Is Your God in the Present Tense?

by Mar 2, 2010

When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush in Exodus 3, it was the first time he had spoken in 400 years. To Moses (along with the rest of the Israelites), God was a past-tense God. He was the God of history. Of legend.

They believed that God had done powerful things in the lives of their ancestors, but they weren’t so sure he worked the same way today. That’s why Moses questioned God’s plan for bringing Israel out of Egypt and demanded to know God’s name. And when God answered him, he spoke straight to this doubt. He said, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14). His name isn’t I was. It’s not I will be. It’s I Am. That’s what’s reflected in the name Yahweh.

There are four things this name implies. Four aspects of God that we experience through this name:

1. God’s Self-Existence

God has never not been. And his existence depends on nothing else.

Every 4-year-old wants to know, “Who made people? Who made trees? Who made our house? Who made Legos? Who made Transformers?” Every one of my 4-year-olds has asked that. And so I say, “God made us, and God made the trees, and then he used us to make the rest of that stuff.” The next question is predictable: “Well, who made God?”

And I say, “Nobody made God. God has always existed!” The look in their eyes is intense. It’s like they’re in the Matrix, and they just swallowed the red pill. “Whooaaahhh.”

God is… because he is. “I am who I am.” We’re trained to think in terms of cause and effect. If we see something, or experience something, it’s because something else caused it to happen. And God’s saying to us through this name, “If you keep tracing causes and effects as far back as you want to go, you’re going to get to the end and find me there. I’m the ultimate cause.”

Most of us don’t want to believe that. We want to believe that we control our own destiny. That we can make our own choices and create our own life. In the documentary Expelled, there’s an interview with the atheist Richard Dawkins. He’s asked if there was any possibility that some intelligent force had designed us as human beings.

And he says something like, “Well, if you pin me down, yes it is possible. But the only way that’s possible is if it was some aliens from another planet who did it, and they would have had to evolve through random natural selection.”

He would rather believe in little green aliens than in a God who might have something to say about how he lives his life. But that’s no different from the way all our hearts want to go. We want to be autonomous and free, and choose our own adventures. But Yahweh, I Am, confronts us with the authority that comes from being the ultimate cause for everything in the universe.

2. God’s Constancy

Theologians would call this the immutability of God. He doesn’t change! “I am who I am – I am the same God now as I was when I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I don’t change my character. I don’t change my mind, except to offer you grace that you don’t deserve.”

Some people read the Bible, and they think they see God changing in it. They think there’s a God of the Old Testament, and he’s mean and cruel and loves blood and war and genocide. And then there’s the God of the New Testament who’s just loving and kind and compassionate and forgiving. And they’ll think, “Isn’t that great, how God has grown so much? I don’t know how it happened – maybe he took an anger management class between the Old Testament and the New – but wouldn’t it be great if God just keeps on getting more and more loving over time?”

Actually, that wouldn’t be great at all. If God really did change over time, how do you know he wouldn’t change back? How do you know he wouldn’t become more evil and cruel than anyone else has ever been? What his power started going to his head, and he decided he just wanted to torture the people on earth for the rest of eternity?

The fact is that God never changes. He has always been just, and he’s always punished sin. But he’s always been merciful, and he’s always forgiven sin when people come to him in faith. That’s why God says to Israel in Malachi 3:6… “I, Yahweh, do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”

In other words, “If I did change, then I might decide to wipe you all out. But I am who I am, and so I will always be loving and patient with you.”

There are two more present-tense experiences of God we’ll explore later this week.