I celebrate 15 years in ministry this month. I’ve been in various positions throughout those years. The Army and schooling necessitated a couple of those moves. One of my favorite jobs was as a Spirituality Group Leader at a recovery hospital. The hospital had a residency program for those recovering from drugs and alcohol, Soldiers with PTSD, and other patients with a host of mental disorders. It always kept me on my toes leading Bible studies.
I learned to read the charts of the patients as I made my notes and signed off on their participation. Some of the stories were very sad because the patients struggled with years of abuse which they tried to cover up with drugs and alcohol. There were others who came from great families with great resources. Even though they had the world at their finger tips, they squandered it all away for a substance. It was so very sad.
Then there were the Soldiers with PTSD. They were angry, struggling to cope with civilian life, and often heartbroken for those that never came back home. I loved these guys. I understood much of what they were going through, though in a lesser degree.
My most challenging group of patients were those who had various mental disorders. Have you ever tried to lead a Bible study with someone who thinks they are Jesus? Really, there was a guy who thought he was Jesus. Walking on water? Yep he did that. Feeding 4,000 and 5,000? He did that too. Then his medicine changed and he thought he was Judas. Another week went by and he identified with his real self. It was crazy, literally. My heart went out for him as he was struggling to figure out what was real and what was not real.
There were many like him. I wouldn’t know who was coming each week. Was it their actual self or someone they were pretending to be? It was always the most intense and interesting Bible study times. Typically Junior high boys are the most difficult to lead in a Bible study but they have nothing on mental patients! It was tons of fun as I would lead those Bible studies twice a week and share the gospel with them even. It was way outside my comfort zone but I find those times are when God grows us best.
This all has me thinking about who we really are as people. We may not have “multiple personalities” but in a sense we do. If we act one way at church and another at home, we do. If we act one way at the ball field and another at work, we do. Even still, as a parent, does my daughter see me as having a loving and harsh side or am I just Dad that is both at the same time? I hope the latter.
This problem is not new with modern psychology. There were people who were charged to not be double minded. Having two minds isn’t just an issue of not knowing who you are but is ultimately not knowing who God is. Jesus’ brother James instructs the Jews who live abroad to have faith in God with no doubting (James 1:6-8). They needed to have faith in who God really is not who they thought he was apart from true biblical knowledge. He frames this all with the command to ask God for wisdom if you need it. We are to ask without doubting because God is a good God who wants to bless his children with good gifts like wisdom. If we doubt we are like a ship that is tossed by the waves of the ocean. James doesn’t want us unstable with doubt. He wants us to be like a lighthouse, firmly fixed in the ocean withstanding the winds of doubt. We need to do this, not because we have great faith but because our faith is fixed to a sure hold.
Faith is like an anchor. The strongest of anchor, if not secure on something solid will be worthless. I’ve been in the ocean many times with an anchor far too big for the boat only to see us drifting because the anchor is just sliding on the sand. However, I was fishing with a good friend when we donated three anchors one morning because there were rocks and/or structure which were very solid so solid we never got the anchors back.
The strength of faith is not in our faith but in what/who we have our faith in. If we have faith in our ability, when we get tired our faith is useless. If we have faith in our bank accounts then when our money runs out, we are done for. However, if we have faith rooted in Jesus than we are as strong as Jesus is strong. When we are weak, we are actually strong when we are in Jesus (2 Cor 12).
How can this be? We are like this because God doesn’t have multiple personalities. Depending on your upbringing and who have you have listened to, you may think God does. You may think the God of the Old Testament is about the Law, is angry, and often mad. The God of the New Testament is all about grace, mercy, and love. To be honest, I heard those things and thought them too, though it was a while ago. What really helped me understand who God is was a little book called The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer. I’m rereading it now and enjoying it immensely.
The book is about the attributes of God in other words, it is a book about who God is. There isn’t a better subject for a book in my opinion. It is short enough that it serves as a good introduction for anyone. In the book he shows how God is not segmented like we are. He is not separate in his personality. He is perfectly loving while also showing hatred for sin. His mercy is equal to his wrath. This is helpful to understand. God is not different in the Old and New Testaments. He is always himself and for us, this is for our good. For you today, in your circumstances, it is for our good that God is always himself. Our circumstances need to be informed by good theology that God does not change like a ship tossed by the wind.
He loves us, hates sin, is merciful, and wrathful. If we have Jesus the wrath has been paid, we get the mercy, love, and by God’s grace learn to hate sin like Jesus. Let me finish with a quote from Tozer, “The divine attributes are what we know to be true of God. He does not possess them as qualities; they are how God is as He reveals Himself to His creatures. Love, for instance, is not something God has and which may grow or diminish or cease to be. His love is the way God is, and when He loves He is simply being Himself.”
God doesn’t change. He is not wrathful without being loving. You can’t get his discipline without also getting his grace and mercy. THIS IS GOOD NEWS! He is always our loving Father. He is always loving and he doesn’t get tired and his love doens’t run out. So know that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. However, he is working in your life right now, he is working out of love. He does not change.