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The Ultimate And The Intimate: (Exodus 20:1-3)

The Ultimate And The Intimate: (Exodus 20:1-3)

By Ted Schroder,
September 11, 2016

The Bible assumes the existence of God: "In the beginning God created." (Genesis 1:1) "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." (John 1:1-3) "He himself gives all men life and breath and everything else....For in him we live and move and have our being"(Acts 17:25,28).

The existence of God cannot be proved to the limited human mind for God is not an object to be examined. So when the Ten Commandments are given to Moses, God does not defend his own existence, but raises the issue of his identity: "Who do you think I am? What do you mean when you think of me? For what you think of me is foundational to everything else."

The first commandment lays out the way God wants us to think about him. "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:1-3)

He addresses his people as the one who has not only created them, but also saved them from the land of slavery, the land of the pagan gods of Egypt and a life that devalued them. God is the Maker and the Redeemer, the Creator and the Savior. He doubly owns them by virtue of his original creation and his subsequent redemption of them. They are to have no other God except him. They owe everything to God. God is their source of life and salvation. He is a covenant God -- a God of relationships.

This claim on his people is carried over to the New Testament. "For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live." (1 Corinthians 8:6)

We exist in order to serve God ("for whom we live") -- that is the reason for our existence. Our destiny is to be found in God. Without God our lives cannot be fulfilled as they were intended. Christ is the agent of creation and redemption ("through whom all things came and through whom we live"). We find our human and divine life through Christ. We come into being through Christ. Jesus Christ is the divine agent in whose life and actions God is to be seen. "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father... it is the Father living in me, who is doing his work."(John 14:9,10)

Why then do people have problems with this understanding of God? They need to experience the grace of God. Andrew Klavan, writer of mystery novels, psychological thrillers and screen plays, was raised in a secular Jewish household. His mother was an atheist. His father hedged his bets a little, it was not in his nature to defy a Gigantic Invisible Jew who could give you cancer just by thinking about it. They maintained the Jewish practices out of racial loyalty and religious guilt. God had no living presence in their family.

Until he was 48 years old Klavan remained a philosophical agnostic and a practical atheist. Yet Christ was beckoning him at every turn in the kindness of a Christian babysitter, the voice of a Christian baseball player on the radio when he was contemplating suicide, and in his marriage which taught him the reality of love. Christ came to him in stories novels, movies, plays. One of the characters in a Patrick O'Brian novel said a prayer before going to sleep, and Klavan said, "Well, if he can pray, so can I." So he whispered a prayer in gratitude for the contentment he had found, and for the work and people he loved: "Thank you, God."

He woke the next morning and everything had changed. There was a sudden clarity and brightness to familiar faces and objects; they were alive with meaning and his own delight in them. He called this experience "the joy of my joy,", and it came to him whenever he prayed. He began to pray every day and over time this joy became a constant companion: a steady sense of vitality and beauty that endured even in periods of sorrow and pain.

This transformation of his life gave him a depth of pleasure and experience he had never known. He asked God, "How can I thank you for what you've done for me? What could I possibly offer you in return?"

And as clearly as if he had spoken aloud, God answered, "Now, you should be baptized." Klavan was stunned. Nothing could have been further from his mind.

"I was a realist who believed in science and reason; a worldling who loved sex, violent movies, politics, and a good single malt scotch. I was -- I am -- proud of my Jewish heritage. I feared that becoming a Christian would estrange me from my past, my parents, my culture, and from reality itself.

I was not thinking about sin and redemption, not yet. I was not worried about heaven and hell. Having a personal relationship with Jesus was only a faint suggestion of a thought. No, all I wanted was to know the truth about the world, about this god who had done so much for me. Over the following months, I realized that the voice that had spoken into my heart knew me better than I knew myself. Whatever problems it would cause with my family and friends, whatever difficulties it would bring in my career, I knew I had to be baptized.....

The moment I rose from my knees by the baptismal font, I knew I had stepped through some invisible barrier between myself and a remarkable new journey.... A new joy and easiness." (Andrew Klavan, Christianity Today, September 2106, p.79f.)

The God whom we are called to serve, our creator and redeemer, our maker and savior, is to be experienced in Jesus Christ. He is the ultimate power in the universe, far above all other powers. He is also the most intimate expression of love in relationship. God is Almighty and All-Personal Love. We are to have no other gods before him. He is both our Lord and our Lover. He is both our Judge, the fount of all that is just, and our Bridegroom, the source of all that is desirable.

What prevents us from knowing and experiencing God? Because we want to take his place by putting ourselves before him. "Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the realist, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it's so socially repulsive. But it's pretty much the same for all of us. It's our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of." (David Foster Wallace)

Our morality is based upon what works for us. Our goals in life are about what serves our needs. Our financial decisions are calibrated to protect our lifestyle choices. Our political inclinations are influenced by what government can do for us or what it can allow us to do for ourselves.

Yet God calls us to have no other gods before himself. We cannot worship both ourselves and the Ultimate and the Intimate. We cannot even know ourselves without serving the Ultimate and the Intimate God. There cannot be a rival to the Ultimate and the Intimate God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. When there are two claimants to leadership in the universe there is disharmony and conflict. There can be no peace. Therefore we must choose between them.

The Rev. Ted Schroder is pastor of Amelia Chapel on Amelia Island Plantation, Florida

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