Thursday, June 16, 2011

Understanding God

Our spiritual life is grounded in how we understand God. It is impossible to know God (or anyone else for that matter) without knowing something about Him (Jeremiah 9:23,24; Isaiah 43:10-13; Romans 1:18-23). We must avoid an arid intellectual knowledge that knows all about God but does not know God (Matthew 11:27: John 17:3; Hebrews 8:11). But it is equally dangerous to think we can know God without knowing anything about Him. This leaves knowing God to be an indefinable emotional experience without any basis in reality. It is not clear whether, under these circumstances, we are experiencing God or our own psychological processes. If someone tells me they know my brother, but cannot tell me anything about him, I have to question if they know him.

But there is an opposite danger for those who are convinced we do know something about God, and that is to feel we have Him all figured out. This is despite many Scriptural assertions that we cannot fully understand God (Romans 11:33: Isaiah 55:8,9; 1 Corinthians 3:18). There is an approach to God that sees Him more as an equation then a person. It sees God's attributes as determining how He behaves, rather then being facts about His nature. Sometimes God's attributes are almost seen as taking God by the throat and forcing Him to do things contrary to His will (His justice made Him do this). The truth is, as limited and sinful human beings, I question whether we can really understand how, for instance, perfect love and perfect justice fit together. Rather, we need to turn to God to show us by His actions how these work. Now believing that God can be totally understood by us can result in rejecting fundamental truths of the Christian faith, such as the Trinity and salvation by grace through faith. But even if not taken that far, understanding God based on our human wisdom can affect our position on other issues, such as God's sovereignty versus human free will. It is easy to try to follow what makes sense to us rather than what the Scripture says.

Taking either of these extremes can result in a distorted picture of God. We can see God as our good buddy and lose the concept of His greatness, majesty, and holiness. We can see God as a taskmaster who is just waiting for us to get out of line so He can punish us. We can see God as a distant manager, who cannot be concerned about me and my problems. We can see Him as the Great Unknown, too unknowable to provide either help or correction. All these come from trying to reduce the real God of Scripture down to a size that allows us to make sense of Him. We must take God as He is and for who He claims to be, rather than who we think He is. To do otherwise will lead to a distorted approach to the spiritual life.

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