Who is God? Part 3

Those who worship the God of the Bible in spirit and in truth need to be careful not to reduce the Most High to nature, being, evolution, process, humanity, or even religious experiences…No church can long serve the God of truth with an untrue and diminished view of who He is.”

– Gordon R. Lewis & Bruce A. Demarest, “Integrative Theology”

If you conducted an on-the-street survey with the question “Who is God?” how many different answers do you think you would receive?  Given the number of gods that inhabit the minds of individuals, countless gods could outnumber a single nation.  The survey could not offer a list.  The New Age borrows from the old age of ancient Greece and Rome.  The Pantheons would be a meager bunch compared to the number one could count today.

Many gods have arisen because people have sought to imagine God according to the elements of creation. They then depart from the path of knowing the one true God onto another dark, dangerous, and destructive road of idolatry. The study and knowledge of God is a thoughtful lifelong process requiring dependence on Him and what He reveals to us in the Bible.

No one can know God rightly without God first revealing Himself to that person. A corollary to this truth is that no one can then seek after Him unless God first not only reveals Himself but also draws the heart to Him (Romans 3:10). For unless God takes the initiative with each act, everyone in his or her human condition will seek another path.  Many have claimed that people across the world cry out for God and seek after Him.  If we are to believe Paul the Apostle in his statement in Romans 3:10, these many cry out for that which is greater than themselves but one like them.  They want a savior much like Israel wanted a king like the other nations.  Corruption brings about such perverted desires.  Albert Mohler refers to these perverted religious desires as making God into a “therapeutic category” (The Eclipse of God at Century’s End: Evangelicals Attempt Theology with Theism).  Paul quotes from the Psalms of the Old Testament:

The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside…” (Psalm 14:2-3)

When the real God shows up, people exclaim,

“That’s not God, not the god I desire, one I can see, feel, and hear, one who pats me on my back and consoles me in my predicaments, one who gives me wealth, health, lots of toys, recognition, and popularity (instead of ridicule).”

C. S. Lewis wrote,

A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads— better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap— best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband— that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (‘Man’s search for God!’) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us?

– Lewis, C. S., A Year with C. S. Lewis (p. 3). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

As people reject the true biblical God, they create Him according to their imagination, raising in their minds what they want Him to be according to their own desires and their alienation from God. They then design an entire worldview around this god or these gods, projecting on these deities an authority that actually shifts this authority away from God to themselves. Note, it is not to another god to which they shift authority but to themselves. Once they have established their own authority, they can then project on themselves their present condition and include it into their worldview (“I’m OK, you’re OK, but others outside of our circle are downright nasty.”). As a remedy, they offer their own solutions from human-centered philosophy, religion, and psychology.

Seeking?  Yes.  Spiritual?  Yes.  Religious zeal?  Yes.  Seeking after God?  No, that is until He finds us and gives us a willing heart and mind.  All the rest of our seeking, according to Lewis, is dabbling in religion.  God is not at all what we make Him to be.  However, He is everything we need Him to be given our current state of affairs in this destructive, unenviable, hopeless, and violent environment in which we find ourselves.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17)

God loved.  He gave.  He sent.  He saved (delivered from destruction).  In His matchless initiative, He reached out to us in our religious dabbling, philosophizing, and therapeutic machinations.  No initiative on our part comes infinitely close to His strong hand of mercy and grace.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Who is God? Part 2

In the previous article, “Who is God? Part 1,” we examined approaches to God and how the biblical God offers the only true choice for a real and personal God with whom humanity can relate.  However, humanity has decided to pursue its own set of gods deriving from the created order, one who is limited and impersonal.  These are imitations and straw man perversions of the one true God.

This article focuses on the question,

“Why is God as a personal God an important and strategic truth?”

The personal biblical God is indisputable and unanswerable from the view of unbelieving evolution, atheism, and all other idolatrous religions. None of them can explain how humanity can possess the nature of personality (being a person) apart from a personal God. All that other religions and philosophies can do is offer speculation about how impersonal and inanimate matter can ultimately become a person. Speculation is no substitute for truth. This speculation fails because other religions and philosophies cannot identify a clearly defined trajectory from the impersonal to the personal.

God as Personal

While God transcends the created order and our experiences in it, He has a personal nature and is immanent with us.  We do not project on God a personal nature because we are personal beings.  Such a projection is merely speculation and cannot define a clear trajectory from the impersonal to the personal.  In other words, there is no clear and definite answer for explaining the personal nature of human beings except through a personal God.  Rather, He shares this nature of person-hood with humanity because He created us in His image.  The personal God created us in His image with person-hood being a major part of that image.  This creation alone explains how we are persons.

Importance of a Personal God

The personal God provides the only reasonable explanation for the personal nature of humanity.  Humanity’s personal nature is unanswerable from evolution, atheism, impersonal theism, polytheism, and all other idolatrous religions or philosophies. People are unable to relate with the impersonal god(s) of these religions.  None of these provides an adequate religious or philosophical model for explaining how we came to be persons.  Furthermore, the sciences has no means of explaining how we assumed personality. They simply discover the observable and offer an interpretive best guess.  Even then, clashing and competitive interpretations exist among scientists, the social sciences, and philosophies.  We could never know or comprehend love, mercy, forgiveness, justice, patience, gentleness, or other personal qualities apart from God as a person. Individuals defines such qualities in so many conflicting ways.  Without God, these qualities are simply open to interpretation from clashing philosophies.

FOCUS ON THE IMPORTANCE OF THE PERSONAL TRIUNE GOD

It is easy to overlook the importance of the Triune God. Many people do, and end up concluding God to be other than who He is, one arising from the created order or from a myriad imaginations.  One of the most crucial and fundamental characteristics of the image of God in which He created us is the capacity for personal relationship. This characteristic exists as fundamental to the being of the Triune God.  When God created us in His image, that image implanted in us the capacity for relationships.

There is another extremely important reason for understanding why we relate to and worship a personal God. God is a Triune God.  To know the living God is to know the personal Triune God. It is impossible to relate with something impersonal. You cannot have a relationship with a rock, but you can sell them. There is no reciprocation and no capacity to relate. Additionally, humans as personal beings cannot arise from an impersonal state or an impersonal god. The speculation and conjecture of evolution proposes that humans as personal beings can arise from an impersonal source by chance. However, such speculation fails to explain how our person-hood came into existence and how chance alone brought us about.

Let us return to statements from the previous article:

  • When there is a rejection of a personal God and the desire to know Him, this leads to a breach between God and humanity as the historical account of the Fall demonstrated
  • When a breach between the personal God and humanity occurs, worldviews with impersonal gods arise (pantheism, polytheism, animism, agnosticism, atheism).  Atheism and agnosticism assumes the impersonal.  Atheism stands for no god or gods.  There is then no source for relationship resembling the personal and no explanation for the person-hood in humanity.
  • Such worldviews turn men and women inward toward self (isolationism) rather than outward toward God (relational)
  • When other worldviews minimize a personal God, they also tend to minimize the person-hood of humanity. This minimization shows up in the devaluation of individuals in treating them like numbers, statistics, or sources of profit
  • Minimizing the person-hood of humanity leads to devaluing life altogether or valuing life in terms of monetary gain: abortion, human trafficking, and slavery serve as examples of individual devaluation

These statements show why it important to trust a personal God.  Such trust is a personal attribute and demonstrates how the rejection of the true biblical God leads to the devaluation of humanity in various forms: abortion, human trafficking, and slavery.  Some may claim, “Well now, here is a Christian who speaks of value but ignores what Christianity has done in the past.”  This statement raises a straw man “Christianity,” one that is man-centered and not God-centered and biblically centered.  It is easy to point fingers when one pointing them is guilty of the same thing.  The one thing that does away with finger pointing and criticism is humility and faith in the one and only God of which the Bible speak, because He alone informs us of Himself and exposes us for what we really are – those separated from Him, living in darkness from the truth, and in need of Him.

 

Who is God? Part 1

“In this world, the god many believe still has certain characteristics parallel to the God of the Bible…[but] a god without teeth, without majesty. This god fills people with warm fuzzies, but is never feared… dispenses a benevolent love… has little moral bearing…this god may be personal or pantheistic, but is never sovereign and rarely a judge… he or she or it cannot even be called a “god” anymore, but simply “Reality,” since in some religions…there is no place for “god” in any personal sense at all. And underlying all these gods is the great god Pluralism.”

– D. A. Carson, PhD, Professor, Trinity Divinity School, “The SBJT Forum: Is There a Battle to Define God?,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, 1997.

“The very concept of God is among the most contested issues in contemporary thought and culture…the concept of God is merely a matter of emotivism and sentiment…Modern culture commonly denies God as God, as well as the very notion of God as an objective referent.

“In many circles[Evangelical], God is merely a therapeutic category. Many evangelicals are now mostly concerned about what good this God will do for us, how well this God may make us feel, and how much self-esteem this God may give us as His gift.”

(R. Albert Mohler, Jr., The Eclipse of God at Century’s End: Evangelicals Attempt Theology with Theism, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Spring 1997)

When we approach the study of God, we step out on to very holy and mysterious ground, ground on which we tread carefully and prayerfully. Unless we have the Holy Spirit as our Teacher, Counselor, and Guide, we will tend toward error as history from the very beginning illustrates.

Many errors and heresies have arisen because people have sought to The God Many Wantimagine God according to the elements of creation. They then depart from the path of knowing Him onto another dark, dangerous, and destructive road of idolatry. The study and knowledge of God is a thoughtful lifelong process requiring dependence on Him and what He reveals to us in the Bible.

No one can know God rightly without God first revealing Himself to that person. A corollary to this truth is that no one can then seek after Him unless God first not only reveals Himself but also draws the heart to Him (Romans 3:10). For unless God takes the initiative with each act, everyone in his or her human condition will seek another path.

As people reject the true biblical God, they create Him according to their imagination, raising in their minds what they want Him to be according to their own desires and their alienation from God. They then design an entire worldview around this god or these gods, projecting on these deities an authority that actually shifts this authority away from God to themselves. Note, it is not to another god to which they shift authority but to themselves. Once they have established their own authority, they can then project on themselves their present condition and include it into their worldview (“I’m OK, you’re OK, but others outside of our circle are downright nasty.”). As a remedy, they offer their own solutions from human-centered philosophy, religion, and psychology.

There are all sorts of imitations and perversions of God arising from the created order, and we must be aware of them due to the subtle ways they imitate God. The Apostle Paul in Romans informs us of these imitations,

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:20-23)

Idolatry is people seeking to know and worship that which is greater than themselves while rejecting the true biblical God. Idolatry relies on fiction (false knowledge) and myth-telling (speculative story) and has no historical basis.  Idolatry does away with a personal God.  Consider the following possibilities of God:

  • Atheism, Naturalism, Humanism – No god, not even a personal one
  • Agnosticism – Who knows if there is any kind of god let alone a personal one
  • Deism – A distant Providence; An unknowable god with whom no one can relate because he or it is impersonal
  • Polytheism – fictitious and impersonal gods of the created order, that is, no God at all because they do not exist
  • Eastern Religions – Impersonal beings of the created order; unknowable; no God

Only one worldview offers a truly personal God – the biblical worldview:

  • Biblical Theism – God relates to us a Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons, one God. He alone is the personal God who relates to us through His Son. It took a person (Jesus Christ) who came in the flesh to draw us to the one personal God that we may relate with Him and know Him as Father.

It has been said a number of times that we live in a secular world with secular societies.  That is not exactly accurate.  We actually live in a pluralistic religious and spiritual world with people holding on to their own gods, whether they are atheistic, agnostic, deistic, polytheistic, or any number of other gods created from the material universe.  Which type of god do you worship?  In the next post, we will explore this subject in more depth.

Timely Teaching for Troubled Times

As we look around and see a world seemingly out of control with threats of extinction everywhere, it is easy to succumb to fear. We wonder if the world will last another decade or even another year with the incursion of crazies shooting up neighborhoods and “extremism” seeping through our borders. A friend once said that Islamic radicalism has a timeline for conquest. We can also make a long list of opposing forces that seem to overwhelm us and seek to topple our liberties, especially our own faith, both within and outside our nation. I once read a poll that claimed the Christian faith has declined substantially in light of the alleged rise of atheism, agnosticism, and other religious claims. However, is this really true? Did someone take a specific count? Even if true, how does such a claim fit into the span of history in terms of the rise and fall of ideologies and belief systems?  Has it really impacted the decline of the Christian faith?

After mulling over my friend’s comment about Islamic radicalism’s conquest timeline, a thought came to mind based on what Jesus said. God is not on man’s timetable; rather man is on God’s timetable. God does not do man’s bidding, but man does God’s bidding. During the first through third centuries, the Eurasian world witnessed one of the greatest rise of terrorism in history. The forces of General Titus ripped Jerusalem apart in 70 AD so that the entire city laid in ruins. All Jews and Christians were scattered throughout the Middle East and Europe. A line of Roman emperors terrified Jews and Christians throughout the Roman Empire and a massive number of Christians lost all they had, bore the stripes for their faith, and became martyrs. This happened for almost two centuries. Can you imagine two centuries of the reign of terror? Such a reign of terror makes the Civil War look like a small skirmish. However, many remembered the echo of Jesus’ words, “Let not your hearts be troubled (John 14:1)…I will come again (14:3)…You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).

Guess what? Jesus predicted it. He said that not one stone of the Temple in Jerusalem would remain on top of another (Matthew 24:2). He also told His disciples that they would be His witnesses (martyrs and good news bearers) in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to “the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). After the destruction of Jerusalem, its remaining population escaped across the Middle East. Jesus’ disciples had already scattered throughout the known world to spread the gospel because of the persecution they encountered. He sent them His way, and His word took root in the nations and flourished. Man is on God’s timetable; God is not on man’s timetable.

Finally, in the 4th century Constantine brought calm to the Roman Empire after a line of emperors instilled terror and tragedy. In 325 AD, a large group of maimed and physically broken Christians from past persecutions gathered together to hammer out the Nicene Creed for affirming the God we worship, fulfilling Jesus’ command once again. They gave witness to the truth about God just as Jesus commanded them. They remained faithful to Jesus in spite of persecutions, heresies, and the renunciation of faith in Jesus from others.

That calm did not last. The 7th century saw the rise of Islam. It began to spread over the next several centuries as the Christian Church began to succumb to the enemies of corruption, heresies, complacency, and superstition. It lost sight of its focus and mission – the gospel. It also lost sight of its security: “I will come again.” The Church split into two parts: Western and Eastern over a few doctrinal beliefs. It retreated into monasticism. Islam marched across the lands with terrorism for the next millennium as the Dark Ages covered Europe, bringing with it more heresies, superstition, and corruption. Yet, a faithful few remained and continued to bear witness to Christ and obedience to Him.

The crusades arose to beat back Islam from Europe. This took centuries, as Islam grew and receded during this period. The last caliphate of the Ottoman Empire fell during World War I. Jesus predicted wars and rumors of wars but that these would be the beginning of sorrows (Matthew 24:6-8). If He predicted it, then it would come to pass, because He is the Lord of history and the future. Man is on God’s timetable; God is not on man’s timetable.

As Europe emerged from the Dark Ages, the Church surged as the Reformation broke the chains of corruption, heresies, and superstitions with Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and others taking the lead. The Church rediscovered its focus, mission, and message as it battled the enemies of Christ. Migrations continued across Europe and ultimately to the New World, where Christians sought to practice their faith in peace and calm. A Christian revolution named the Great Awakening surged as men like Jonathan Edwards, John and Charles Wesley, George Whitfield and others proclaimed the gospel to this new land. The light of the gospel informed the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution. Man is on God’s timetable through the Holy Spirit as He moves across the world.

However, corruption, heresies, and superstitions continued to emerge and taint the truth. People strayed. Wars arose. The nation divided over slavery as men and women mixed their own messages with the gospel and corrupted its proclamation. We witnessed more world wars with brief interludes between. Churches and denominations populated the landscape and spread their messages throughout the world. Revivals happened. Then came the 1960’s and more wars. Another revolution broke out and made its way into the culture and churches. Churches became enculturated. They lost sight of their Savior and His mission and message.

A myriad of humanistic agendas erupted from our institutions of higher learning as professors dumped their philosophical brands of living on their students.  These students in turn spread these philosophies into more schools, churches, and whole denominations. Humanistic theologians pronounced, “God is dead.” These churches and denominations succumbed to culture and humanistic agendas while embracing lifestyles foreign to the Church and the truth in Jesus. Other gospels emerged. A host of idolatries ran rampant and out shouted Jesus’ words, “Let not your hearts be troubled…I will come again…you are my witnesses.” The end of the 20th century saw the rise of Islam again as corruption, heresies, and superstitions abounded. Many lost sight of the Savior and His words of comfort and confidence.

Today, all the turmoil, terror, and the inroads of propaganda and lies make their way throughout the world and bring about instability, insecurity, and fear. They trouble us as believers, and often doubt arises as this doubt clouds over Jesus’ words, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me…I will come again…you are my witnesses” (John 14:1-3, Acts 1:8). The pendulum swings throughout history from calm to turmoil, threats, and terror. It always will. However, God is not on man’s timetable. Man is on God’s timetable. What did Jesus say? “I will come again.” If He said it, then that means He controls the pendulum swing of history for making His statement a fulfillment. We can be confident in His words. In one of his letters, Paul drew a similar conclusion as Jesus after informing his readers of Jesus’ return, “Comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18).