God has innumerable characteristics. Even more so than our earthly relationships, it would take a lifetime to learn, fully understand or personally experience all the attributes of God. Romans 11:34 states, “Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?” (ESV)
The Bible has many references and names for His characteristics, but how do those become real to us in a personal way? 1 Corinthians 2:10-12 tells us:
“...these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.”
So as Christians, how can you and I know the mind, attitudes, and workings of the holy, omniscient, omnipresent, loving, just, wise, creative, personal God? The first step, of course, is to have a personal relationship with Him. Disciplines like reading the Bible (where He has recorded many of the things He wishes us to know about Himself and His son, Jesus), praying, and being part of a body of believers, where we can be challenged and encouraged are some of the ways we can deepen our understanding. But I believe there are other elements of life that impact that understanding as well.
When I was a child, I moved around the United States a lot with my family. I lived in many different states and cities in various parts of the country; as a result, we attended a number of different churches. While my parents were very careful to make sure that each one was Christ-centered, Bible-believing, and Bible-teaching, I experienced many different worship and teaching styles. I generally found that even such small variances in denominations, which generally all believed the same basic things about core Christian beliefs, still produced their own “flavor,” if you will. For instance, some of the churches focused on the love of God and His benevolence in our lives while others focused more on God’s justice.
Both of these characteristics (and many others) are true of God, but if they are overly emphasized, instead of presented as an element of His character, they can paint a lop-sided picture. For many years this caused much internal conflict for me until I realized that I wasn’t being taught conflicting views of God; instead, I was being exposed to a variety of different elements of His character, all true, and was gaining a more complete picture, albeit a bit fractured. It took years and lots of sage spiritual advice from other believers to put it all together, but in retrospect, I’m so grateful for those diverse experiences that have guided my understanding of God’s character.
Another significant influence that shapes our view and understanding of God’s character is our life circumstances. Now, don’t get me wrong here – by no means am I saying that His character changes in any way as a result of our circumstances. However, we all personally experience specific parts of His character at a deeper level at certain points in our history. I think this can be true on a personal level and also in a larger sense when significant events happen in our city, country, world, or culture in general. I remember during the days and weeks following 9/11 that many people turned back to God. Churches all over the country were flooded with scared, broken people looking for answers and comfort.
In my own personal life, I had a significant health scare in my late twenties, and it caused me to wrestle with the goodness of God. Yet at every turn during that awful experience (and still today), I saw God’s provision and kindness in the middle of the mess. It was undeniable that even though the circumstances felt really unfair, I was not hidden from His sight. Quite the opposite, actually: He preserved my life, my finances, my mind, and my heart in so many ways that I couldn’t even identify until many years later when I could take a step back and really take in the whole experience.
His faithfulness never failed me. Even in the moments when I felt such strong anger at Him for allowing things to happen the way they were, He never stopped protecting me or being faithful to me. He never stopped working even when I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see it.
Since having children, I think often about this truth when my three-year-old son is screaming at me for one more cookie and thinks I’m being mean to deny him although I know I’m protecting his teeth, his stomach, and his general health.
This week he and his brother both had eye infections and needed antibiotic drops in their eyes three times a day. It was awful. I had to physically restrain them on the floor as gently as I could to get those darn drops in. I hated it and they hated it, but it was absolutely necessary to make sure the infection did not permanently damage their eyes or infect other people.
Those moments were really hard for all of us, but as the parent, I knew what was best for them and we had to push through those tough minutes for the better outcome. It never feels that simple for us either when we are in the middle of a situation that requires great trust in our Heavenly Father to keep that perspective. But, ultimately, that’s the truth of it.
And therein lies the importance of continually investing in our relationship with the Lord – building trust and knowing His character intimately – so that when those difficulties come, we can rest on what we know to be true about Him, trust that He will not abandon us, and believe that He will provide for us.
Liz Dixon has a Master’s degree in social work and is married to Russell Dixon, who is the pastor of Sunset Canyon Baptist Church in Dripping Springs, TX. She is the mother to David (2) and Drew (1). She loves to cook and spends as much time outside as possible with her boys.