The Condescension of God
As we stretch the end of the year into the advent season, I always look for the multitude of expressions of how God has come down to us. Perhaps it is why Francis Dubose’s book God Who Sends has meant so much to me. Dubose’s book is significant because it reintroduced the word “missional” for many people. However, even more significant is the message of how “sending” is in the very nature of God. Dubose carefully walks through the entire scriptures to show how God is such a Sender that He even sends Himself for our sakes and His glory.
One of the portions of the Bible that gives insight about our sending God is Psalm 113. In this short song of the Hebrews, we are taught to celebrate the God who stoops to us.
1 Hallelujah! Give praise, servants of Yahweh; praise the name of Yahweh. 2 Let the name of Yahweh be praised both now and forever. 3 From the rising of the sun to its setting, let the name of Yahweh be praised. 4 Yahweh is exalted above all the nations, His glory above the heavens. 5 Who is like Yahweh our God—the One enthroned on high, 6 who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? 7 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the garbage pile 8 in order to seat them with nobles—with the nobles of His people. 9 He gives the childless woman a household, making her the joyful mother of children. Hallelujah.
As would be expected, the psalm calls us to praise God. The song is bookended by shouts of “Hallelujah.” The whole point of thinking about God is to praise God. In fact, Psalm 113-118 are Hallel psalms specifically used during annual feasts. Psalm 113-114 were sung before the Passover meal. (1) Our collective worship, like that of the Israelites, should celebrate the nature of God in how it reaches out to us.
In considering the nature of God, it causes us to look up. Our practice, whether inherent or learned I’m not sure, is to look up when considering God. It is certainly how He has revealed Himself to us. Psalm 113 uses language like exalted and above to emphasize that his glory is in the heavens. He is exalted above us. Isaiah 57:15 emphasizes this fact in saying,
For the High and Exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy says this: “I live in a high and holy place, and with the oppressed and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the oppressed.”
And there is the turn. It is painted beautifully by both the psalmist and the prophet. The Lord stoops. He lives with the lowly and oppressed. He comes down. God condescends to us.
It is not in spite of His majesty but because of His majesty that God condescends to us. In Psalm 113:5, the question is posed to us to answer: “Who is like Yahweh our God…?” It is in describing our great God, in setting Him apart for all others that the psalmist then shows that He comes off of the thrones and “lifts the need from the garbage pile” (v. 7). God departs the throne room of Heaven to visit us in the garbage dumps of Earth.
We see it clearly in verse 14 of Gospel of John’s opening chapter.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Jesus arrives completely mindful of the poor and needy. He travels to the ash heap of our lives. It is the place of abject poverty where people are cast aside like the trash. And what does our God do with those found in such a place? They – or better – we are given a seat of nobility. Imagine that. We are leaving the shanty made from junk. He trades our place of trash for dignity. Our barrenness is replaced with His joyous household.
But all of this happens because of one reason. Jesus is willing to wrap Himself in our injured flesh. (2) It is a terrible trade for Him. It is the greatest of exchanges for us. God has bent down to the dust from whence we were made and rescued us.
Our response to all of this is caught up in the profundity of a prisoner’s letter to a needy group of believers. Part of the letter, we call the Christ Hymn.
5 Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. 7 Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, 8 He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross. 9 For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth— 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:5-11
In the face of God’s condescension to us, we must do the same. People are still dwelling in the garbage heaps. Many are living a barren existence. Our great hope is their great hope. There is no time to lounge in comfort as others suffer in misery. In such a season as this, we should serve as He did and carry such good news to those living in yet to be healed injured flesh.
(1) The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 5, page 713.
(2) An idea borrowed from “Welcome to Our World” by Chris Rice