Rather than reading the Bible through the eyes of modern secularism, this provocative six-part course teaches you to read the Bible through its own eyes—as a record of God’s dealing with the human race. When you read it at this level, you will discover reasons to worship God in areas of life you probably never before associated with “religion.”
© Charles A. Clough 1995
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 2: Buried Truths of Origins
Chapter 2: Creation: Buried Truth of Who God is
Lesson 9 – Who and What God is:
Communicable Attributes of God–Part 2;
Staying Out of Idolatry
7 Dec 1995
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
We are still working with the event of creation and this event basically teaches three areas of truth, three areas of doctrine: the doctrine of God, the doctrine of man and the doctrine of nature. Those are three things taught by many events of the Bible but we’re spending a lot of time working with just creation, because at creation these things are laid down as a foundation for everything else that follows. That’s where we are, we’re still working with that. The handout tonight advances us to chapter 3 where we’re starting to talk not just about God but we’re going to enlarge and talk about man and who man is, and nature, the nature around us, the universe.
We said that if we’re going to treat our topic in a thoroughly Biblical way we want to remember that whenever we talk about God or any characteristic of God, that He is the Creator, we are in the creation, and whatever we talk about in the character of God, these (Q)ualities, they are similar, and that’s why we use the capital Q, these (Q)ualities are similar to (q)ualities in the creature, but they are not identical. The reason we keep saying this is to show why in Christianity God is always declared to be incomprehensible, not that we can’t know Him, we can know Him but we only know Him partially, never fully and completely, never exhaustively. Why do we do that? Because that cuts off rationalism. That cuts off an attempt by man to encompass everything with his own head.
So we keep saying, whether we’re dealing with the attribute of God’s omniscience, His omnipresence, His sovereignty, His love, whatever the attribute, whatever the characteristic of God is that we’re looking at, it is always incomprehensible, it’s always mysterious, it always has things about it that we may never understand, because that’s the nature of the Creator-creature distinction. God cannot be encompassed and comprehensibly and exhaustibly understood, and for that very reason the approach to God that we are using is not an approach of rationalism, it’s an approach of revelation. God has to reveal Himself to us, and that is because He is incomprehensible. Imagine a person who you wanted to get to know very badly and they never talk to you, they’re withdrawn, you can feel a wall, and you know that you can’t get in their head if they don’t share things with you. That business of coming to know them is dependent upon their revelation of themselves to you. In a far, far greater way, our knowledge of God depends on His willingness to share Himself with us, and when He does share Himself with us, when He does speak to us in history, that’s revelation. So that’s why we come to know God only because He first chooses to reveal Himself to us. If He chose never to speak, we would never know Him. We could sit and meditate all day long, and go through all kinds of intellectual exercises and never know anything about God, unless He chose to reveal Himself.
That’s why the Bible becomes very important, that’s why the Bible is the heart of the Christian religion and trust, it is that if God never spoke, and the Bible is not His Word, then we can’t know anything about Him. It turns out by virtue of creation, that because He has created the universe, the universe bears marks that are similar to His. We’ll notice some of those, particularly in the handout we gave you tonight, in that one you can see it more sharply. We talked about this before but that’s the one where you start to see this in a clear way.
Last time we looked at some of these (Q)ualities of God. We said that God was omnipresent, and that that is a quality of absolute immensity. The only analogue that we have to that is that we speak of space; space is three dimensions and we have our power of our imagination to transport ourselves, close our eyes and transport ourselves in space, and that somehow may be a little bit more similar to His omnipresence, that He can be everywhere at once.
Then we talked about the fact that God is also omnipotent, and that He is all powerful. We said that what characterizes God is that He’s energetic, He never gets tired, He is limitless in His energy, and we are limited in ours, we have a conservation of energy principle that operates, we have certain boundaries and we can’t go above those boundaries. So while we have some of that which we could call experience of energy, an energetic nature, God is the archetype of all energy. After all, He possessed this attribute before He created any of the energy, which goes back to something else, we want to remind you as we go through all of these attributes, keep in mind that all of those attributes preexisted the creation. They’re not dependent on the creation. This is important because in some religions this gets to be a big problem, particularly the pseudo Christian religions; they all have a problem with this. We’ll see two of the attributes where this creates a big problem with Islam today. But in Christianity God, because He’s the Creator, He’s over and distinct from His creation, and He did not need the universe to develop Himself. He did not need the universe to have more characteristics.
We said that He is omnipresent, He’s omnipotent, He is immutable, He never changes, He never changes in character, and we qualified that by showing you Exodus 32 where Moses prayed to God and it says in the text that God repented, or changed His mind. We brought that text to your attention so you wouldn’t misinterpret what we mean when we say God is immutable, He changes not, He is the same yesterday, today and forever. It doesn’t mean He’s a statue. Immutability does not mean static-ness, that God isn’t dynamic and He doesn’t interact with us. All we’re saying with immutability is that His character never changes, and that when He chooses to make a sovereign promise, and He swears, as Hebrews says, He swears by Himself, in the great covenants of Scripture, then those words hold true because He is immutable and His immutability backs up His promises. That attribute of immutability we’ll get seriously involved in, in ch 3 when we start talking about the nature of the universe and scientific knowledge.
Omniscience, omnipotence, immutability and God is eternal, that He has an experience of the past, present and future simultaneously, if somehow you could figure that out, whereas we can only experience time by living in an instant, and people who don’t live in the present are usually considered crazy. So we are left with one little sliver of experience in time. God, as Jesus said, “before Abraham came to be, I AM,” a statement that can only mean that Jesus was claiming to be God, claiming to be eternal, He always existed, and that He so to speak exists in all the moments.
We closed at page 28 where we talked about some of the more personable attributes of God, we call those the more communicable attributes of God. We said that these attributes are attributes having to do more with His personality, these are things that maybe it’s a little easier to envision. We spoke of His sovereignty, and that’s analogous to our choice, our will. God has a super will, of history, but also understand that sovereignty operated before the universe, that He chose to be what He chose to be. Sovereignty didn’t begin operating when He put the universe into existence. We don’t have any kind of a good model in our heads to think about this, and that’s why often when you become a Christian you get into Romans 9, the potter and the clay, how do I work this out and keep humans responsible, choice, God’s sovereignty, etc. The reason we have problems with that is because of incomprehensibility. There’s another case where, because God is God and we’re the creature, we can’t get a hold of that, and it becomes particularly vexing in the area of sovereignty, so we become most personally aware of the incomprehensibility problem when we start talking about sovereignty, because it’s very hard, you feel it, you feel like it’s out there somewhere and your mind just can’t get it. That’s incomprehensibility, and that’s where you back off and you trust what He has revealed of Himself to us in the scripture, that He is the author of all things; He works all things after the counsel of His will.
The bottom of page 28 we take the attribute of His holiness, and by that we’re just referring to His righteousness and His justice and a lot of different authors use different terms for this. This is a survey of His attributes, you could go on and on, specialize and come up with all kinds of attributes, but I’m just showing the basic truths here. Look at page 28 where I say “By righteous is meant that His moral character is a flawlessly consistent law unto itself. It is the standard throughout the cosmos for what is right and wrong.” You ought to mark that sentence because notice what we have just said, His character is the standard for what is right and what is wrong. Society is not the standard; somebody’s opinions are not the standard. If I do a Gallop Poll and 53% of the population believes that such and such is right, that is not the standard. The standard is the holiness of God, period. After that we talk about whether man’s standard approximates or accurately follows His standards. But His character is the standard of right and wrong.
I want to press that home. Mark that, because as we go into chapter 3 I’m going to bring up some apologetic material that is very critical in our modern society because there are people where we think we can have values and we deny God. What we want to show you is that you cannot have values and deny God. If you deny God you’ll want to try to keep hold of values, and people desperately want the values, but they want the values without the God of the values, so they will try to perpetuate memories of values, or they’ll try to perpetuate a great emotional attraction to these values, and it’s human psychology, it’s all emoting but there’s no substance to it because they’ve lost it once they’ve denied and pushed God out of the picture.
This is something we’ll come back to again and again, and it’s a fatal weakness in a non-Christian. If atheism has a central weakness, here it is. This is the jugular vein. No non-Christian can come up with a basis of values, and you can always shove and push until you push them right in a corner, and finally they can’t do it, they cannot come up with values that are transcendent. No one has ever done this. So this is a fatal weakness in the other side, and we want to learn where our strengths are and where our weaknesses are. God doesn’t have any weaknesses, but because we are creatures we have weaknesses, and part of it is we are not omniscient, we are not total in knowledge and so there are things we don’t understand about God, and the non-Christian looks at us and says you can’t explain it. No, I can’t explain it, if I could explain it then the God that I explain wouldn’t be the God of Scripture, because if I could explain it that makes my knowledge exhaustive, and then I am God. So obviously I can’t explain it all, that’s an axiom of what I’m trying to say about the Creator-creature distinction.
So God’s holiness, and we say at the end of that paragraph, “Our experience of conscience, moral judgment, revulsion over evil, and the need for law is something like His (Q)uality Holiness.” That is what’s inside of us. When we get into the next chapter we’re going to talk about the difference between the human body and the human spirit. One of the evidences that all men have a human spirit, whether it’s regenerated or not, is the fact that they have these spiritual longings, and there they are, I’ve named four of them, the experience of conscience, moral judgment, revulsion over evil, and the need for law. Those are things that everyone has, and they flow out of the fact that we are made in God’s image and it’s those things that go on inside our souls that are the results of the presence of a created spirit made in God’s image in us. That’s why, even the non-Christian atheist who denies God, winds up doing these four things, having an experience of conscience, wanting moral judgment, having a revulsion over evil, and having a need for law. It’s inescapable, absolutely inescapable. There’s not a person who has ever lived on this planet that hasn’t had those four experiences, but they’re explainable only because man is made in God’s image and reflects through those actions God’s holiness.
Then we say there’s some differences, we point out that the attribute of holiness …, the last sentence on page 28 actually goes back to the Greek philosophers that I wanted to mention, “He doesn’t demand something because it is ‘right’ in itself; something is ‘right’ because He demands it.” Why do I say that? Why is that pictured as sort of a puzzle? Because that forces your thinking processes to focus on God; He is the standard and He sets the tone, it’s not the fact that we have God and above God… then we get back to the Continuity of Being, it’s not like we have this standard that’s way up here, and then both God and man are underneath the standard. That’s wrong, that’s not Biblical. In the Bible what we have is that God is the standard, there’s nothing above God. God is the standard and we are under the standard, but the standard is His character.
Let’s go to page 29 and look at two more attributes of God, again on the personal side of His character, the attribute of Love. Turn to John 17:24, this is a critical passage, because it speaks of this attribute, and it speaks in particular of this attribute before the creation event. This is the high priestly prayer of Jesus, God the Son talking to God the Father, and as this conversation proceeds, an amazing conversation, and in verse 24 He says, “Father, I desire that they also whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am, in order that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me,” and watch this last clause, “For Thou didst love me before the foundation of the world.”
All of these attributes of God were exercised without the universe being around. That’s the corollary of the creation. And because they were exercised before the creation, here’s another example of it being so, that means that the creation doesn’t change the character of God. Why do we make a big deal out of this? Because today we face a resurgent Islam and one of the weakness in Islam is right here. Islam has a problem, they have one god who is not triune, who therefore has within himself no personal centers, and if he doesn’t, who does he love before the universe was created? What is the object of Allah’s love? What could be the object of Allah’s love before the universe? There’s nothing. What does he do, love himself, or worse than that do we say he had to create the universe in order to have an object for his love. Islamic theology doesn’t quite go that way, but the point is that this attribute of love, according to Scripture, preexists the universe.
God doesn’t get modified because He created the universe. The universe is not necessary to God’s being. But if you have a solitary monotheism without the Trinity, you get in trouble. I emphasize this because people think that we Christians have to apologize, it’s like we’re the weak sisters in all of this and we apologize for believing in a Trinity. I don’t apologize for believing in a Trinity, you ought to apologize because you don’t. Anybody that does not believe in the Trinity needs to apologize because you’ve got some serious problems, and this is one of them that I’m pointing out. You do not have a base for love in your god and it’s very interesting; do you see love as one of your big prime selling points of Islam? No you don’t, and it’s not because they don’t want to, it’s because of the resistless force of logic they can’t, not with a god like Allah.
Continuing on page 29, we have the fact that, “The (Q)uality of love, however, cannot be identical with the human (q)uality of love.” Because “His love is never contingent upon the object.” Our love becomes contingent, we have an object for our love, but God within His own Godhead has an object to His love. So His love is never contingent, that’s what’s so powerful about the love of God in the Bible, it is not contingent. That’s why He loves the world, He first loved us, then we love Him. That love was powerful because it was not dependent on our response to it, it was not dependent on any circumstance, it goes on and on and on because it is part of his character to love.
Finally we come to the attribute of omniscience. This will become very important in the next chapter we work with because this is at the heart and basis of our knowledge, it’s the heart and basis of our appeal for the gospel, it’s the heart and basis of apologetics, it’s the heart and basis of science today and the battle that exists between what the Bible says and what some scientists say. Matthew 11:21 gives another example of the great attributes of God. We looked at His sovereignty, at His holiness, at His love and the last one we’re going to look at is His omniscience. What do we mean by omniscience?
On page 29, “the attribute of omniscience means that God has total knowledge of Himself as well as knowledge of all creature things, actual and possible.” Keep that in mind. Omniscience was exercised before creation, before the universe. God has an exhaustive knowledge of Himself. Who of us as creatures can claim even exhaustive knowledge of ourselves, let alone God? When Jeremiah says “the heart is desperately wicked and deceitful, who can know it,” the most profound depth psychologist doesn’t have exhaustive knowledge of the human soul, but God has exhaustive knowledge of Himself. He also has exhaustive knowledge of all creatures, and then I add “actual and possible,” because in Matthew 11:21-23 Jesus is saying, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred,” there is a hypothetical “if” to history, if this happened, what would have happened as a result; He’s giving us one here, “if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago,” so there’s a “what if.” Jesus knows all the potentials and the “what ifs” of history.
Return to the paragraph on page 29, there are several qualities in there that we want to remember. “His knowledge is immediate and perfect.” Our knowledge is mediated through learning. That’s why I use that little conundrum, there are two people who have never learned anything, a moron and God, for two obviously different reasons but God, in the sense of omniscience, has exhaustive comprehensive knowledge. “Our experience of being aware,” now watch this because there’s some qualities here, just like there were with holiness, that will come back to haunt us in chapter 3 when we get into the nature of man. “Our experience of being aware that there is a standard of truth, that real knowledge must be somehow universal, that we know by coming to know our mental perceptions of reality, and that we can create in our imagination is something like the (Q)uality of omniscience.”
I want to go through those four things again. Awareness of a standard of truth, language is constructed that way, so it is always referring to a standard of truth. You can’t deny a standard of truth without affirming the standard of truth; that was shown numerous times down through history, such puzzles, such paradoxes as the Cretan puzzle, this is why Paul said the Cretans were always liars. There was a famous Cretan who put out this first semantic paradox, many, many centuries ago when he said I am lying. If you think about the statement “I am lying,” how do you take that? If it’s true, then he’s not lying, but if it’s false, then he must be lying. It’s a very famous semantic puzzle that you get into, and that puzzle of the Cretans centuries ago has led to the 20th century all kinds of revolutions in the way mathematicians have worked, and gets into all kinds of problems with understanding language and reasoning. The long and short of it is that everyone has an implicit knowledge for a standard of truth. Why? Because when they go to articulate their position, they’re claiming it’s true.
The fallacy that you get into in high school English classes that all literature must be deconstructed, it must be interpreted in the context of this, etc. and it’s just impossible for an author, like Shakespeare or someone like that to communicate truth because he was a white male, or he was prejudice against women, or he’s prejudice against other races, or it’s impossible that the Jews could have ever written anything true because they’re prejudice against all the Gentiles, the Bible’s prejudice because it was all written by men, etc. So you have all this stuff, but here’s the puzzle. If it’s really true that all literature has to be deconstructed, then it must be true that the person who says all literature is to be deconstructed, that opinion also has to be deconstructed. See how you take it, you just keep on going with it. So it’s obvious that all people believe in an absolute universality of truth. “Real knowledge must be somehow universal.” That’s the claim; the English teacher that gets up and says all literature must be deconstructed is claiming that that’s true for all literature. What she forgets to say is, it’s not true for her, it’s true for everyone else.
The third quality that we come to know by knowing our mental perceptions, and you know that, sometimes when you’re tired, do you think clearly? You’ve got to have a clear head to think, we all have that experience, when we’re tired we make mistakes. I have just spent 14 hours working unraveling a computer system that got screwed up because both myself and my crew were tired, and to solve the problem we created four other problems that propagated themselves through two computers. It goes back to fatigue, we were not thinking properly, and we created problem upon problem. So you can only reach truth when this works.
The final point about knowing, we can create in our imagination. That’s how artists do their thing. That’s how an author does his thing. Ever wonder how Tom Clancy writes his novels? How do these guys write this stuff, do they really see this going on in their head, do they get part of the story today, then go back to the typewriter next week, ooh, I’ve got another idea, and they have all this going on in their head. It’s the power of creative thinking. God creates too, except the difference between His creative thinking and ours is He speaks His creative thinking, He brings it into existence. Tom Clancy can write a novel, God manufactures the universe. Tom Clancy’s ultimate imagination has to do with fiction; God’s imagination has to do with reality, because He drives it with His language and His decrees.
We’ve looked at all these attributes and on the bottom of page 29 are some exercises to do, but I want to try a different approach. Open your hymnal to “Holy, Holy, Holy”. Now that we’ve looked at the attributes of God I want you to see how clever and how tremendous the man who wrote the lyrics was in composing this hymn. Look carefully at the words of the first stanza. “Holy, holy, holy,” you know that attribute, but look at the next attribute he introduces, “Lord God Almighty,” attribute of omnipotence. This is worship.
How do these attributes work? In that exercise I mentioned I apply this thing to problems in life but what I’m doing by going to the hymn book is showing it applies to worship. “Holy, holy, holy,” there’s one attribute, see how worship flits from one attribute of God in amazement to another attribute of God in amazement, to another attribute of God, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee.” Then it goes on, “All the saints adore Thee, casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea,” notice in the third, “Though the darkness hide Thee,” incomprehensibility, “though the eye of sinful man,” His holiness there, “Thy glory may not see,” and then he concludes with “Lord God Almighty, all thy works shall praise Thy name,” there’s the creation.
Do you see how the attributes of God are present in real worship? By doing that, what has the hymn writer done for us? Do you know why hymns like that are so powerful? It’s because He has moved our center of focus away from us unto who God is, and that’s the goal of worship. That’s why successful worship does that. That’s the only thing that helps in the pains of life, as you sit there and get yourself buried in a big depression looking at the problem, you’ve got to look away from the problem and it’s hard to do that sometimes. That’s why real worship is so refreshing because it’s like a thirsty creature that drinks fresh water, at last I can see these attributes of God because I live down here as a creature, a finite, I have some analogies to this, but every time I contemplate God and these attributes they feed me. It’s like rain from heaven, they feed my soul. This is why we want to be clear as Christians who our God is like.
The next section concludes chapter 2 on idolatry. There are some observations we want to make here. I introduced it with John’s statement, “Little children, keep yourself from idols,” and if you look in the context John is talking about the genuineness of Jesus Christ, that He is the genuine God and that repetitious Greek word there for true or genuine, obviously he’s belaboring the vocabulary word, so what happens in your mind is you always think of the antonym, the opposite, if Jesus the authentic and genuine, then what’s the phony? And the phony is the idols. Idols are phonies, but they’re phony and counterfeit mimics of God. How do you make an idol to mimic God? You make an idol to mimic God by mimicking His attributes. It’s precisely these qualities that make idols attractive in our mind’s eye.
For example, I say on page 30 “Always involved in idolatry are powerful pictures in our imagination.” That’s why the second commandment. Next paragraph, “Even as Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving God’s Word, the people of Israel quickly sought an idol to provide for their needs (Exodus 32:1-6). Note how Aaron claimed that the new golden calf was the God of the Exodus: ‘This is your God, O Israel,” this is the way he introduced the idol, this is the one “who brought you up from the land of Egypt,’ (Exodus 32:4). The golden calf took upon itself God’s delivering glory.” That’s why idolatry is theft, it’s thievery. Idols are fake collections of these attributes, misunderstood, misapplied, convoluted, twisted, but nevertheless and idol mimics God. However, because the idol is made by man, it gets around the problem that C.S. Lewis spoke about and I quoted earlier, that section from The Chronicles of Narnia when Lucy asked, “Is Aslan safe?” And the answer came back from Mr. Beaver as, “No, Aslan is not safe, but he’s good.” That was Lewis’ neat way of putting the fact that God is incomprehensible, He’s not bound, He’s not on a leash, you’re not going to control Him, so he’s not safe.
But what are idols? They’re safe gods because they’re made by man, they are things that can be understood by man, they are created products of man’s imagination, and they always are in one sense, even though people that are supposed to be incarnated demons and people worship them, but in another sense all the idols are safe because they are comprehensible, they are made, man fashioned them. And if you want a central polemic in Scripture you might want to write these Scriptures down: Isaiah 40, 41, 42, 43, all those “40” chapters in Isaiah is when the Holy Spirit spoke to Isaiah to prepare the Jewish people for living in an idolatrous society. That’s where that came out, so you can see that very powerfully in that passage.
Look at the quote on page 30, a student of idolatry, Kenneth Hamilton wrote several years ago but this quote so captures why idolatry is not just something that happened in Aaron’s day, but it happens in our day. “Just as polytheism continued in an underground from through the Middle Ages and lives on today in modern cults of witchcraft and Satanism, the imagination of Western man was never fully Christianized …” you might want to underline that, it’s very important. Here’s why I want you to see this. The way we’re taught in school is there’s a period of time when “the church” dominated society, and we call that the Dark Ages.
Notice who called the Middle Ages the Dark Ages. It was the rationalists. So right away everybody that sits in history class is prejudice against the Christian faith, when the church did dominate society, and it did in the Middle Ages, that’s the Dark Ages. And what do we call the age after the Dark Ages? When men finally rejected the church and had the autonomous thinking, we call that the Age of Enlightenment. Who took those labels? This is how this propaganda all starts. The Middle Ages weren’t that bad, the Middle Ages had some good things about them. The Christians had quite a bit of good things to say, yes, there were crusades and a few other things, and they always like to talk about the Inquisition later on, and yes, people got killed in the inquisition, compare it to how many people got killed under communism with Joe Stalin. If you want to compare numbers I’ll compare numbers with you.
The point is that we learn history through prejudicial comments, mislabels, but there’s one thing that is true and this the point I’m making here, is that as much as the church did dominate Europe in the Middle Ages, it never totally dominated. And “the imagination of western man was never fully Christianized … The modern idolatrous imagination still refuses to believe that the promises of the living God are sure and that His grace is sufficient for all our needs. It still looks to other powers and other authorities for support and guidance,” and notice this last sentence by Dr. Hamilton, “transferring to them what belongs to the Creator alone.” That’s the clue to idolatry.
John the apostle was telling us, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” What we need to do as we think about what we’ve learned in these attributes; they become checkpoints, to examine our hearts, and to look in our own hearts for idols. Hence one of the exercises that we have at the end of this section. There are two paragraphs on the top of page 31, I mention what some of these idols today are, they are rampant, they are all over the place. You have the more academic ones in the first paragraph, “There are historicisms like Marxism that mimic God’s sovereign plan.… There are naturalisms like evolution that mimic God’s sovereignty and omnipotence…. There are humanisms that deify humanity…. There are mammons that value all things in terms of monetary wealth. There are statisms that transfer God’s sovereignty, omnipotence, and love to totalitarian civil government.”
“As if the world doesn’t have enough idolatries, our fleshy minds are capable of generating hundreds more: a friend, a family, a marriage, a preacher, a business, a career, etc. Each one serves as a God-replacement that for a while appears to meet our needs.” That’s the other thing, that’s how the little informal idols get started. John says “little children, keep yourselves from idols,” because our minds have a hard time apart from the Holy Spirit of keeping focused right here. It’s very hard. We can sit up here and draw diagrams and yak yak yak about all the attributes of God, when it come to everyday living it’s very hard to be reminded of what kind of a God it is with Whom we have to do. And that’s what this battle is all about, it’s a battle over the mind, and where that line is focusing and where it’s directed.
So how do we handle this? I want to take you to I Corinthians 8 because there’s a very clear situation where a local church had a problem with new believers who had been raised in an idolatrous society. There’s a neat method that Paul uses there to handle this problem in the congregation. It’s a real life story [blank spot], this is the story in the New Testament epistle, these new believers had associated food, certain food, certain meat, the best meat in town was served in the temples, so they associated all this meat with the idolatry that was going on, and so when Christians had the freedom to eat whatever they wanted to eat, they’d go ahead and eat this, and these new believers weren’t quite ready to do that because it was offensive to them, because they said how can you as a Christian do that when there’s these idols. But the idols were nothing.
That’s why when Paul talks about he says in verse 5, “For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords,  Yet for us there is but one God, the Father,” but in verse 7 he said, “However not all men have this knowledge; but some being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.” In verse 4 he clearly says there’s no such thing as these gods. But there’s a power that these beliefs have in the heart, and Paul recognizes that there’s dominion of power that goes on with these images. And Paul says that you can’t just come to this person and say these are the attributes of God, those things don’t exist; but in their heart the imagination still exists. It’s like an ideological momentum that keeps on going in the heart. And notice that Paul allows these people a little space. Instead of peer pressure by fellow believers, and forcing conformity, what Paul says is give them a little space and then we know the famous prayers in Ephesians 1 and 3 where he prays for the enlightenment of the heart as they learn more of the Word.
The key is that the people obey what they know and can believe to be true, and it gets back to conscience; in the next chapter we’ll see why. Conscience is that inner conviction that something is true. And it doesn’t always work. In these cases he said the conscience is weak, the conscience doesn’t really testify that they can eat that meat, so they shouldn’t. They shouldn’t! If they can’t do it by faith, then don’t do it. That is a mirror of Paul’s approach, he preaches always to the conscience and says before you act, before you believe in your heart you must personally be convinced this is true. If you’re not convinced, don’t do this because of me, because of something else, because your mother told you to, because of some peer pressure, you do it because you believe it to be true. You might want to write this verse down, Romans 14:23, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” It’s a slightly different context. But the principle is that you can only trust what your conscience, your existing status in spiritual growth, gives you permission to believe. It’s a respect for truth.
Why do you suppose there’s almost a hesitancy by Paul to do this? Here’s why. Because the conscience is the okay-er of faith. Paul wants these people to walk by faith. He doesn’t want them to walk by feeling, he doesn’t them to walk by peer pressure, he wants to build genuine faith, and that genuine faith happens because the Holy Spirit speaks to the heart. There is that inner conviction, this is true. He wants to encourage that personal trust that this is true. That’s why we talk about apologetics, we don’t want ourselves to be weak, we don’t want to walk around as though we were apologizing for our faith, and gee, we hope the gospel is true. No! We know the gospel is true, we feel sorry for the other people that don’t, they’re fools.
So there’s an emphasis in gospel preaching by Paul on the conscience. Note how he does this. In Acts, when you hear Paul talking he talks about the fact that he appeals to conscience. 2 Corinthians 5, here’s the kind of method that Paul uses to focus attention on the true character of God. 2 Corinthians 5:11, “Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, bet we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences.” The gospel is truth and we want people to believe it because it’s true, not because you had an emotional experience, not because of something else, all these may accompany this, but the central thing has to be on the God with whom we have to do. And if I don’t get attention on God and who He is, you cannot understand the cross of Christ. Let’s think about that for a moment.
Let’s go back and review these attributes we’ve learned. Why is it we want to avoid idols? Because idols twist this, idols always replace God’s attributes in some way, shape or form. Idols promise that our needs are going to be met by something other than the true God, and whatever this “other than” is, it has an appeal. It wouldn’t be an idol if it didn’t have an appeal, so it’s falsifying some of God’s attributes. It appears to be like God, enough such that it deflects us. What we want to do is we want to look at Him. If we confuse these attributes we confuse who we are to start with, we can’t even make a diagnosis of the problem, let alone the solution of the gospel, we can’t even diagnose what the problem is if we don’t have the standards, we don’t have God as THE standard for our lives.
Later on we mention the fact that it would be an interesting challenge, if you are interested in psychology and get into these little personality profile tests, corporations give these to their employees to see whether they’re stable or not, etc. Do you know what would be very interesting? To calibrate the test. How do you calibrate the test, how do psychologists calibrate tests? They do controls and they have statistics, etc. But have you ever thought of the Christian, how you really should calibrate a psychology test? Give it to Jesus. If Jesus is God incarnate, then His behavior should be normative. And therefore the test of the test would be to see how it evaluates Jesus as we know Him in the gospels. I had a friend who did this one time and the exam characterized him as an extremist. So what does that tell you about the test? Got a problem here. If you’re testing the test on an ideal piece of humanity, that’s sinless, and the test screws up, then it’s a test problem. Like the Minnesota test, years ago, they used to knock off points if you admitted that you prayed. Can you imagine if you applied that test to Jesus in the four Gospels? Every time He prays, cross out more points for this guy, He’s warped. So you come out with these personality profiles that mean nothing, because they’re not calibrated.
In my work, whenever we make measurements we calibrate, I can’t go out and tell you that peer pressure is such and such unless I’ve calibrated that instrument, and I’ve got to calibrate my instrument to an instrument that’s 10 times better than the instrument I’m using, and that instrument has to be calibrated to another instrument that’s 10 times better than that, every time it’s a decade increase, when you calibrate instrumentation. And the whole world has to agree on the unit of measure, or my measurements don’t fit his. So this gets back to what are our calibration standards? The attributes of God. Keep this in mind, because when we get into evaluating the knowledge of man we’re going to see that it’s uncalibrated, it’s floating, it’s not anchored to any standard because it’s not being actively anchored to the attributes of God. And any claims of knowledge that do not calibrate to God’s character are just floating claims.
We concluded this section with a little exercise and I encourage you to try this on for size when you have a chance. The first is a simple listing of idols that tempt you. Here’s how to find them: look at what attributes of His nature that are easy for you to “forget”, then examine what’s going on up here in your head, in your imagination, when these attributes get fuzzy, when it’s difficult for you to trust His love, when it’s difficult for you to trust that He works all things after the counsel of His will, what’s going on in your head, what are the imaginations that float around there when you’re having trouble perceiving this part of God. That’s where the battle ground is. By thinking through these attributes, they almost act like a flashlight to weed out stuff in your thinking, but it takes time and peace and quiet to do it.
We have looked at 7 or 8 of these attributes and I encourage you with the fact that there are many more that you will find, you can look in a concordance, you can look up all kinds of adjectives for God. I also encourage you that there is a wonderful study, Kay Arthur has a little thing on this, but not the only one, that’s the names of God. God names Himself, and when He goes to name Himself He’s expressing His attributes. So look at the names of God in the Scripture. Take a concordance and look up what these names mean. Look up in a good Bible dictionary what these names mean, and you can spend weeks, just taking one name of God, look up every instance of that name, all the references, and look what was going on when God called Himself El Shaddai, or El Elyon, or something like this, what was going on in the context, and you’ll see that those names reflect patterns of these attributes. God thought so much of revealing these things about Himself that’s that why He gave Himself a name and said I want you to call Me by those names, because when you call Me by those names you’re thinking in terms of whatever those attributes are that are involved in that name and the revelation of it.
Next week we’re going to deal with a new difference. We’ve dealt so far with a difference between the Creator and the creature, now I want to start with another distinction. We’re going back to that old diagram again, the Continuity of Being, and I’m going to show you that as we battle as Christians to preserve the Creator-creature distinction, right now in our day we’re battling to preserve the man-nature distinction. Only 3 weeks ago there was a conference held, I think in Ohio, members of the biology community, in which they seriously petitioned to the United Nations for a human rights legislation that would include as humans certain species of the chimpanzee, and it would be an act of murder to kill a chimpanzee. The reason and basis of doing this was because the DNA structure of the chimpanzee is 97% identical to the DNA structure of the human being. Therefore, based on similarity argument we include chimpanzees along with humans, and we flush out this man-nature distinction. That’s the background of where we’re going, and we want to see who we are as people, and I think there’s some amazing things, we’ll go into Genesis 1 and 2, read it again. We’re going to start looking at what happens when God created man, what were some things that He did back then that set us off against nature. Then we’re going to deal with these so-called similarity arguments, and we’re going to answer the similarity arguments on the basis of Scripture.
Question asked: Clough replies: The question is why do we classify omniscience as communicable and omnipotence and omnipresence as incommunicable. It has more to do with sloppy labels that theologians create, those labels are relative labels, not absolute labels, it’s just that the incommunicable attributes are attributes that are less similar to ourselves as persons, in the sense omniscience we know, so all our knowing, our reasoning, our thinking processes are analogous to His thinking processes and His omniscience, whereas when we start thinking in terms of omnipotence and omnipresence, yes we have energy and yes we take up space, but it’s kind of pitifully small, so the distance between His great omnipotence and our little puny power is so great that theologians characteristically divide… I didn’t invent that, it’s a characteristic division and that’s why they do it, and when they mean incommunicable it just means it’s harder to think about.
It’s not an absolute distinction and you can forget it, you don’t have to worry about the labels, it’s just that it is a tool to make you think a little bit about the attributes on the right side there are a little bit more like people. Not that they’re any more important, all the attributes are important. But it’s just those are a little bit more similar to what we are as people, that’s all. When we get into the area of science coming up in chapter 3 that’s when you get into here because your units of measure, etc. are often length, height, depth, pound, weight, force those all tend to be characterized by these impersonal attributes.
One of the things that we want to emphasize when we’re going through this is that this is not to neglect Scripture, this is not to say that this is the only way of doing it. I just throw this out as an invitation for you to experiment with, that if you will feast on these attributes in the middle of a problem, or imagine a problem, maybe forearm yourself, thinking in terms of a problem that you may find yourself in, and start breaking that problem apart by concentrating on these attributes, you can almost say that exercise is like worshiping your way through the problem, because what these attributes do when you can focus on them is that they cut problems down to size. We sit here and we get depressed and here we are and here’s this big problem. And you get so overwhelmed by it, so crushed by something, you just say gee, it’s all over. But if you can take that very thing that’s so very big and so ponderously heavy and depressing, and start putting it right up against the attributes of God, and say all right, just a second, is this problem something that is beyond the capacity of God in His Power, who is “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Is this problem something that God is so far away that He doesn’t have any sense of what’s going on right here in my piece of turf. Wait a minute, what are we talking about, God is omnipresent, in Psalm 139 He is in front of me, He is behind me, if I go to hell He is there, if I ascend into heaven, He is there, and He’s not in my space? Of course He’s in my space. He’s in my space because He is omnipresent. But this problem is so bad that I just can’t see how God can work in it.
Did God work in the Old Testament to flood the world to get rid of a problem? You can look at Noah’s flood, He flushed the whole earth down the toilet is what He did, started all over again. Now any God that can flush the planet, can He solve my problem. That’s what I mean, almost talking to your soul, like you see David do in the Psalms, how he talks to himself. It’s not crazy to talk to yourself. Talk to your soul about these things, activate it. So that’s an exercise that can be done and you’ll find that it strengthening to do that, and when you put this big problem up there, it’s just like it puts a pin in it and it at least deflates it down somewhat to a manageable place. I find it’s a way of bracketing problems so they don’t get totally out of hand. It’s just an exercise using these attributes, it’s not a gimmick, you can use them in every area of life. You fasten onto what’s going on here and they become powerful tools for us as God’s children, because they are means of running to Him, running to our Father, and rejoicing in who our Father is, He’s like that, you know, “my daddy’s like that,” and that’s the comforting part of these attributes.
Question asked: Clough replies: We’ve got a problem tossed out that’s common to all of us. You experience the loss of a loved one, either a ruptured relationship so it’s a loss in a relationship or it’s even more profound because physically you’ve lost them, speaking in terms of that gnawing feeling in your heart, your loss, all the thoughts that go on when that happens. I can remember the thoughts the day I got a call when my father died, and I can remember the thoughts in my head, and also when my mother died, and Carol asked how I felt, I said I just feel so alone, she was standing right there, why did I say I felt alone, well, because I’m the only child, I’m the end of the family, but that’s what I was talking about. Those feelings, what do you do to rule those feelings so they don’t rule you, you rule them. We know those attributes of God, so let’s have some suggestions. Either you or a friend have lost a loved one, looking at this, actually all the attributes apply, but maybe different people have different perceptions of how they would apply. Taking these attributes how would we use them as vehicles to get our minds thinking properly so that as we work through our grief, and we’re going to have grief, these do not make grief go away, in the sense it just evaporates it, it controls it, it rules, so grief is ruled, not eliminated, but ruled and managed.
Let’s throw it open for discussion, how would you think about it, someone lost a loved one,
[Can’t hear what people say] Good point, maybe we’re violating the thing I often warned against, answering a question before we understand what the question is. Let’s think about the question and let’s work this down to it’s a sense that the person that you’ve lost is more of a companion situation, so you’ve lost someone who loved you, in many senses you’ve rejoiced in that relationship and now there’s a grieving process, so what attribute of God. [can’t hear response, mentions fair and just] That’s good, I was expecting someone to say the attribute of love, but that’s good because that’s one of the things that insidiously creeps in that you have to come to terms with in every grieving situation, is it fair, because if you don’t come to grips with that you’re going to have problems with everything else. What happens in our souls if we in a grieving situation can’t, by conscience, like we said sometimes it’s hard to get to that point, you can’t fake this, this is not fakery, it may take days, it may take weeks, hopefully not, but it may take time to do exactly this, to come to a sense this is ok, God was not being a meany, God did not pick on me, and of course the more we know of Scripture we get into the fall of man, we get into why history goes the way it goes, etc. but we’re going back to the attribute of holiness, and that’s correct, that’s a fundamental tool to manage grief with. Again, it doesn’t mean that we become a zombie, it doesn’t mean we don’t have feelings, it doesn’t mean we don’t have tears, it just means that we don’t allow the tears and the grief and the feelings to just zap us out of living right.
That’s good, God’s holiness. Anyone else, [someone says eternal, can’t hear rest] This is interesting, every person here, see what happens, see how manifold this is. I bet if we went through this room each one of you would have a piece of this, and you see how God works in different situations. We’re all working out of the same trust in our Lord, but its parts and aspects of His character that fit. What she is talking about is going back and looking at the fact that life goes on, a trite expression, but in this sense life has been, is now, and will forever go on and it puts it in a bigger light. It’s using eternality to expand the focus. Because grief tends to, you go like this, you get wiped out, you look at yourself, it becomes one big long pitty-party, and what we’re doing is taking the mind and it goes out like this so it doesn’t become just me, me, me.
[can’t hear] Okay, they see how you cope with that situation, the modeling effect that people who you could sit to, write letters to, give books to, give tapes to, do all that, and no comprehenda, it never gets up here, but all of a sudden a modeling situation where they see you encounter a situation and they know what they’d do in the middle of the situation and all of a sudden they see something of the Lord’s power working there and it becomes a powerful preaching device, it becomes a testimony and a tool.