Wednesday, November 9, 2011

God doesn't need you...but He does want you

I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the insects in the fields are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?
Psalm 50:9-13

Vending machines are a marvelous invention. Think about it. Whoever invented them had to be a genius. Now I'm not saying he/she gets any awards for nutrition but they figured out a way to have a food stand that is open for business literally all the time without having to pay employees to be there all hours of the day. Plus, the machine makes sure people pay so they can't steal from you. It's certainly a step up from setting the candy fundraiser box down in the common room and hoping people are honest. However, what makes the vending machine such a great invention is also the worst thing about it. There's no one there. So when the machine malfunctions you are out of luck. The best you can do is to maybe make a phone call to the service company. Most of us in America aren't use to having no power over our situations like this, so we end up yelling at the machine, shaking it, hitting it, and generally looking like we are having a temper tantrum in front of our coworkers. We respond this way because it isn't fair. The whole system is built on an exchange of goods. The machine got our money but we didn't get our candy bar! The whole system has broken down. It's an outrage! (Okay...a little too dramatic Lance. Back it up.)

When Asaph wrote Psalm 50 (that's right David didn't write all of Psalms) the people of Israel had fallen into some bad habits in their relationship with God. They started to think of the one true God the same way that the pagan nations thought of their idol gods. In short, they thought of God as a divine vending machine. They turned humanity's relationship with God into an exchange of goods and they did this by simply believing that God needs us. You see if God needs us to go to church or to give money to His causes or to sacrifice bulls and goats to Him, then we have bargaining power. We begin to think that if we give God what He wants that He should give us what we want. We still do this today in more subtle ways. We think that if we go to church and live a good life that God owes us certain things. He should protect us and our families from health problems and financial problems and many other things. When something bad does happen to us we find ourselves praying and asking God, "Haven't I done everything I was supposed to God? I go to church. I try to be a good person. Why did you let this happen to me?" At times Christians even lose their faith in God because they simply can't understand how He allowed something tragic to happen to them after they had served Him so faithfully. They don't understand where the system of exchange broke down. They held up their end of the bargain but God didn't deliver and there they are yelling and shaking the divine vending machine and having a heartbreaking temper tantrum that might lead them away from their God when they need Him most.

The truth is that they never fully understood God. God doesn't need us. Look back at Psalm 50 above. He says, "every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills... If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it." In the same way that God didn't need Israel's sacrifices, He doesn't need ours either. God doesn't need your money or your worship or your talent. God is self-sufficient and independent of us. Since God created all that exists it is silly to think that anything in creation could add to Him. Everything in creation sprung into being out of the overflow of His provision. How could it add to Him now? I believe that this concept of God's independence is fundamental to who He is. In fact, it is evident in His name. In Exodus 3:14 God tells Moses to tell the Israelites that His name is "Yahweh" which can be translated several ways. The most common translation is "I AM WHO I AM." However, Wayne Grudem points out that it can also be translated "I will be what I will be."* Either way it is clear from His name that God is independent of us. He doesn't need us and He isn't going to change for us.

Because God doesn't need us, He can never owe us anything. And that's the kicker. If God doesn't need anything that we have to offer then He really has no reason to put up with us. We can't go to Him and make any demands. The relationship has to be based on grace. He created us because He wanted to not because He needed to. Sometimes I hear people say that God created people because He was lonely. Not only is this nowhere in Scripture but it also completely misunderstands the constant fellowship that God enjoys within Himself among the three persons of the Trinity (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and it makes God dependent upon us. The truth is that God doesn't need you, but He does want you. I Timothy  2:4 says that God desires for all men to be saved. And Isaiah 43:6-7 drives this point home by highlighting the real reason God created us. "Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” God made you for His glory. He desires your salvation. He desires for your sins to be removed so that He can have fellowship with you, but He does not need it. God could have existed for all of eternity without us or this world and been perfectly content and at peace. He chose to create out of the overflow of His goodness, love, and power. He chose to make a way of salvation out of His abundant grace. And He chose you because He loves you and wants you to be saved.

In verses 14-15 of Psalm 50 God tells the Israelites what it is that He wants from them. "Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” God wants us to serve Him out of gratitude for what He has already done for us, not so we can earn favors from Him. He reminds us that we need Him in the day of trouble, not the other way around. God has never once called me and said "Lance, I am in trouble. I need your help." But I have called to Him for help many, many times. This week be thankful that we have a God that is so much bigger than us that He does not need your help. Because if He did need you, He wouldn't be big enough to solve the problems that you need Him for.

For further reading...
  • Acts 17:24-27- Check out how Paul explained this concept to the Ancient Greeks.
  • Isaiah 40- An excellent chapter on God's power and independence.
  • Psalm 50- Read the whole chapter.

*It should be noted that much of this talk and this series draws information from Wayne Grudem's textbook Systematic Theology (the above quote is from p162). I am also leaning on notes taken from my Systematic Theology I class taught by Dr. Bruce Ware at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.

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