The goodness of God, the kindness of God, the grace and forgiveness of God… these all come together in His essential character in what demands a bigger word.
This is the generosity of God. Material generosity? Yes, well-known stories in the Bible give us this. But far greater and more life-changing than this is His moral generosity.
The ancients, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, knew God by the name El Shaddai, usually translated God Almighty. However, study of the roots of the word shaddai also reveal shades of meaning about generosity from related forms which mean ‘breast’ and ‘enough’. So perhaps a more accurate, if longer, translation would be Almighty God of our Provision.
Abraham saw God show this in his most severe test, the sacrifice on the mountain.
You remember the story: God spoke to Abraham and told him to take his precious long-awaited son and heir, Isaac, up to the top of what is now known as Temple Mount in Jerusalem. There he was to make him a sacrifice — like an animal. With shaking hand he was just about to deal Isaac the death blow when he heard his name called from heaven telling him not to harm the boy. As he looked up, he saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket, Genesis 22:12-14. God had provided what was needed for the sacrifice, spared Isaac, and Abraham had tested God’s generosity while being tested himself for his willingness to obey a difficult call. And so he called the place The Lord Will Provide ((Genesis 22:1-21)).
The Israelites in the desert needed water for themselves and their livestock. And food! And again, they saw God’s miraculous provision which was to give them more than enough, every day except the Sabbath ((Exodus 16:11-35)). There was a step of faith for them in expecting God’s generosity each new day — and learning not to store any as an insurance.
The hungry crowd ((Matthew14:14-21)) gathering on the hillside above Capernaum was thousands, rather than millions, but it was still a big food order. Again, God’s provision erred on the side of abundance — even after they had eaten their fill the re was much left over.
Let’s turn from God’s material generosity to His essential character.
He attracted Moses to Mount Horeb with fire — the burning bush — and in this initial encounter He revealed His name, Yahweh, which is like saying “I AM”. God’s name is His existential being, and later when Moses had returned to the same craggy wilderness, God unfolded what the mysterious name, “I AM” was all about. He came down in the cloud and… proclaimed His name: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” In addressing Moses, He explained that this mercy was not detached from the requirement (owing to His holiness) to judge unrepented rebellion, but His first desire was to show mercy, to give repeated opportunity for wrong actions and attitudes to be recognised and put right, and to forgive.
It is like a legal system where the judge hears a ‘not guilty’ plea which must be examined at trial, but if the plea is ‘guilty’, the judge will announce an automatic stay of sentence.
This is God’s extreme generosity of spirit, the grace of disregard that treats us far better than we deserve. This is a disposition to forgive, and to allow us every opportunity to avert the anger due to our error (for which the Bible uses the off-putting term “wrath”).
God is not just generous to us while retaining the need to judge right from wrong, but sets out an invitation to us to come to Him for all that is good in life — including salvation life itself. He says, through one of His most trusted prophets: “Come, ALL you who are thirsty… but…WITHOUT money and WITHOUT cost. Why spend money on what is not bread… and labour on what does not satisfy? ((Isaiah 55:1-2)).
Our mind set comes out of familiarity with the way club work, where membership is decided by members according to the club rules and a person’s status is based on merit, such as length of service, good works or other performance. And of course, membership is dependent on paying the club subscription!
But this, in God’s view, is a membership, not a relationship and only a relationship with Him will feed and sustain us. And coming to Him is open to anyone, on the basis of His gracious acceptance alone. It cannot be earned or merited in any way, because that would make nonsense of the grace which He extends.
Centuries later, the Messiah also foretold by Isaiah came, and we know Him as Jesus, the Lamb of God — so-called because He made Himself a sacrificial offering for our sins. Believing in Him and His act on our behalf is our salvation. Isaiah’s words ring out like a peal of bells, proclaiming “Come, all of you…”. The club subscription, the requirement for regular attendance, is in our minds, not in His mind. He says “Come… without cost”.
The Jews of Jesus’ time found this difficult because they had a club mentality. As descendants of Abraham they claimed entitlement and as those who observed the rituals of the law they considered they had merit. But Jesus went outside ‘the club’ to minister to non-Jews, and at the end He told His team to make disciples of all ethnicities and kinds of people (Matthew 28:19)). So that’s a bit of a blow if, like the Jews of that time, you want to play the entitlement card, but it is truly Good News to anybody, in church or not, who is spiritually hungry and thirsty.
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob knew God as El Shaddai, Almighty God of our Provision. Jewish religiosity would not call God by name (although He had named Himself) but God’s Son, Jesus, teaches us to call God “Father” and to know Him in an intimate way. Still Almighty, still all holy and all knowing, but the big difference is that weare free to come to Him on the basis of Jesus being our Saviour and Lord.
This is not entitlement — we have none. It is our awareness of God’s extraordinary generosity of Spirit to us. This is what the redeemed former slave ship captain and later C of E minister John Newton called “Amazing Grace”:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace, my fears relieved;
How precious did that that grace appear the hour I first believed.