Is God Who You Perceive Him to Be?
Tom: Thanks, Gary. You are listening to Search the Scriptures Daily, a program in which we encourage all who desire to know God’s truth to look to God’s Word for all that is essential for salvation and living one’s life in a way that is pleasing to Him. In our ongoing consideration of the teachings of God’s Word, we’ve been using Dave Hunt’s book An Urgent Call to a Serious Faith as a guideline to our selection of topics. For our listeners who have his book and are following along, we are going to discuss some of the questions Dave raises and the points he makes in Chapter 21. The chapter is titled, “Understanding the Trinity.” But, Dave, before we get into that you note some of the popular approaches to defining God, which are, to be kind, I think confusing at best.
Dave: Well, I don’t know any popular approaches at defining God; I know some popular approaches at not defining Him.
Tom: Right, that’s better said.
Dave: Right. That God is some higher power—that’s very popular, not only with AA, which that’s a major teaching with Alcoholics Anonymous and other self-help groups, twelve-step programs, because they don’t want to be narrow-minded and dogmatic. Whatever God is in your mind, you have to accept.
Tom: It’s coming through in a lot of ecumenical groups and meetings, too. If you just try to define God, maybe you might be separating yourself from somebody else who has another view of that’s contradictory.
Dave: Right. You would be excluding people. And it’s staggering that evangelicals, supposedly evangelicals, are even joining with Muslims, and the god of Islam is certainly not the God of the Bible, but they have a very definite god, Allah. But you are referring to those groups—well Alcoholics Anonymous says, “God as you conceive Him to be.” So, whatever God is in your mind you must accept.
Now, that assumes then, of course, that everybody has a proper concept of God, which simple logic would tell you isn’t possible, because many people have different concepts of God. New Agers have a concept. The Hindu says you are God. Pantheism says everything is God, which is part of Hinduism. Mother Teresa, amazingly, she went right along with this! She said, “Whatever God is in your mind you must accept.” She said, “I am only trying to draw you closer to God, as you conceive Him to be.”
This is what she said to her patients: “If you are a Buddhist, I’ll help you to become a better Buddhist.” Now, of course, Buddha was an atheist, and he was disillusioned with the multiplicity of gods and Hinduism—he was a Hindu prince, originally, and he just threw God out entirely. There’s some kind of a void out there, or whatever it is, and you’re like a drop of water back into the ocean, and so forth. It’s difficult to understand exactly what he believed about that.
The Muslims, she said, “If you’re a Muslim, I’ll help you become a better Muslim.” Well, the Muslims, as we’ve said, their god is Allah, who was the chief god in the pagan idol temple, the Kaaba, the moon god. That’s why you see the crescent moon on their minarets and flags and so forth. He had three daughters, no son; three daughters, I think we have talked about that a bit in the past.
And she said if you’re a Hindu, I will help you become a better Hindu. Well, the Hindus have about 330 million gods, as far as we can count them. The cow is god, the ant is god, you’re god, and we’ve talked a bit about that in the past.
So, how can you say that whatever God is in your mind, you must accept, when you may have a false view of God? Well, I guess that brings us to another consideration: Could there be a false view of God?
According to the Bible there is. The God of the Bible identifies himself very clearly as Yahweh—I am that I am. He says, “Beside Me, there is no God”! And He has some very serious condemnations that He makes of the false gods all around them. In fact, the plagues in Egypt were specifically God’s judgment, the true God’s judgment, upon the gods of Egypt that they worshiped. The Israelites were forbidden to have anything to do with the gods of the nations around them. They were forbidden—one of the Ten Commandments—they were not to make a graven image. As you know, having been a Catholic, the Catholic Church has originally, way back, they cut that out in their catechisms so that there were nine commandments, and then they divided the ninth one, what was to them the ninth one, in two, so it made ten. Now, the modern catechism, it does list them all, but it explains away the prohibition against making images.
Tom: Right, because, throughout Catholic churches, we find all of these, not only the saints—statues of the saints and Mary and of our Lord.
Dave: We quoted in The Berean Call—and I can’t recall when it was, but anyone who wants the quote could call us, we would be happy to give it to them—speaking at St. Peters, the pope (this must have been about three years ago, I think), he said that there is a power in the image that you cannot deny. Some people would say, “Well, they don’t really pray to the image—they’re praying to what it represents, if it’s Joseph, or Mary, or whatever.” No, the pope said there is a power in the image itself.
Tom: Dave, the Orthodox Church, with regard to icons, that has always been a part of their view and approach.
Dave: Yeah. So, God forbids you to make an image, because any image is a misrepresentation. God is a Spirit. The Bible says, “No man has seen God at any time. He dwells in a light that no man can approach unto, whom no man has seen nor can see.” Now again, we have evangelicals—how long ago was it? I can’t remember now—we quoted from a Group book, where they were talking about . . . well, it was encouraging youth ministers to do it themselves and to get the youth involved in visualizing God, to come up with an image in your mind of God, and then talk to this image and it will speak to you.
Well, you cannot make an image of God, because God is a Spirit, and He absolutely forbids it. In fact, Paul, writing to the Corinthians, says the things that the Gentiles offer to idols, they offer to devils! There is a demon behind this. This is demonic, satanic, false gods—the worship of false gods turns you away from the true God.
So, Tom, we are not trying to be critical of people who sincerely say, as Alcoholics Anonymous and Mother Teresa and others—I’m sure they are sincere when they say, “Whatever God is in your mind, you must accept.” But that just doesn’t make sense. It’s not biblical. In other words, whatever fantastic idea someone has of God, they must accept it because God doesn’t really care what you think of Him? What you think in your mind, your concept of God, is what you think of God, and God doesn’t care what you think of Him? You can think of Him in any way you want?
No! God is very clear in identifying Himself, revealing Himself, His qualities, His characteristics, His purpose, His plan for man, man’s redemption—and to be led astray by your own mind? The Scriptures speak of that! Man’s imagination can lead you astray. So, we’re not trying to be critical; we’re just saying, let’s be rational and let’s be biblical.
Tom: Well, Dave, I think a little criticism is appropriate here. Sometimes when we read through the Old Testament, you read of cases in which idols are worshipped, and looking at it from our standpoint in this century, we think, Well how could they be so foolish to create something shaped with hands and put it up and bow down to it?, and so on. But in our imagination, just as you’ve been talking about, we’re doing exactly the same thing. We are creating, in our minds, a false image of God. It’s got to be false, because we’re doing it—finite beings, picking and choosing what we think is either reasonable or worthwhile or pleases us, but this is not the God of the Bible. And one of the reasons we are getting into all of this is that we want to know the true and living God. John:17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.”
Dave: So, Jesus is speaking there; this is His prayer to the Father. And Jesus is saying, “If you don’t know the true God, you’re lost! You will not have eternal life.” That makes some sense, Tom. Why would you . . . you know we have IDs that we carry, driver’s licenses and so forth, and people have social security numbers, you have to be identified when you go into the bank. How would you like it if the bank took the attitude that “Well, anybody named T. A. McMahon—we don’t care. We don’t even care if it’s really his name. Just so long as he uses those initials, let him come in and tap into the bank account, or whatever.”
It doesn’t make sense that the God who created this universe, who is someone very specific, who says He will not share His glory with another, who says you must know Him for who He is, who says “When you seek for Me with all your heart, you will find Me.” He is saying, “You’re seeking for a magic genie who, when you rub the lamp, he appears, or rub the bottle, you know, he appears in the bottle? Or you’re seeking some higher power? You think I will honor that?”
Tom, I’m sorry, I’m getting a little worked up here. It angers me for the honor of God, number one, that people could misrepresent Him in their minds, but not just to themselves—that people who have influence could simply say, “Well, it doesn’t matter how you view God!”
Tom: Dave, this, in effect, destroys, if it was there to begin with, it destroys the aspect of God that we are to have, and you would think most people would want, this intimate, personal relationship with Him. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, here is an Old Testament prophet, who many of us think, “Well, they were just all hard nosed and hellfire and damnation and so on.” Jeremiah:9:24, he writes, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me—the true and living God—that I am the Lord which exercise loving kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.” He wants us to know Him better, to know Him in truth.
Dave: Tom, so it’s just an insult to God, it’s an insult to anyone’s intelligence. Why would you be involved in that sort of a thing? Because you don’t want to offend. Wait a minute! You are offending God! “Well, just so long as it’s some higher power.” Higher power? Higher than what? He is the most high God, the only true God. Higher power? Power? God is not a power; He’s not some cosmic energy source. This is the personal God, the God of love and mercy and grace . . .”
Tom: Jeremiah just laid it out for us!
Dave: . . . and you can just say, “Well, any idea that I have of God, God must accept this”? I think that the Creator of this universe, who laid out the laws of physics and chemistry and the laws of thermodynamics and aerodynamics and so forth—you mean He can’t decide the way that we must approach Him? He must allow every human being to have their own silly ideas about Him, blasphemous ideas?
I’m sorry but I am getting worked up; we had better move on from this, Tom, because it just—well, but you see the problem is that people who say that, then they encourage people in the idea: “Okay, so long as I believe in a higher power, it doesn’t matter,” and then they are missing what you just quoted from Jesus (John:17:3), “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” And you encourage them to think it doesn’t really matter, then you’re leading them astray, and Jesus himself went so far as to say in John 8, He said to the Jews, “Except you believe that I AM. . . . ” This is the I AM of the Old Testament, this is how God revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush. This is who the Messiah had to be, because, all through the Old Testament, the I AM—Yahweh—said, “I am the only Savior; there is no Savior besides me.” And Isaiah, promising the birth of the Messiah, said, “For unto us a child is born. Unto us a Son is given, the eternal Son of God. The government will be upon his shoulders,”—so he must be the Messiah—“ . . . of His kingdom and peace there will be no end. His name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father.”
So, when Jesus said, “I and my Father are one . . .” When He said, “Unless you believe that I AM” (in other words, “that I am God”), you will die in your sins, and where I go you cannot come.” Jesus is saying, “If you don’t believe that I’m God, but you think I am your Savior, you are trusting someone less than God to be your Savior, and only God can be your Savior.”
Well, then somebody says, “Well, that is really narrow-minded and dogmatic.” Yeah, I suppose everything is narrow-minded and dogmatic, 2+2=4,” you know, we’ve gone through that. Now, why don’t we have an ecumenical movement to let 2 + 2 be 5 every Thursday, and we can all agree on . . . come on! It doesn’t work that way. Why must we try to fit God into the mold of our pitiful ideas? Why don’t we let Him be who He is and trust Him for who He is?
Tom: Dave, you say over and over, you tell people the name of the program, Search the Scriptures Daily. We’re trying to encourage, especially those who call themselves Christians, to find out what Christianity is really all about by going through God’s Word. That’s the only place. So we encourage that, but we also encourage others who are wrestling with this, maybe trying to get a handle on what Christianity is about, just to use some common sense. You just said 2+2=4. Now, I’m thinking back to the movie Gandhi (and I know you know where I am going with this)—Gandhi is in a car in one of the scenes, and what does he say? He’s upset about something (I don’t remember exactly the circumstance), but he just gets indignant, and he says, “I am Hindu, I am Muslim, I am Christian, I am Jew.”
Dave: Yeah, right.
Tom: What is that?
Dave: It’s a delusion, if it’s anything.
Tom: But it’s certainly—somebody listening to that would say, “Oh, well isn’t that wonderful? It’s so ecumenical!” But it’s absolutely contradictory to common sense.
Dave: Yes it is. So, the desire for unity, the desire for peace, the desire that we all get along together, becomes the compelling, overruling factor, which overrules common sense, which overrules the Bible, which causes people to make these statements, which are an assault upon reason and an assault upon the Bible and an assault upon God. Even if you don’t believe in the Bible, even if you don’t believe in God, you couldn’t believe that, because it doesn’t make any sense!
Tom: Dave, in Exodus—we have three or four minutes left here—I want to keep underscoring what God says about Himself. And these are wonderful! Again, this is not academic; this is trying to know the living God who wants us to know Him. Let me just read this verse, and then you can comment on it. Exodus:34:5-7, “And the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty.” These are the attributes of God; He’s telling us about Himself, and we can’t blow this off.
Dave: Tom, we don’t have enough time. We’ve done it in the past. There may be people listening out there who don’t even believe the Bible is God’s Word, and they don’t even know why someone should believe in God. I wish we had time for that. But, the Bible is absolutely unique. We can prove it is God’s Word. We can prove that God exists, and anyone who is interested in that, just drop us a note or give us a phone call, and we’ll be happy to deal with that.
But we have to have an authority, that’s for sure. Even if you are going to fly on an airplane—I don’t get in the cockpit. I have to trust the pilot. We have to trust our auto mechanic. You don’t stay up all night to see whether the baker is putting the right ingredients in the bread, and the doctor writes out a prescription in a hand you can’t even read—you take it to a pharmacist, and he puts together some compounds. You wouldn’t know what they were if he gave you the names of them—because you can’t know everything and do everything!
Now, we’re talking about man’s eternal destiny. When you “shuffle off this mortal coil,” as Shakespeare had one of his characters say, “Aye, what dreams, what dreams may come? Aye, there’s the rub!” Is it going to be just a dream or—no, that’s not the end, and we’ve talked about that. We can prove that the physical body is not all a man is. So, we’re talking about something very, very important. It’s not your opinion or my opinion. It’s not the opinion of some church. It’s not the opinion of some guru, or priest, or evangelist, or pastor, or pope. We’d better go to God himself and find out what He has to say about Himself and about us and about His purpose and plan, what went wrong in man’s relationship with God, and how that can be made right.
The Bible says it is only through Jesus Christ because He paid the penalty for our sins. Buddha didn’t do that, Confucius didn’t do it, [and] it’s a matter of justice. We have broken God’s laws. The penalty is severe. It’s eternal. And God himself became a man, and He paid the penalty that His own infinite justice required. He rose from the dead, He is alive, [and] He wants to give eternal life as a free gift—only on that basis now—only on that basis that the penalty was paid. He was the only one that did it. And, we just urge you open your heart to Christ and trust Him, believe in Him, and then share this good news with others.
Tom: Definitely, Dave! He wants us to know Him, and as we continue on next week we’re going to pick up with something that people struggle with—the Trinity. This is one of the ways God describes Himself in the Scriptures, and we’re going to look at that next week.