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What if God is, fundamentally, Giver?

Imagine it.  Imagine that the Father is eternally sending forth Himself in Word and Spirit.  Imagine that He is a spreading goodness.  Imagine that He is infinite plenitude rather than infinite need.  Imagine He is a Fountain of outgoing love.  What then?

Well, for one thing, let's ask ourselves, how should we correspond to God the Giver?  Surely the most fundamental answer must be: by receiving.  Or to put it another way, the work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent. Or again, we might say that the righteous shall live by faith.  Life in relationship with the Giver is a life of receiving.

But notice therefore that the first thing to which I'm called is not worship but faith.  Of course I am called to worship, but it is the worship that is shaped by a prior commitment to receive the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  We love because He first loved us.

Why do I labour this point?

I labour it, because it seems to me that another point is laboured beyond proper proportions.  And that is the concept of idolatry.

I'm forever hearing that idolatry is the key to the Christian life.  I need to identify my idols and turn from them, returning to the true God.  The underlying assumption seems to be that false worship is the problem, true worship will be the solution.

There's a lot of diagnostic gain to be had in following this insight.  My mind is a factory of idols.  And this does betray and perpetuate my disordered desires.  But we haven't yet diagnosed the underlying problem if we've only seen it as a problem of worship.

First of all I am a receiver.  Therefore first of all I have failed to receive my life, my identity, my joy, my purpose from Christ.

Let's put this in the language of Jeremiah 2:13:

My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

Sometimes people articulate the problem of idolatry the way the LORD does - as a double-sin.  But often I hear idolatry defined merely as well-digging.  i.e. they diagnose my problem simply as offering myself to the wrong thing.  Yet before that sin there is a primary sin - forsaking the Fountain!  And, pastorally speaking, we miss out hugely if we put the focus on the broken wells.

If my problem is diagnosed as "giving myself to career in an idolatrous fashion" then you might convince me that this is foolish, even that it's blasphemous.  But my heart is not yet ready to trust Christ as the Fountain of Living Waters.  Instead it will seem to me that God is a Taker who is even more demanding than my career.  You might tell me that this is perfectly proper since God is the Ultimate Boss, but my thirsty soul won't buy it.

What's more, you may be participating in the greatest of idolatries - you may be painting God as, ultimately, Taker rather than Giver.  And implicitly you may be pointing me to a false gospel.  For if the problem is "offering myself to a false god", there's a distinct danger that the implied solution will be "offering myself to the real God."  But that is not the gospel.  The gospel is the real God offering Himself for me.  And my real sin is refusing His thirst-slaking Spirit.

But if we fight the double-sin of idolatry it will mean not only facing the worship-denial of well-digging.  Even more deeply, it will mean facing the thirst-denial of forsaking the Fountain.

As an aside, the CCEF guys (Powlinson, Tripp, Welch etc) don't tend to like Larry Crabb because Crabb talks about thirst a lot.  Crabb talks about deep longings and spotlights the problem of denial - we routinely deny how deeply we want life to work and how disappointed we really are.  To my mind, this emphasis on thirst is an improvement on approaches that throw the focus onto well-digging.

The real way to fight idolatry is to return to the Source of Living Waters.  "Repentance" - "metanoia" - "change of mind" (all one word), is looking again to the outstretched arms of Jesus and seeing that God is Giver. This is what revolutionizes hearts and minds - drinking from the Fountain.

I realise that this is also where the CCEF guys etc want to head.  But I wonder whether they have a different starting point which means a different route and which ultimately works against the goal.

Or maybe I'm worried about nothing.

7 thoughts on “What if God is, fundamentally, Giver?

  1. kirstindykes

    You're not worrying about nothing. Reading this has just crystallised for me something I've been realising for a while. I have such a mentality of self-denial ("it's unholy to hope for academic success/a fulfilling career/a husband/security/insert object of desire here") that I spend all my time *emptying* my heart of things that shouldn't be there, until it's just empty. Then I have to sit in the emptiness and it's lonely and horribly draughty. No wonder my idols seem so appealing! I forget that to choose to follow Jesus with my life is first to *gain Jesus in my life*. Instead, of being joyful and satified in Him, I end up with a martyr complex which alternately massages my ego (when I'm coping with the emptiness) and drives me to despair (when I'm not).

    Either way, I'm sure it's a terrible witness, and, as you say, it's ultimately a denial of who Jesus is, the worst idolatry. I definitely have a Taker God. Thanks for writing this.

  2. Dave K

    Both interesting and really helpful.

    Thinking about the giving-receiving dynamic (particularly through reading 'God So Loved He Gave' by Kelly Kapic earlier this year) has been really eye opening to the goodness of God and creation for me.

    Thinking about it a little if we only talk about digging holes in the wrong places, then we could be communicating that we need to dig holes in the right place. Actually the passage says stop digging! Why? because there is a fountain!

    Couldn't comment on Larry Crabb (one day I will read him - I know you're a big fan), but I had a long series of discussions with a friend about thirsts and Welch's 'When God is Big and...' book. They certainly thought it was 'thrist denial', without using those words. I was mixed in my feelings. I think it does deny the goodness of many good thirsts, but then I think that many of our thirsts are bad (and there is a lot of bad stuff out there telling people that all their thirsts can be satisified by God - even the wrong ones)... I might email some notes I wrote as I wrestled with the whole question to see whether you agree/disagree. Personally I would say that much that Welch has written on the CCEF website has been full of grace and helped me at one point particularly, and I have just masses of respect for Powlinson. Tripp I don't get on with, although I think that's just a personality rather than content thing. But maybe I'm not as discerning as I should be.

  3. pgjackson

    I'd also suggest that if our definition of worship is that it's when/ how I give to God rather than receive from him then I've got worship wrong too. Must admit, my experience of the CCEF stuff is that they go for a definition of idolatry that sounds a lot like your 'I have failed to receive my life, my identity, my joy, my purpose from Christ.'

  4. Emma Bail

    "Life in relationship with the Giver is a life of receiving." very well said.It really true that our lives are going in receiving and giving.This post really makes us think about what if the Jesus is only the giver.Off course we ll receive all from Him with more love and respect.He is our father,our creator whatever He will give us we will receive it from our true heart.Very meaningful and nice post...

    God Bless You....

  5. Pingback: God’s concern for His own glory? | if nobody speaks of remarkable things

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