Thursday, December 9, 2010


Recently I came across an article in USA Today that discussed the findings of a new book concerning how Americans view and understand God. The article did not deal with epistemological method as much as it did the simple results of the research. According to the research, there are four dominant views of God and then there is the atheistic view which makes up about 5% of the population. The purpose of this article is not to get into the details of these views. Rather, it is the objective of this article to discuss our basis for knowing and understanding God. One should not race to the question, “What kind of God exists?” without also asking the question, “How can I know what kind of God exists?”
To what do people point when asked the question, “How do you know what kind of God exists?” If God exists, and it is my contention that He does, then the question we must ask is “what is God like?” and “how do we know?” After all, not just any kind of God exists. When we say that God exists, implicit in that statement is a very specific kind of God! For example, we would deny that any kind of God exists who ordered Muslim terrorists to attack the World Trade Towers on September 11th, 2001. But is this denial based on something outside of our own desires and projections of God or is it based on tangible information we have about the God that actually exists? And if the answer to this

What does God think about life issues? Is God like a grey-haired grandpa we remember from our childhood? Or is He a stern disciplinarian who smashes us over the head every time we fail? Is God a soft-spoken father who indulges our every adolescent desire? How do we arrive at the truth about what God is like? This understanding of God shapes, to a very large degree, how we conduct our lives day in and day out. Our view of the kind of God that is shapes how we make decisions, how we think, how we relate to others, and numerous other behaviors that make us who we are as a person. Fundamentally, either we are informed by God of who He is, or we engineer and create a god of our own choosing.

The truth about our views of God

In many instances, the truth is that our tableau of God is nothing more than our own projections or desires of who we want God to be in our own heart. There is a real struggle in the heart of the sinner to create views of God that satisfy or are amenable to our sin nature. The human heart cannot be trusted to arrive at a view of God on its own. (Jer. 17:9) It is woefully inadequate to construct an accurate view of the God that is. (1 Cor. 2:14) The first chapter to the Roman Church describes this inadequacy clearer than any other passage of Scripture in the entire Bible. Since human beings are creations that come into existence without any prior knowledge of reality, everything we see in that reality is subject to our interpretation. In other words, we are knowledge dependent. Our knowledge of reality depends on something outside of ourselves. Even innate knowledge is dependent on the Depositor of the knowledge that is planted within from the start. We are not at liberty to create our own reality, much less to create a God of our own making. In and of ourselves, we are not capable of arriving at true knowledge nor can we be trusted to arrive at true knowledge even if the capability were there somehow. Epistemologically, we quickly hit a dead-end when we encounter reality. Our knowledge begins and ends with the Divine Trinity. Outside of God there is no hope for human knowledge. The question is really one of authority more than anything else. What is the ground upon which our knowledge rests?

You will have no other gods

What exactly does this commandment mean? The question about how this verse should be translated concerns exclusivity or hierarchy. Is God saying that you are not to have any god higher than me? Or is He saying, you are to have no God other than me? The linguistic evidence points to an idiomatic sense that favors the latter. We are commanded to have no other God other than God. Prior to this commandment, in the prologue, God identifies Himself. In other words, God gives a clear identification of who He is and then commands unwavering commitment to Himself as the only God the Children of Israel is to worship and serve. God requires complete, comprehensive, and unconditional allegiance to Himself. God rejects half-worship as Idolatry. We are not at liberty to hold back that which we desire and give to God only that which we find convenient. Anything less than complete loyalty is not loyalty. God rejects partial service as iniquity. God is indentified by His nature and His nature is seen in His actions. We know and understand God from the actions He undertakes in Scripture. These actions include speech-acts as well as divine interventions in the narrative of biblical history.

When we know it all

When human beings follow in the foot-steps of Descartes, and man becomes the measure of all things, all hope for true knowledge about God vanishes. We end up with as many gods as there are human desires and projections. Rather than being an essential key to human knowledge, Cartesian philosophy becomes antithetical to it. As a result, humans continue to do what they have done since the fall: they create projections of gods so that they may be free to satisfy their innate desire to worship something while at the same time, in essence, worshipping self. In other words, when man creates various gods to worship, he is really seeking to have his cake and eat it too. This way, man is only as accountable as he wants to be and not one inch more. He retains the sins he so cherishes, and condemns those behaviors he himself hates. And since some of those condemned behaviors are also condemned by God, he comes away with a sense of righteousness in his own mind. For instance, this frees contemporary western culture to accept homosexuality while at the same time holding the practice of moral judging in great contempt. Man becomes the measure of all things which is really what the history of the Garden of Eden demonstrates to us from the start. Our struggle, really, when all is said and done, is either to worship God or to be god. That is what the sinful nature, at bottom, is really after. Either we will submit to God or god will submit to us. This ethical component of epistemology is often missed by many. However, to do so is detrimental to the conversation about knowing what kind of God actually exists. For in back of the question of knowing God is the question concerning how we know what kind of God exists.

Justifying the kind of God that exists

The one component that is sometimes missing in this discussion about knowledge of the kind of God that really exists is the ethical aspect of the question. If we were to ask if we have the right to believe whatever we wish about another person, the answer would be categorically, no! If we arrive at a certain belief about someone or something, that belief must be justified. Such justification is reasonable and we see it practiced and expect that it ought to be practiced every time we engage in such behavior. In fact, we find it unreasonable to make baseless and unjustifiable conclusions about other people. This is true in secular society and it is especially true in Christianity. John Frame writes,
“To ask a person to justify a belief is to ask an ethical question. It is to ask what ethical right that person has to believe such and such; it is to ask whether and why we are ethically obligated to believe it.” [Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 109]
 This relates well to our discussion on the question of what kind of God exists. In the end, we all form beliefs around the kind of God that really is. Frame also discusses the fact that belief is a human behavior and as such, must be subjected to an ethical evaluation. And here is the rub. In post-modern society, there is a real struggle to agree on the normative standards. There is an attempt to free ourselves from being slaves to any tradition or system of thought that we find inordinately oppressive. Christianity would be classified as one of those systems, and therefore, so too would any normative view of God, and epistemology for that matter. Each person ought to be free to believe whatever they wish. After all, a denial of normative ethics would logically force one to that conclusion. But we really do believe in ethical norms as a society despite post-modernism’s strangle hold on many of these arguments. We argue one way and live quite another. And we insist that no one view of God is superior to any other view of God. Such thinking is normative. The question is, “does this thinking comport with reality and is it coherent?” The short answer is no, but the purpose of this article is focused elsewhere.

Knowing the kind of God that is

The source for all knowledge of God is revelation. This is how we know that God exists and it is the only way to know what kind of God exists. The sin nature of man naturally suppresses true knowledge of God and exchanges the true image of God described in Scripture for an image that is acceptable to the sin nature. This god excuses the sinful behavior and desires of the man who created it. And there are nearly as many of these creations (projections) of god as there are humans.

The Christian is not insulated from such behavior even though the believer has a very distinct advantage having had their eyes opened to the truth of God revealed in Scripture. Nevertheless, due to the fact that we still have a sin nature to contend with, we also have to be on alert for this behavior to pervert the image of God as well. We have our pet sins, our system of ethics that sometimes contradicts God’s moral law and we must guard against the temptation to avoid excusing what God does not excuse. God is not a soft-spoken grandpa in the sky who brings us toys every time he visits. Jesus said, “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: This people draws near to me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” Matt. 15:7-9 It is strange how much of God and of Christ we fail to see in Scripture when we adopt views of God that are based on post-modern thinking. This gives a clue just how deeply post-modern philosophy has infected Christian thinking in the twenty-first century. We begin with views of God that we desire to be there and then we read them into the text. Hence, the Christian thinker has a sinful tendency to project the god they want in the pages of Scripture. No less than fourteen times did Christ rebuke the religious of his day, calling them hypocrites for refusing to submit to God’s revealed will while at the same time professing to be the exemplars of God in the earth. These religious men of Christ’s time were guilty of creating images of God in their minds that were not in accord with the true God is Israel. Consequently, Jesus could not tolerate their sin and he certainly did not excuse it. He blasted them with the fiery rebukes they deserved. The same can be seen all throughout the Old Testament in God’s dealings with Israel. In His dealings with Israel’s wanderings, God says, “I will chastise them in accordance with the proclamation to their assembly. Woe to them, for they have strayed from Me! Destruction is theirs, for they have rebelled against Me. Hosea 7:12c-13 This is one example of how our view of God and Scripture’s depiction of God are remarkably different. In fact, these two views of God are actually antithetical to one another. However, we should be encouraged when we fall into God’s discipline for this is an indication that we are indeed sons. If we are not subjected to God’s holy discipline, then we must question whether or not we are sons. Heb. 12:3-11

Our views of God must be informed by the only reliable source of the kind of God that exists. And that source is Scripture. To Scripture we must come if we are to arrive at an adequate, albeit incomplete understanding of the God that is. The only other choice is to worship our own projection of god. And to engage in such a practice is a reflection of pride, arrogance, and an autonomous desire that runs counter to everything that God is. The Scripture is there to show us the way. The Word of God is God speaking. God speaks about His nature, His will, His desire, and He speaks about how we should live, love, think, decide, and behave in every situation we may find ourselves in.

If it is our hope to live a life that is pleasing to God, we must know what kind of God He is. If we miss the mark on knowing the kind of God that is, we have no basis for understanding how we should then conduct ourselves in this world. To please God, our lives must be patterned after Him. We cannot possibly know how to pattern our lives after God if we do not know what kind of God He is. In order to understand the kind of God that is, we must turn to Scripture and humbly submit our thinking about, and interpretations of God, to the Word of God and allow God’s revelation to inform us of His person. In other words, we must interpret God according to God's own interpretation of Himself.

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