Ode To The Unknown God (V)

The Unmoved Mover

The God Who Doesn’t Do Anything

Many of the pagan religions had a concept of a supreme creator-god, the one who brought the world into existence but, for one reason or another, was no longer actively involved in his creation. Even the Greek gods and goddesses who supposedly dwelt on Mt. Olympus were basically alienated from man and very rarely became involved with him. Aristotle’s “Unmoved Mover” was totally incapable of being interested in, and totally indifferent to, affairs on this earthly plane. Without thought of human affairs, Epicurus’ gods dwelt in undisturbed bliss in the alleged void between the universes, eating, drinking and speaking Greek.

17th- and 18th-century Deism, although not classified as pagan, is the classic example of the world’s inclination toward the idea of an absentee (or “faraway”) God or gods. According to Deists, the Creator set the universe into motion and endowed it with everything necessary (i.e., “natural laws”) for it to continue indefinitely. As such, our universe was thought to be the perfect perpetual motion machine. Since creation, the God of the Deists has not interfered with the natural laws He set in motion at the beginning. In his description of Deism, R. H. Tawney wrote:

…God has been thrust into the frigid altitudes of infinite space. There is a limited monarchy in heaven, as well as on earth. Providence was the spectator of the curious machine which it had constructed and set in motion, but the operation of which it was neither able nor willing to control…”1

Thomas “The Age of Reason” Paine, along with Thomas “Nature and Nature’s God” Jefferson, and Benjamin “God helps those who help themselves” Franklin, to mention just three of our “Founding Fathers,” fully imbibed the Deistic concept of God. Although religion was important to these men, it was, unfortunately, the rationalistic religion of nature. It was Paine who said, “My own mind is my church.” Franklin went a step further and advocated a public religion that would promote good citizenship and morality, but would not meddle in affairs confined solely to the realm of reason (e.g., science and politics).

It seems clear that these ideas reflected the views of Voltaire, who said: “The only book that should be read is the great book of nature. The sole religion is to worship God and to be an honorable man. This pure and everlasting religion cannot possibly produce harm.”2 Thomas Jefferson’s “Nature” and “Nature’s God,” mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, was, contrary to what many of us have thought, a reflection of Deist, not Christian, concepts—concepts which, once divorced from any idea of a Creator, would eventually develop into the secular humanism so prevalent in 21st-century America.

The Deistic worldview developed, in part, because of Newtonian physics, which at the time was a fairly new scientific theory. Newton’s theory made it easy to think of the world as a great machine (viz., a clock) preset to run with amazing regularity. This new way of thinking played right into the hands of the Deists. In his description of Deism, Augustus H. Strong said, “God builds a house, shuts himself out, locks the door, and then ties his own hands in order to make sure of never using the key.”3

What this meant was that, according to Deists, reason alone (i.e., reason unaided by special or supernatural revelation) would provide the ultimate solution to every problem. Unaided by any outside influence, man was the answer to his own problem, so it was thought. Eventually, this kind of thinking would come to be reflected in Humanist Manifesto I and Humanist Manifesto II, which said, “No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.”

This “clock-work” universe was a powerful influence in the development of American culture. Because we came to believe that nature is totally self-contained, we learned the necessity of being self-sufficient. As Americans who had, quite ironically, learned from our Puritan forefathers the necessity of hard work, we hunkered down and learned the lesson of self-sufficiency quite well. Supposing that the only two elements that keep the world going are natural law and human reason, we came to believe that “man can attack and overcome by education and technical means, and good will, all the evils of life.”4

Understandably, Calvinism, the then prevalent “Christian” way of thinking, suffered immensely under this new worldview. “The Calvinistic idea that man had absolutely nothing to do with his own salvation made little sense to the frontiersman, who knew only too well that his temporal salvation was in his own hands.”5

This new paradigm served us well. Realizing our own potential, and knowing our need to save ourselves, we pursued the improvement of our predicament with a passion that has yet to be surpassed. We improved our knowledge of our surroundings and discovered cures for diseases that had plagued mankind down through the centuries. Collectively and individually, we improved our lot. We invented machines that helped us grow in industrial might. Having conquered the work-a-day world, we then turned our attention to home and leisure and created gadgets that made life so much more comfortable than it had been before. Slowly, but surely, we developed into the masters of our own destiny. As such, we have become a nation of technological giants. Yes, there are those in other nations who make more money than we do, but no one actually lives better than Americans. But in the process of becoming technological giants, we evolved into a nation of moral and intellectual pygmies.

Today, hardly anyone wants to think and know. Instead, we desire to feel and experience. Therefore, that which reinforces our “feelings” about the rightness of our religion is not doctrine, which demands thinking, but sentiment, which only craves feelings. Even the goal of modern “Christianity” is not to change the hearer’s mind, as much as it is to change his feelings. One such “sentiment” making the “Christian” circuit that aptly demonstrates this point is the idea that in order to heal emotionally we must first learn to forgive “God” for all the hurt we have experienced in our lives. Why? Because a God who is not omnipotent, like an imperfect parent, ought to be forgiven for His shortcomings. From a biblical standpoint, such thinking is obviously wrong. But modern Christendom, which has thrown sound biblical doctrine overboard, no longer cares what people think about Bible doctrine. What it wants to know is how they feel: What do you feel is your problem? What do you feel should be the most important thing in your life? How do you feel about this, that and the other? Such has aptly been called “the religion of Dr. Feelgood,” and there is no doubt that it is the religion of American Christendom.

This is the philosophical and theological environment in which we currently live. It appears that many of us who are members of Christ’s church have not immunized ourselves from such. In fact, some of us have allowed such thinking to affect our minds. Having been taught that the age of miracles is over, some of us feel very comfortable with the materialistic rationalism now so prevalent in our society. Such comfortableness is a serious mistake that reflects a critical misunderstanding of God’s Word. Yes, the Bible teaches that the miracles (i.e., “signs” and “wonders”) that were so essential to the initial confirmation of God’s Word6 are no longer necessary.7 Yes, the “perfect law of liberty”8 has been “once for all delivered to the saints”9 and, therefore, does not need to be continually confirmed or verified by miracles. However, and herein lies the crux of the matter, God, who is, by His very nature, supernatural, is still very much involved in this world.10 Standing above and apart from our experiences (i.e., that which we can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell), there is a supernatural dynamic at work. Unlike the sham gods of heathenism, Jehovah remains both interested and active in His creation.

Therefore, the idea of providence, the concept of a God who is active in His creation, is an important tenet of New Testament Christianity. In fact, the concept is so indigenous to a biblical world view that I have never known a Christian to actually denies it. What I have heard them do, however, is to describe God’s providence in such a way as to, in essence, deny it. For example, I know of brethren who will not pray for the healing of those who have been diagnosed as terminally ill. To do so, they think, would be asking God to perform a miracle, and God, they are quick to tell us, does not work that way today. When you ask these brethren if they believe in the providence of God, they say, “Of course!” What, then, do they mean when they say, “God’s providence?” They mean, “God working in the natural world through natural means.” This, of course, seems to be nothing more than Thomas Jefferson’s “Nature” and “Nature’s God.” Therefore, when one of these brethren speaks of God’s providence, while at the same time limiting this providence to nature, he is engaged in orthotalksy, and this whether he realizes it or not.

Teaching what the Bible says about the “chastening of the Lord”11 meets with a great deal of resistance in many churches today. Why? “Because,” we are told, “God simply does not work that way today.” What way? “Well, you know, miracles; He no longer works miracles today.” So? “Well, if He were actually in the business of chastening anyone today, He would be interjecting Himself into the world which, by definition, would be a supernatural act, something He has said in His Word that He would not be doing in this age.” But where in His Word has God ever taught such a doctrine? Unfortunately, it’s about this time in the dialogue that someone begins to get upset.

The Scriptures say:

My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons (Hebrews 12:5-8).

In other words, the Bible teaches that the Lord is actively involved in disciplining His children. How He does this I cannot be sure, but there is nothing in the Bible that teaches me that it must be done “only in and through the Word,” as many seem to think. Furthermore, anyone who gives lip-service to God’s providence—in this case, special providence—but denies He is involved in the chastening of His sons, is engaged in orthotalksy.

After doing some writing on the activity of Satan and his demonic horde, a preacher contacted me about what he thought to be problems with what I had written. His position, which has been widely read in the brotherhood, is that Satan, since his defeat by Jesus Christ, is locked away in prison and has no immediate input into the struggle currently taking place between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. Satan’s only influence on the world, according to this brother, is residual. His agents are not demons, but men and women who have been influenced to do evil by the false teachings that have filtered down through the ages. According to this brother, the “doctrines of demons,” that some were going to fall prey to in the “latter times,”12 were not doctrines taught by demons; they were, instead, false doctrines about demons, who were, in reality, nothing more than the figments of man’s imagination.

Although it is true that Satan has been defeated by our Lord and is, consequently, limited in what he can do, he is still very much a part of the battle raging here on planet Earth. The Bible makes it clear that this defeated enemy is still a formidable foe who goes about, according to 1 Peter 5:8, as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. In other words, the Bible identifies Satan as the “Lame-Duck” ruler of this world who remains active (although curtailed) between the “D-Day” of the cross and the “V-Day” of the Lord’s Second Coming. When I asked my brother about this verse, he said it was just a metaphor and was not meant to be taken literally. Acknowledging that the passage was speaking of the Devil metaphorically, I asked him if he thought the metaphor accurately depicted his position that Satan is locked away in a prison somewhere and is unable to have any direct influence on the world in which we live. In reply, he just repeated that the passage was a metaphor and not to be taken literally. To me, it sounded like this brother was saying 1 Peter 5:8 is no longer valid.

In contrast to the idea that Satan is no longer active, the Bible teaches that we must guard our minds against Satan’s onslaughts. It teaches that the Devil can both blind13 and corrupt our minds through deception.14 In opposition to the wisdom that comes from above, we are told there is the wisdom that comes from below—a wisdom that is earthly, sensual, and devilish.15 Those exhibiting this kind of wisdom, according to Ephesians 2:2-3, are “walking according to the prince of this world.” So, even when I grant that the immediate cause of much of this is residual, as my esteemed brother correctly teaches, this in no way prevents Satan from being directly (i.e., personally) or indirectly (through his angels, demons, evil spirits or human agents) involved in deluding and blinding mankind to the Truth. And although it is absolutely true that none of this can happen without our cooperation, it does, in fact, happen. How do I know? The Bible tells me so.

But this is not all. The Bible teaches that if we do not love the truth, God will permit us to be deluded.16 The one who has God’s permission to do this deluding is the “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.”17 Therefore, we are instructed to put on the “whole armor of God” so that we will be able to stand against “all the wiles” of the Devil.18 Incidentally, the very context of Ephesians 6 is, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (v. 12). This is not just theological fiddle-faddle, as some seem to think. This is, instead, the clear and emphatic teaching of God’s Word. This is why the Scriptures instruct us to “gird up the loins of [our] mind[s].”19 Unfortunately, too many of us think and act like there is no real battle going on today. But make no mistake about it, there is a real battle going on in our time, and the object of this battle is our mind.

When I asked my brother why the Holy Spirit would have spent so much time warning us about something that could not, according to his belief, happen anyway, he insisted, quite emphatically, that Satan was not able to put ideas into our minds today. When I asked, Why not?, he first argued that it would be a violation of our free wills. So, I pointed out to him that Satan put something into the mind of Judas without violating his free will.20 He then argued that if Satan were permitted to do this today, then he would be exercising more power than God. How was this?, I asked. “Well,” he said, “God works only in and through the Word today, and if Satan can put things into our minds, then he is exercising more power than God.”21

I assured my brother that although I understood the Bible to be teaching that no one can be saved apart from his obedience to the gospel, I do not believe it teaches that God is limited to working “only in and through the Word,” whether it be in conversion, or anywhere else. “Well,” he said, “name something God does today apart from His Word.” I then spent a few moments trying to assure him that I did not want to denigrate the Word of God in any sense. Nevertheless, I told him, I believe there is nothing in the Bible that teaches that God’s providence (whether general or special) must take place “only in and through the Word.” In conjunction with this, I pointed out that if wisdom came “only in and through the Word,” then the command in James 1:5-7 is grossly misleading. In this passage, we are asked to pray for wisdom, which the Lord will then give to those who ask in faith. Contextually, this wisdom is not limited to a study of God’s Word which, I pointed out, does provide wisdom, but encompasses that which is received directly from God in response to our prayers. But according to my brother, this is simply not so. He contended, unflinchingly, that because we no longer live in the miraculous age, God has limited His actions to the Word. Therefore, he argued if Satan could directly influence our minds today, then he would definitely be more powerful than God. The conclusion of the matter, as far as the aforementioned brother is concerned, is that God is limited to working “only in and through the Word” today. Any other conclusion, he believes, leads us into the deluded fallacies of Pentecostalism.

Brethren, the Scriptures teach that we are engaged in a great spiritual battle against a mighty host of spiritual wickedness. That there are more than a few among us who do not understand this is indicative of the degree to which we have absorbed the spirit of this age. It seems that some of us have become 21st century Sadducees, believing neither in angels nor spirits,22 and “knowing neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.”23

Yes, Pentecostalism is certainly filled to the brim with “deluded fallacies.” But as wrong as Pentecostalism is, at least Pentecostals believe in a God who is still actively involved in His creation. That so many of God’s people no longer believe that He is, is, in my opinion, a grievous error that plagues the modern church, and reflects the teachings of the modified neo-Deists who stand in our pulpits today and preach both an absentee God and a watered down Gospel.

Some, no doubt, will be terribly troubled by what I’m saying. Others will detect in what I have written an “uncouth and impertinent stridency.” In fact, one dear brother, who I greatly respect for his work’s sake, said I sounded like I had a chip on my shoulder. Well, he may be right, but I think he may be wrong about just what that “chip” is. I plead guilty to feeling under tremendous pressure concerning these things. I attribute this to a zeal for the Lord’s house,24 a reverent fear of “He Who Is,”25 and a genuine love of the Truth.26 Of course, I pray that I am right about this. If I know my own heart, and I know the heart can be a terribly deceptive place, I am not trying to “get even” with anyone. As I have already said, I believe preaching to be valuable work. Therefore, I am not anti-preacher or anti-preaching. Nevertheless, I am convinced that many Christians today wrongly believe what they believe, not because they have learned it from the Bible, but because they have learned it by listening to the modified neo-Deists in our pulpits. Let me be frank. At issue is not whether the things I am saying are deemed by some to be rude and discordant—at issue is this: Is what I am saying true?

When a knowledgeable Buddhist is first introduced to Christianity, the first thing that would strike him as novel about Jehovah is not that He is a God of love or that He is a God of self-sacrifice. Instead, he would be struck with the idea that Jehovah is a God who actively participates in the world. As was previously pointed out, many religions and classic philosophies picture a God who is absent from the world rather than active in it. But this is not so when it comes to the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible. As Jesus said in John 5:17, “My Father has been working until now.” That is, there never has been a time when God was not actively involved in His creation.

Unfortunately, many Christians believe, along with the Deists, that God created the universe, set the natural laws in motion, and now sits back and lets the whole thing run on its own. In fairness to these Christians, and in contrast to the Deists, it ought to be pointed out that they believe the Lord has, on various occasions, interjected Himself into His creation. In other words, they believe the Creator has from time to time acted in, and upon, His creation. Primarily, they believe this participation was for the express purpose of effecting man’s redemption. Therefore, they do not believe that God cannot be active in His creation. Instead, they believe that Jehovah is not, by His own choice, at this time, actively involved in the world. I believe I know how and why they have come to these conclusions. I am even sympathetic. Even so, I do not think their conclusions are consistent with the truths taught in the Bible.27

The scope of this study does not permit us to enter into a detailed study of the providence of God, or as I now prefer to call it, “the hand of God.”28 Nevertheless, the nature of this study compels me to mention some things. I do not, for instance, deny the reality of what we call the “laws of nature.” These laws (e.g., gravity, motion, physics, chemistry, and thermodynamics) are well-established and very much a part of our ordered universe. It seems to me that the actual existence of these laws cannot be intelligently denied. But, when we speak of these laws of nature, are we talking about purely descriptive devices, or are we talking about things that actually explain why things happen? In other words, do the natural laws only describe the way things happen or do they actually explain why things happen the way they do? I believe a correct understanding of natural laws must combine both of these concepts. The next question ought to be: Why should there be such laws in the first place? All of us, I am sure, answer this question the same way: Because God created them! Yes, this is certainly true, and even a Deist could answer this way, but the crucial question is: Is there more to this? I answer by saying, yes, there is, and it is at this point that I begin to part company with my modified neo-Deist brethren.

The Bible teaches that not only did God create the natural laws, and then set them in motion, but He also keeps them in motion.29 This means that God’s work with reference to the natural laws was not over when He finished creating the universe. Even now, He continues to uphold all things by the “word of His power.”30 That is to say, “In Him all things consist,” or “hold together.”31

This means that “in Him” the atomic particles cling to their positions around their nuclei. It means that “in Him” molecules cohere to form elements. “In Him” the elements form various substances and bodies. “In Him” the gravitational pull of the earth causes us to stick to its surface. “In Him” the planets revolve around the sun. “In Him” our galaxy holds together as a clump of stars rushing with great speed through the massive expanse of the universe. And what does all this mean? It means that God continues to preserve the whole universe, preventing it from slipping back into nonexistence or nothingness. It means that even the most fundamental physical law of the universe, the first law of thermodynamics (i.e., the law of energy conservation), remains in force as a direct result of God’s providence. This means the creation is totally and continuously dependent upon the power of God for its existence (i.e., “in Him we live, and move, and have our being”).32

Finally, although Jehovah must never be thought of as the theologian’s “god of the gaps,” it just may be that the quirkiness that seems to be taking place on the subatomic level (we’re talking quantum physics here), namely, “effects without causes,” is nothing other than the “hand of God” supernaturally holding all things together by “the word of His power.” I am not saying it is, mind you. What I am saying is that it could be. It is certainly not inconsistent with what the Bible teaches concerning God’s providential care.33

In concluding this part of our study, let me restate my position as succinctly as I know how. The God of the Bible is not an absentee God. He is not uninvolved in His creation. He is now, has been in the past, and will continue to be in the future, actively “upholding all things by the word of His power.” While He has bestowed a degree of autonomy upon His creation, even providing the crowning glory of His creation with free moral agency, He, nevertheless, reserves for Himself the final decision as to whether a particular event occurs or not. Because “He is who He is,”34 Jehovah can allow something to happen in association with His natural laws, or He can intervene to prevent it. By manipulating, limiting, or even overriding these laws, He can cause another event—one that would not have “normally” taken place—to occur instead.

On certain occasions, and for His own purposes, God has even granted this ability to Satan.35 Among other things, Satan, with God’s permission, caused the great wind that destroyed Job’s family. In Job 2:7, this arch enemy of all mankind is identified as the one who “smote” Job. What does all this mean? The ramifications reach far beyond the scope of this study. But of this one thing I am certain: God is the absolute Sovereign—i.e., Ruler, King, Authority—over all creation.36 As Sovereign, He retains the right to intervene in and overrule any, or all, of His natural laws.

According to 2 Peter 3:10-13, that which was brought into existence and is currently maintained by the “word of His power” shall be demolished by God. It is only the Eternal One, the One who was, is, and shall be, who has the capacity to be the Creator, Sustainer, and Destroyer of the universe. In all eternity, only He is present. Accordingly, the one and only true God in no way resembles the absentee, do-nothing gods of either heathenism or modern theology. The idea that the laws of nature are so “fixed” as to leave no room for divine intervention is completely foreign to the pages of the Bible. Therefore, when a Christian claims to believe in the providence of God, but then limits this providence to the natural processes alone, he is genuflecting to the sham gods of orthotalksy.


Notes

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  1. The Acquisitive Society, 1924, p. 13.
  2. From Andre Maurios’ introduction to Candide, 1959, p. 6.
  3. Systematic Theology, 3 volumes in 1, 1907, p. 15.
  4. E. Graham Waring, editor, Deism and Natural Religion, p. xiii.
  5. William Warren Sweet, Religion in the Development of American Culture: 1765-1840, preface.
  6. See Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:3-4.
  7. See 1 Corinthians 13:8-12.
  8. James 1:25.
  9. Jude 3.
  10. See Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:3.
  11. Hebrews 12:5
  12. 1 Timothy 4:1.
  13. See 2 Corinthians 4:4.
  14. See 2 Corinthians 11:3.
  15. See James 3:15.
  16. See 2 Thessalonians 2:7-12.
  17. Ephesians 2:2.
  18. Ephesians 6:11.
  19. 1 Peter 1:13.
  20. See John 13:2.
  21. Although this quote may not be word for word, it accurately represents the essence of what this brother said.
  22. See Acts 23:8.
  23. Matthew 22:29.
  24. See John 2:17.
  25. Proverbs 9:10; Isaiah 8:13.
  26. See 2 Thessalonians 2:10.
  27. Anyone who has kept up with the wranglings between Old and Young Earth creationists in recent years should now understand why so many Christians are getting caught up in Old Earth creationism, which is not much more than modified neo-Deism.
  28. 1 Peter 5:6.
  29. See Acts 17:28; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3.
  30. Hebrews 1:3.
  31. Colossians 1:17.
  32. Acts 17:28a.
  33. The fact that Colossians 1:17 and Hebrews 1:3 specifically mention God the Son should not be interpreted to mean that the Father and Holy Spirit are no longer involved in the work of providence. On the contrary, these passages simply include the Son in this work and, thereby, serve to affirm His true identity as God.
  34. Exodus 3:14.
  35. See Job 1:12-19.
  36. See Daniel 4:32-34; 5:21; Psalm 103:19; 145:1-21; Ephesians 1:20-22; Jude 25.

Ode To The Unknown God (IV)

One True God

The Sham Gods Of “Orthotalksy”

No, it is not misspelled. “Orthotalksy” is a made-up word. It describes that which takes place when our concepts about God are wrong, but we continue to give lip-service to the “traditional,” “correct,” “accepted,” or “orthodox” ways of talking about Him. For example, even though a brother erroneously comes to the conclusion that God is no longer actively involved in His creation, he will still give lip-service to being a firm believer in God’s providence. Another brother, although he has concluded there are some things God simply cannot know, will, at the same time, continue to pay homage to His “all-knowingness.” Yet another, while claiming to believe in the omnipotence of God, may teach that God’s plan to redeem man through His Son, Jesus, could have failed. This is orthotalksy. Its immediate advantage is that it permits one to remain in the comfortable surroundings of “brotherhood soundness” while, at the same time, advocating new and radically false ideas about God.

According to The American Heritage Dictionary, “sham” means: “1. Something false or empty that is purported to be genuine; a spurious imitation. 2. The quality of deceitfulness; empty pretense. 3. One who assumes a false character; an impostor.”

Therefore, a sham god is not God at all. All sham gods are idols and those who construct them are, quite simply, idolaters. This is true whether one is a pagan idolater involved in the construction of pagan images, or a brother involved in advancing the theological and philosophical concepts of modern-day theology.

There are other kinds of idolatry than those associated with the worship of pagan gods. A child of God who allows himself to get caught up in covetousness or greed is, according to the Bible, an idolater (cf. Colossians 3:5). Further, in the first chapter of Romans, the apostle Paul makes it clear that changing “the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man” is idolatry. This is true whether it be an actual graven image or a theological construct.

This means that any one of us can be guilty of idolatry, and this is especially true of preachers. When one preaches, teaches, and writes about God and His Word, he must be willing to have what he says subjected to honest and fair criticism. Only a false teacher would object to this process. Of course, the standard for such criticism is not what I or anyone else might think. The spiritual benchmark for everything we believe and teach is the Bible—it alone is the objective standard.

Therefore, a religious discussion (or debate) should not be some frivolous academic exercise designed to entertain an audience. Nor is it designed to simply fill up space in some religious publication. It is, instead, a very serious undertaking designed to defend God and His word. Therefore, a debate, contrary to what some seem to think, is not a vehicle to showcase one’s debating skills. The thing to be displayed in a religious debate should be either the truth or error of a particular position. If this is not the motive, then any such exercise would not be worth the time it takes to conduct it, or in the case of a written debate, the paper on which it is written.

When one undertakes to expound the attributes and characteristics of Almighty God, he is treading on hallowed ground. We must approach any such undertaking with extreme reverence for the One we seek to clarify. Like Moses, we must take off our shoes, realizing we are standing on holy ground. A discussion/debate of God’s word is the weightiest of matters.

To further impress us with the seriousness of these matters, the Bible, in James 3:1, makes it clear that the Bible teacher is under a stricter than normal judgment. Therefore, when we preach, teach, and write about God, we must do so carefully and reverently.

It is my firm belief that there is nothing more important than knowing the one true God! Our eternal destiny depends upon it.2 Therefore, Bible teachers are involved in a most sobering endeavor. The task is to accurately communicate God and His Word. If, for whatever reason, we impose limits on the infinite God, we are engaged in idolatry. When we begin to think of God as a man, albeit a man of larger proportions, there ought to be no doubt that we are engaged in idolatry.

The God who has revealed Himself both in nature and the Scriptures is not a creature; that is, He is not a man (cf. John 17:3). He is not limited, as are His creatures, by anything outside of Himself. Consequently, He is nothing like the sham gods of paganism, nor the gelded God of modern theology.

In the posts that follow, your attention will be directed to:


  • The God Who Doesn’t Do Anything,

  • The God Who Doesn’t Know The Future,

  • The God Who Can Fail,

  • The God Who Can Cease Being God, and

  • The God Who Must Be Either Here Or There.

My intent is to expose these sham gods and the orthotalksy associated with them. In doing so, I will do my best to carefully, reverently and honorably defend the ontological integrity of Almighty God, Jehovah Elohim. Realizing that I am limited in my understanding of God’s Word, I expect, and even invite, criticism. I assure you that all serious criticism will be taken to heart. If it can be shown from the Scriptures that I am wrong, in whole or in part, I would want my correction to be as public as my teaching. With this in mind, it is my prayer that God will bless us as we continue our study of this most critical of issues.

Ode To The Unknown God (III)

Idolatry

Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God (Hebrews 3:12).

An idol is a substitute for God. It is the exchanging of the truth of God for a lie (cf. Romans 1:25a). All idols belong either to nature or history. There are no other areas to which man can turn in order to find a substitute god, for all creation ultimately falls into these two groupings. Consequently, idols that are not artifacts of the natural world are constructs of the social world (or history). As such, they serve no other purpose than to facilitate the worshipping and serving of the creature rather than the Creator (cf. Romans 1:25b).

Furthermore, idolatry may be seen as a category depicting unbelief that is highly sophisticated, drawing together the complexities of motivation found in psychology, sociology and demonology. Of these, demonology is the most familiar, and most obvious. As this aspect of idolatry has been given extensive treatment over the years, I will not spend time with it here. Suffice it to say that the Bible teaches there is an unseen spiritual dynamic at work behind idolatry (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:19-22), and although this is an important theme in the Bible, it is often neglected and misunderstood by many Christians (cf. Ephesians 6:10-18). In this study, however, I want to concentrate especially on the psychological and sociological aspects of idolatry.

In Genesis 1:27-28, the Bible says God created man in His own image. This is why every attempt to make God in man’s image is idolatry. By virtue of his creation in the image of God, man lives out his life in two directions:

  1. upward toward God, as he trusts Him as his Sustainer and Creator, and
  2. downward in dominion over the rest of creation.

Trusting in God, man is to subdue and exercise dominion over the earth and its creatures. This is the way God made us, and deep down inside us all, this is the way we are. In other words, these upward and downward directions of our lives are part of our psychological nature. When we understand this truth, we will be in a much better position to recognize idolatry in all its various manifestations. But before we can proceed any further, it must be made clear that something happened that sorely affected man’s psychological nature.

Genesis, chapter 3, records the rebellion of Adam and Eve, along with the awful consequences of that rebellion. As a result, the world is no longer a safe place to live. Our plans to cash in on the good life are constantly being frustrated by disease, accident, theft, bankruptcy, rust, decay and, finally, death. Every graveyard stands as proof that instead of us subduing the earth, the earth now subdues us. The trust we place in this world is regularly betrayed as we pursue our illusions with extravagant expectations that are seldom, if ever, fulfilled. Finally, forced to live in an environment marred by sin, we are no longer strangers to anxiety and disappointment.

However, sin did not eliminate the built-in psychological drive to worship God and exercise dominion over the rest of creation. It did, however, pervert it. Satan’s seduction of Eve, and subsequently Adam, was through the “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes,” and “the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). Thinking “the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6), Mother Eve believed the Tempter’s lie which promised she could successfully be her own God, deciding good and evil (cf. Genesis 3:5). As a result, she erected in her own heart an idol to SELF. Adam, on the other hand, was not deceived. Instead, he chose to follow his wife’s lead (cf. Genesis 3:6a, 17), erecting in his heart an idol of his WIFE. In the fall of these two people who were the prototype of the entire human race, the centrality of God was replaced with egocentricity. In short, the world no longer began and ended with God; instead, it ended with the creature.

As we think about the nature of Eve’s rebellion, it helps us in our study of this subject. Her rebellion happened, at least in part, below the level of her own perception, in that she was, as the Bible says, “deceived” (1 Timothy 2:14 and 2 Corinthians 11:3). This demonstrates that idolatry is not always as overt as some seem to think. It also alerts us to the deadly danger of self-deception that lurks in all forms of idolatry.

Because of his psychological nature, man is going to worship something, even if it is himself, as he tries to subdue or exercise control over creation. Therefore, when he engages in God-avoidance, rebelling against the Lord’s moral precepts, the Bible makes it clear that he will inevitably turn to idols (cf. Romans 1:18-32). He will not just eliminate knowledge of the true God from his thinking, he erects substitute gods in His place. The Bible calls these substitutes “idols.” Noting this, G. K. Chesterton observed that when we “cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we worship anything” (click here for reference). In other words, when we refuse to worship the true God, we are busy building the shrines and temples of the substitute gods.

Although the Christian rightly rejects the Calvinistic doctrine of inherited depravity, he must nevertheless recognize that our acquired, sin-sick natures predispose us to act independently from God (i.e., to be laws unto ourselves). Exercising our own autonomy, we do exactly what we want to do without considering His Word. And, if we had not been originally created to be in a personal relationship with God, we could have dismissed once and for all the whole religious dimension of life and lived happily (sic) ever after, eating, drinking and being merry (cf. Luke 12:19; 1 Corinthians 15:32a). But made, as we are, in the image of God, and having an innate psychological need to worship and exercise faith in Him, we, when we manage to pervert ourselves with sin, try to deny our guilt feelings by eliminating in our minds the true concept of God, which in turn creates a vacuum or viod in our hearts.

We then try to fill this vacuum with idols. As already mentioned, we do this by inflating things in nature and history to religious proportions. Therefore, an idol can be a physical object, a property, a person, an activity, a role, an institution, a hope, an image, an idea, a pleasure, a hero — anything that can substitute for God. It can be riches, pleasure, fame, power, et cetera. An idol can be things that, in and of themselves, are good, like work, recreation, family, et cetera, but when used incorrectly, cause us to disobey God out of our loyalty to them. An idol can be something as seemingly harmless as wanting to be well-liked, a perfectly legitimate and natural desire, if wanting to be liked means we never risk disapproval or criticism. Even something as good as foreign evangelism can be an idol, if the one engaged in it is willing to circumvent Bible authority to get the job done, or if he should be so presumptuous as to make his work the litmus test for foreign evangelism.

Idolatry always involves one in self-centeredness, self-inflation and self-deception. It starts with the counterfeiting of God, for it is only with a counterfeit god that one can remain the center of his life and the autonomous architect of his own future. Then, when such rebellion is complete, some thing or person is idolatrously inflated to fill the God-shaped vacuum left in the heart. Of course, the idol, whatever it may be, is not the real thing. It is only a counterfeit — a lie that promises the blessings of the so-called “good life;” but in the end, produces a debased and reprobate mind that spawns even more sin and degradation (cf. Romans 1:24ff).

In his fallen and sin-sick condition, man no longer trusts God; but as Chesterton pointed out, this does not mean he no longer trusts in anything. In order to authenticate his life and feel secure about himself, fallen man still feels the need to trust in something, whether it be a thing, idea, institution, or another person. This trust, divorced as it is from a proper faith in God Almighty, is perverted into overdependence on a thing, an idea, an institution, or another person, even when these things continually betray his trust. Nevertheless, out of his desperate need for authentication and safety, he desperately clings to his idols. In conjunction with this, the God-given, and therefore legitimate, need to subdue and exercise dominion over the creation is perverted by fallen man into domination, something quite different from what God originally intended. To enjoy the “good-life,” sin-sick man thinks he must manipulate and dominate those around about him. This inevitably involves the controlling of certain key variables (often people) in his life and surroundings. All this (both overdependence and dominion) is engaged in to assuage the anxiety created by fallen man’s perverted psychological needs — needs that are, in turn, derived from the God-given needs to trust in God and exercise dominion over the rest of creation.

Idols Always Come In Pairs

Because this duality (viz., to trust in God and subdue creation) is so deeply imprinted in the human psyche, idols seem to always come in pairs. An idol, remember, is a counterfeit of the true God. It does not just substitute God’s existence, but it can also exist as a counterfeiting of His attributes and characteristics. With this understood, it should be realized that God’s transcendence can be made into one idol and His immanence into another. In the informative book No God But God, edited by Os Guinness and John Seel, Richard Keyes wrote an excellent chapter entitled “The Idol Factory,” in which he calls these two counterfeits “the faraway idol” and “the nearby idol” (1992, pp. 29-48). These designations are not so much spatial as they are psychological. The far-away idol, who is intangible and therefore always inaccessible, serves as an overarching idea that gives meaning to all of life. On the other hand, the nearby idol, who is much more accessible and tangible, allows the idolater to manipulate his world so he can get what he wants. This construct is classic to idolatry, and is not just the key to understanding idolatry, but is essential to understanding the occult, as well. We’ll explore this nearby idol first.

The Nearby Idol

When one has alienated himself from God, the nearby idol is a substitute for God’s immanence. Because he is no longer dependent upon the blessings of his Creator to help him exercise stewardship over his environment, the idolater seeks a sense of well-being through control. The nearby idol, whatever the idolater conceives it to be, permits him to exercise this control. It is, of course, a delusion.

This is illustrated in the rebellion of the Jews who fled into Egypt contrary to the Lord’s command (cf. Jeremiah 44:1-30). It had been their custom, even when they were back in Judah (See Jeremiah 7:18), “to burn incense to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her.” (Jeremiah 44:17). Of course, they were not doing this for nothing. In fact, they were deluded into thinking they were being blessed by their manipulation, through their sacrifices, of this counterfeit god (cf. Jeremiah 44:18). They were wrong, of course. It was actually God who had been blessing them due to His longsufferingness. Finally, though, they started to experience God’s punishment for their idolatry. However, it just so happened that this punishment coincided with the Jews ceasing to sacrifice to their false god. In turn, they mistakenly came to think they were no longer enjoying blessings because they had quit offering cakes to their idol, the queen of heaven. Grossly deluded, they believed their nearby idol allowed them to experience a certain leverage over the important forces that control life. Consequently, they were convinced that their fertility goddess was able to give them good crops, more livestock, and more male children. This nearby idol was all they needed to enjoy the good life, they mistakenly thought, but their devotion to this counterfeit god ultimately caused them to be consumed by the famine and sword of God’s wrath (cf. Jeremiah 44:27).

Although idolatry can’t really deliver, polytheists/occultists believe that their rituals and sacrifices permit them to tap into, or connect with, invisible powers that will allow them to exercise control over the visible (or natural) world in which they live. To these devotees, the nearby idol, whatever it might be, is a means to some desired end, and to accomplish this end they are willing to genuflect to their substitutes gods and goddesses.

America’s “Carpet God”

The nearby idol for many Americans is Carpet. “And what,” you might ask, “is Carpet?” Carpet represents the comfortable home with its decorations, color combinations, furniture, appliances, and video/audio systems. Carpet is the “nice home” so many Americans think is essential if one is to experience the “good life.” A multitude of Americans have bowed to Carpet. In doing so, they have demonstrated that they will sacrifice anything they have for the comfort Carpet promises. For example, think of the millions of “latchkey” children who come home to empty houses every school day who must fend for themselves because mommy and daddy are too busy sacrificing to Carpet. These children are, in reality, a blessing from the true God who has, in turn, obligated the parents with certain responsibilities. Consumed with Carpet, multitudes of American parents ignore their God-given obligations to their children, but who cares? Unfortunately, not even some who call themselves Christians. Yes, they shudder at the thought of ancient Israelites sacrificing their children to Molech (cf. Jeremiah 32:25), but then they turn right around and leave their children in the hands of perfect strangers or, worse yet, they cause them to fend for themselves while they both go off to work so they can obediently worship at Carpet’s totem. It is most unfortunate that while the divinely ordained family structure is being offered up on Carpet’s altar, many Christians just don’t seem to care. Worse yet, some Christians are themselves worshipping in the shrine of this cruel and ogreish god. Like all idols, Carpet promises much, but is unable to deliver on anything of real value. The messages of the idols are all lies, and Carpet’s message is no different. It promises safety and comfort from the troubles of life, but when trials and tribulations finally come, and they will, the Carpet god is completely powerless. Carpet cannot comfort us when we lose a loved one; it cannot be our friend when we are alone; it cannot help us when we are dying. Nevertheless, many believe Carpet’s lies and, in turn, sacrifice everything, even their children, to worship at its altar. The Bible, which pulls no punches, says that covetousness, which is personified in Carpet, is idolatry (cf. Colossians 3:5 and Ephesians 5:5).

When we consider the nearby idols to which men bow, it is not hard to see the devastating effect they are having on our society. With this said, it is time to turn our attention to the faraway idol.

The Faraway Idol

The faraway idol, which is a substitute for God’s transcendence, is usually not very well defined. It is fashioned to give some overarching and ultimate meaning to life. Man, of course, was originally created to trust in God, but in his fallen condition, he creates a force or idea (an idol, if you will) that rules the universe in God’s stead. When we listen, we can hear people saying that they believe there must be something, or someone, ultimately responsible for the way things are. Ask them what this is, and they are unable to describe him, her or it with any specificity. This, then, is the faraway idol.

Some say their god, because he is a loving god, could not send people to hell for an eternity. Again, this is a faraway idol, a construct that takes the place of the Sovereign of the universe who has said that He will, in fact, consign the disobedient to hell if they reject His gracious offer to save them through the blood of Jesus Christ. Yes, the true God is a God of love, as 1 John 4:8 makes clear, but the creator of this false god has made Love his faraway idol — the standard by which everything is to be judged.

A point of clarification needs to be made here. For the purpose of this study, I will continue to talk about the faraway idol, even though the faraway idol is not normally thought of by its adherents as an idol. This is because we normally think of an idol as something tangible, and the faraway idol is neither tangible nor visible. The following excerpt from the Roman author Cicero is an example of this kind of thinking:

When we behold the heavens, when we contemplate the celestial bodies, can we fail of conviction? Must we not acknowledge that there is a Divinity, a perfect being, a ruling intelligence, which governs, a God who is everywhere and directs all by his power? Anybody who doubts that may as well deny there is a sun that lights…. For this reason, with us as well as with other nations, the worship of the gods and holy exercises of religion increase in purity and extent every day (From Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, 1:279.).

As we can see, the polytheism of Cicero’s day embraced the faraway idol, which was a single transcendent “ruling intelligence,” as well as the many nearby idols (“gods”), who were associated in the minds of their adherents with the different functions in the tangible, visible world. This clearly reflects the two levels of religious allegiances I’ve been discussing — the nearby idol, which is more accessible and which is directed toward power and control, and the faraway idol, which is far more inaccessible, but which provides meaning or legitimacy. Both of these (viz., the faraway idol and the nearby idol) are representative of a universal trait that runs through all idolatry. And as idolatry is but the attempt to counterfeit the true God, it ought not to surprise us to hear the One True God asking His people in Jeremiah 23:23, “Am I a God near at hand…and not a God afar off?”

We can observe this faraway-nearby paradigm in the Canaanite pantheon. According to these people, “El the Benign,” the Creator, Father, and King, was the chief deity. As such, his mildly benevolent persona served, in the background, as the overarching presence in their religion. But even so, he was not thought to be nearly as effective in delivering concrete help as Baal, who was described in cult texts as one of the sons of Dagon, the national god of the Philistines. Baal became the Canaanites’ fertility god, representing the powers of rain, fullness of life, and fertility. By the use of magic, incantations, rituals and priestcraft, they believed they could exercise control over the forces of nature. Their worship of this nearby god was orgiastic and sensual, according to 1 Kings 14:22-24. Obviously, then, it was a religion enthusiastically pursued by its adherents. The Bible called the things these idolaters practiced “abominations,” and those who practiced them “perverted persons.” But it was not just that Baal worshhip authorized sexual license, although this was a powerful incentive, there was a much higher logic to it than this. The fertility gods and goddesses were thought to be voyeuristic. Consequently, it was believed that it was only through the sexual activity of humans that the fertility gods and goddesses were stimulated to lust after and pursue one another. Seduced by the human sexual activity they observed to engage in sexual intercourse themselves, they produced, it was believed, fertility on earth.

Paul’s Mar’s Hill Address

In his famous Mar’s Hill address, delivered in the great city and seat of learning that was Athens, the apostle Paul systematically refuted the nearby and faraway idols with four alternating strokes, replacing them each time with the truth of God’s transcendence and immanence. The points he makes, which are found in Acts 17, may be summarized as follows:


  • First, he teaches that the one true God is not a faraway idol that is unknowable (v. 23).
  • Then, he refutes their nearby idols by pointing out that God does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor does He need man’s help in anything (vv. 24-25).
  • Next, he assaults the faraway idol by teaching the truth that God, although transcendent, is not far from any of us, for it is “In Him we live and move and have our being” (v. 27-28).
  • Finally, he negates the nearby idol again by arguing that if we are truly God’s offspring, then it makes absolutely no sense to think He can somehow derive His being from us. In other words, the one true God is not made of gold, silver or stone, and fashioned by human design (v. 29).

It seems abundantly clear that Paul directed his criticisms of the Athenians to the classic dual-nature of their idolatry. They had counterfeited the true God’s transcendence with their faraway idol, “THE UNKNOWN GOD,” and His immanence with the many nearby idols in their pantheon. With each criticism of their idolatry, Paul did not hesitate to make positive affirmations about the one true God. According to him, and this is consistent with everything else written in the Bible, the true God, although He is transcendent, is also very knowable (v. 23), in that He has revealed Himself to us in the holy Scriptures. Once he’s made this point, he then proceeds to tell the Athenians about this One True God who is knowable. As the Creator, He is Lord of heaven and earth (v. 24). Consequently, He gives life to all people (v. 25). He made “From one blood” all nations that live on the earth, and He wants them to seek after, and find, Him (vv. 26-27). Finally, He is, as the Creator, our source, in that we derive our existence from Him, not the other way around (v. 29).

As Paul argues, the One True God is, and all at the same time, both transcendent and immanenti.e., He is both “far off” and “at hand” (cf. Jeremiah 23:23). In doing so, he conveys the ultimate moral challenge of this One True God, namely, “God…now commands all men everywhere to repent” (v. 30). And why is this? Because He has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained (v. 31). And who is this man? He is Jesus of Nazareth, in whom dwells “all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). In fact, it is the incarnation of Jesus Christ that serves as the final blow to the dual-idolatry pattern that has plagued man down through the ages. The divine Logos, who was Himself the transcendent God of creation, according to John 1:1, became a man, as reported in John 1:14, the epitome of immanence, and did it all without ceasing to be God. In other words, “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven” (John 3:13). The God of the Bible, the only true and living God, is a God who is “at hand,” as well as “afar off” (Jeremiah 23:23).

Unfortunately, and even though they ought to know better, some New Testament Christians fall victim to idolatry’s dual pattern as they try to formulate their various Christologies. This is demonstrated in the classic heresies of Arianism, which denies the Lord’s divine nature, and Docetism, which denies His human nature. By failing to appreciate the full meaning of the Immanuel (or “God with us”) of Isaiah 7:14, both of these isms fall far short of the truth revealed in the Bible. It is true, and there must be no mistake about it, Jesus was a man, and His need for resurrection is proof of this; but He was not just a man, as some among us are claiming, and His resurrection is proof of this, as well. If He were not a man, He could not have died and then been in need of resurrection. On the other hand, if He had not been “God manifested in the flesh,” as He claimed to be in 1 Timothy 3:16, then the “one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:6) would certainly have not validated Jesus’ claim by resurrecting Him from the dead (cf. Acts 17:31). Thus, any effort to separate the Lord’s transcendence and immanence (i.e., His deity and humanity) will lead one down the path to self-sufficiency and idolatry.

Therefore, the Jesus who is “a man, just a man, just an ordinary man like you and me,” as some among us have argued, is an idol constructed by those who believe it may still be possible for a mere man to live perfectly and, therefore, earn his salvation. But such self-sufficiency is impossible, not because man does not have the capacity not to sin (viz., freewill), he does. It’s impossible because man wrongly exercises his freewill. It is just here that some become confused, so please pay close attention. Man is a freewill creature and, because he is, he does not have to sin. We are not made, contrary to Calvinistic doctrine, morally flawed or depraved. However, the rebellious story of mankind is that although we do not have to sin, we do — we always have and we always will.

The only man who ever lived perfectly here in this life was Jesus. Even so, He suffered and died. Why? Because, in His suffering and death, the Lord paid the penalty for the sins of all mankind. In doing so, He made it possible for all who had sinned, and this includes all of us, to be reconciled to God through faith in Him. All of us — every last one of us — have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (cf. Romans 3:23). So, when Jesus “died for all,” it was because “all died” (2 Corinthians 5:14). This means that all human beings who reach the age of accountability will sin. It also means that even after being saved by rendering obedience to the gospel (grace) conditions, Christians did not live perfectly without sin (cf. 1 John 1:10). Consequently, the perfectionists among us who believe it is actually — as opposed to theoretically — possible for one to live without sinning, and have created a mere-man Jesus to prove it, teach a self-sufficiency that is anti-biblical, and worship an idol that is both anti-God and “antichrist” (1 John 2:22). It is my sincere prayer that these brethren will come to their senses in a pigsty moment (cf. Luke 15:17), repent, and adhere to John’s warning to keep themselves from idols (cf. 1 John 5:21).

As we can see, idolatry is still an ever present problem for New Testament Christians. We must not allow ourselves to be tricked into thinking that idolatry is a sin reserved just for pagans — it’s not! Today, as in times past, the dark and dynamic forces behind idolatry (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:20) have arrayed themselves against us (cf. Ephesians 6:12). Drunk with the wine of modernity, many who make up the Lord’s church in the 21st century believe the war is over and that it has actually been over for almost two thousand years now. This sort of thinking, as I hope to point out in the next post, has had devastating consequences for churches of Christ.

Ode To The Unknown God (II)

I Am That I Am

“You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3)

God with a capital “G,” the “I AM THAT I AM,” is that one and only (cf. Deuteronomy 6:6) state of being God, consisting of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — a state that is like no other: self-existent, eternal, infinite, and immutable. A proper understanding of this God is absolutely necessary. In fact, salvation and true worship are not possible without the proper knowledge of who and what God is. I know this is true because when Jesus prayed for His disciples, He said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). In other words, one’s eternal destiny depends upon knowing God, the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ. This means that the study of God and Christ cannot be ignored by those who want to spend an eternity in the new heavens and new earth. In addition, other passages inform us that the Holy Spirit is to be included in this intimate, knowledgeable relationship (Acts 5:32, for example). Consequently, it should not seem strange that upon a confession of one’s faith in Christ Jesus, a penitent believer is baptized into a relationship with the entire Godhead — Father, Son and Holy Spirit (See Matthew 28:19). All who enter into this relationship are said to “Know the Lord,…from the least to the greatest” (Hebrews 6:11). And finally, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire,” He will be “taking vengeance on those who do not know God” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8).

True worship, which is the only kind that is pleasing to God, must be in both spirit and in truth (See John 4:24). This means that true worship must not just be with the right attitude or spirit, but it must be intelligent and knowledgeable as well. For example, although there were many reasons why the Samaritan woman’s worship was not acceptable to God, the primary reason was stated by Jesus when He said, “You worship that which you do not know” (John 4:22). In the same manner, the Athenians vainly worshiped at the altar “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.” The Bible makes it clear that this kind of worship is unacceptable because it is “worship without knowing” (Acts 17:23b).

It is sad that modern society knows very little about the one true God. According to Langdon Gilkey, in his book, Maker of Heaven and Earth, the prevailing picture of God, among those in our culture who still believe in Him, is that of “a large, powerful, kindly elder statesman who treats us much as a doting grandfather might do, with occasional moods of needed judgment but with a balance of indulgence” (p. 81). Add to this the fact that many Christians, reflecting the ignorance of God so prevalent in our day, are, like the ancient Athenians, attempting to worship an “UNKNOWN GOD,” and you have, God forbid, the potential for a major apostasy brewing in our midst.

If what I am have read in the religious papers, blogs, and Facebook can be trusted, and if preachers and elders I have spoken with have a sense of what is happening in their midst, then too few Christians today study their Bibles on a daily basis. It would be my guess that fewer still have ever engaged in a private study of the nature and person of God. If this is true, then many Christians know very little about God’s attributes and characteristics. Such ignorance is, according to an inspired apostle, a “shame” (1 Corinthians 15:34), and dare I say, “disgrace.” Just as a lack of knowledge about God made the Corinthians susceptible to false teaching about the resurrection, many Christians today, knowing little about the nature of God, are vulnerable to vain philosophies and empty deceit (cf. Colossians 2:8).

Having, therefore, placed this study in its proper perspective, it’s time to turn our attention to a study of God the Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer of the world.

God Is…

The Psalmist, in Psalm 19:1, said, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork,” and the apostle Paul, in Romans 1:20, said it this way, “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.”

With these scriptures in mind, it is interesting to note that, down through the ages, men who were not even associated with the Bible have looked at God’s magnificent creation and have understood there must be a Creator. This realization is called “the teleological argument for God,” and is the argument from design, inferring an intelligent designer of the universe, just like one infers that a product (viz., a watch) has a producer (viz., a watchmaker). For example, if someone were to show us a watch, telling us that no one made it, but that it was the result of an explosion that had taken place accidentally in a scrap metal factory, we would think that person was either “pulling our leg” or mighty foolish. Why, then, should it be any different when we think about the greatest product ever created — the creation itself? In fact, the Bible says, in Psalm 14:1, that “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

According to Plato, one of the things that makes one believe in the Creator is the argument “from the order of the motion of the stars, and of all things under the dominion of the mind that ordered the universe” (Plato, Laws). According to him, there had to be a “maker and father of all.” In addition, Aristotle, based upon his observation of the creation, concluded there had to be a First Unmoved Mover who is God, a living, intelligent, incorporeal, eternal, and most good being who is the source of the order in the universe (Aristotle, Metaphysica and On Philosophy).

In making note of the observations of these two men, I wish to make it clear that I am not advocating their philosophies. Instead, I am simply pointing out that the greatest minds of antiquity understood the force of the teleological argument. As the Bible so plainly says, in Romans 1:20, man is “without excuse” for not knowing that God is.

…Self-Existent

The God who has revealed Himself in nature and gradually, verse by verse, step by step, makes Himself known in His special revelation, the Bible, is a necessary being who depends on nothing else or anyone else for His existence. In fact, everything else depends on Him. This means that God, ontologically speaking (i.e., having to do with the being of God), is self-existent. This is the meaning of the name “I AM THAT I AM” recorded in Exodus 3:14. It derives from the Hebrew verb “to be” and means “He who is.” It is this self-existence that is the primary point of difference between God and His creation. Therefore, in calling Himself “I AM,” God is arguing, ontologically, that His being is uncaused. He is saying that He is; always has been; and always will be. In other words, God’s being is not derived from anything, and is not dependent upon anything; He just is.

There are three New Testament passages that convey this same idea. In Romans 1:23, God is identified as being “incorruptible.” In 1 Timothy 6:16, it is said that God “alone possesses immortality.” And in John 5:26, it is taught that only God “has life in Himself.” When God’s self-existent nature begins to be comprehended by finite creatures, they feel the need to humble themselves before the totally independent and incorruptible I AM.

…Eternal

If God is self-existent, and this is clearly what the Bible says, then He must also be eternal. In fact, belief in the Eternal is an essential part of the Christian’s faith (See Hebrews 11:6). And although it is true that the creature will one day put on immortality and live forever, according to 1 Corinthians 15:53,54, this is not the immortality that God possesses. God, contrary to His creation, is immortal by the very nature of His being. In other words, only God has always existed and will always exist. How can this be? How can a being have no beginning and no end? How can it be that a being always was and always will be? Because, as we have already pointed out, God alone is self-existent, and a logical consequence of this self-existence is eternalness.

For the creature, immortality is a gift. But for God, immortality is the very essence of His nature. As finite creatures, our minds are controlled and limited by time and space. Consequently, it is impossible for us to fully understand the eternalness of God’s nature. So, as we stand before Him in awe, we reverently say, along with the apostle Paul: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33). And surely we join with Moses in saying that the “eternal God” is our refuge, “and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27).

God, then, has a unique existence. In addition to being self-existent and eternal, He is not limited by anything outside of Himself.

…Infinite

This kind of existence is referred to as being infinite, which means subject to no limitation or external determination (i.e., unbounded). But one needs to be careful with this word. As Jack Cottrell points out in his book God The Creator, when referring to God as infinite, this term is not to be understood in its physical or mathematical sense, as if God were infinitely large, or as if He extended infinitely into space (p. 241). To say that God is infinite, is to say that He is not subject to the built-in limitations of a created being.

…Omnipresent

God’s infinitude is to be defined by His self-existence, eternalness and omni-characteristics, which are omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence. The God who is eternal, and therefore not limited by time, is omnipresent, and not limited by space (cf. Psalm 139:7-10; Proverbs 15:3; Jeremiah 23:23-24). He is universally present to all of space at all times. Even so, this does not mean that He is dispersed throughout the infinite reaches of space, so that every part of space has at least a little part of God. God is not present in all space; He is, instead, present to all of space. This means that the unlimited God in His whole being is present at every point of our space. But perhaps a better way to express this is to say that all space is immediately present before God.

With this in mind, it must be understood that God’s omnipresence does not prevent Him from manifesting Himself in a localized place. In fact, although His ontological being is present to all of space equally, He has, at various times, entered space at specific points and become present in it for a specific purpose. These “theophanies,” as they are called, most often involved redemption. For example, the pillar of cloud bearing the glory of God that appeared before the Israelites is but one example of such a case (cf. Exodus 33:9; 40:34; 1 Kings 8:10ff). Of course, the most dramatic incident of God entering time and space was the incarnation itself (See John 1:14; 1 Timothy 3:16). Consequently, Jesus was called Immanuel, or “God with us” in Matthew 1:23. But in entering time and space, God, in His self-existent, eternal and infinite Being, did not cease to be omnipresent. He was, in fact, still present to every point of space, holding everything together by the “word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3; cf. Colossians 1:17). In fact, it is evident that the omnipresence of “God with us” is the subject of John 3:13, which says, “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of God who is in heaven.” If omnipresence is not under discussion in this passage, then pray tell me what is? Remember, these words were being spoken by God Himself while enfleshed here on this earth. Another example of God interjecting Himself into time and space would be the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:1-4), as well as His indwelling of the body of every Christian (See 1 Corinthians 6:19). “Mind-boggling,” you say. Yes, but such is the magnificent nature of The Great I AM.

…Omniscient

When one considers passages like Isaiah 46:9-10, Psalm 147:5, Romans 11:33, and 1 John 3:20, one comes to appreciate the fact that there never was a time when the self-existent, eternal and infinite God of all creation knew less or more than He does right now. God, because of who He is, never learns and never forgets. This characteristic is called omniscience. Omniscience is not anything like the knowledge man possesses. Man, by his very nature, cannot know some things. God, on the other hand, knows all things (consider 1 John 3:20), and does so because He is “He who is” (Exodus 3:14).

Nevertheless, some are willing to argue that there are things that even an all-knowing God cannot know. These argue that the future free will acts of men and women cannot be known by God because they have not yet happened. God, according to this position, cannot know what cannot be known, and the future, contingent, free will choices of men and women cannot be known, they think. But can this be true? What is it that the self-existent, eternal, and infinite God cannot know? There is, of course, absolutely nothing that such a Being could not know, for He transcends the flow of the space-time continuum and sees the past, present and future in a kind of eternal now. Only a being with the infinite characteristics and attributes of God could be all-knowing. Consequently, it is omniscience that God uses to challenge those who claim to be gods, but who are, in fact, no gods (cf. Isaiah 42:8,9; 43:3-7; 44:7,8; 45:20,21; 48:3-7). Surely, praise, honor and eternal glory belong to the one and only true God, who said, in Isaiah 46:9 and 10, “I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done.”

…Omnipotent

Since God is self-existent, eternal, omnipresent and omniscient, it comes as no surprise to us that He is also omnipotent or all-powerful. In fact, if God is infinite in His relationship to time, space and knowledge, it only follows that He is omnipotent as well. In the New Testament, this truth is taught in Matthew 19:26 and Revelation 19:6. In Genesis 17:1, when God appeared to Abraham, He said, “I am God Almighty.” In Jeremiah 32:27, He says: “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?” For God, of course, “nothing [consistent with his nature] is impossible” (Luke 1:37). Finally, God’s omnipotence, according to Jeremiah 32:17, is grounded in the fact of creation: “Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.”

…Immutable

Given the nature of God, there is no chance He can ever be anything other than what He is. This can be inferred from His self-existent, eternal, and infinite nature. His nature, or essence, cannot change, but is eternally the same, totally incorruptible (cf. Romans 1:23) and immortal (cf. I Timothy 6:16). In other words, He is unchangeable or immutable (cf. Psalm 102:25-27; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17). What does this mean? It means that the Self-Existent One cannot be not self-existent; it means that the Eternal One cannot be not eternal; it means that the Infinite One cannot be not infinite; et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. God, ontologically speaking (again, by the nature of His being), cannot be anything else; if He were, He would not be God.

Included in God’s unchangeable or immutable nature are His moral attributes, for His moral character is no less a part of His essence than are His power and wisdom. What this means is that God has always been, and always will be, the holy, righteous and gracious God that He is right this moment. His goodness has not been developed and will never be altered. From everlasting to everlasting, He is the same in character, infallible and immutable (cf. Numbers 23:19).

Of course, and this is very important, it must be kept in mind that the immutability of God’s nature does not mean that He cannot interact with His creation. In fact, the Bible teaches that the Almighty has agreed to, and does, interact with His creation within the bounds of time. Such interaction is genuine and not pretended. God has agreed to be influenced by His creation. Whether or not I can explain this in view of God’s immutable nature is not the point. I cannot even understand it; how, then, can I explain it? In truth, it is not my responsibility to explain it. Instead, it is my responsibility to believe, teach, and defend it. If I had to be able to understand and explain everything about God, especially those things He has not chosen to reveal to me, before I could believe in Him, I and every other finite finite creature could have no choice but to remain in unbelief. The Aristotelian, or classical, view of God as “the Unmoved Mover,” who is, in turn, unrelated to the world, impassive and unconcerned is, in my opinion, as ridiculous as it is non-biblical. As such, it reflects idolatry, pure and simple.

As I’ve said, it is not possible that the essence of God could be anything other than what it has been, is and always will be. If this essence were to change, then God would no longer be God. As a matter of fact, it is impossible to make distinctions between God, His essence, and His attributes. “I AM THAT I AM” or “He who is” (Exodus 3:14), exists as a self-existent (cf. Romans 1:23; 1 Timothy 6:16; John 5:26), eternal (See Deuteronomy 33:27), infinite (See Psalm 139:7-10; Isaiah 46:9,10; Jeremiah 32:27), immutable (cf. Psalm 102:25-27; Malachi 3:6) Spirit (cf. John 4:24). If God ceased to be any of these, He could not be God. In other words, God’s essence (i.e., that which makes Him what He is) could not be anything other than what it is; and that which makes God what He is, of course, is His attributes. Therefore, it is never correct to think of God apart from His essence or attributes. Namely, God does not have an essence; He is His essence, and He does not have attributes; He is His attributes. For example, the Bible tells us, in 1 John 4: 8 and 16, that God is love. It informs us that God’s love is great (cf. Ephesians 2:4), eternal (cf. Jeremiah 31:3; Ephesians 1:4-5), infinite (See Ephesians 3:18,19), and dependable (ibid.).

If the theme of the Bible is man’s redemption, then the central word of the Bible is love. In fact, the Bible tells us that the motivation for the scheme of redemption is God’s love for His creation. How much did God love His creation? He loved it so much that He was willing to give His only begotten Son so that it could be redeemed (cf. John 3:16; 1 John 4:9). But, what kind of love would do such a thing? Simply this: God’s love for His creatures, which, in turn, is the same kind of love we should have for Him and those He created in His image.

Therefore, when the Bible says, “God loves us,” it means He really cares about us and always does what is best for us. God’s love is different from other kinds of love in that it seeks to give and not to get; it seeks to satisfy not some need of the lover, but rather the need of the one who is loved. This is what God is, i.e., this is His nature. Strip from Him His love and we no longer have the God who has revealed Himself to His creatures. Strip from Him His love and what remains is something similar to the gods of the pagans, which are nothing but “idols for their own destruction” (Hosea 8:4).

However, what the Bible does not say about the essence or nature of God is just as important as what it does say. For instance, although the Bible teaches that God is His attributes and characteristics, it does not teach that any particular attribute of God is God; i.e., the Bible is not saying, and has never said, that “Love is God.” On the contrary, what the Bible teaches is that “God is love” (1 John 4:8,16). Clearly, then, the Bible instructs us that God is His attributes and characteristics, and anyone who believes the Bible believes this. Consequently, God is, has been, and always will be who and what He is at this exact moment.

…Triune

In the one state of being God (cf. Deuteronomy 6:4; Romans 3:30; 1 Corinthians 8:4), there are three distinctly different personalities: the Father, the Son (or Logos/Word) and the Holy Spirit. Each one of these personalities shares fully the one essence, nature, or state of being God. Everything involved in being Deity is possessed by each of these personalities. In other words, the Bible teaches there is one, and only one, God; but it just as plainly teaches that the Father is God (cf. John 6:27; Galatians 1:1; Philippians 2:11), the Son is God (cf. John 10:30; 20:28), and the Holy Spirit is God (cf. Acts 5:3-4). Even so, it must be understood that although the Bible says that God is three persons in one essence (cf. Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14), it does not teach “Tritheism” (i.e., three Gods). As Roy Lanier, Sr. wrote on page 46 of his book, The Timeless Trinity:

We do not affirm that one God is three Gods; we affirm that there is but one infinite Spirit Being, but within that one Spirit essence there are three personal distinctions, each of which may be, and is, called God; each capable of loving and being loved by the others; each having a distinct, but not separate, part to play in the creation and salvation of man.

I think it wise to caution that, when thinking of God, it is possible to use “person” or “personality” in a wrong sense. If we are not precise in our thinking, we might conclude that the three persons or personalities that are God are just like human persons or personalities, except more complex. This would be a common, but serious, mistake. Human personalities are totally different from each other, and their relationships are often inharmonious and completely external (i.e., they do not partake of the same essence). On the other hand, the three personalities that are God partake of one essence and are always harmonious. Therefore, we must not try to think of divine personality within the limits of human personality, as if God were but a more complex image of the human person. To do so would be idolatry, pure and simple (cf. Romans 1:23). Consequently, one must not press too far the concept of personhood when applied to God. What, then, are we saying when we speak of God in three persons?

As has already been pointed out, divine personality is the archetype of human personality; it is not the other way around. If this is true, then there must be some similarities between divine personality and human personality, and, in fact, there are. As Paul taught the Athenians, “Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising” (Acts 17:29). In other words, we are not lifeless, impersonal matter, and neither is God. The Bible teaches that God is Spirit, and therefore we who are His offspring have a spiritual nature. The Bible teaches that God is personal, and we who are His offspring partake of personhood. In his excellent book, What The Bible Says About God The Creator, Jack Cottrell, on page 237, points out four elements that are characteristic of personhood:


  1. rational consciousness,

  2. self-consciousness,

  3. self-determination, and

  4. the capacity to have relationships with other persons.

These characteristics are, in fact, a very intricate part of the portrait God paints of Himself in the Bible, from beginning to end. Based on Scripture alone, no one would ever doubt God’s personhood.

If, then, the self-existent, eternal, infinite, and immutable Spirit who is God has three personalities, and this is what the Bible says, then the Father, Son and Holy Spirit partake of personhood. As such, each enjoys rational consciousness, self-consciousness, self-determination, and relationships with other persons. This means that the Father is conscious of Himself as an individual person apart from the Son and the Holy Spirit and vice versa. It means that the Father, of His own free will, decided to send His Son into this world for the redemption of mankind. It means that the Son, of His own free will, responded positively to His Father’s decision when He came to this earth and experienced death for fallen humanity. Finally, it means that the Holy Spirit, of His own volition, came to this earth to do the bidding of both the Father and the Son. And although it must be understood that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were, and are, all involved in man’s redemption, nevertheless, each person in the Godhead had work to do that was unique only to Him (cf. 1 Peter 1:1-2). When one reads the Bible, these truths are clear. By clear, I do not mean that I think it is easy for finite creatures to understand how this threeness is rooted in the divine essence. On the contrary, by clear, I simply mean that the doctrine of the triune nature of God is explicitly taught in the Bible.

The Economic And Ontological Trinities

Theologians speak of the “economic Trinity” and the “ontological Trinity.” These are constructs that attempt to define God. The so-called economic Trinity refers to the “division of labor” that exists between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and concerns itself principally with the different works done by the three persons of the Godhead in relation to the scheme of redemption. For example, the Bible depicts God the Father as foreknowing and choosing the plan whereby man could be redeemed (cf. Romans 8:29). In His role (or work), the Father is never portrayed as being the One sent. On the contrary, the Father sends the Son and the Spirit (cf. John 5:37; 14:26; 20:21). In turn, the Holy Spirit is involved in the work of sanctification (cf. 1 Peter 1:1-2), and He is also the agent of inspiration (cf. John 16:13; 2 Peter 1:21). In this connection, it is interesting to note that it is only blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and not against the Father or Son, that is unforgivable (cf. Matthew 12:31-32). From this, one can clearly see that the three persons of the Godhead are truly distinct. It is, of course, the works of Jesus, the Son of God, which receive most of the attention in the New Testament. This is because it is He who “became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). It was only the Son who experienced death for us. It was only the Son who was resurrected from the dead, taken bodily into heaven, and seated at the Father’s right hand. It is only the Son who is the High Priest and Mediator between God and man (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 4:14).

Therefore, the Bible teaches that, when it comes to the scheme of redemption, there are

  • works done by the Father that are not done by the Son or the Spirit;
  • there are works done by the Son that are not done by the Father or the Spirit;
  • and there are works done by the Spirit that are not done by the Father or the Son.

It is this Bible-based division of labor or economic Trinity that sheds some light on the so-called ontological Trinity (viz., how the three persons of the Godhead are related within their own being, totally apart from any manifestations or works directed outside themselves.). Discerning a threeness in the external manifestations and works of God is not too taxing, but when one turns his attention to the ontological Trinity, things begin to get a lot harder. For instance, are the appellations of Father, Son and Holy Spirit eternal distinctions within the Trinity, or are they derived from the various works of God in the scheme of redemption? Particularly, from the standpoint of the Scriptures, is the doctrine of the eternal Sonship of Christ authentic? For example, Alexander Campbell taught that Jesus Christ, according to John 1:1, pre-existed as the Divine Logos or Word of God, but that His Sonship began with the incarnation. According to Campbell, the entire “relation of Father, Son and Holy Spirit began to be” during the days of Augustus Caesar (The Christian System, pp. 9-10). Personally, I am not certain that the eternal Sonship of Christ is biblical, and, furthermore, I do not really see what difference it makes. There are several explicit references to the Deity of Christ in the Bible; consequently, His Deity (or equality with God) does not, as I see it, depend on an eternal Sonship relation.

But how, then, do we explain the ontological Trinity? Personally, I do not think we can with any large degree of specificity. When we do try, we seem to fail, and fail miserably. Furthermore, many attempts to explain or depict the ontological Trinity (i.e., three in One) actually incline toward idolatry (cf. Romans 1:22-23), which is something we should be seeking to avoid with a passion. We must always remember that God is not a man; therefore, He cannot ultimately be explained or understood by trying to compare Him with finite creatures. And although it is absolutely impossible for three finite creatures to consist of the same essence, nevertheless, God, who is three Divine persons, and Who is identified in the economy of redemption as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is also, and at the same time, one self-existent, eternal, infinite, immutable Spirit Being.

There can be no doubt that the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity transcends the limits of our finite knowledge. By reason alone, and by this I mean reason unaided by divine revelation, we cannot figure out the ontological Trinity. But by concentrating on the economic Trinity revealed to us in the Bible, we can know what the Triune God wants us to know about Himself. Consequently, I agree with professor B. B. Warfield, who concluded, “When we have said these three things, then—that there is but one God, that the Father and the Son and the Spirit is each God, that the Father and the Son and the Spirit is each a distinct person—we have enunciated the doctrine of the Trinity in its completeness” (“The Biblical Doctrine Of The Trinity,” in B. B. Warfield, ed., Biblical And Theological Studies, pp. 22-59).

Mythology is filled with numerous triads, but there is only one Triune God. And if it had not been for the scheme of redemption, we would know very little of His threeness. In fact, although there are allusions in the Old Testament that the Godhead consists of more than one person, if Scripture had not depicted Jesus of Nazareth as God incarnate, and the Holy Spirit as Deity, the question of the Trinity would have never arisen. This means that Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are the fundamental proof of the doctrine of the Trinity. This means that if the pre-existent Jesus (i.e., the Word or Divine Logos of John 1:1) actually divested Himself of His Godhood and Divinity, so that the “fullness of the Godhead” did not dwell in His earthly body (cf. Colossians 2:9), as some are currently teaching, then the Triune God, who has identified Himself as a self-existent, eternal, infinite, immutable Spirit, ceased to exist as He had existed, at least for a period of time. Therefore, one can readily see that the controversy over the Deity of Christ that has been manifested in some churches of Christ is not a “tempest in a teapot” issue; but is, instead, an issue that strikes at the very core of the gospel. With this in mind, it is now time to turn our attention to the Biblical truth that there never was a time when the Divine Logos was not God with a capital “G.”

Jesus is God. This is the basic meaning of the incarnation. In John 1:1, the Holy Spirit teaches that not only was the Word (i.e., the Logos) in the beginning with God, but the Word was God. In verses 14-34 of the same book, we learn that the Logos became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. And in this book that was written so that men would believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing might have life in His name, Thomas, speaking of Jesus, exclaims, after seeing Him in His resurrected body, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). There are, of course, other passages that directly speak of Jesus as God, but since they are all disputed by some, I have chosen not to mention them here. Nevertheless, the passages cited serve to demonstrate, to those who are willing to believe the Bible, that Jesus is, in fact, God.

Furthermore, the writer of Hebrews, telling us what God had prophesied about Jesus, writes, “But to the Son He says: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever’” (Hebrews 1:8). Also, he clearly identifies Jesus as the Jehovah and Elohim of Psalm 102:25-27, who eternally existed before He created the heavens and earth (cf. Hebrews 1:10), and who remains eternally the same (cf. Hebrews 1:11,12), and who is, in the person of Jesus Christ, “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). To see in Hebrews 13:8, as some do, only a reference to the faithfulness of Jesus, and not a reference to His immutability, is a serious mistake. In fact, Jesus Christ’s faithfulness is grounded in His changelessness. Because He does not change ontologically (i.e., because He has always been the fullness of God that He is at this very moment), He has been, is, and always will be, completely and totally reliable. It is only in this sense that Jesus could identify Himself as the “I AM THAT I AM” or “He who is” of Exodus 3:14 (see also John 8:58). When Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM,” He used the aorist tense to describe Abraham’s existence, but the timeless present tense to describe His own existence, and thereby identified Himself as the self-existent, eternal, infinite, immutable God with a capital “G.” Well has it been said:

Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God (Psalm 90:1-2).

As difficult as it may be for finite creatures to even begin to comprehend, when the Divine Logos, or Son of God, became flesh (cf. John 1:14), or, as the Bible says elsewhere, came in the likeness of man (cf. Philippians 2:8), or was manifested in the flesh (cf. 1 Timothy 3:16), He did not divest, give up, or have stripped from Him, His Deity. Within the man Jesus of Nazareth dwelt, and continues to dwell (for such is the meaning of the present tense), all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, as Colossians 2:9 so clearly points out. In fact, from a Biblical standpoint, the historical Jesus is never understood apart from His embodiment as the self-existent, eternal, infinite, immutable God in time and space. And although it is true that a God divested of His Deity would still continue to exist, in truth, He would no longer be what He had been and, therefore, could not call Himself “I AM THAT I AM.”

Now, with a concept of the true God firmly imprinted in our minds, it is time to turn our attention to the various substitutes for God (i.e., idols) that men invent, even Christians, and we’ll do this, Lord permitting, in the next post in this series

This Is The Way I See It, Or Why I Voted For Ted Cruz

God Less America

In terms of doctrinaire, understandable, articulated, implementable conservatism, there’s nobody closer to Reagan than Cruz. This is why in early voting here in Georgia I cast my vote for Ted Cruz. Will I vote for Rubio, Jeb, Carson or a little to left leaning Kasich if one of them is the nominee? Yes. But if the Republicans play the Trump card, I cannot, and will not, vote for him even in a last-ditch effort to prevent Hillary from being coronated. In other words, I’m not going to risk going to hell over a national election, and this is what I would be doing if compelled to violate my conscience by voting for the personification of everything Jesus wasn’t. Furthermore, I will view the whole scenario, rightly or wrongly, as a “gathering of eagles” sign that God intends to wreak judgement on this nation for its killing of the innocents and its sanctioning of all sorts of sexual perversions and debaucheries.

Ode To The Unknown God

The Unknown God — Acts 17

“You are My witnesses,” says the LORD, “and My servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the LORD, and besides Me there is no savior. I have declared and saved, I have proclaimed, and there was no foreign god among you; therefore you are My witnesses,” says the LORD, “that I am God. Indeed before the day was, I am He; and there is no one who can deliver out of My hand; I work, and who will reverse it?” (Isaiah 43:10-13).

From a very early age I remember being interested in the nature of God. I was particularly interested in His omniscience and how it relates to our free free moral agency. Admittedly, the supposed conflict between the Creator’s foreknowledge and the creature’s free will did not seem as insurmountable to me as it did to most of those I questioned about the subject. However, it was not until later in life that I decided to do some in-depth study of the subject. As a result, it became clear to me that there was clearly no conflict between God’s foreknowledge and man’s free will. But such was not so clear to those around me and I wanted to know why.

While living and working in Kenya, East Africa, in the early and mid nineteen nineties, I decided to devote some quality time to thinking about the attributes and characteristics of God and how they relate to the subject of man’s free will. It soon became clear to me that too many Christians were relating to God as a man, albeit a man of larger proportions. As I thought about the ideas and concepts about God that I had encountered among my fellow Christians over the years, I came to understand that many of them — and I do not exclude myself from these — had constructed and bowed down to a little “g” god that was not the I AM THAT I AM. This series is the direct result of that study.

As you read what I’ve said here, you may become offended. Nevertheless, I entreat you to read with an open mind. If the ideas you find expressed here are unscriptural, illogical, or otherwise in error, just disregard them. On the other hand, if you find truth here, then I ask only that you be willing to make the adjustments in your thinking that such these truth requires.

Finally, it is my prayer that this series will serve in some small way to bring the one and only true and living God more of the glory and honor He so richly deserves.

An Introduction

Some years ago I had a written debate with a very capable brother on the subject of God’s foreknowledge. During this discussion, he used several human analogies in an effort to prove God could not know the future, contingent, free will choices of His creatures. They were the “master of chess” God and “God as novelist or playwright.” In his master-of-chess analogy, his point was: “God does not need foreknowledge of the contingent free will choices and actions of men in order to bring His purpose to pass.” He argued that “a master of chess would not need foreknowledge of a novice’s moves in order to decisively defeat him.” He then applied this analogy to God by arguing, “So it is with God and men.” When using the God as novelist or playwright analogy, his point was that if God already knew the future, then it would have to be because He had already written it.

I pointed out to him that the problem with all such analogies is the inherent assumption, even when one is unconscious of it, that God is just a man of larger proportions — something the Bible categorically denies. My objection to such reasoning was twofold:

  1. the obvious effort to make God in the image of man, something Romans 1:23 clearly identifies as idolatry; and
  2. God’s foreknowledge cannot be legitimately compared with man’s writing of a novel or play because God’s foreknowledge, contrary to that of the novelist/playwright, need not be any more manipulative than omnipotence, an attribute my opponent readily admitted God could use to carry out His will without stomping all over the free moral agency of His creatures.

However, and this was a point that greatly greived my opponent, there is, in reality, little difference between the theologians’ constructs (viz., God as a novelist or playwright analogies) and the pagans’ idols — they are all substitutes of God.

Further, when one insists on playing around on the slippery slopes of higher anthropomorphism he ought not to be so surprised when he falls victim of his own dubious assumptions.

To this line of reasoning, my opponent said:

I am accused of an ‘obvious effort to make God in the image of man,’ and, therefore, of idolatry. This is a mighty serious charge to bring against a brother.

I think I can understand how he must have felt, but I was obligated to show that ideas do, in fact, have consequences. At issue was not whether I had made a serious charge against a brother, but whether the charge was, in fact, true. Now, like then, I do not believe this brother knowingly involved himself in idolatry. However, he unwittingly engaged in it when he superimposed man’s imperfections and inabilities onto God. This, after all, is precisely what idolatry is.

I refer to this incident not because I wish to embarrass or be unkind to my brother in that debate, but because I think it serves to illustrate a weakness we Christians have when it comes to the subject of idolatry. It seems we have a tendency to think idolatry is something that only influences heathens. However, the tendency to idolatry is as prevalent today as it ever was. The Bible makes it clear that idols are not just wood and stone images found on pagan altars, but false concepts in the hearts and minds of well-educated moderns, as well.

In the New Testament, the apostle John warned Christians to keep themselves from idols. The apostle Paul wrote that Christians are to flee idolatry. Are these warnings to all Christians throughout all time, or are they, as some claim, just warnings to Gentile Christians who were surrounded by pagan idolatry? Doesn’t the Bible teach that all Christians are susceptible to covetousness? And doesn’t this same Bible clearly teach that covetousness is, in essence, idolatry? If so, then the Bible teaches that idolatry can influence modern “civilized” Christians, just as it did the ancients. Consequently, we moderns must be careful not to become entangled in idolatry’s snare.

The Almighty Is A Jealous God

The true and living God, the One who has revealed Himself in the Scriptures, is a jealous God. As such, He demands that we have no other gods before Him. Therefore, when we study Jehovah’s revelation of Himself in the Bible, we must work very hard not to misunderstand what He says. If we do misunderstand — or worse yet, misrepresent — Him in any way, we could easily be entangled in idolatry. For example, I have heard people say, “The God I worship could never send anyone to Hell for an eternity.” They go on to say that their God is a God of love, not wrath; mercy, not vengeance, et cetera. I believe most Christians will recognize the idolatrous nature of such thinking, for it is clear that people who talk like this have created a god (i.e., a theological construct or idol) who is much different from the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible. Consequently, all Christians, especially gospel preachers, must be very careful to understand correctly, and teach accurately, the magnificent attributes and characteristics of the Almighty God, Jehovah Elohim. When a preacher says that it is impossible for God to foreknow the future — unless He has acted to cause it to happen — simply because it hasn’t happened yet, he is bowing down, even though unintentionally, to a god quite different from the One who has identified Himself in the Bible, and as I pointed out in the aforementioned debate, this is nothing less than idolatry.

The fact that the brother in that debate thought my mentioning of idolatry to be too harsh in a discussion between Christians is, I am convinced, indicative of a general misunderstanding of the far-reaching significance of idolatry. Idolatry is not just something that pagans engage in; it is something Christians can, and do, participate in, as well. Therefore, an examination of idolatry — what it is and how it affects us — is a study that can be extremely helpful. Our plan for doing so is as follows:


  • First, we’ll take a little closer look at the one true God who has revealed Himself in the Bible.

  • Then, we’ll do an examination of idolatry itself.

  • Finally, we’ll consider some of the idols we moderns have constructed for ourselves.

This study will be challenging, but when we’re through, I hope you’ll agree with me that it was worth the effort.

Secularization And Its Effect

Secularization Definition

As they out-thinks, out-lives, and out-dies the pagans around about them, Christians are to be counterculture, not subculture. Unfortunately, many modern-day Christians have begun to blend in. Instead of acting like strangers and pilgrims (Hebrews 11:13; I Peter 2:11) whose citizenships are in heaven (Philippians 3:20), many Christians have become much too comfortable in our narcissistic, hedonistic, materialistic, and pluralistic society. Many are failing to live out the “in the world, but not of the world” mandate of John 17. Like the church at Laodecia, many of us, indulging ourselves in the material riches of our society (cf. Revelation 3:17), have become “neither hot nor cold” (verse 15). Consequently, if we do not repent, the Lord will eventually spew us out of His mouth. Because repentance is not possible without a change of direction and a turning from that which is wrong, the rest of this article will be devoted to identifying the process (namely, secularization) that has brought us to this critical point in time, and a defining of our terms, like narcissism, hedonism, materialism, and pluralism.

What Is Secularism?

Every society is made up of different people, different jobs, different values, and different classes. Nevertheless, students of history tell us that no society can survive or function without a unifying system of thought. The unifying system of thought that acts as a glue that makes the various parts of a society adhere is called a “world view.” This world view may be built on a philosophical system like Platonism, or on a religion like ancient Israel. It may be built on a common mythology, or on a devotion to the state, or on some political philosophy. In every society there is a competition between philosophy, religion, mythology, and politics for dominance. One of these elements will eventually emerge as the principal world view.

Originally, a Biblical world view was the unifying system that dominated American society; but, this is no longer true. In our modern topsy-turvy culture, the principal ism or system of thought that is being reflected in our creative arts, in our popular literature and music, on our TV screens, in our educational institutions, and even in our churches, is secularism. In secularism, all life, every human value, every human activity must be understood in view of the here and now. There are no windows into the eternal. If there is a God—and the secularist is either an atheist or agnostic—He is totally irrelevant. All that matters is now. In the secular world view, human beings are not created in the image of God. They are, instead, wholly physical. Consequently, humans are the outgrowth of an evolutionary process and are, at best, nothing more than a chance collocation of atoms. Because there is no hope of life beyond this present physical world, the secular humanist declares that man’s highest end is happiness, freedom, and progress for all mankind in this present world. To this end the secularist “assigns to man nothing less than the task of being his own savior and redeemer” (Corliss Lamont, The Philosophy of Humanism, p. 283).

In stark contrast to secularism, which says, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die,” stands Christianity, which says, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Christianity speaks of something more than the here and now. While secularism takes the short view, Christianity takes the long view. While secularists talk about the here and now, Christians speak of an eternal life beyond the grave. While secularism, which teaches man is the product of evolution, validates narcissism, hedonism, materialism, and pluralism, Christianity, which teaches man is created in the image of God, refutes all man-made isms with the admonition, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

The Bible tells us that faith comes as a result of hearing God’s Word (Romans 10:17). In Hebrews 11:3, the writer says that faith has its starting point at Genesis 1:1. Consequently, the starting point for a Biblical world view is the first verse of the Bible. Before the here and now, God, who transcends this current time-space world, existed in eternity. This means there is more to reality than the here and now. But, there is more. Apart from “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” there are no real ethical obligations; no such things as absolute norms of conduct—no moral absolutes. If there is no Creator who is Sovereign of the universe, then man is under no moral obligations and is absolutely free to do as he pleases. It is here then that we arrive at the crux of the matter. Man, in his arrogant pride, does not want to do what God wants him to do. As a result, man attempts to suppress the truth about God in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). Why? Because if man can be persuaded to believe the lie that there is no Sovereign God who lives in eternity, then he can be comfortable involving himself in all sorts of uncleanness and ungodliness (Romans 1:19-25). Secularism, of course, is the perfect vehicle for such unbelief.

The Gravedigger Effect

In the 20th century, the secularization of America has had a tremendous affect on Christians. It is as unfortunate as it is true that we have bought, nearly “lock, stock, and barrel,” the secularization lie. Consequently, we have given ourselves over to a traditional, uncritical, and unscriptural view of the separation of church (the sacred) and state (the secular). Although it is true that Christians ought to distinguish between the secular and the sacred, it is just as true that we must never try to separate them. To do so would be to deny the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all of life. Nevertheless, for the most part, we, as 20th century Christians, have given ourselves over to a view of church and state that has forced us to divide our lives into that which is sacred and that which is secular. This dichotomy has forced us to compartmentalize our religion. Within the confines of an ever decreasing arena, we unashamedly proclaim belief in, and reliance upon, God. But outside these parameters—cage might be a better word—we are reluctant to even mention His name. Although religion in the private sector may seem to be flourishing, in the public arena it has been almost totally neutralized. Today, Christianity may be privately engaging, but it is socially irrelevant. The central sectors of society (business, technology, science, medicine, law, politics, etc.) have been stripped of religious influence. As Americans, and, unfortunately, as Christians, we have thought it only proper to internalize our religion. This “privatization” or secret discipleship (i.e., the “Joseph of Arimathea Syndrome,” John 19:38) has contributed to the current secularization of America. But, more importantly, it has caused true Christianity to be without any real impact in public life. Afraid to mention the name of the Lord publicly, except within the limited confines of church and family, for fear of being thought un-American, uncivil, un-professional, anti-social, sectarian, and fanatical, we now find ourselves without any real impact in our communities. Instead of being the salt that savors and the light that shines out of darkness (Matthew 5:13-16), we have allowed the “Wall” the secularists have erected between church and state to force us to publicly blend in with the rest of society.

Embarrassing as it is, the secularists have actually become victors by default. They are occupying territory that Christians have withdrawn from. Thinking it our duty to espouse a principle that forces us to eliminate the Lord from ALL of government and MOST of society, we have created the monster called “Secularism.” This Frankenstein, which is now determined to destroy us, is an unnatural creation that should have never been fabricated in the first place. In essence, we have been digging our own graves, and it is this conduct we be referring to when using the term “Gravedigger Effect.”

Seduced By A Metaphor

No student of the Bible would deny that Jesus taught there was to be a distinction between church and state. During His earthly ministry, Jesus said: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Nevertheless, we feel confident in denying that the Lord wanted His disciples to believe there was to be a separation of God and the state, that is, a complete divorcement of God-based morality from civil government. The “Wall,” or in its more expanded form, “the wall of separation between church and state,” first articulated by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury (Connecticut) Baptist Association, is a seductive metaphor that has subsequently misled many. The concept of an inseparable wall between church and state, whether one believes it to have been taught by Jesus or espoused in the Constitution, surrenders to a simplistic understanding of a complicated subject. It is, in fact, a gross hermeneutical error to use Matthew 22:21 as a prooftext for an absolute and inseparable wall between government and religion. Prooftexting or “Bumper Sticker Theology,” as I prefer to call it, must give way to a conceptual or over-all view of the Lord’s teaching on any given subject. For example, the faith taught in John 3:16 cannot really be understood without the teaching found in James 2:14-26. Likewise, we would expect the truth taught in Matthew 22:21 to be amplified elsewhere in God’s Word. For example, in Titus 3:1, the Christian is taught to be “subject to rulers and authorities.” Is not this really the same as, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”?

Those who have supposed the state to be absolutely autonomous and free from a God-based morality have failed to consider many Bible passages, including Colossians 2:10, where Jesus is said to be “the head of all principality and power.” Not only is He “head over all things to the church,” but He is “far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:21-22). There is but one exception to the sovereignty of Jesus Christ, and that is the Father, “who put all things under Him” (I Corinthians 15:27). As Christians, there is simply no excuse for not knowing what Nebuchadnezzar had to learn the hard way; namely, “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men” (Daniel 4:25).

As we have already said, for the Christian to have believed that in order to honor Jesus Christ it was necessary for him to eliminate the Lord from ALL of government and MOST of society, is totally irreconcilable with the truth taught in the Bible. It is just such unquestioned allegiance to the erroneous doctrine of “the Wall” between church and state that has caused churches of Christ to be without any appreciable impact on society and, as a result, very ineffective in their evangelistic efforts. Having rested our hopes on apologetics (the defense of a doctrine), we have sorely neglected discipleship (the living of a doctrine), see Galatians 2:20. Jesus taught us that we are to be the “salt” and “light” of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). With but little thought given to the context, we can readily understand that the Lord was not referring to our “saying,” but our “doing.” Christians function as salt and light when others see our “good works and glorify (our) Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16b). A world groping in darkness is benefitted by the disciplined lives of a “chosen generation, a royal nation, a peculiar people” (I Peter 2:9).

Unless we acknowledge our mistakes and repent, we will be no good to ourselves or others. Consequently, let us now examine some of the philosophies and values that exist under the larger umbrella of secularism and that affect us both personally and collectively.

Narcissism

Narcissism is one of secularism’s false values. It says, “Me first.” It says, “I’m number one.” The narcissist is in love with himself. Other people matter only as they serve to fulfill and satisfy him. He is only concerned about his rights, his privileges, and his happiness. Wives, husbands, children, employers, employees, and fellow citizens all take a second seat to the narcissist. He or she is a “me first” kind of person. He is in love with the self-esteem, self-love, pull-your-own-strings, put-yourself-first, you’re-number-one shibboleths of modern-day pop-psychology. When the Christian becomes infected with this spiritual disease, he begins to talk about doing something for himself. He talks of being tired of doing what God and everyone else wants him to do. He begins to complain about the sermons not being uplifting enough. He protests that Bible classes just aren’t positive enough. He whines about the worship services of the local congregation just not doing anything for him anymore. It is not long before families, church unity, ethics in the marketplace, and community stability soon begin to play second fiddle to the “star” of the show—Numero Uno! By contrast, Jesus instructs us to crucify self and put others first (cf. Matthew 16:24,25; Philippians 2:3). He teaches us to give ourselves away to God and others (Matthew 22:34-40).

Hedonism

Closely related to narcissism, hedonism says that life ought to be lived solely for pleasure. It is personified in the Playboy philosophy of the 1950s and ’60s and is summed up in the motto, “If it feels good, do it.” It fans the flames of pornography and homosexuality as it promotes anything and everything that supposedly gives “pleasure.” It replaces responsible living with a “thrill at any cost” approach to life. It is responsible for the proliferation of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS. Those given over to hedonism are addicted to lust and can never be satisfied. Nevertheless, in their attempts to satisfy their lusts hedonists usually become quite promiscuous. This, of course, destroys many marriages and homes. Finally, the pursuit of pleasure at any cost leaves men and women broken, lonely, and sad. On the other hand, those who follow God’s Word will find true happiness and satisfaction in the “one flesh” relationship ordained by God, and will find ultimate satisfaction in pleasing Christ (II Corinthians 5:9).

Materialism

Materialism says, “I am what I have” and “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Instead of concentrating on the spiritual and eternal things, materialism seeks after those things that can be seen, touched, tasted, smelled, and possessed. Everything and everybody takes a second seat to materialism—the accumulation of things. In contrast to this, Christianity teaches that we ought to be laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven. In other words, life is an investment, and we can either invest for short-term benefits or long-term gains.

Pluralism

Modern America prides itself in its pluralism. Pluralism is modern culture’s belief that there are many different right ways to live and believe. Find whatever works for you. If it’s Jesus and Christianity, fine. If it’s Hinduism, great. Whatever you want to believe is just fine. Find the church of your choice. Dogmatism is out. Absolutes are out. All paths lead to the same god. God wouldn’t turn away sincere people. All this nonsense is pluralism. In pluralistic America, even witchcraft and devil worship are constitutionally protected religions. Many seem to think that the Creator of the universe is somehow limited by the Constitution of the United States. He is not! Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). The apostle Peter taught, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Any culture totally given over to pluralism has forgotten that there is a Law above the law. America, both collectively and individually, will honor God and be blessed, or it will disobey God and pay the bitter consequences.

Conclusion

Allowing ourselves to have been seduced by a metaphor, we have unwittingly added to the void that has caused our current secularization. Surrendering to the enemy, we have even stooped to digging our own graves. Consequently, we believe it critical—for both the church and society—that the church of Christ respond to the God-given imperative: “Let your light shine.” But realizing some may misunderstand our thesis, we want to make it clear that we are not advocating the “social gospel” which still overshadows a majority of the Lord’s church. We are not promoting the activation of the universal church, and would resist all efforts to do so. Every such effort has resulted in the dilution of the gospel message. On the contrary, ours is an appeal not to the church collectively, but to the church individually. As individual Christians, we must learn that there is no basic conflict between discipleship and political power. Biblical faith is more than a private pill to be swallowed; it is a prescribed regimen that must become a part of every facet of our lives.

As we have now entered the 21st century, secular values and their consequences will continue to permeate our culture and affect Christians. But, as always, there is a remedy. After repenting, we must turn to (1) strong Bible teaching (II Timothy 3:16; 4:4), (2) a rediscovery of our calling (I Thessalonians 2:12; Romans 12:1,2; II Peter 1:1-11), and (3) the development of a Bible-based world view (Ecclesiastes 12:13; Micah 6:8; Matthew 22:36-40). Ultimately, the battle is for the mind; therefore, we will either give ourselves over to a secular way of thinking or we will develop the “mind of Christ.”

It is our prayer that churches of Christ will stand up and courageously answer the Lord’s bidding to be counterculture. With this in mind, we close with the apostle Paul’s exhortation in Romans 13:12-14, which says:

The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in licentiousness and lewdness, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.