Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Offensive God

Concerning the Old Testament representation of God, the two significant offenses to the modern mind are the first and second commandments. “You shall have no other gods before me” has been violated by man since the Garden of Eden. This, the first commandment, is God’s commandment against worshipping false gods. Eve was the first to violate this command when she wanted to elevate herself to the place of God by partaking of the forbidden fruit. Satan tempted her on this level when he said, “you will be like God.” Today’s man has the same problem – Solomon was right when he said that there is nothing new under the sun.

The concept of God is not the offensive part. Throughout the ages most people have believed in a supreme being. Man believes because he cannot help but recognize the fact that something greater than himself exists. I cannot make a tree grow or stop a hurricane so there has to be something bigger than me “out there”. Things begin to become offensive to the human mind when the notion of a supreme entity begins to take shape and become defined. A benign entity that laid things out as they are and then left them (and me) alone is not offensive because it does not impinge upon my autonomy.

That is the crux of the problem – man’s selfish desire for complete autonomy. The notion of a personal God is significantly more offensive because if God is a person, He is superior to me and I don’t like the notion of anyone being my superior. I can, however tolerate the situation if we follow the mantra of the 1970s and “live and let live”. If He stays in his realm and I stay in mine, I don’t have to deal with His superiority. We can just be tolerant of one another and both be autonomous. The problem is, the God of the Bible is not a tolerant God – He identifies Himself as a jealous God. In the first commandment He states that He will not tolerate anyone or anything in His place. God alone is autonomous which in turn makes Him sovereign. The idea of God’s sovereignty demands man’s submission which is offensive. Evangelical controversy over gender roles is a microcosm of the offensive nature of submission. God’s first commandment declares His sovereignty and demands our submission.

The second commandment is equally offensive, but on a different level. After declaring His sovereignty, God had the audacity to place rules on how he will be recognized: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” When man acknowledges God and only pays lip service to His sovereignty, he wants to place limits on Him. It is offensive to man’s sinful nature to conceive of a God he cannot place limits upon. Limitation opens the door to control. When Aaron molded the golden calf and told the Israelites to worship it, he attempted to make God able to be manipulated by him. Another example was how the Israelites turned the Ark of the Covenant into a charm or idol that would guarantee their victory over the Philistines. They were devastated in the battle because God refused to be an object that could be manipulated. Any image of God is an insufficient picture of who He is. At best, man-made representations of God can only be finite caricatures of certain aspects of His attributes. This could explain why there are no God-breathed pictures of Jesus. If we knew what He looked like, we would tend toward the fetish-like relic worship of the middle-ages. Musings on this subject lead me to question the appropriateness of movies such as The Passion of Christ. I am not prepared to dogmatically declare the movie a violation of the second commandment, but it certainly has the potential to fit in the mold of Aaron’s calf. Regardless of the debatable acceptability of that movie, it is clear that God will not be limited within a man-made construct.


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