It goes without saying that we live in a secular society. Nearly everyone accepts the fact. In the United States our government and our public education system operate without any connection to religion at all. For most people it is an accepted way of life, and few dare to question it.
We think we are smart, but really we are not. We pride ourselves on our self-sufficiency, on our ingenuity and resourcefulness. We have outgrown the religious superstitions and the myths that satisfied our ancestors. But in all our cleverness and sophistication we are bringing ruin upon ourselves. In a matter of a few decades we have destroyed a civilization that had lasted a thousand years. Our economy is in shambles, our social structures in ruins. And we have done all of this in the name of secularism.
Religious apostasy, of course, is not something new. The prophet Jeremiah had to confront it in ancient Judah. God’s own covenant people had forsaken Him to serve other gods, which were not really gods at all. And with the religious apostasy came moral degradation as well. Every sort of treachery and deceit was practiced. Sadly, even the privileged classes were caught up in the moral and social decline.
It was in this hour of darkness that God announced, through His prophet, that He was going to punish Judah by means of a foreign invasion. And in the midst of the announcement of impending disaster God delivers this stinging rebuke:
“Thus says the Lord:
‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,
Let not the mighty man glory in his might,
Nor let the rich man glory in his riches;
But let him who glories glory in this,
That he understands and knows Me,
That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment,
and righteousness in the earth.
For in these I delight,’ says the Lord.”
(Jeremiah 9:23,24; NKJV)
It was directed at the privileged classes, the educated, the powerful, and the rich – those who were proud and self-confident. And what He tells them is that it is useless to boast in human accomplishments. The most important thing of all is to know God. And knowing God has implications for our behavior, for God is the One who is “exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.” God “delights” in these things, and to know God is to incorporate these same moral qualities in our own character.
Jeremiah goes on in the next chapter to explain why it is so important to have a working knowledge and personal acquaintance with God. First of all, God is infinitely greater than anything else.
“Inasmuch as there is none like You, O Lord,
(You are great, and Your name is great in might),
Who would not fear You, O King of the nations?
For this is Your rightful due.
For among all the wise men of the nations,
And in all their kingdoms,
There is none like You.” (10:6,7)
He then goes on to ridicule idolatry.
We routinely honor lesser things. We heap lavish praise on our heroes and celebrities. But they are all mortal flesh, weak and flawed in character. None of them can even begin to be compared with God, who alone is infinite, eternal and omnipotent. To fail to appreciate God’s greatness and majesty, while cheering on the frail mortals that flit across the stage of life, is to miss the canyon in our preoccupation with the pebbles. We have overlooked the most important Being of all.
But not only that, but God is the Creator and Sustainer of everything else.
“He has made the earth by His power,
He has established the world by His wisdom,
And has stretched out the heavens at His discretion.
When He utters His voice,
There is a multitude of waters in the heavens:
And He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth.
He makes lightning for the rain,
He brings the wind out of His treasuries.” (10:12,13)
Granted, this is a poetic description of nature, and there are scientific explanations for the rain, the wind, and the lightning. But the fact remains that ultimately it was all created by God and the wisdom of His design is everywhere evident. If the forces of nature are awe-inspiring, how much more so the power of the Creator who brought them into being!
The fact of the matter is that everything we have, including our very existence, we owe to God. It behooves us to acknowledge the fountain of our existence and the source of all our blessings.
Furthermore, God controls our destinies.
“But the Lord is the true God;
He is the living God and the everlasting King.
At His wrath the earth will tremble,
And the nations will not be able to endure His indignation.” (v. 10)
Ultimately it is God who controls the events of our lives and determines what will happen to us. He controls the forces of nature and directs the course of human events. Whether we succeed or fail in anything we try is ultimately in the hands of God.
And then there is the Last Judgment, in which we must all stand before the bar of God’s justice and give an account of what we have done in this life. On that last and dreadful day His opinion will be the only one that counts. Hence it stands to reason that we ought to pay attention to the One in whose hands our future lies.
Thus by ignoring God we are ignoring the most important fact of all. Professing ourselves to be wise we have become fools instead (Rom. 1:22). Secularism will only lead to ruin. Like the Prodigal Son in the parable let us “come unto ourselves” (Lu. 15:17), return to our Father, and seek restoration.
When God does not occupy His rightful place in our thinking and in our lives, then everything is out of joint – life doesn’t work the way it was meant to. We have the wrong motives, the wrong goals, and the wrong strategies. But we still have to live in the world God created. The result of ignoring Him is dysfunction. We misinterpret reality and misuse creation. And in the end genuine happiness evades us.