The Condescending God?
Who can be compared with the LORD our God, who is enthroned on high? He stoops to look down on heaven and on earth. He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump.
If I were to say to you, “That person was condescending to me,” this would not be a compliment. Those who act in a condescending way look down their long, important noses at us. They think that they are “big people” and treat us as “little people.”
But Christian theologians use the language of condescension in a different way. God condescends to us, not by reminding us of our smallness and neediness, but rather by stooping to help us. The God who exceeds all human understanding nevertheless makes himself known to us in the Word written and the Word made flesh. The God in whom there is no sin takes our sin upon himself so that we might be saved. The God who created the universe helps us when we are weak. In these ways and countless others, God condescends for our sake.
This gracious action is celebrated in Psalm 113. The Lord who is enthroned on high nevertheless stoops to look down upon us. Yet he is not, as the pop song proclaims, just “watching us from a distance.” Rather God reaches down in mercy to lift “the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump” (113:7). What an amazing picture of God’s condescension!
This psalm foreshadows the greatest divine act of condescension, even humiliation. In Philippians 2, we see Jesus who,
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (2:6-8)
In the incarnation and death of Jesus, God did more than just stoop to help us. He became one of us, sharing in our weakness and bearing our sin. Thus, in Jesus, we see most clearly the self-giving love and merciful condescension of God.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever experienced God lifting you from the dust? When? How has God reached down to help you in your daily life or work? Do you need this sort of help today? In what way?
PRAYER: Gracious Lord, you are, indeed, enthroned above the highest heaven. You are great beyond greatness, glorious beyond glory. All praise be to you for your majesty and power and sovereignty!
Yet, in love and mercy, you look down upon us. And not only look, but reach down to help us. And not only reach, but come down to be with us in Jesus. And not only share life with us, but take our sin and bear it. How wonderful you are!
Thank you, dear Lord, for all the times you have reached down to help me. How good you are, how gracious and kind! May I live in the confidence of your grace today, giving it away to others.
In the name of Jesus, who humbled himself, Amen.