the trinity had settled on before the foundations of the world were established.12 As Paul exclaims: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).
No wonder humans believe that we are all-important to God! His dealings on Planet Earth provide consistent witness to Satan’s crucial understanding about Him. In His book of nature His love “is written upon every opening bud, upon every spire of springing grass.”13 His book of providence serves up wonderful data on His loving care for His children. He sends “rains from heaven and fruitful seasons”; He satisfies our souls “with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17).
With a clarity not always understood in nature and daily life, His written Word declares, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8, NIV). Above all these, we see His prefoundation plan work itself out to deliver humans from the hell they deserve, by lifting Jesus up on the cross to draw us all back to Himself. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
New Heavens and Earth
“I will come again” (John 14:3). For us who live with yesterday, today, and tomorrow, God has shared significant details about future stages of His history, details more astonishing than ever: for the God who became human to save humanity, who burst death’s chains and broke through hell’s doors to deliver us from all evil, now reigns in glory “in the form of humanity.”14 Soon enough He is coming again to take to Himself all who believe in Him (John 14:3), that they may all be part of His forever reign. Until that mind-boggling event, no greater purpose thrills any human life than relating His awesome history to the world, urging people everywhere to join, share, and revel in His love, beginning now, and continuing forever, through all the ages of His endless tomorrow.
- Except as otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations in this article are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
- Bill Knott, “The Light of Christ,” © Bill Knott, December 2016.
- On God’s unfathomable existence, wisdom, works, and greatness see, e.g., Job 5:9; Ps. 145:3; Rom. 11:33; 1 Tim. 6:16.
- Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1890): “To dispute the supremacy of the Son of God, thus impeaching the wisdom and love of the Creator, had become the purpose of this prince of angels. To this object he was about to bend the energies of that master mind, which, next to Christ’s, was first among the hosts of God” (p. 36).
- Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts (Battle Creek, Mich.: Seventh-day Adventist Pub. Assn., 1864), vol. 3, p. 36.
- Ellen G. White letter 78, 1900.
- E. G. White, Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, p. 37.
- Ibid., p. 38.
- An example of our myopia or conceit may be Karen Armstrong’s A History of God (New York: Random House, Ballantine Books, 1993), which studies Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and begins with Abraham.
- Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895), “There Is a Green Hill.”
- Ellen G. White, in Signs of the Times, Jan. 16, 1879.
- Rev. 13:8; 1 Peter 1:18-20; Ellen G. White, From Heaven With Love (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1984): “Before the foundations of the earth were laid, Father and Son had clasped hands in a solemn pledge that Christ should become the surety for the human race” (p. 555).
- Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), p. 10.
- Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 65.
Lael Caesar, an associate editor of Adventist Review, is thrilled to be part of God’s history.