I can’t remember where I first heard this, but lodged in the back of my brain there is a saying that knowing what God does is less important than knowing who God is.
Which sounds alright as far as it goes. But when you think about it, when God reveals himself to humanity, he doesn’t give general platitudes and personality characteristics. No, in the Bible, the way that God reveals himself to humans is by doing stuff.
Robert Jenson says it this way in his Large Catechism: "[God’s] very identity is set by what he does in time."
God doesn’t just announce, "I am the kind of guy who likes to save people." Instead he actually stretches out his arm and delivers the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt.
God doesn’t just say, "One of my personality characteristics is that I am very forgiving." Instead he sends his Son Jesus to be born in a specific location among a specific people, to die on a real Roman cross on a certain date in order to actually forgive sins.
God doesn’t have a Facebook page, where he lists his "interests" and "activities." Instead he actually does stuff. And this is how we know who he is. His identity is vested in his activity in history.
This is the way Christian faith has always seen it. Take a look at the Apostles’ Creed. It’s a classic statement of what Christians believe about God, but all of it is couched in terms of what God has done and will do. It’s filled with stuff God did: God created everything; Jesus was conceived, born, suffered, was crucified, dead, buried, descended, raised, ascended, will come again; and right now the Holy Spirit is working and active, the church continues as the Body of Christ on earth, and one day God will bring about the final resurrection from the dead and renew heaven and earth.
This is what we do in church, too, whenever we have Christians give "testimonies" of what God has done. We are revealing God’s identity in terms of what he has done for us. God is glorified and worshiped through getting his hands dirty and being involved in the mess of our everyday lives. We see who God is by what He does.
This is absolutely right… However, what God does flows directly out of who God is… There is no pretense… And chief of the characteristics of who God is, it John’s assertions that “God is Love”… not loving (a characteristic defined by activity) but love (a noun defining activity). remeber, the name of God is I AM… Not I DO… Unless we get to know the I AM we may not recognise how the I AM is manifested in action.
Ben Sternke says
Yes, but if I can “push back” just a little… we get to know the I AM through what the I AM does.
To put it more philosophically, we can never know God in his essence, but only as he reveals himself in human history (including our lives). John asserts that “God is love” but then goes on to say “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” – the only reason John can say that “God is love” is because of what he saw God doing in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.
So yes, God’s actions flow out of his character. But our way “into” God’s heart is the other direction – we see Who He Is by what He does.
Don’t disagree at all… Just wary (as an incorrigible activist) of the danger of “being” being swamped by “doing” in the sense of, “If it’s god enough for God then it is good enough for us…”