In a recent post, “Five Questions You Can Ask Instead of ‘How Are You?’ (forbes.com), the originator missed the point. I will share my opinion on his suggestions in my next article. But for now I want to focus on why Forbes dropped the ball because this is where most Christians do the same. We unconsciously become like the culture in which we live because we want to be accepted and we want to be successful. Those two motivations are not reason enough for Christians.
Jesus gave his followers a much broader assignment. Jesus said the most essential commandment we need to follow is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your soul and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). If we choose not to love, then why do we say we follow Jesus?
Usually, we glance over the first command, because we believe we already love God. We forget that in actuality, we are enemies of God. We are to love our enemies (Matthew 6:43-44; Luke 6:27-36; Romans 12:20) because at one time we were enemies of God. Nevertheless, even when we were enemies, God chose to love us (John 3:16-17; Romans 5:10; Colossians 1:21; James 4:4).
There is a hidden component to Jesus’ command to love God and our neighbor. Actually, the two are separated in the Old Testament. The first part is found in Deuteronomy 6:5: Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Mark quotes the verse correctly (Mark 12:30). Matthew substitutes ‘mind’ for ‘strength’ (Matthew 22:37). Luke adds ‘mind’ and ‘strength’ (Luke 10:27).
How can we love God if we do not know God? Do we sit cross-legged and recite a mantra? Meditation can prove helpful for stress, but lasting peace comes in a different way. Jesus was a realist. He knew that believing in him would cause division (Luke 12:51). Yet, he told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
The same is true of love. Love defined by the world is not the same as love defined by God. Jesus said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13). Anyone can practice a man made religion. God desires a relationship.
How incredible a task to love God. Yet, God makes it possible. Only when we realize God knows us completely and loves us entirely, can we begin to love God.
Do you know Exodus 34:6? No? Maybe you know John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…” Exodus 34:6 begins, “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming…” No? Not ringing a bell? You are not alone. I do not recall a single sermon preached on this verse.
Exodus 34:6-7 reads, “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “the LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love an faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin.” Who passed in front of Moses? Who said these things?
The LORD asked Moses to chisel out two stone tablets so that the LORD could write the words that were on the first tablets. Wait. A second set of tablets? That wasn’t in the movie, “The Ten Commandments.” Was it?
After Moses came down from Mount Sinai the first time, he discovers that his brother had led the people to build a golden calf with the possessions they took from the Egyptians. Moses was so angry that he threw the two stone tablets to the ground and broke them. We may remember the horrific ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. But few remember that after the golden calf incident, God was ready to kill all of them and start over with another group of people. Only after Moses begs God not to kill them, does God relent and honor Moses’ request.
And the LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But, he said, you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Then the LORD said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen” (Exodus 33:17-23). If that passage doesn’t cause the hair on the back of your head to stand up, I don’t know what will.
So the LORD tells Moses to chisel out two stone tablets like the first two and he will write on them the words that were on the first tablets which Moses broke. Moses climbs Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the LORD commanded him. As he ascended the mountain, he carried the two stone tablets in his hands. Then the LORD came down from the cloud, stood there with him, and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:5-6).
Compassionate: Easy to say but not so easy to implement. The Hebrew word is ra-hum. This word is usually used to describe God who shows favor and not punishment which is deserved, implying a forgiving relationship. So the Atheists are wrong when they say God is vengeful (Deuteronomy 4:31; Leviticus 19:18; James 5:11).
Gracious: This Hebrew word is han-nun and again is used only to describe God. This word pertains to being merciful to the needy and repentant (Exodus 22:26; Nehemiah 9:17, 31; Jonah 4:7).
Slow to anger: This Hebrew word a-rek translates as patient and long-suffering. Jeremiah reasons for the necessity of the wrath of God in Jeremiah 15 while acknowledging his long-suffering (v.15). The word for long-suffering in Jeremiah 15:15 is the same Hebrew word translated from Exodus 34:6 as “slow to anger” (Psalm 78:38; Romans 2:4; 12:19).
Abounding in love: The Hebrew word he-sed often refers to God’s steadfast love or loving-kindness: in redemption from enemies and troubles; in preservation of life from death; in quickening of spiritual life; in redemption from sin; and, in keeping the covenants with Abraham, Moses, Israel, David and his dynasty (Genesis 39:21; Exodus 15:13; Psalm 36:8; 90:14; 107:9; Jeremiah 31:3; Ezra 9:9).
Faithfulness: The Hebrew word, met, includes reliability, trustworthiness, honesty, and integrity (Psalm 61:7; 108:4; 115:1; 138:2; 143:1; Laminations 3:23).
Might examining the divine attributes of God evidential in salvation history cause us to desire to develop these same attributes: compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love, and faithful? Might these relational attributes support constructive and productive relationships? In reality, few of us really know how to begin or maintain relationships. Part of that journey of knowledge is asking the right questions in the right way and caring about the one who gives the answers. Relationships progress the more we know God and live inside that knowledge.
Why Ask? Indeed, why not? Relationships prosper when we ask the kinds of questions that show we care which I will expand next on Why Ask? Part Two