Have you ever been in a situation where a person declared themselves in charge and then proved the least qualified to be in such a position? I don’t mean they disqualified themselves by some moral failing. Rather, they just didn’t grasp how to be in charge, or how to make the right decisions or the best decisions. They take credit for work they didn’t do and blame others for their mistakes. Either in panic or power, they default to making choices that benefit themselves over those they are in charge of.
In the same way, we’re not content to let God be in charge, to let God be God. When things are going well, we pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. When things are going poorly, we try to take over and fix it, conveniently overlooking that it was we who messed up in the first place. We would rather be God ourselves. But, being God is always beyond our grasp.
We would rather be God ourselves. But, being God is always beyond our grasp.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve jump at the chance to be God. They’re convinced by the serpent that nothing will go wrong. It is to their advantage to do what God commanded them not to do. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Gen. 3:6).
They took and ate the fruit for their own advantage, for their own gain. But, the moment they grabbed hold of being like God, it slipped through their fingers. They fumbled it. They learned how impossible it is for created humanity to be equal with its Divine Creator.
We too continually reach for that which is beyond our grasp. Our efforts to be like God always fail. They fail because our sin-warped idea of God is limited to those characteristics which would benefit us most if we possessed them.
We would love to be all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present. And while we like the idea of being all-good, if we're honest, we’d rather not. Being all-good, especially to our enemies, would get in the way of doing whatever we wanted to as God. We can’t help but exploit our efforts in authority, power, and knowledge for our advantage and welfare over and against our neighbors.
We can’t help but exploit our efforts in authority, power, and knowledge for our advantage and welfare over and against our neighbors.
The movie Bruce Almighty serves as a classic example. After God gives Bruce a fraction of His powers, Bruce quickly uses them to make his life easier. He parts a traffic jam so he can get to work. He makes his divine task of answering prayers easy and thoughtless. Most telling, however, is when he uses them to publicly sabotage and humiliate his workplace rival and lift himself to the top job.
However, God, as He reveals Himself in Christ, shows us a different picture. Paul penned this glorious image in Philippians 2 while encouraging his recipients (including us) to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in everything count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others” (2:3–4). He continued,
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (2:5–8).
Jesus, who was God, purposefully refrained from using His status as God for Himself. He considered His divinity as something not to be grasped and exploited for His own gain. Instead, Christ worked for our benefit and advantage. Though He was God the creator, He became God the human being. Though He was both fully God and fully man, He came to serve us by His obedience to the point of death on the cross to save us from our sin.
The good news is we don’t have to reach out and take hold of God. He comes to us.
We struggle to have the mind among us that Paul encourages us to have. Despite our Baptism, our old Adams and Eves continually strive to be like God, to grasp Him with our own power, and to exploit His gifts for our gain.
The good news is we don’t have to reach out and take hold of God. He comes to us. He became incarnate. And we receive Him in our ears through the preached Word. We receive Him on our heads by the water and word of Baptism. We receive Him on our tongues as Christ’s body and blood come to us in the bread and wine of holy communion.
Jesus did what Adam and Eve failed to do and what we can’t do. He let God be God and followed His commands perfectly. And, in the process, grasped for us what we could never reach: forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of God.