22. July 2018

A Benevolent God

Service Type:

‘…According to the riches of God’s glory…’  (Ephesians 3, 16a)

As good a description as any of what we understand as ‘benevolence’ – ‘giving for giving’s sake’ – and this is how we are to regard God and God’s dealings with us and with the whole of creation. All there is, sustained only because God has determined that it be so, sustained according to God’s good pleasure, for the sake of God’s glory.

‘The Gift that keeps on giving’ is a phrase that is often used ironically, even sarcastically. Yet it is a phrase that can be invoked in a far more profound manner here. At a recent funeral I described ‘Life’ as the ‘Gift that keeps on giving’ and that has stayed with me. The most sublime expression of the Benevolent nature of God is the granting to us of the ‘Gift’ of life. Something which by definition can neither be demanded, sought after, nor requested. We are alive in the world solely as a result of God’s good pleasure. But it is a gift that is designed for giving; life is best lived in such a way that it gives of itself, being prepared to diminish itself that the lives of others might be enhanced, believing that being prepared to diminish oneself for the sake of others is of itself a life enhancing experience. The paradox that is at the heart of life. But one that is never appreciated by those who fail to understand life this way. There are those who would claim life as a possession, a commodity, a mere trifle, even an inconvenience – not their own lives of course, but the lives of others – and so, rather than give of themselves for the sake of others, they take from others for the sake of themselves. Of course, the question we are bound to ask then is why is it that God allows life to be lived in this way; precisely because it is a gift and as with any gift it conveys with it the freedom for the recipient to do with it what they choose. If life is a gift, then liberty must be essential to it’s use. All who receive the gift of life are at liberty to make of that life that what they choose. Today, every expression of humanity is a seething mass of contradiction, overwhelmed by a seemingly inherent inability to choose to live life in a way that is best for each and all alike. And why, because for so many – having ignored the fact that life is the gift that ‘keeps on giving’ – life rather than being fundamentally self-giving have caused it to become essentially self-serving, and this because the attendant freedom that is necessary if life is to be regarded as a gift has become an end in itself; it too, rather be regarding as a liberating experience has become nothing more than a means of self-gratification. One can be a Liberal, one does not have to be a libertarian. Liberty is not licence. To be truly free demands we acknowledge the degree to which it must be constrained. And so, A Benevolent God bequeaths to each of us Life, Liberty…and the pursuit of ‘happiness’…

We hold these truths tobe self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’ (American Declaration of Independence: 1776)

…‘Happiness’ here is not the emotional frothiness that we usually associate with it but rather as described by John Locke, a sense of fundamental well-being – being the best we can be. It is this which God desires as far as the gift of life is concerned, for each any everyone of us. By the power which is unique to God, life is what it is – the pinnacle of a created order shaped, fashioned and moulded out of nothing – the purpose for which being that we, each one of ‘glorify God and enjoy God forever. Whatever we might make of this, God remains faithful to us determined that ultimately what God desires for us shall be ours to experience but in the meanwhile God gets angry when observing how the gift ‘intended to be that which keeps on giving’ has been ‘received’. Yet, God, a Benevolent God, is a God ‘who keeps on giving’, and in Jesus God gives of Himself, thereby confronting the world; the people of every time and place with    what we have become, challenging us to be the people we can be, daring us to denounce what we are, encouraging us to be what we never imagined we might be. And yes, at the time, it was not an unqualified success; Jesus made relatively little impact on the people of His day; the vast majority of whom wouldn’t even have recognised Him if He passed them in the street. The few who did recognise Him for who He really was, who realised that if He were to ‘break through’, to somehow or another provoke a populist uprising, that then for them ‘all hell would break loose’, they moved swiftly to shut Him down. But rather than ‘hell break loose’ God in Christ has ensured that ‘hell has been broken open’. If we have the faith to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead then life, life in all it’s fulness, a more abundant life, eternal life will embrace us; life lived in perfect freedom, a way of living that ensures, even guarantees that our well-being will be secured for us regardless. So, how do we live well in this world? Not in our own strength that is for certain. A Benevolent God, the God ‘who keeps on giving’ is giving to us the Holy Spirit in and through whom we will be empowered to live well whatever else may impact upon us during our lifetime. Alongside whom is the church, each individual congregation, everyone of which is a creation of the Holy Spirit, within which and among whose members we should be able to find the mutual and reciprocal spirit of generous self-giving that ought to be the most obvious characteristic of a life lived for God Life empowered by God, shaped according to the purpose of God, sustained by God’s faithfulness, fuelled by a righteous anger – the antidote to indifference – the gift that ‘keeps on giving’, the Gift of God, for the people of God.