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On the Side - November 2012

Our Touchable God
by Sharon Chatwell

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from the New International Version, 1984.

People used to make their own gods out of wood or stone. They did this presumably because they wanted to be able to see and touch their gods. Ostensibly this makes the gods easier to honor; perhaps, in more subtle ways, it also makes them seem easier to influence or even control. After all, the gods may seem less intimidating if we can see and touch them.

In her classic novel The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck describes the gods made by the main character’s family to watch over their fields.

“Within the temple snugly under the roof sat two small, solemn figures, earthen, for they were formed from the earth of the fields about the temple. These were the god himself and his lady. They wore robes of red and gilt paper and the god had a scant, drooping mustache of real hair. Each year at the New Year, Wang Lung’s father bought sheets of red paper and carefully cut and pasted new robes for the pair. And each year rain and snow beat in and the sun of summer shone in and spoiled their robes.”

As Christians, we worship the God of the Bible: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the Eternal Creator God who called all things which were created into being.

God, who originally created mankind for fellowship with Him in the Garden of Eden, had to send us away when we chose to sin against Him. From that moment on, we were separated from God, unable to see or hear Him, except on those rare occasions when He made Himself known to the ancients or sent them a messenger or prophet with His Word. Even in His Temple, where He dwelt in the Holy of Holies, He was separated from us by a heavy veil.

But God knows that we humans have short attention spans, and that without seeing or hearing from Him routinely, we would be tempted to start creating our own gods by carving them out of wood or stone or casting them out of gold and silver. Perhaps that is why He warned us so carefully against falling into idolatry, and why having no other gods before Him and not creating graven images top the list in the Ten Commandments. He knew we, like sheep, would wander off.

But then God, in His great mercy, did something wonderful: He came to us! God the Father sent God the Son to earth. In the fullness of time, Jesus, the Promised Messiah (or Christ) was born of a virgin named Mary. And when Jesus was born, He was called Emmanuel (which means “God with us”).

Suddenly God was touchable again! The infinite Holy God, from whom we’d been separated by sin, was now here among us. John 1:1 tells us: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And then, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). This One referred to as the Word is the One and only Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Now, for the first time since the fall of mankind, God was with us again. We could see Him and touch Him. And we could watch what He did and hear what He had to say as well. And while we watched and listened, God the Father was revealed. Luke 10:22 tells us: “…no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” And Hebrews 1:3 says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being….”

God made Himself touchable: He came to live among us so that we could see and hear Him, and so that (perhaps) He would seem a little less intimidating. Little children played at His feet and He blessed them. Sinners and sick people flocked to Him and went away cleansed and whole. People, lost and confused by religious ritual like Nicodemus, came to Him and found truth and grace.

But, as we all know, at the time Jesus came, not everyone accepted Him as the Son of God. John 1 tells continues, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:10-11).

Jesus died on the cross, paying for our sins. When He did, the veil in the temple was torn in two, showing that Jesus had done away with the barrier between us and God that had been there because of our sin. We were provided with access to the Father again, through Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins.

Then Jesus was buried in a grave. On the third day, God raised Him from the dead, proving as Peter put it in Acts that “…God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

Jesus well understood our need to see and touch Him. After His resurrection, He appeared to His disciples. They were all amazed! But one disciple, Thomas, who wasn’t with them at the time refused to believe their story and even said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (John 20:25). A week later, Jesus visited them again when Thomas was there, and Jesus addressed him directly, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:25).

Faced with the living, breathing Jesus, Thomas responded, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Do you know who Jesus was talking about? He was talking about us! We haven’t seen with our eyes or reached out with our fingers and touched His hands or His side, and yet we have believed. Jesus calls us blessed! Isn’t that wonderful?

Jesus ascended into Heaven, and one day He will come again. But He did not leave us alone. Peter points out that He has received the promised Holy Spirit and poured Him out on those who believe. We who believe will never again be alone. Even Jesus said, “Behold, I am with you always…” (Matthew 28:20, ESV).

But still, to our longing hearts, our God may once again seem untouchable. After all, it is true that we cannot see or touch Him at this moment. But Jesus instructed those of us who believe in His name to love and to serve those around us. He told us that when He comes back to judge the world, He will say things like: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Therefore, when we serve those around us, we do in fact serve Christ Himself. In a way, when we see and touch them, we are seeing and touching Him.

When we love our families, when we hold and kiss them, when we wash their clothes and fix their meals and bind up their wounds, it is as if we are touching Christ. When we go out into the world to help others, or when we support our husbands who deal with the ailments of our communities, it is as if we are seeing Christ and helping Him. And none of it… none of it… none of it… is done in vain, if we do it all for Him.

And one day, He will come back and we will be able to see and touch Him again. Revelation 22:20 says, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Our touchable God, our One and Only Savior…Jesus Christ.

Sharon is a physician (and a physician’s spouse) living in Lincoln, Nebraska.