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The Ministry of God
Job 37:14-24 and IS40:21-31
by Tony Grant
The Internet has been one of the most interesting developments in the last ten years. Eric Davis offers the following somewhat overblown definition of the Internet: "Blending together mind and techne [sic], image and code, the Internet arises as a Great Work of engineering, a computational matrix that forms the tentative framework for a new phase of cultural evolution, an alchemical beaker within which we toss anything and everything that can be reduced to binary code." Earlier Davis described the Net as "a nonlinear, hyperlinked, many-to-many matrix."
The World Wide Web is a technique for publishing documents on the Internet. At times, people talk about the Web and the Net as though they are interchangeable, but they are not. The Web is one of several ways to use the Internet.
At its heart, the Internet is a technique for connecting networks of computers. When a single user makes a connection to the Internet, he or she becomes a node on a network. Using the Internet, this node can reach any other network or any other node on the network. In theory, any single computer on the Internet can establish a connection with any other computer. In chatrooms, for example, anyone who logs in can send messages to any other user.
Once a computer is connected to the Internet, it can take part in the World Wide Web, either to view pages or to publish them. The computer needs a browser such as Netscape Navigator, Mosaic, or Microsoft Internet Explorer to view Web pages. The browser uses TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) to find pages that have been published on the Web, download the pages, and display them on the computer.
Like many scientific advances in the last generation, the Internet began as a government project. Mark Dery says, "The Internet was born of ARPANet, a decentralized computer network developed at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1969 by the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) to ensure military communications in the event of a nuclear attack." The Net grew by merger. As other electronic networks were created, They merged with and overlaid the original ARPANet. According to "A Brief History of the Internet" by Vint Cerf, "By the end of 1991, the Internet has grown to include some 5,000 networks in over three dozen countries, serving over 700,000 host computers used by over 4,000,000 people." As of June 1999, NUA estimated that 179 million people were online. Of this last total, 102.03 million are in the USA and Canada.
Email today is the most popular online activity. People buy computers and get online for the sole purpose of sending and receiving email. According to email statistics posted on Net Assist, fifteen percent of the U.S. population [about 30 million adults] used email in 1999. This figure is up from two percent in 1992. Also, 12.8 million U.S. households had adults who use email from home. These figures, like all Internet statistics are rapidly changing and are outdated by the time they are in print.
Even so, the Internet is still in its infancy. Cyberspace is like a new frontier or a newly discovered country. Like all frontiers, many things will be tried on the Net that will not endure. Some companies will go bankrupt; others will make vast fortunes. Some communities will be started and abandoned, others will prosper. At this point no one knows what the Internet will finally become, and how it will effect human society. However, one thing seems certain: the Internet will be a major part of any future human society, and therefore, it is something that the church must examine and deal with.
The Net as God
Some people are so caught up in the possibilities of the Internet that they regard it as God, or potentially God. For example, Joan Connell writes, "Images of the divine reflect the realities of the people who seek it. So it is perhaps inevitable that cutting-edge religious scholars are likening the Internet to an emerging metaphor for God." William Gibson is the science-fiction writer who coined the term cyberspace and used it, most famously, in his 1984 novel Neuromancer. In an article in Time, Gibson says: "It seems as though the Net itself has become conscious." "It may regard itself as God. And it may be God on its own terms." Gibson does add, however, that he is "carefully ambivalent about whether anything that exists solely on the Net applies to the real world." Thus Gibson seems to think that the Net may be alive and conscious and self-conscious, and guilty of that final sin of prideself-idolatry.
Internet writer Erik Davis says "'In many ways we're sort of creating a 'deus ex machina,' a great machine that is penetrating and connecting in with more and more of our lives. In that sense there's something like a terrestrial god about it.'" Jeff Zaleski is more colorful in his language. Quoted by Milly Jenkins, he says, "'Worshippers will jack into the Net, surf into a breathtaking simulation of heavenly delights, and kneel to whatever deity seems responsible, perhaps Deep Blue and its descendants.'"
This kind of talk--about the Net as God--seems ridiculous, absurd, and blasphemous to a believer. Certainly no network based on fiberoptic cables and communications satellites can be or become that almighty God whom most believers worship. People who identify God withg human achievements need to re-examine their definition of God. That is what God said to Job. In 37:14 Job is told to "stop and consider the wondrous works of God." Job pictures God as the creator of the universe, and since we cannot create a universe, since right now we do not even know the extent of the universe, Job says that God is of such a different order than we are that we can never understand God. Colm Luibheid perhaps has these verses from Job in mind when he writes, "[God] is not one of the things that are, and he cannot be known in any of them. He is all things in all things and he is no thing among things. He is known to all from all things and he is known to no one from anything." (Colm Luibheid, trans., Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works, New York and Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1987, p109).
In 37:16 God says to Job, and to us, "Do you know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of the one whose knowledge is perfect." Obviously we do not; thus, we cannot reason or debate or dispute with God. In 37:19, Job says, "We cannot draw up our case because of darkness." Again in v23 he says, "The Almighty, we cannot find him: he is great in power and justice."
Yet we can know some things about this almighty creator. We cannot know the nature or essence of God. That knowledge is beyond the reach of mind or of reason. But we can know something about God from the arrangement of everything, because everything is, in a sense, projected from God, and possesses images and semblances of the divine.
Gods Motive for Creation
No identity exists between God and the creation. God is not the universe. On the other hand, the creation is Gods creation and Gods place of activity. The motive of Gods activity is love. God created because God is love (I John 4:8). This is not to identify God with love--God is and remains incomprehensible and unknowable--but love is that characteristic of deity that the creation makes visible to us. God was motivated to create because of his character, which is love. God could not act in a way that would be inconsistent with himself. Thus, God created all that is, out of love. God has always acted out of love and still acts out of love. God is still creating. Gods purpose for creation is shrouded in mystery, yet a purpose exists, and God is even now moving toward that purpose. What we know about God then, from the very fact of the universe, is that God is love.
The Zone and Domain of Love.
Jesus Christ is the ultimate manifestation of the creative love of God. Jesus is savior and lord of his people. He shows us the reality in which we commune with God. He outlines that domain where we share Gods ongoing active life. The zone and domain that Jesus describes are the zone and domain of love. Jesus is the love of God that believers seek to make real in their own lives. The extent to which believers succeed in bringing this love into their lives is the extent to which they touch the fringe of the garment of unknowable God.
Participation in Gods Ministry
This divine love that is manifested in the Universe is beyond our capacity, even as Christ is beyond our capacity. Jesus Christ is not an example to be followed. To suppose that Christ is an example for the believer is to elevate the believer. If "I" can do as Jesus did, then "I" am God. A better way of describing our relationship with Christ is to say that when the believer is united with Jesus Christ, the believer communes with divine love but is not divine. The believer is united with the love of Christ and can begin to live with Christ and in Christ. By love, the believer is saved and made whole. The believer becomes a true human being. The believer becomes that person he or she would have been had the image of God in which they were originally created not been marred by sin; and having become a transformed person, the believer can participate in the ministry of God.
We have said that we cannot know God, but we can know some things about God. We can know something of the ministry of God. What is ministry? Preachers are often called ministers, and the implication is that only preachers--or pastors--have a ministry. Not so, every Christian has a ministry, that is to say, every Christian has a call. This call originates from God and changes the orientation of a person's life. This call is an expression of God's love for us. Now callings from God can be quite specific. For example, God may call us to be part of a particular program at a particular church. One lady told me that she thought it was her calling from God to phone every family in her church every week. Fortunately for her, it was a small church. That is a particular and specific call. We also have a more general call. Our general call is to partake of the ministry of God. Or to put it another way, wherever God is active in the world, that is where we should be active. Wherever God is ministering, that is where we should be ministering.
But how do we know where God is ministering? Usually when we talk about God acting, we talk about something extraordinary, something special. A man is on a roof thinking about committing suicide, and a voice speaks to him and says, "Get down off that roof and go feed the homeless." We say God spoke to him. Or, there was a bad accident and a woman walks out totally uninjured. We say God delivered her. And I have no problem with that way of thinking. God does act sometimes in a spectacular way, but God also acts in other ways; God acts through ordinary people doing ordinary things. God has a ministry in this world. How do we know where God is ministering.? We have already answered that question. God is love. When we see love, we see the ministry of God..
An Act of Ministry
Three factors are involved in an act of ministry--God, others, and me. All of these factors interlock and operate at the same time. But the primary factor is: What is God doing? In one sense, God is an incomprehensible mystery, so no one can ever claim to know entirely what God is doing. That is what Job says, that is also what Isaiah says. Isaiah says, Don't you know? Hasn't anyone told you? God is so far above all the things that in comparison to him, we are as grasshoppers. In 40:22, Isaiah says, that God "stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in." In v25, God says, "To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal?" the implication is that there are no comparisons to God, that nothing is his equal. Again Isaiah says in v28, the Lord "does not faint or grow weary, his understanding is unsearchable" All of which is to say to us, what Job has already said, We do not know or comprehend God. Nevertheless, the Bible teaches that God does act in this world, and we can recognize God's actions
This is the very definition of ministry. For ministry to be ministry, it must be Gods ministry. I have said that we are all ministers. Every Christian is a minister. Our ministry is to proclaim where God is in the world and to act where God is in the world. Merwyn Johnson says, "Accordingly, we ministers have the primary task of recognizing the signs of Gods presence and calling attention to Gods activity in our midst." If God is in Sabbath School, then we need be in Sabbath School and we need to tell everyone we meet that God is in Sabbath School. Since God is love, Gods ministry is a ministry of love. Consequently, our ministry is to point out where love is, and conversely where love is not, and to be where love is and not to be where love is not.
But how do we do this? Not of our own strength. When we act as ministers within the ministry of God, we act with divine power and love and knowledge. As Isaiah says in v29, God "giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength." God supplies the needs of his ministers. We draw back from committing ourselves to the ministry God has given us because we fear that we lack the strength or the knoweldge or the courage or something. And Isaiah agrees with us. We do lack the strength to do God's will for our lives. But the prophet says, Dont worry about that. God will give you the strength.
In v31 Isaiah says, "They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." This is a great verse. This is the kind of verse we ought to memorize and carry around with us everyday. As a minister of God's ministry this is your assurance. When you walk in love, you walk with God. God will be with you to empower your walk and your love. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified, 08/06/01