Two Modern Concepts of God
It seems to me that Australia's media reflects primarily two concepts of god. The first is based on evolution, and has slowly become the accepted way in which our culture looks at God. The second jumped into its own as a result of the terrorist attacks on America last September, and is really the Muslim way of looking at God – a way that the media tends to confuse with the God of the Bible. Since we need to be informed if we are to speak with the enemy in the gate, I intend in this article to lay out briefly what these two concepts of God are. With that done, I intend to contrast that with who the God of heaven really is.
The second half of the last century has seen the people of the street adopt the evolution theory as the true explanation of where life comes from. The broad outline of the theory will be well-known. Billions of years ago an inexplicable Big Bang began the universe. In the course of millions of years molecules somehow got together in such a form as to be called life, and this early life evolved and changed with the circumstances and the climate to form the various life forms we see around us today, ourselves included. This teaching has no room for a God in heaven who either created the world in the beginning or upholds the world today. All there is to existence is this world.
But evolutionists have had to recognise that tribes and nations have a religion, and in their religion they have gods. The pressing question is: if there is no God in heaven who has revealed Himself to man, how come man has religions, how come man worships gods? The answer runs as follows.
When primitive man first began to think, says the evolutionist theologian, he noticed that if you stand outside in full view of this yellow thing in the sky, you get all warm on the side facing this yellow thing. So: there must be a something in this sun, an unexplainable energy. Or: early man noticed that the paddocks were brown after a hot, dry summer, then it rained, and after some days the paddocks turned green. So: there must be a something in the rain, an unexplainable energy that makes things grow. Or: early man once witnessed a storm, saw an enormous flash of lightning, heard an awful lot of noise, and then noticed that yonder tree was split in half. Conclusion: there must be an energy, a force in the thunder, and this time it's not a friendly force but something to be scared of. So – says the evolutionist theologian – primitive man got to thinking that this energy out there was a living force (they didn't have the science to learn that it's just the way of nature). Once the thought arose that this energy was a living force, early man developed the concept of this force being satisfied with you or being angry with you. So there developed a sense of duty in primitive man: man should do things to keep this force happy, lest that force send you a terrible thunderstorm to scare the daylights out of you. Hence the notion of sacrifices, and of good or bad behavioural standards.
As time went on, this energy received a name. The Egyptians called him Ra, the Canaanites called him Baal, the people of Israel called him Yahweh, the aboriginals of Australia called him Bula, the Indians of North America called him the Great Spirit, and so on. As to how to keep this Force happy, well, different cultures developed different sacrifices and liturgies and feasts and dances… So speaks the evolutionist theologian.
From this line of thinking a number of conclusions follow quite logically.
- Everybody serves the same god (whether they realise it or not). This god is not the almighty Creator who revealed Himself from heaven in Holy Scripture; this god is rather that Energy people have noticed in the world around them and given their different names. This god is not real in the sense that he actually exists, because science can today show how the sun has energy, how the rain makes the grass grow, etc. Instead, this god is real in the minds of the people, and they have developed ways of worshipping their understanding of this Energy-ways others should respect.
- That's the second conclusion: there is no right way or wrong way to serve this Energy, this Deity, this god. People who live in the desert do it differently than people who live in the bush, and that's OK because they experience this god differently. People of aboriginal background do it differently than people of European background, and that's OK too because their understanding of this Energy and so their way of worshipping this Energy is culturally determined.
- So there's a third conclusion: now that people from England and from Thailand, from India and from Argentina, from Iran and from the Barbados all live together in one society called Australian, we should respect each other's traditions – and therefore not criticise each other's theologies or ways of serving our god. Instead, we should celebrate what binds us together (we all worship the same Energy) and at the same time celebrate our differences (we all worship the one Energy differently). It's this thinking that gave Rev John Shepherd (Anglican Church on St George's Street in Perth) room to invite Sheikh Imraan Husain to preach at a multi-faith Mass for Peace in his church last June 16 (even as he did last year when he invited Buddhist abbot Ajahn Brahm of Serpentine to preach at a Creation Mass in his church).
Ask now your average Australian whether he believes in God. Most will say Yes, they believe there is a God. But ask for details, and you'll find this evolutionary concept forming the beliefs of so many of our fellow citizens. We need to live in this land, and we need to know what's around us.
Ever since the Muslim faith was catapulted to centre stage last September, the Muslim concept of God has also received more attention in our land. This Muslim concept of God comes so very much closer to that of the Bible than the evolutionary concept, because the Muslim concept takes God for real, that is, Islam insists that God is there in reality and not just in people's minds. In fact, Allah is the Creator of the world, and upholds the world day by day. That sounds very similar to the teaching of the Bible, and that's also why Allah and God tend to get mixed up in people's thinking as if Allah is the God of the Bible.
But he's not. The Koran – that's the Muslim bible – presents Allah as exalted in the heavens, sovereign and majestic. The Koran also says that Allah is merciful, compassionate, vengeful, just – all attributes we also recognise from the Scriptures as true of the Lord. But in reality Allah's mercy and compassion have no function; Allah is instead the sovereign deity who coldly insists on obedience from every person on earth. There is no gospel that people have to believe; they need only accept that Allah is God and Allah is one (and Mohammed is his prophet), and so obey Allah in every aspect of life. It is by acknowledging Allah (through your deeds) that you earn his favour and so receive a place in heaven.
That thought, dear reader, also supplies the explanation for September 11, as well as the suicide bombers in Israel today. For Allah cannot stand those who do not acknowledge him, and Israel doesn't acknowledge him. So: destroy the Israelis, and destroy Israel's big supporter, America. That pleases Allah, and so earns you a favoured place in heaven. If in the process thousands die, that's just the way it is; on that Allah is cold, unmoved – as long as he is acknowledged. So Allah's followers also have no love for the neighbour…
To be clear: with the above I do not suggest that every Muslim holds to an identical confession, or draws out of his confession the conclusions embodied in his confession. But I'm advised that the consistent extension of the Koran's teachings about Allah is as described above.
The God of heaven
Who, now, is the God of heaven? How does the God of the Bible compare to the product of the theologians of evolutionism or the thoughts of Mohammed? The Lord God has revealed Himself as triune, Three in One, Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Lord's Day 8). Incomprehensible though the trinity is, the specific activities of the three Persons of the Godhead reveal this One God to be deep in compassion for sinners. It's this deep compassion for the lost sinner that needs to be emphasised over against the coldness and distance in the deities of the evolutionist theologian and the Muslim imam.
I mean this. The Son has been with the Father in the glory of heaven from eternity, not as a stranger to the Father or even as a Friend, but – says the Scripture – “in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18). This notion of 'bosom' captures the closeness of Father and Son, and echoes the love that is caught in the term 'only begotten' (John 1:14). One Son the Father has, and this Son is so close to the Father as to be called His “beloved”, “in whom [the Father is] well-pleased” (cf. Matthew 3:17; 17:5).
But, despite the love, the oneness between the Father and the Son-of-His-bosom, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). That is: so moved was God with compassion on account of the misery into which we had plunged ourselves in the beginning, that the Father sent His “only begotten”, dearly beloved Son-of-His-bosom out of His glorious company and into the misery of the fallen world (cf. 1 John 4:17ff) – why? – to save sinners from the wrath of God, to reconcile to Himself those who broke the covenant God established with mortal man! It's a thought we need to pause to appreciate. That God would send a messenger from heaven to save sinners is one thing; that God would send His only Son, true God with the Father and the Spirit, away from His own bosom to the anguish of the cross – that points up as nothing else does how compassionate the God of the Bible is, how dearly He loves the people He chose to life eternal! It's specifically the doctrine of the Trinity that opens up the vistas onto this glorious identity of the God of the Bible. That such a God is your God and mine: how delightfully comforting, how wondrously glorious! No wonder the Christian learns what love is!
But then it's clear too that this God is a far cry from the god of the Muslims. Sure, the Muslims speak of their god as almighty, as the creator and sustainer of life. But Allah knows not what love is, Allah was not touched in the pit of his stomach by the misery into which man plunged himself, Allah shows no compassion to sinners. Allah wants obedience, simple obedience – and gave no Son to pay for sin nor any Holy Spirit to renew redeemed sinners. That is why the devote Muslim and the true Christian have such radically different behaviour. The devote Muslim will kill the infidel, regardless of cost in human suffering; he hasn't a clue what love is because his god knows not what love is. But the devote Christian will give, possibly even his life, to benefit the other; he's tasted the love of God in Jesus Christ and has been renewed through the Spirit of this God, and so he loves even his enemy. That in turn is why the Middle East will find no peace without the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the renewal of hearts through the Holy Spirit. Muslims need to learn what the love of God is, a love so wondrously displayed in the Trinity.
This God is also such a far cry from the God the believers of evolution talk about. Their god is not real, and therefore does not love. That is why in turn those who believe in this sort of a god have difficulty with true love, with emptying the self for the benefit of the other. Our society condones abortion and euthanasia, drunkenness and shooting drugs, counselling and pity parties, and all of that comes from being busy with the self, about keeping the self happy and prosperous. But love as Triune God displayed it in His three-Person work for sinners' salvation is so very, very different; that is not self-love but self-emptying for the benefit of the neighbour – unworthy though the neighbour be. What the evolutionist needs is the gospel of God's love, of how the Father was so moved with compassion at the misery of man that He gave His only begotten Son, and that Son gave up His life to reconcile the unworthy to the Father, and the Spirit seals that love through His renewing work…
Here is our task in today's Australia: in deed and word demonstrate this love that God has shown to us. Let the other taste and see and hear the compassion that Triune God has permitted us to taste and see and hear.
Note: Cf. David J Engelsma, “The Holy Family: God as Truly Three” in Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 33, no. 2, April 2000, pg 24f.