What would you say is the most important thing about you? Your gifts? Your accomplishments? Your looks? Your education? Your job? Your family? Your mutual fund portfolio? I believe that what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The most important thing about any human being is not what he may say or do at a given time, but what deep in his heart he thinks about God.
Why is that? Because what we think about God determines everything else that we think or do or become. There is a supernatural law of the soul that says that we tend to move toward our mental image of God; we tend to become what our conception of God is like. If our God has no standards, we will have no standards. If our God has no absolutes, we will have no absolutes. If our God is cruel and uncaring, we will become cruel and uncaring. If we have no God, we will become godless. If our conception of God is pure and holy we will become pure and holy. If our God is loving and kind, we will become loving and kind. If our God is true and eternal, we will live forever. If our god is false and temporary, we will be temporary and die eternally.
Almost all of life’s problems and their solutions are theological. The person who comes to a right belief about God will relieve himself of a million other problems in life. The person who has a wrong concept of God will add a million other problems to his life. There is hardly an error in doctrine or a failure in ethics that can’t be traced back to imperfect and unworthy thoughts about God. It is impossible for an individual to keep their moral practices sound and their values and attitudes right when their idea of God is erroneous or inadequate.
Almost everyone has become aware that our society is in serious trouble. Over the past forty years there has been a dramatic decline in education and morals, and an equally dramatic rise in crime, murder, abortion, drugs, divorce and other societal ills. The experts are struggling to understand the reasons for this sudden decline. Is it economics? Is it the fault of the special interest groups? Is it the result of Big Business? Is it politics? Is it caused by the Republicans? Is it the Democrats who are at fault? The truth is that almost everything that is wrong with our society is due to the fact that as a nation we have been losing the knowledge of God.
Before our society started declining, a corruption in simple basic theology took place. Our churches and synagogues came up with the wrong answer to the question: What is God like? When a lofty concept of God declined, the Church and the Synagogue’s standards, morals and worship declined, and society’s standards and morals declined. I believe that a major part of the blame for our nation’s decline lies with our synagogues and churches. Both the Church and the Synagogue have been losing the concept of the holiness and majesty of God. In many of our nation’s churches and synagogues God is portrayed as a non-judgmental friend, or your “good buddy,” or as a doting old grandfather, or as a therapist. But this is not who God really is.
One of the most common sins in our society today is the sin of idolatry. Idolatry does not consist only in bowing before statues, or kneeling before visible objects of adoration. The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him. The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than what He really is. It substitutes a god after its own image for the true God.
A god created in the imagination of our hearts will be worthy or pure, cruel or kind, according to the moral state of the mind from which it emerges. This is what God says to the wicked in Psalm 50:21: You thought that I was just like you. A god created in the darkness of the fallen human heart cannot possibly be in the likeness of the true God.
You may be guilty of idolatry when no obvious act of worship has taken place because idolatry begins in the human mind. The human heart is prone to the sin of idolatry, and it is a terrible mistake to believe that civilized people are free from it. Rabbi Paul informs us that early in the history of man, although mankind knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks; but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. It was only after mankind became foolish in their thinking about God, that the worship of idols made in the image of men and birds and animals and crawling creatures followed. Then came horrible, ungodly, immoral, wicked, self-destructive and society-destructive behavior. This entire degrading series of events began in the mind of man with wrong ideas about God. Not honoring God as God and entertaining wrong ideas about Him are the fountain from which the polluted waters of idolatry flow and which end in the cesspool of self-destructive human behavior.
This decline of the knowledge of God has brought on almost all of our troubles. A rediscovery of the majesty of God will go a long way toward curing them. The most important obligation for the Church and for the Synagogue today is to purify our concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him. If we would bring back true spiritual power to our lives and health back to our nation, we must think about God as He is, not as we think He is.
THINKING CORRECTLY ABOUT GOD BY KNOWING HIS ATTRIBUTES
One way to think correctly about God is to learn about His attributes (midot in Hebrew). An attribute expresses God’s true nature and being. God’s attributes are whatever God has revealed as being true about Himself. An attribute is not a part of God. It is how God is.
Even though this series of messages will try to answer the question: “What is God like?,” at the very beginning we must acknowledge that ultimately we cannot answer this question. The closest that we can come is to say that God is not exactly like anything or anybody that we know. The prophet Isaiah asked: To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him? To whom then would you liken Me that I should be his equal? says the Holy One. In other words, God is ultimately incomprehensible. We can never fully know Him.
When the prophet Ezekiel saw visions of God, he found himself looking at something that he had no adequate language to describe. What he saw was completely different from anything he had ever known before. The nearer he came to the throne of God, the less sure his words became: Above the expanse that was over their heads there was something resembling a throne, like lapis lazuli in appearance; and on that which resembled a throne, high up, was a figure with the appearance of a man. Then I noticed from the appearance of His loins and upward something like glowing metal that looked like fire all around within it, and from the appearance of His loins and downward I saw something like fire; and there was a radiance around Him… such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord (Ezekiel 1). God is entirely real but alien to anything that men know on earth. In order to convey an idea of what he saw, the prophet had to use words such as resembling, likeness, something like, appearance, the likeness of the appearance.
We learn by using what we already know as a bridge to what we do not know. It is almost impossible for the human mind to create or imagine something out of nothing. Our problem when it comes to God is that when we try to imagine what God is like we must of necessity use that which is not God as the raw material for our minds to work on. We have to picture God to be something He is not, for we have constructed our image out of that which He has made, and what has been made is not God. If we insist on trying to imagine Him, we end up with an idol, an idol not made with hands, but an idol made with thought. And an idol of the human mind is just as offensive to the Lord as an idol made with the hands.
When the Scriptures state that man was made in the image of God, we dare not add to that statement an idea from our own head and make it mean “in the exact image” of God. There is a wall that is infinitely high that separates God, that-which-is-God from that-which-is-not-God. To think of the creature and the Creator as alike is to rob God of most of His attributes and reduce Him to the status of a creature. Left to ourselves we tend to reduce God to manageable terms. We want to get Him where we can use Him. We want a God we can control. For the average person God is a composite of all the religious pictures that they have seen, all the best people they have heard about, and the best ideas they have entertained. But this is not God.
The Scriptures affirm the helplessness of the human mind to know the great mystery which is God. God cannot be fully known by man, unless the unknowable could be known, and the invisible beheld, and the inaccessible attained, the incomprehensible understood. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it admitted King David. God is ultimately unknowable by created things. He can never be comprehended as He is in Himself. He dwells in unapproachable light (1Tim. 6:16). No human can see Him face to face, fully revealed in all His awesome glory and splendor, and survive that holy encounter.
If anyone should set forth any concept by which God could be known, it could not be a true concept, because God is far beyond any concept the human mind is capable of framing. This is expressed whenever Jewish people recite the prayer called the “Kaddish.” “Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He,beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world”. This prayer acknowledges that even when we are worshipping, which is one of the highest forms of expressing spiritual thoughts, we are totally inadequate to express who God really is.
The desire to know What can’t be known, to comprehend the Incomprehensible, to touch the Unapproachable, arises from the image of God deep in the nature of man. The soul senses its origins and longs to return to its Source, and deep calls unto deep.
If what we conceive God to be He is not really He, then how should we think of Him? King David and Rabbi Paul tells us that we can start to know Him a little bit by means of creation. The heavens are telling of the glory of God, and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made. We can know something of God through His creation, just as we can know something of the artist through a masterpiece of art. We can know there is a God who has vast wisdom, intelligence and power.
But the knowledge we can come to about God through His creation is limited. We also see suffering, cruelty and death throughout nature. Nature cannot answer the questions: Is this God good? Is He kind? Is He worth praying too? Is He worthy of my worship?
God has revealed Himself even more clearly throughout the Holy Scriptures. Through Moses and the prophets, through the psalmists and the apostles, God has clearly communicated to man what He is like. But we have an even greater self- disclosure of God than that which comes from the words of the prophets. The greatest revelation of God comes through Messiah Yeshua our Lord. In Messiah and by Messiah, God effects complete self-disclosure to mankind. God came to us in the incarnation of Messiah.No man has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has revealed Him. God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us through His Son. He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature. Do you want to really know what God is like? Fix your eyes on Messiah Yeshua No one knows the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him (Mt. 11:27).
Isaac Watts, a great songwriter of a couple of centuries ago, penned these beautiful words: “The heavens declare Thy glory Lord, in every star thy wisdom shines, but when our eyes behold Thy Word, we read Thy name in fairer lines.” The full sun blaze of revelation came at the incarnation when the Eternal Word became flesh and dwelt among us. By faith in God’s Word and confidence in Messiah Yeshua we can break through into God’s very Presence and come to know Him as He is.
Since knowing God is the most important thing about you or anyone else, make knowing Him better your priority in life. Make time for Him. Eliminate other things from your busy schedule. Read His Word. Meditate on Messiah Yeshua. Contemplate those four books that reveal Messiah most clearly: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Spend more time with Him and His Word, in His presence, worshipping Him, asking Him to reveal more of Himself to you than He ever has before. Make time for Him. You won’t regret it. He is the most wonderful, the most exciting, the most challenging object of human thought, contemplation, and worship. If you do, you will become more like Him. You will be transformed into His image and likeness. It will be an investment that will pay off now and throughout eternity.
I am indebted to The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer for this article.