What does it mean for you and I to have a relationship with God the Father (or Mother if you prefer, see here and here, or perhaps you view the Lord as the Almighty one)? In the Old Testament God the Father is the person of Trinity we most often read about. God the Spirit shows up for sure, such as we saw in our recent study in the book of Ezekiel, such as here. Does Jesus show up in the Old Testament? There’s lot of debate about this, with Christians trying to make a case for some angels to be Jesus, and with Jewish scholars responding, “No way.” I think it is best to say we don’t know if Jesus shows up in the Old Testament. The point to focus on is that when you read OT historical books that tell the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon and others, the stories depict those people as having an individual relationship with God. When you read the psalms, you read very relational poems, songs and prayers expressing the psalmist’s individual relationship with God, often specifically referred to as God the Father. When you read the prophets, the prophets also interact with God the Father.
God is also very emotional, relationally-speaking, to both the individual and to the whole nation corporately. He expresses his hurt when the people turn away from him. And he is overjoyed when they return or when they just stay in close relationship with them. I find it particularly appealing that we can have a relationship with God that is real and alive. He is not cold, unfeeling, and distant. Instead God is emotional, interactive and feeling.
One major concept of relationship in the Old Testament is the concept of covenant. God has a relational agreement with his people, a corporate relationship with the entire nation of Israel. When they are walking in the wilderness in the Exodus, God appears to them in the pillar of cloud by day, in the pillar of fire by night, and in some other pretty amazing manifestations, such as his presence in the tabernacle and temple. The Old Testament Law, which we studied a few years ago when we worked our way through Deuteronomy, is a relational agreement between God and Israel. If they abide by the terms of the covenant, God says he will bless them, protect them and provide for them. But if they do not abide by the covenant, God say he will not bless, protect and provide. Throughout the history of the ancient nation of Israel, we see all of the above. Actually, the people would spend a lot more time turning away from God.
In the New Testament, Jesus shows us what it can be like to have a vibrant relationship with God, as he often spends time alone in prayer with God. This is a reflection of what we read in the earliest description of God’s relationship with humanity, God walking and talking with Adam and Eve in the garden. For Christians then, it is quite appropriate to grow a relationship with God, and one of the primary ways of doing so is prayer. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will mention Brother Lawrence and his concept of having a conversation with God all the time. He called it The Practice of the Presence of God. You can read his short book of that same title here. I urge you to do so. My guess is that many of us have sparse communication with God. Given the psalms, which are also almost exclusively individual expressions of prayer and worship to God, it is also quite appropriate to express our relationship with God in song. But by far, the New Testament presents relationship with God in a radical new way that is a striking departure from the Old Testament. We’ll explore that in the next post.