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The Danger of Idolatry

In Christian theology, God is a theological “Given” who has revealed Himself in Scripture. Thus we are not free to “pick and choose” among the attributes of God as if we were in an ice cream parlor. What God is like in His nature and attributes is not left to our personal tastes.

Humanistic thinkers assume that they are “free” to reject any attribute of God that they cannot fully understand, completely explain, rationally reconcile, and feel happy about. If they don’tlike a certain attribute of God, they have no qualms about throwing it out. But God demands that we accept Him as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. Anything less than this is a rejection of God.

 

The First Commandment

In the First Commandment God tells us, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3).

In this commandment we find that:

  1. There is only one God.
  2. The God who has revealed Himself in Scripture is this God.
  3. He alone is to be worshiped, feared, loved, and obeyed.
  4. We are not free to make up any ideas on our own of what God is like. It does not matter if our ideas seem “reasonable” or “practical” to us. We cannot have any ideas of God except those revealed in Scripture.
  5. Man is not a god-maker or a god-in-the-making. Any concept of the “divinity of man” is idolatrous.
  6. God is His own interpreter. He has revealed Himself and interpreted this self-revelation in Scripture.
  7. Rationalism, empiricism, mysticism, and all other forms of humanism are hereby condemned as idolatry for they would exalt man’s opinion over God’s self-revelation as given in Scripture.
 

The Second Commandment

In the Second Commandment God warns us:

You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for 1, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me, and keep My commandments (Exodus 20:4-6).

 

The text clearly teaches that the greatest evidence of hatred toward God is the refusal to accept Him as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. The converse is also true. The greatest evidence of love toward God is the acceptance of God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture.

Just as the degree to which we accept revelation is the measure of our love of God, even so the degree to which we follow “reason,” “intuition,” or “feelings” instead of revelation is the measure of our hatred of God.

Any attempt to construct a deity on the basis of what is palatable to our rational or aesthetic tastes is sheer unmitigated idolatry. Here is no middle ground, no two ways about it, no compromise on this point. Either we accept God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture or we are idolaters.

This position is quite humbling to fallen man. We don’t like the idea of God’s telling us what He is like. We would much rather make up our own ideas of what God is. Neither do we like the idea of God’s commanding us to obey Him according to what He says is right or wrong. We would much rather make up our own ideas of what is right and what is wrong.

 

Haters of God

Our natural hatred of God comes out in our rebellion against His Word and Law. It is no wonder that we find the Apostle Paul describing fallen men as “haters of God” (Romans 1:30). This hatred of God focuses on a rejection of God’s revelation in Scripture (Romans 8:7).

The desire to be “free” from God’s revelation and God’s Law is the very soul and substance ofall forms of humanism, religious or secular. To a heart filled with hatred toward God, man is not “really” or “genuinely” free unless he can think and do as he pleases as if there were no God or because there is no God. All the humanistic talk about “free will” is nothing more or less than a cheap trick used to deceive Christians.

The Scriptures declare that when man tries to “go it alone” in truth, justice, morals, and beauty, he turns freedom into slavery, liberty into license, good into evil, justice into injustice, truth into error, and beauty into ugliness. All these things can be clearly seen in modern philosophy, theology, and the arts.

But the Christian takes a path to the knowledge of God that is different and more challenging because it takes courage to venture out beyond reason and experience into the truths of revelation. Only a bold and daring spirit will be able to cast itself wholly upon God. Only a mighty faith can launch out and swim in unfathomable depths, while those who trust in their reason can only wade in the shallows.

 

The Loss of Mystery

One of the greatest problems we face in theology today is the lack of any sense of mystery. No one wants to believe in anything that goes beyond the capacity of man to comprehend. Thus the awe and the wonder of the mysteries of God are entirely absent in modern theology. Everything must be explained, sewn up, tied up, and put away in neat little packages.

With the demise of the awe and wonder of mystery in modern theology, faith is not desirable. Humanistic philosophers such as the processians demand “comprehension,” not mystery; “coherence,” not faith; “reason,” not revelation. The absence of true mystery has always been the breeding ground of heresy.

No wonder modern theology is quite arid and sterile. It is insufferably boring. Its world is drab and gray. It is totally bereft of the bright colors of wonder, awe, and mystery. It merely apes the fads of secular philosophy. Thus it is one vast wasteland littered with the bones of those foolish enough to enter it.

But the Bible begins and ends with mystery. Thus the Biblically informed Christian can rejoice in his God. He is not depressed because he can’t explain everything and answer every question. He frankly admits that he does not have everything tied up in neat little packages. By faith he can venture out beyond the shallows of reason into the uncharted and unfathomable depths of God’s mysteries. He is not afraid of accepting by faith alone those mysteries revealed in Scripture.

The word mystery is found twenty-seven times in the New Testament. In the Gospels, Jesus often spoke of the “mysteries of the Kingdom” (Matthew 13:11). In the Epistles, Paul uses the word no fewer than twenty times. He spoke of God, His Word, His Will, the Gospel, the Faith, and the Church as “mysteries” (1 Corinthians 4:1; Ephesians 1:9; Colossians 1:26; 1 Timothy 3:9; Ephesians 5:32).

The Biblical concept of “mystery” had no relationship to the Gnostic idea of an esoteric secret told only to an initiated few, as in the ancient mystery religions and modern-day cults and lodges that have secret words, symbols, and rites. The Biblical concept simply meant that God had revealed an idea no human mind ever conceived.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 2:7, Paul speaks of the “mystery” of God’s wisdom as displayed in the Gospel. In this passage Paul tells us that this wisdom was a “mystery” because:

  1. It was “hidden” from man’s sight and perception (v. 7).
  2. It was “predestined before the ages to our glory,” i.e., it was an idea conceived in the mind of God in eternity before time began (v. 7).
  3. It was something “none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory” (v.8). If they understood that Christ had come to die according to an eternal predetermined plan, they would have rebelled and refused to murder the Son of God.
  4. This mystery was something “which eye has not seen and ear has not heard,” i.e., something beyond human experience.
  5. It contained ideas that “have not entered the heart of man,” i.e., things beyond human reason and comprehension. This “mystery” was something man could never discover on the basis of his own experience or reason. The only way for man to know of it was through Divine revelation. Thus Paul goes on to say that this was a mystery that “God revealed through the Spirit, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (vv. 10-13).

 

Not only is a mystery something man would have never conceived on his own, it is also something that goes beyond his capacity to comprehend. For example, in Ephesians 1:4-11, when Paul touches on God’s sovereign will and His decrees of election and predestination, which took place “before the foundation of the world,” he speaks of all these things in terms of “the mystery of His will” (v. 9).

Paul speaks of God’s electing will as a “mystery.” Who can explain how “He is working all things together according to the counsel of His will” and, at the same time, is not the Author of evil? How is it that we are told in James 1:13-14:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.

Yet, at the same time, we are told to ask God not to lead us into temptation (Matthew 6:13)? Or, that God provides us with an escape from the temptation which He also provided (1 Corinthians 10:13)?

Who can fully explain how “God is working all things together for our good” (Romans 8:28)? Or how was Judas to blame for betraying the Lord when Jesus said that it “had been determined” by God for him to do it (Luke 22:22)?

What is important for us to understand is that questions relating to God’s will and human destiny are placed in the category of “mystery” by the authors of Scripture. Just as the doctrine of the Trinity is a “mystery” and no one will ever explain how God can be Three but One and One but Three, neither will anyone cut the “Gordian knot” of Divine sovereignty and man’s accountability. Our responsibility is not to pass judgment on revealed truth but to submit to it in awe.

But what if we decide that we will accept only those doctrines of the Bible that “agree with reason”? Those who have an evangelical background will usually reject God’s sovereignty, divine election, God’s foreknowledge, original sin, and the vicarious nature of the atonement.

But once the principle is laid down that only what is “reasonable” can be accepted, such doctrines as the deity of Christ will have to be rejected, for who can fully explain how Jesus can be both God and man? How can one person have two natures? Who can make the incarnation “coherent”?

We freely admit that it is a complete mystery to us how Jesus was both God and man. But it is a revealed mystery we gladly accept by faith on the authority of Scripture. Why should we abandon the authority of God’s Word for the authority of the word of His enemies? But rationalists cannot live in the same universe with mystery.

 

Conclusion

Over the years we have observed a process of apostasy that begins with the rejection of the mystery of God’s sovereignty and then proceeds to the rejecting of the mystery of the inerrancy of Scripture, the authority of Scripture, the incomprehensibility of God, the infinite nature of God, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit, the sinful nature of man, the historicity of Biblical miracles, the accuracy of the Gospel narratives, and the eternal punishment of the wicked.

The driving force that pushes people down this path of apostasy is their refusal to bow in humility before the Word of God. They will not accept the many seemingly conflicting statements of Scripture. They cannot abide mystery in any form. Whatever cannot be rationally explained, they will eventually throw out. They always assume the Greek “eitheror” dichotomy in every issue and refuse to acknowledge the “both-and” solution of Scripture because it would throw the issue back into mystery.

We grow weary of hearing that we must choose either God’s sovereignty or man’s responsibility. Why is it always assumed that we can’t accept both? Why do processians assume that if man is free, God must be bound? Why is it assumed that divine election and evangelism cannot both be true? So what if we can’t resolve all the questions that humanistic philosophers raise? Ought we not to please God rather than man?

We desire not to judge God’s Word but to be judged by it. We strive not to conform the Word to our opinions but our opinions to the Word. We demand not that revelation be in accord with reason but that reason be in accord with revelation. We seek not to master the Bible but to be mastered by it.

This is an excerpt of Exploring the Attributes of God by Robert Morey

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