When I was a kid, I always enjoyed the coloring books with “dot-to-dots.” It might have been the first indicator that engineering would be in my future. When first learning to connect the dots, I paid close attention to the numbers, ensuring the figure that was developing was correct. In short order, I discovered that if I “stepped back” and observed the arrangement of the dots, I was able to envision the figure that was about to emerge. Since I knew what the ultimate figure was likely to look like, I could stray from using just straight lines, ending up with a more artistic version of the picture.
One of my top five CliftonStrengths is Connectedness. When I am able to connect dots in life, things make a lot more sense to me (I’m guessing I’m not alone in this). This is especially true when connections lead to a better understanding of Context (another of my top five Strengths). I’m guessing I’m not alone in this, either. I think it’s an important consideration when it comes to practical theology, to our understanding of who God is and what he is up to.
As previously discussed, theological understanding comes through the reading and interpretation of scripture in context. The greatest context, of course, is all of scripture. As we continuously spend time in scripture in its full context, dots get connected and themes begin to emerge – themes that allow us to “step back,” giving us a better understanding of who God is and what he’s doing in his creation. One example is the theme of Justice that threads throughout scripture (see What is Justice?).
About 35 years ago, through an Old Testament seminary course, I was introduced to a theme that has helped me connect biblical dots, giving me a context that has informed my reading of scripture ever since. It’s a theme woven throughout scripture. That theme? “I will be your God and you will be my people” in some manner, shape, or form.
The theme first appeared in the book of Genesis when God called Abram (Abraham) and his descendants to be a blessing to the world, to participate in His project of “putting creation back to rights,” as N.T. Wright would say. After changing Abram’s name to Abraham (meaning father of a multitude), God told him of a covenant that he was about to establish with His people (Abraham and his descendants). The covenant was to include land and the inclusion that “I will be their God” (Genesis 17:1-8). For the restoration project to succeed the people needed to follow God’s lead, letting him be God.
The people seemed to like the idea of being God’s chosen, but not so much the idea of following his lead. Hundreds of years later, we find his people in captivity as slaves in Egypt. As God was about to rescue them from captivity, he said through Moses, “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God” (Exodus 6:6-7). At this pivotal point in human history, God reminded the Israelites that he was God (and presumably, they were not), promising that he would lead and care for them. As the people followed his lead, God provided for them and reminded them of their covenant relationship to him – e.g., “I will put my dwelling place among you…I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people” (Leviticus 26:11-12).
As we watch the story unfold, we see a recurring pattern. The people strayed from letting God be God, got themselves in trouble, requiring God to repeatedly rescue them. As we watch the story continue to unfold, God repeatedly reminded his people of this covenant relationship to him. We find the theme in both the Old and New Testaments:
- I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart. (Jeremiah 24:7, NIV)
- And they shall know that I am the Lord their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord God. And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 34:30-31, ESV)
- The Apostle Paul, drawing from Leviticus 26 and Ezekiel 37 – For we are the temple of the living God. As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (2 Corinthians 6:16, NLT)
- The author of Hebrews, drawing from Jeremiah 31 – This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (Hebrews 8:10, NIV)
- And from the book of Revelation – I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (Revelation 21:3, NIV)
Since this theme threads its way throughout the entire Biblical narrative, it translates to us as Christ-followers today. God wants to be God (which he is very good at, by the way) and has invited us to be his people. If we live in that relational understanding, “all will be well” (Jeremiah 7:23, NLT). I’m not intimating that following Jesus is easy or simplistic. But I do know this: God wants to be our God and he wants us to be his people. This is bottom-line stuff. It’s the stuff that helps us connect dots.