Understanding God

Early in this week’s Truth Project video, Del Tackett said

Nothing that is true contradicts the nature of God.

Amen and amen.  This is absolutely vital, especially in the sort of wide-ranging endeavor that Tackett is engaged in.  See some resources for a further exploration of its implications in different fields here under week 4.

Coming to grips with the truth of God is not the work of five minutes.  The effort is coextensive with sanctification, and it is, at very least, the work of a lifetime.  A couple of paragraphs down on this week’s handout, I find the following:

At the same time, there is no assignment more daunting, no task more demanding…than that of seeking to understand the being, nature, character and attributes of the eternal Creator, who is Himself the ultimate source of all truth (Colossians 2:3).  So impossibly huge is this endeavor that we could not hope to tackle it at all except for the fact that He has graciously revealed Himself to us in His Word.  Apart from this revelation, mankind gropes and struggles in the darkness to piece together even the most flawed and rudimentary concept of God.

A hearty “Amen!” to the first part, but there is a problem here, and the problem is the words “in His Word” at the end of the second sentence.  Apart from the Bible, Tackett says, we have to grope around to find anything of God.  There is a sense in which this is true, as Paul says on the Areopagus:

And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him…

Mankind is blind and in darkness, worshipping idols instead of the true God, Paul says, but God has so designed man’s existence that it points man to Himself, so that even in the darkness man might grope after Him.  But there’s a catch.  Paul continues in the same sentence:

…though He is not far from each one of us;  for in Him we live and move and have our being….

So why is it that man does not find God, if He is not far from any of us?  Paul tells us in Romans 1:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 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.  Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves,  who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

And herein lies the problem with the statement in the handout.  Even apart from the Bible, man does not have to hunt for the basic facts about God; we already have them.  The problem is not that men don’t know God, but that they don’t like Him. Because they refuse to glorify Him, their thinking grows futile and their hearts grow dark, and in their darkness they descend to the madness of idolatry.  It was precisely this madness for which Paul rebuked the Athenians.  Why are they in the dark?  Is it because they don’t have the Bible yet?  No!  It is because they fled from clear knowledge of God and did their best to suppress their knowledge of Him.  When Paul found them in their self-inflicted darkness, they were not groping after God, because they were afraid they would find Him, which, Paul says, they would have, because “He is not far from each one of us.”

Now of course, apart from God revealing Himself, we would not know Him.  But God is already revealed in the world that He made, and it’s not as if we can choose to live somewhere else.  So it is not true that mankind would know nothing of God apart from the Bible, because in the creation, God already confronts us always and everywhere with Himself.

So what?

So understand that when you take the gospel to an unbeliever, it is not the case that he has always been ready to believe, if only someone would give him the truth.  It is not true that he’s “never heard.”  It is not true that he simply lacks enough evidence. He is not a well-intentioned person who suffers in ignorance purely because nobody ever showed him a Bible.

He’s the very opposite.

He is a willing captive of the enemy.  He does not want to be freed.  In his heart of hearts, he knows God, and he has fled God, straight into the futility, darkness and madness that afflicts his life and his soul.  God gave him over to these things, and he’s glad; he accepts them because he prefers them; he would rather be futile, dark and insane than have to face the God of the universe.  (Hard to believe?  It’s what Romans 1 says.  If you want to see it in action, read Nietzche sometime; he’s clearer about the choices than most pagans.)

You take this person the Good News that God hasn’t given up on him as completely as he’d hoped.  In fact, he will one day face God regardless, and God has assured us of this by raising Christ from the dead.  No wonder he doesn’t like hearing it — as Paul says elsewhere, it is the aroma of death, leading to death for someone who does not want to face God.

Of course, the rest of the story is that the unbeliever need not wait until he is forced to reckon with God.  He can face God as a forgiven son rather than as a stubborn enemy, because Christ died for his sins, and because Christ was raised to a new life, he can enter into everlasting life in God’s presence without fear.

Every knee will bow.  You can go easy, or you can go hard.

As we share Christ with people, we would do well to remember that it’s not in human nature to want to hear this — but God made man for Himself, and by grace man responds to the truth anyway.

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4 Responses to Understanding God

  1. Jim Reitman says:

    Love the Nietzsche thing, Tim. As usual, spot on.

    The same mentality shows up early in Ecclesiastes as the tenacious self-determination of Qohelet. See esp. the progressive petulance exhibited toward the end of chapter 2 as this quintessence of self-reliance is forced to concede that no matter how hard he has worked in life to build his own legacy, God [still] gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight; but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting, that he may give to him who is good before God. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind.

    This is a grudging concession by someone who clearly sees himself as the “sinner”—one who by sheer self-determination has piled up a monumental legacy, only to cede the whole thing to whomever God favors.

    (See exposition in Unlocking Wisdom, 222-25.)

  2. Tim Nichols says:

    And God favored Jeroboam. I bet that was rough.

    I read the section in Unlocking Wisdom that you cited, and — intrigued by a passing comment about chapter 3 — kept reading. It’s interesting, and a propos of recent events elsewhere in the blogosphere, that Qoheleth’s next attempt at significance is performing a series of prescribed good works. Certain people seem to be doing a set of prescribed theological good works, hoping to craft an enduring movement, which is to say, a legacy. They call themselves shepherds, but it’s the autumn wind that they’re shepherding: comes in like a lamb; goes out like a herd of big, big cats…

    I look forward to seeing the lions gathered in united worship and the wind-shepherds marginalized. “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

  3. Jim Reitman says:

    I figured you’d be hooked into the next chapter.

    Oh wad some power the giftie gie us, To see oursel’s as others see us!

    from: Robert Burns’ Ode to a Louse

    Yep.

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