“God is God, and you are not.” If you have been around Good Shepherd for any length of time, you have probably heard me say this phrase. Over the years as I have studied theology and served as a pastor, I have found that this statement summarizes an incredibly important truth.
God is God, and you are not. This means that most of what God chooses to do is above your pay grade. God is the eternal and almighty Creator of all things. He has no beginning, and he has no end. His ways, his plans, his decisions are beyond anything that you can fathom.
Now this would be true even if you had no sin. But add in the fact that since the Fall we have all been conceived and born as fallen, sinful people, and our chances of understanding what God is doing become completely hopeless. Even when the Spirit has made us a new creation in Christ – when he has created the new man within us – the old Adam is still present as well. He continues to tempt and lead us into thinking in selfish ways.
We can’t understand God because at the end of the day our thinking revolves around ourselves. The old Adam doesn’t want to be disciplined. He doesn’t think he needs to be crucified, and he certainly doesn’t want to be. Perhaps the closest we can come to understanding what it is like for God to deal with us is when we are caring for a two or three year old. The child’s world revolves around him or herself. We make decisions that are best for the child, and the child can’t possibly fathom why we are doing them, or why they are best for him or her. Often, the child’s reaction to this is to throw a temper tantrum. As adults, we recognize how silly and foolish this is.
Our text this morning is very short. It is also incredibly profound. Paul writes: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
These words conclude the discussion that Paul has been engaging in from chapter nine to chapter eleven. The apostle has been considering how it is that God’s people the Jews have for the most part rejected their Messiah sent by God. On the other hand, the Gentiles – the non-Jews – have been receiving him in faith.
Paul says that is not merely a matter of bad luck and good luck. Instead, it is part of God’s plan. Immediately before our text, the apostle has written, “For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.”
And then, Paul reveals that this is far as he can go. He can’t explain anything more about the “how” in which this works. There may be a whole range of questions we would like to raise. But there is no point because we will not be capable of understanding the answer. In fact, the very presence of our questions indicates that we are completely incapable of understanding what God is doing.
In our text, Paul quotes two Old Testament passages. The first, “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” comes from Isaiah chapter 40. There Yahweh emphasizes that he is the Creator whose power and understanding renders everything and everyone as nothing. Isaiah writes, “Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?” The obvious answer is: “No one.” Instead, he is the source of all these, and as creatures we can’t begin to comprehend what he is doing.
The second quotation is from the Book of Job. After complaining about the tragedies that have befallen him, Job finds himself confronted by Yahweh from the whirlwind as he replies: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” God tells Job to suck it up and answer his questions. Here too Yahweh emphasizes that he is the Creator whose actions go beyond human understanding. And in the end Job must confess: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”
Today is the Feast of the Holy Trinity. Now strictly, speaking, our text this morning is not talking about the triune nature of God. Instead, it makes the point that we can’t possibly understand what God is doing. But if we can’t understand what God is doing, what hope do we have to understand who God is and what he is like? The answer is that there is no way this is going to happen. God is simply beyond us. God is God, and we are not.
So the bad news is that you are not going to be able to understand what we are about to confess in the Athanasian Creed. You won’t be able to understand how it is that “the Father is God, the Son of is God, the Holy Spirit is God; and yet there are not three Gods, but one God.” You won’t be able to understand how it is that “the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Holy Spirit is another. But the Godhead of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.”
We can’t explain how God is this way. But we can describe that God is this way. And this fact reveals God’s amazing love for us. You see, we only have this knowledge because God has acted in the incarnation of the Son in order give us forgiveness, salvation and resurrection.
In the Old Testament there is a basic fact that is stated again and again: there is only one true God, Yahweh, the Creator of the heavens and the earth. There is only one God, and every other so-called god is a fake. Now along the way there are things that make you wonder. God says, “Let us make man in our image.” We hear about the Spirit of God, and there are statements about Wisdom that sound like far more than just personification. But these are only hints, and ultimately we are left with one sure truth in the Old Testament: there is only one God.
We know about the Holy Trinity – the triune nature of God – for one reason. We know because of God’s love and desire to forgive our sin and reconcile us to himself. Adam and Eve had brought sin into the world. As their offspring, we were conceived and born in sin. We were enemies of God – insisting on treating ourselves as god.
Yet God did not abandon the creatures he had made in his own image. Instead, the Father sent the Son into the world as he was incarnate through the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul told the Galatians, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” The Word, the Son of God, became flesh as Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.
Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist marks the beginning of his ministry. And at that very moment we see the Holy Trinity revealed clearly for the first time. God the Son comes up from the water. God the Spirit descends upon him like a dove, and God the Father says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
We see the Trinity revealed, but even in this moment we continue to find that God is God, and we are not. God’s ways are not our ways. The words of Isaiah spoken by the Father identify Jesus as the Servant of the Lord – the One is the suffering Servant. The sinless Son of God submits to a baptism of repentance because he is stepping into our place. He is taking on our sin. And he does this in order to suffer and die for us as the sacrifice that takes away our sin.
Jesus was crucified on Good Friday. The mission of the incarnate Son of God led to the shame and humiliation of the cross. God’s great action to save us is a tortured individual crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as he dies. It’s not what we would expect. It makes no sense when you think about things in the way of the world.
But the cross was God’s way. St. Paul told the Corinthians:
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
We know that Jesus Christ is the power and wisdom of God, because on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead. On Easter God defeated death as he vindicated Jesus through his resurrection. Before his passion, Jesus had told his disciples that after he rose they would see him in Galilee. Matthew tells us that the eleven disciples went to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. There, yet again, they saw the risen Lord.
On that mountain Jesus said to them: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus declared that as the risen Lord, all authority had been given to him. Because this was the case, the disciples were to go forth and makes disciples of all nations – disciples of Jesus Christ. They were to do this by baptizing and teaching.
This baptizing was to be done “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” There is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but only one name. Through God’s action to give us forgiveness and salvation we have learned that the one God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In God’s Word we learn that each person of the Trinity is true God. The persons of the Trinity exist in relationship to one another, and yet there is only one God. How can this be? How does this work? We cannot understand it, for God is God, and we are not.
We believe and confess what goes beyond our understanding because God has called us to faith in the One through whom he has revealed his love, forgiveness, and salvation. Through the incarnation of the Son of God, we have learned about the triune nature of God. We have this knowledge only because God the Father sent forth the Son as he was incarnate by the Holy Spirit. We have this knowledge because Jesus Christ was in the world to die on the cross and rise from the dead for us. And so we rejoice in the salvation God has given to us. We give thanks for God’s love and the resurrection that Jesus will give to us on the Last Day. And, yes, knowing all of that we are glad that God is God, and we are not.