Christians confess that God is. Indeed, his name is “I am” (Exodus 3:14). According to Hebrews 11, a fundamental aspect of pleasing him is believing that he exists: “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). But unless we are philosophers, words like existence and being and is are fairly bland. They don’t awe us (though they should).
Perhaps that’s why the Bible regularly stresses that God doesn’t merely exist, but that he lives. “The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation” (Psalm 18:46).
A common oath throughout the Old Testament is “as the Lord lives.” What’s more, references to “the living God” are highlighted in some key biblical stories. Reflecting on the biblical witness to the living God may stir our affections more than simple statements about his existence.
Not Like the Idols
The Bible often refers to Yahweh as the living God in order to set him apart from the idols of the nations. In Jeremiah 10, the prophet exhorts Israel to avoid the vain customs of the people. He looks with disdain on the making of an idol:
A tree from the forest is cut down
and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman.
They decorate it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails
so that it cannot move. (Jeremiah 10:3–4)
The idols of the nations are “like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak.” What’s more, “they have to be carried, for they cannot walk.” There’s no reason to fear them, since they can do neither evil nor good (Jeremiah 10:5).
Isaiah echoes the same truth in chapter 45 of his oracle. The nations “carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save” (45:20). Isaiah 46 elaborates:
Bel bows down; Nebo stoops;
their idols are on beasts and livestock;
these things you carry are borne
as burdens on weary beasts.
They stoop; they bow down together;
they cannot save the burden,
but themselves go into captivity.
“Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth,
carried from the womb;
even to your old age I am he,
and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save.” (Isaiah 46:1–4)
The contrast couldn’t be clearer. Donkeys carry the idols of the nations; Yahweh carries his people. Idols can’t even save themselves; the Lord saves his people.
According to Jeremiah 10:6–7, this is why Yahweh is unique.
There is none like you, O Lord;
you are great, and your name is great in might.
Who would not fear you, O King of the nations?
For this is your due;
for among all the wise ones of the nations
and in all their kingdoms
there is none like you.
“Donkeys carry the idols of the nation; Yahweh carries his people. Idols can’t even save themselves; the Lord saves his people.”
In contrast, the nations are “both stupid and foolish,” worshiping wood overlaid with gold and silver, and clothed with violet and purple by the hands of men (Jeremiah 10:8–9). “But,” the prophet says, “the Lord is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King” (Jeremiah 10:10).
This is a fundamental difference between the Lord and the gods of the nations. The Lord is the living God. He’s not a statue. He’s not dead; he is alive. When Yahweh is on the move, it’s not because someone put him on their shoulders. He comes and goes as he pleases.
‘You Are God Alone’
He is the living God who speaks from the fire (Deuteronomy 5:26). He dwells with his people and drives out their enemies (Joshua 3:10). When David confronts the giant Goliath, he is particularly incensed that the uncircumcised Philistine has defied “the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17:26, 36). Likewise, Hezekiah appeals to Yahweh for deliverance when Sennacherib, king of Assyria, mocks “the living God” (2 Kings 19:4, 16). He pleads with Yahweh,
Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone. (2 Kings 19:17–19)
King Darius, after being tricked into casting Daniel into the den of lions, calls Daniel the “servant of the living God” (Daniel 6:20). When he sees that God has preserved Daniel, he decrees that all peoples “tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end” (Daniel 6:26).
In the New Testament
In the New Testament, Paul echoes the prophets when he urges the inhabitants of Lystra to “turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them” (Acts 14:15).
However, we also discover some surprising things about the living God in the New Testament. He has a Son, as Peter confesses when Jesus asks who the disciples say that he is. “You are the Christ, the son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). More than that, the living God has a Spirit, as Paul testifies to the Corinthians: “You are a letter from Christ . . . written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God” (2 Corinthians 3:3). The living God is the triune God, eternally subsisting in three persons.
The triune God also has a household, “the church of the living God, the pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). More than that, those of us who have set our hope on the living God as our Savior have now become the temple of the living God, in whom and with whom he dwells (2 Corinthians 6:16). We are the children of the living God, as numerous as the sand on the seashore (Hosea 1:10; Romans 9:26).
“Have you considered recently how wonderful it is to draw near to the God who exists, the God who is?”
And as such, we take care, lest there be in any of us an evil, unbelieving heart, leading us to fall away from the living God (Hebrews 3:12). Our consciences have been purified by the blood of Christ so that we no longer offer dead works, but instead serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14). And one way or another, we will have to eternally face the living God. Either we will fall into the hands of the living God (a fearful and terrifying prospect, Hebrews 10:31), or we will come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, and to his innumerable angels in festal gathering (Hebrews 12:22).
Longing for the Living God
But perhaps the most striking note about the living God is expressed twice in the Psalms. It is the note of longing after such a God.
As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God. (Psalm 42:1–2)
And then again, in Psalm 84:
How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God. (Psalm 84:1–2)
Have you considered recently how wonderful it is to draw near to the God who exists, the God who is? And more than that, to draw near to the God who lives and who is to us the fountain of life? We come to him to drink, to satisfy our souls with the greatest reward that he offers: himself.