Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Tag: moral attributes of God

THE ESSENCE OF MONOTHEISM

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Ancient Israel, almost alone among the peoples among the peoples of the ancient world, held to the belief that there is only one God, the Maker of heaven and earth.  Most of the surrounding nations were polytheistic and idolaters.  They worshipped a variety of anthropomorphic deities.  How, then, did Israel come to be so different?

The answer recorded in Scripture is that God chose to reveal Himself to Israel, especially through the prophet Moses.  And the introduction to that revelation came in the form of the Ten Commandments given at Mt. Sinai.  And the first two of those Commandments stated in bold terms the basic premises of monotheistic religion.

The First Commandment states simply that “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3; NKJV).  Unlike the surrounding pagan nations Israel was to worship only one God.  Moreover they were told, “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” (vv. 4,5c).  The implication here is that there is only one true God, and that He cannot be compared with any earthly thing.  He alone is the Creator.  Thus to represent Him in the form of a heavenly body or an earthly being would do a grave injustice to what God really is, and is positively insulting and offensive to Him.

But then God gives a reason for all of this.  “For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God . . .” (v. 5).  What this points to is that God is not just an abstract philosophical principle to be contemplated intellectually.  Rather, He is a conscious, intelligent, personal Being who created us for His own purposes; and thus He wants us to know Him on a personal level.  If then we worship some other god, who is no god at all, we are being unfaithful to the true and living God to whom we owe our very existence.

And this, in turn, introduces a moral principle.  For God goes on to say that He is “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me” (v. 5).  Here idolatry is viewed as an “iniquity” or crime, and is punishable as such.  In other words, we are responsible for our actions and will be held accountable accordingly.  To “visit the iniquity” means essentially to punish the crime.  And God does this “on the children of the third and fourth generations.”  Sad to say, descendants often suffer the consequences of their ancestors’ bad decisions.  And the reason for this stern judgment is that, at the bottom of it, the reason that people worship other gods than the one true God (or worship no god at all) is because they “hate” Him (v. 5).  People do not want God in their lives.

But, on the other hand, God is “showing mercy [or, “lovingkindness,” NASV] to thousands, to those who love Me . . .” (v. 6).  God is by nature loving and compassionate, and He desires to have a relationship with us.

But then this points to the nature of morality itself.  What ultimately makes an action morally right or wrong?  Philosophers have wrestled with the question for literally thousands of years, but the answer that the Bible gives is that it is a matter of keeping God’s commandments (v. 6).  This is sometimes dismissed as “the divine command theory.”  And yet if God is our Creator, the sovereign Lord of the universe, and in the end our Judge, He is the One who determines right and wrong.  We are obligated to obey Him.

This, then, is the essence of monotheism.  It is a worldview distinct from all pagan and secular systems of thought, and it has far-reaching implications for us as human beings.  If it is true that we were created by a personal, rational Supreme Being we owe Him our love and obedience.  And in the end no other system of thought offers an adequate explanation of reality.

WHAT IS GOD LIKE? – II

 

 

 

But what is God like in His personality and character?  What is it like to deal with Him personally?

Here again the Bible has a great deal to say about the subject and only a brief summary can be given here.  But there is a passage in the Old Testament that gives us such a summary, and it is found in Exodus 34:6,7.  Moses has been on Mount Sinai where he received the Ten Commandments.  Israel, in the meantime, had fallen into gross idolatry.  Moses interceded with God on Israel’s behalf.  God relented, but then Moses made a bold request: “Please, show me Your glory” (Ex. 33:18; NKJV), and God agreed to do so.  On the appointed day Moses stood on top of the mountain,

“And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God,

merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth,

keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgressions and sin,

by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the

children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”

(Ex. 34:6,7)

The statement begins by declaring that God is “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth” (v. 6).  He is “merciful and gracious.”  The Hebrew word translated “merciful” refers to the compassion God has towards those who are weak and helpless.  God’s “grace” refers to His free, unmerited favor.  In other words, it is God’s nature to do good to His creatures.  He is generous and compassionate.

And then our text says that God is “longsuffering,” or “slow to anger as it might be more literally translated (NASV, ESV).  God is patient with us.  His anger is not quickly aroused.  It is not that He never becomes angry – He has good reason to be angry with us because of our sin and rebellion against Him.  But He is slow to anger.  He is not easily provoked, and when He does become angry it is because it is well-deserved.

And then our text says that God is “abounding in goodness and truth,” or “steadfast love and faithfulness” (ESV).  His “goodness” or “steadfast love” refers to God’s willingness and desire to show kindness to His creatures.  His “truth” or “faithfulness” refers to the consistency and reliability of His character.  He can be depended upon to keep His word.

Our text goes on to explain how this all works out in actual practice.  First, God is “keeping mercy for thousands.”  The word translated “mercy” here in verse 7is the same word translated “goodness” in verse 6.  It is the kindness that God shows toward His creatures, and the fact that He “keeps” it “for thousands” shows how rich and abundant it is.

But there is more.  He “forgives iniquity and transgression and sin.”  This is what is truly remarkable.  The implication here is that the objects of His attention are, in fact, sinners – they have sinned against Him and are guilty in His sight.  The logical thing to do would be to punish them.  Yet His kindness is displayed in His “forgiving” them.  It is possible to be a guilty sinner and yet be forgiven.

Yet there is another side to this as well.  For the text goes on to say, “by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children . . .” Is there a contradiction here?  Does God forgive sin or does He not?  The answer is that there is an implied but unmentioned condition.  Sinners can be forgiven, if they repent.  But if they persist in their sin and rebellion they will be punished.  How is it possible for a just and holy God to forgive sins is not fully explained until the New Testament: God would sent His into the world to die on the cross as an atonement for our sin.  God sent forth His Son “as a propitiation by His blood . . . to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:25,26).  And so it was that Israel was warned that if they sinned they would be sent into exile; but if they repented they would be restored (Dt. 30:1-6; II Chron. 7:13; Jer. 29:10-14).

The text also says that God “visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generations.”  On the surface this hardly seems just: God is punishing one person (the son) for another person’ sin (the father’s).  Strictly speaking, however, it is not a punishment directed toward the children and grandchildren, but a recognition that we are each affected by the decisions made by our parents.  Bad decisions can have effects that last for generations.  It ought to be a warning to all who treat sin lightly.

God is by nature kind, gracious and compassionate – He genuinely cares about the welfare of His creatures.  But by the same token He is genuinely angry with those who are cold and indifferent, who abuse, exploit and mistreat others.  God is love, and cruelty and injustice are an abomination in His sight.