Knowing an Infinite God
How you can objectively know the Truth,
in a not-so-sure world
1993 Eric W. Francke
It has been said that of all man's quests for greater understanding, none have been more noble than his pursuit for knowledge of God Almighty. All of mankind's technological conquests and philosophical undertakings pale next to the surpassing and eternal value of knowing the true God. What could this God be like? How is it possible to know Him? How can we verify that our knowledge of Him is in any way accurate? Philosophers and theologians alike have always debated such questions. Many scholars have held to the idea that God is incomprehensible; that our limited understanding could never grasp or appreciate the fullness of what God is really like. To this there could be some truth. Much of the futility of dogmatic theism (or dogmatic atheism for that matter) begins with the presupposition that any Deity that exists must behave and operate within our current parameters of reasoning. God, however, cannot be "boxed" by our theologies and theories. Only in the egotistical imaginations of men could there be a God whose nature, desires and behavior was confined to the puny perimeter of what we thought was credulous. Yet man has an inherent weakness to systematically order his universe; to define and to categorize. Much of this need to systematically order his universe comes from the primal urge to know and control the future. From this also many superstitious practices arose in the early days of civilization. Rituals were mostly centered around the concept of appeasing an angry god and manipulating his favors. Spells, hexes, talismans, charms and the like were created to fulfill this need to control and manipulate the evident "supernatural" forces and thereby manipulate the future. Astrology, I Ching, runes, palmistry, and tarot were created to assist in man's quest to know the unknowable. Even today, many think of the supernatural only in terms of what they can either manipulate, or what future event it can reveal so as to help us manipulate our destinies. God, however, we may find, has a nature and characteristics quite different than what many would expect or understand.
Many persons throughout history have claimed to know what God is all about. Such people have usually enjoyed a venerated position in society; from the hallowed "medicine man" of antiquity to the "reverends" of today, we have given those who authoritatively speak of "God" a special place of honor. From this exalted position, the priest/minister/shaman have endeavored to reveal the nature of God and make known His will. Has this been a futile profession? To many in the western world, the clergy have become little more than glorified social workers. Many churches have realized that merely describing what they know about God has not fulfilled the ultimate purpose of religion: to make God subjectively and experientially real to the participants. The difficulty in this task lies in the fact that we are limited to the terminology of our language to describe God. Those words will certainly be lacking in accuracy when we try to define the nature and characteristics of an infinite God. The prophet Isaiah described this difficulty quite well in Isaiah 55:8,9 when he wrote
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways"
declares the Lord. " For just as the heavens are above the earth, so are
my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts."
With this handicap of humanity we have to recognize that we may not have the monopoly on wisdom and understanding when it comes to the things of God. We all would, quite frankly, be totally adrift without any objective basis for knowing God if it wasn't for one simple fact: The God of the universe has objectively in history decided to reveal Himself. It is this Self-revelation that we can actually piece together like a great mosaic the characteristics and nature of God. Without knowledge of these incidents of Self-revelation we could only speculate on God's existence through testimony of endless subjective experiences by others. We would have no foundation for understanding our own experiences outside the immediate emotional impact they might have on us. This objective Self-revelation of God can be traced through the scriptures of what is called the "revealed religions" ( i.e. Judeo-Christian tradition). These scriptures are unique since they alone claim to be "revealed" among all other religious texts ( i.e. The Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, the Tao Teh King, etc. ) and God's Self-revelation can be found in them, though they do not hold exclusive claim to God's witness on the earth.
Evidences of God's Self-revelation
It is not necessary to think that any matters of pertaining to the existence of God must be taken "in faith". The usage of the very word has deteriorated from a descriptive quality of trust in God Almighty, to an emotional "escape hatch" that we can jump in to when reason and logic threaten to upset our little apple cart of a belief system. Instead, intellectual honesty would dictate that we fully investigate the evidences ( or lack thereof) for God's Self-revelation. It is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, as the Apostle Paul spoke to the Greek pagans, that he declared that in all nations God " did not leave Himself without witness." ( Acts 14:17 ). Even in nations that have not been impacted by a religion based on theism still have received some type of witness, or Self-revelation of God. One such witness is the existence of conscience, or moral law. Very few people ever think as to why we consider certain actions ethically right, yet other actions ethically wrong. One might propose that all morality is imposed by society, either through parental upbringing, influence of education, or legislative or judiciary action from government. Indeed, it is frequently through such means that we eventually define right and wrong, but what makes them right and wrong to begin with? Why do we think that peace is somehow superior to war? Why is love a more desirable emotion than hate? Why is helping someone else virtuous? Why should we accept stealing as wrong? Why do we stigmatize the sexual relationships of immediate kin, like siblings and parents? These are universal truths that exist in mankind regardless of the effect of culture. It has been noted that every major world religion has as a fundamental basis of ethics a variant of the Golden Rule. Consider these statements from the scriptures of different world religions as evidence.
Brahmanism: "This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause pain if done to you." ( Mahabharata, 5, 1517 )
Buddhism: " Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." ( Udana-Varga 5, 18 )
Confucianism: " Is there one maxim which ought to be acted upon throughout one's whole life? Surely it is the maxim of lovingkindness: Do not unto others what you would not have them do unto you." ( Analects 15,23 )
Taoism: "Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss." ( T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien )
Judaism: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman. That is the entire Law, the rest is commentary." ( Talmud, Shabbat 31a )
Islam: "No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself." ( Sunnah )
Some have tried to explain that all behavior is based on avoidance of pain and the fulfillment of pleasure. If that is true with regard to the human species, then why do cultures always develop sexual mores which idealize fidelity, chastity, and sacrificial love for a spouse? If we did possess only the same innate behavioral patterns as the other animals, would we not then idealize mating wherever, whenever and with whatever one could as the highest virtue? Instead, every human culture has developed a certain moral code that seems to be based on an innate sense that defies naturalistic explanation. Different cultures and religions have different doctrinal beliefs, but the basic ethic, that which pertains to conscience, is remarkably similar. The famous philosopher Emmanuel Kant stated in his highly acclaimed work A Critique of Pure Reason , page 636, that
There really are pure moral laws which determine completely a priori
( without regard to empirical motives, that is, happiness) what is and
what is not done...and these laws command in an absolute manner.
Philosophers use his term "a priori" ( something inherent, before experience) to describe this universal standard of reasoning and values that permeate the world. Even societies that developed free from outside influences still regard as "right" the same core of truths that all of mankind has always endorsed. This not to say that any of these cultures have lived up to it's own ideals with any success, but still, we all have a sense of "right " and "wrong" even if we ourselves habitually do what is "wrong". The fact that we do not live up to the ideals which we universally hold up as "right" is manifest evidence of the fact that these values are indeed derived from something greater than ourselves. What culture would ever create a value system that it knew it could never live up to? The prophet Jeremiah wrote of this condition in chapter 31, verse 33 of his book in the Old Testament. In this verse, the Lord declares:
"This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the Lord, "I have put my law in their minds, and I will write it on
their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people." (lit. trans.)
The essence of God's law has been written on the minds of men for all time. We all seem to have an innate sense of right and wrong in a general sense. Yet, we have not been able to carry out the good and virtuous behavior that we know is right. The significance of having the Law written on our hearts is indicative of having the ability to carry out that virtuous behavior. Notice that the Lord has put His law on peoples minds, but He will put it on their hearts. In a general sense, we have not, up to this point, had the whole-hearted ability to obey what we mentally know is proper. The exact same principle is expressed in Confucianism. In one of their writings considered sacred, The Golden Mean of Tseze, Tseze describes the principle of universal moral law and man's inability to keep it. He says:
The moral law is to be found everywhere, and yet it is a secret.
The simple intelligence of ordinary men and women of the people
may understand something of moral law... but in it's utmost reaches
even the wisest and holiest of men cannot live up to it. ( III:XII )
As a consequence, guilt has been an unfortunate maladjustment of the human creation throughout time. The abundant varieties of "sacrifices" to appease a god throughout all of history is a testimony to the separation that mankind has intuitively perceived between himself and the divine. Virtually every culture in the world has some type of requirement of appeasement to a god or quasi-divine spirit for our own transgressions against the universal moral law. In short, the existence of a priori moral law has imprinted our psyche with a definite perception of an immanent ( all pervading ) God, yet our own shortcomings has beleaguered us with a sense of inadequacy and guilt.
Nature is the second witness that all nations and peoples have been given as an element of Self-revelation of the character of God. The apostle Paul says in his epistle to the Romans, chapter 1verses 19 and twenty, that the disobedient peoples of the earth have known the truth about God because
God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God' invisible qualities- His eternal power and Divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what is made, so that men are without excuse.
This is not to say that everyone on the earth has at some point looked out their window and were suddenly struck by the fact that there is a God, but that some specific qualities of Him can be objectively derived from nature. First mentioned is His eternal power. Even the simplest of minds must have wondered, while gazing upon creation, where everything has come from and why does everything work in such harmony. No one has ever refuted the very basic axioms of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) which stated quite succinctly that the existence of cause and effect relationships necessitates a "First Cause". Another common way of phrasing that might be that creation necessitates a Creator. No one ever bothered challenging that axiom until Post-Renaissance philosophers like Kant, Berkeley, and Hume challenged the idea that we can objectively know that effects necessitate a cause, and that we may very well not objectively know anything at all. Many scholars accepted the criticisms leveled by these philosophers, and their modes of thinking, Subjectivism and Skepticism, were popular for many years. Scientists who were interested in furthering the world view of the "Skeptics" usually endeavored to prove that the universe was "static" and was without basic change, and therefore eternal and uncreated. Unfortunately, science has not been very kind to this model. As science progressed, it became clear that everything happens, from the smallest chemical reaction, to the detonation of the greatest nuclear warhead, within very discernible parameters of physical law. We now have been able to quantify gravitational and electric fields, accurately predict sub-atomic particle reactions, and observe phenomenon that was predicted by the hypothesis of Einstein's theory of relativity, and all is based on the premise that causes have effects.. The one thing that we can be sure of is that nothing happens in nature indiscriminately. Everything that science has ever observed has a "cause" which can be defined in terms of physical law. As for the universe, all observable evidence has pointed to the inescapable conclusion that the universe had a beginning. That has been a terrible dilemma for atheists. The Second Law of Thermodynamics requires that, in a closed system, (i.e. the universe ) everything must go from a higher level of energy, to a lower level of energy; from order to disorder. Whether one believes in the "Big Bang" theory, or an "oscillating" universe, one still needs the universe to be "wound up" initially to explain the present state of atomic order and energy. Recently, the famed physicist Stephen Hawking wrote a best-selling book entitled A Brief History of Time in which Hawking attempted to explain how the universe may have begun without a beginning. Far from being an intensely scientific book, as it was hailed by many critics, it was merely an desperate act by a scientist to get around the simple cosmological argument that a Creator is necessary to explain the existence of the universe. The noted atheist Carl Sagan wrote the introduction to the book in which he states that Hawking was explicitly attempting to demonstrate that the universe is a
universe with no edge in space, no beginning or end in time,
and nothing for a Creator to do. ( A Brief History of Time, page X)
From a scientific standpoint, Hawking was unsuccessful in his attempt. All evidence points to a beginning for our universe, and consequently, a Creator is philosophical, scientific, and practical necessity.
The other thing that the Book of Romans said was evident in creation was God's Divine nature. The verse qualifies this phrase by stating that His qualities have been "seen, being understood from what has been made". The essence of the text is that God has made it evident that His qualities are clearly discernible as distinct from creation. When we speak of God as being distinct from creation, we are referring to the quality of transcendence. Many Eastern religions stress the immanence and indwelling of God so much that God is actually equated with creation. This is called "monism" or "pantheism". The pantheist or monist usually claims that God is in everything, and everything is merely effluence from mind of God. In such cases, God does not have any reality apart from creation, for all is one. In this age of science and reason, however, it is hard to find any empirical or logical evidence to support such a view. If one were to examine the chemical or atomic make-up of a rock, we would hardly find the presence of a Divine Being. There is no objective basis for the claim that God is in everything and all is part of God. Although the "God-is-all-in-all" phraseology sounds very deep and pious, it all boils down to a mere escapade of pseudo-spiritual jargon and mental gymnastics. Therefore, by all appearances, it can be deduced by observation of creation that the Creator must be transcendent.
Narrowing the Field
Without ever delving in to the matters of religion and doctrine, we have established that God is both transcendent, and emmanent, distinct from creation, yet intimately involved with His creation. As Creator, His abilities and energies are necessarily greater than the combined potential energies of all the masses in the universe, since that is the minimum required to be able to "wind up" the universe to it's present state of energy. Theologians use the term omnipotent ( all powerful) to describe this attribute of God. These statements about God are neither new nor hotly contended. Most people in the western world will agree, and find little controversy in such statements. I would like now, however, to become a little more specific with our definition and description of God. Up until now, we have been very general with our examination of God's Self-revelation. We have only discussed what is generally revealed about God from logic and creation. As mentioned earlier, mankind has a disposition that wants to know things, particularly, the "unknowable". God has revealed Himself to man to not only satisfy man's need for knowledge, but, more importantly, to establish the basis for pure, sincere and accurate fellowship and understanding between man and Himself. We may already believe in an omnipotent God, one who is personal and just, yet that does not necessarily tell us very much about the relationship we can have with Him. There are very practical questions about worship and faith that are not answered without more specific information about God's nature and attributes. In this country alone, there are 15,000 different religious sects. These represent an incredible diversity of thought, doctrine and practice. Strangely enough, most of them appeal to the same writings to support their beliefs. Who is to say who is right? How can we tell which sect, religion or denomination is the most accurate in representing God in an objective manner? It is beyond the scope of most people to thoroughly investigate the claims of different sects and evaluate them. There are some very general principles, however, that we can apply that will give us a "spiritual yardstick" with which we can quickly size up the authenticity and objective accuracy not only of any particular sect or religion, but also of any practice or doctrine any such religion. One does not need a seminary degree to apply these principles, nor be able to recall dozens of obscure passages of sacred text in order to have an objective basis for judgment. What is necessary, however, is that we make careful note of the progression of God's Self-revelation, and with that we can provide an accurate "litmus test" of truth and error.
The Progression of God's Self-Revelation
The key to being able to evaluate what is true and false in matters pertaining to God is merely following the "road signs" of God's Self-revelation. The basic principle is this: God has revealed Himself to a certain degree in the past, and each time that He has, there is a general pattern or direction of understanding that has been evident in each case. In each instance, God allows another of His qualities to come in to sharper focus. By observing the progressive Self-revelation of His character, we can deduce what the "highest" or at least what the "better" expression of His character or will might be. It is sort of like the math problem you were given in elementary school. You were given a set of numbers and you had to tell what number completed the set. You may have been given (11, 13, 15, 17, __) and were asked what the next number would be. In this case, the answer would be 19. One could deduce that from merely recognizing the pattern that was set forth. It is the same way with God's Self-revelation. He has revealed certain qualities of Himself and our recognizing the pattern He sets forth in each instance will help us determine what will complete the "set". For the sake of the illustrations, we will use texts from the "revealed" religions (Judeo-Christian scriptures), although many similar illustrations can be drawn from other ancient religious and philosophical writings.
The most important thing to remember is that God's Self-revelation happens on a progressive basis. That is, He unveils a little of Himself at a time. Each subsequent revelation shows a little more of His character than the last revelation. He does not contradict former revelations of Himself; instead, He only builds upon and clarifies the previous disclosures of Himself. Consequently, when examining the value of a religion or belief system, "older" is not always "better". Many faiths or beliefs make an appeal to objective worth because they span back into antiquity. The true test, however, is whether a belief system or value is consistent with the progressive direction of God's Self-revelation, and it's congruity with universal "a priori" presuppositions. To look at an example, take the concept of God's righteousness and holiness. During the days at the dawn of civilization, there was very little overt revelation of God's moral law. Different societies were slow to recognize the need to codify the innate moral law that God had hidden within each individual's conscience. Consequently, Paul says that God "in the past overlooked such ignorance" ( Acts 17:30). When Israel received the Law of God from Moses, there was a definite increase in accountability towards God. God required that those who received His Law would live by it. Included in this was the Ten Commandments. A revelation of God's holiness in the form of the Law demanded that people relate to God on His new terms. When Jesus began His ministry in A.D. 27, his first discourse consisted mostly of clarifications and amendments to that law. He addressed the commandments concerning murder, adultery, divorce, and oaths to name a few, and in each case he "upped the ante" by demonstrating that the true requirements of the law were indeed far more demanding than the Israelites had imagined. Feelings of hatred constituted murder, lustful thoughts constituted adultery etc. Jesus wasn't trying to make everybody feel guilt-ridden and ugly, but he was manifesting God's perfect holiness that requires piety in the inward man, not merely in an individual's observable actions. He also stated in a later discourse that the law of Moses permitted so much because, at the time it was given, men's "hearts were hard". ( Mark 10:5). This clearly expresses how God progressively unveiled His standards of holiness over the millennia. Every time God revealed Himself in history, he revealed only as much of His attributes that He knew mankind could bear, and He demonstrated that His estimation of righteousness was something out of reach of the natural man. Fortunately, God was also bringing into focus His heart of mercy and love, which are the attributes that are preeminent with regard to His righteousness in judgment. ( James 2:12).
The Progressive Revelation of God's
Attributes with Relation to Space and Time
Keeping the principle of God's progressive revelation in mind, we will now turn our attention to the attributes that will help us discover the key to evaluating all religious sects and practices. These attributes are the two that describe God's relation to our space-time universe.
When we talk about God in context of the space of our universe, we immediately run into some basic conceptual problems. We are forced to either place God somewhere "out there" hiding behind some planet, or rethink exactly what constitutes our universe. Quite frankly, very few persons have ever tried to make a case for God possessing a physical body and occupying some planet ( Mormons being the most well-known of these). Most of us prefer to relegate the Divine to another immaterial, spiritual dimension. This is a difficult concept since we are accustomed to occupying and perceiving a universe of only three physical dimensions ourselves. The situation can be likened to the dilemma of a microbe that existed between the pages of a book. This particular microbe was very familiar with moving back and forth, and from side to side within these pages. But he had no comprehension of the concept of "up" since his universe was only two dimensions. If you or I could try to somehow explain what this third dimension of "up and down" was to him, he would either scoff or consider it quite incomprehensible. Yet this is exactly the same situation we find ourselves in when we presume to have insight into the latitudes of God's domain. The one thing that we probably can say with some certainty is that His mode of existence is quite different from ours. Whereas we are limited in our three-dimensional universe to occupy only one point of space at any given time, God is not burdened by such a limitation. He can exist in multiple points of our space simultaneously. If we were to diagram it, we could draw a line, and put one point in the middle of it to represent the one point that we are occupying right now. God would be above the line, and intersect the line in multiple points. ( See Figure 1 ).
When we speak of God's ability to be in multiple points at the same time, we use the term omnipresence. This is an attribute of God that most theologians have always recognized about God.
The relationship that God has with time is no less unique. Our perception of time in our universe is that it is a constant; an inescapable juggernaut sweeping us from the past to the future. We are hopelessly condemned to occupy only one point in time, which we call the "present", while the torrent of time continues it's unfaltering flow. There is no reason, however, for us to think that God is confined to the same parameters. God exists outside of the confines of our time. He exists at multiple points of time simultaneously. When Jesus was asked by some Israelites what he knew of Abraham, who had lived nearly 2,000 years earlier, Jesus replied "Before Abraham was, I am." ( John 8:58 ). Most scholars recognize that Jesus was identifying Himself with the Lord, who used the term "I Am" as a proper name ( Exodus 3:14). That is true, but if we take the words of Jesus at face value, we cannot escape the conclusion that Jesus was claiming to be concurrently existent at a time before Abraham, even as He spoke those words! If we were to diagram this truth, we would draw a line representing time from past to future. A point intersecting the line would be representing the "present", and God would be outside the line, yet intersecting it in multiple points. ( See Fig. 2 ).
If we were to coin a term for this attribute of God, the most appropriate term would probably be omnichronological; that is, God simultaneously exists in all points of time. There are numerous references in scripture that would bear this out. One frequently mentioned one is the title which the Lord uses throughout scripture as the "Alpha and Omega", "the First and the Last". ( Isaiah 44:6, Rev. 1:8). God does not claim that he was at the beginning, and would be at the end, but that He is ( present tense) the Beginning and the End. Being outside of time, everything is the ever-present "now" to God. Understanding this truth also clears up many confusing texts for Christians. The Book of Revelations calls Jesus the "lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world." ( Rev. 13:8 ) Who did the slaying before the world was formed? Jesus wasn't sacrificed before the foundation of the world, but since Christ's atoning death that happened in A.D. 30 was just as "present" to God then as it was two million years ago, in God's estimation it was an eternal "fact" before it ever happened according to our reckoning. Likewise I think the numerous debates over the centuries regarding predestination and God's foreknowledge become moot when we stop to consider God's perspective on time. Even science has come to realize this century that time is not truly a constant. Physicists have discovered that time becomes warped and altered relative to speed. The faster one goes, the slower the apparent time becomes. Approaching the speed of light, all known constants begin to break down, and the space-time universe as we know evolves into something quite extraordinary. I find it no surprise, then, when I read in the Bible that "God is light ( 1 John 1:5).
Now that we have two more attributes of God, His omnichronologicalness and His omnipresence, how does this assist us in evaluating spiritual truth? Again, the basic precept is this, God has progressively revealed Himself, and in successive incidents, has displayed more and more of His attributes. The pattern established predetermines what the likely demonstration of God's will and mind will be. Let's start by looking for the pattern of God's omnipresence. If this indeed is an attribute of God, then we should see it being more and more clearly established as we start at the beginning of the Bible and go to the end. To help identify the pattern, we will further break the examination down into three categories: God's pattern of relation to places, persons, and things.
God's Progressive Pattern Regarding Places
If we take a survey of scripture concerning this issue, the pattern is strikingly clear. Going back to the Book of Exodus, we see Moses standing before the burning bush, and he is commanded to take his sandals off, "for this is holy ground." (Exodus 3:5). God apparently recognized the sanctity of a place. That same mountain ( Mt. Horeb) becomes known as the "Mountain of God". The tabernacle was the next place that was considered holy because of God's presence. Later, God apparently ascribes sanctity to the temple mount in Jerusalem. The temple is called the place where the Lord Himself would cause His name to dwell, yet, by the period of the kings of Israel, it was already recognized that a physical locale could not truly contain the full presence of God ( II Chronicles 6:18). Ascribing sanctity to a location was common among the different nations of the world of that time. At the time, it would be the most tangible way God could express Himself to people of such a mind set. When Jesus was ministering on the earth however, He gave witness that God's ways were indeed higher than man's ways. He was speaking to a woman of Samaria one day who asked Him very plainly which location in Israel was the best place to worship. She wanted to know what plot of land really had been ascribed sanctity by God. Jesus replied:
The time is coming when you will neither worship the Father on this
mountain, nor in Jerusalem...For the time is coming, and now is, when
the true worshippers shall worship in spirit and truth. For such
worshippers the Father seeks. For God is spirit, and those who worship
Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. ( John 4:21,23,24)
The fact of the matter is that God is bigger than our superstitious little ideals. No location actually has an inherent sanctity; God is spirit and the highest ideal is to recognize His omnipresence and worship Him for who He is, without recognition to a certain place. Jesus so clearly taught that the pattern of God's Self-revelation concerning places is that sanctity must be ascribed to God alone! If we follow through the New Testament, we see the pattern continuing. The apostles never venerated a place again. They didn't set up a shrine on Calvary. They didn't try to go scoop up the dirt where Jesus' blood was shed. They didn't go to Bethlehem to build a church for "pilgrimages". At the very end of the New Testament, the Apostle John prophetically records the cataclysmic end of the age when New Jerusalem shall descend from the heavens. He takes careful note to point out that " There is no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are it's temple" ( Rev. 21:22) . The pattern God has set regarding places is that they are not to be venerated in any way. The early church was very consistent in this. In the beginning of the fourth century, however, Emperor Constantine's mother decided she wanted to set up some shrines in Jerusalem to honor Jesus. She traveled to Jerusalem and inquired where the events of the gospel narratives most likely took place. Up until that time, there was very little interests in the actual location of the events. When the focus of veneration became the shrines and temples themselves, it represented a tremendous regression from the pattern that God had slowly revealed over the centuries! Christianity began to lapse back into a superstitious mind set that was contrary to God's progression of Self-revelation. Today, numerous religions still show signs of regression in this respect. Besides some of the more "traditional" forms of Christianity, Islam venerates it's own "holy cities", and Hinduism venerates the waters of the Ganges, just to name a few. The imagined sanctity ascribed to the land of Israel was the primary impetus behind the bloody crusades of the middle ages. Even some Protestants today refer to their church building as "the house of God" when the New Testament never refers to a building in those terms. Manifestations of such thinking is evidence of a immature understanding of the pattern of God's Self-revelation. The only references in the New Testament economy to a "holy" temple indwelt by God's Spirit is the references to the members of the church who are corporately make up the only physical "dwelling" of God's Spirit today ( I Corinthians 6:19, I Peter 2:5).
God's Progressive Pattern Regarding People
If we look at a synopsis of how God has recognized His relationship with people, we can see much of the same pattern as we did when examining places. God, in the Old Testament, set aside for Himself a particular people who were descendants of Abraham. God's intention was to have a corporate body of people who were sanctified before Him, and eager to serve. Human beings, unfortunately, have a tendency to have very poor performance records when it comes to serving God. Consequently, when the Law of Moses was instituted, God specified that only a fraction of all of Israel was to actually be in service for Him. These were the males who were descended from Levi, and in particular, from Aaron. These "priests" were to mediate between the Lord and all of Israel. They offered sacrifices for sin, and were the teachers of the Law to the other tribes of Israel. During the whole period of the Law, one could not serve in the Temple unless they were descended from this tribe. It was an exclusive system, reserved for a certain class. The "laity" were dependent upon the Levitical class to intercede between themselves and God. During the period of the New Testament, however, this underwent a radical transformation. First, John the Baptist declared that being progeny of Abraham was not grounds for claiming a special relationship with God ( Luke 3:8). Jesus further challenged the idea that an individual had a unique standing with God because of his or her physical lineage ( John 8:33-44). On the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the believers, Peter stood up and quoted an ancient prophecy of Joel declaring:
" And it shall be in the last days" God says "that I will pour forth of My
Spirit upon all mankind, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams;
even upon my bondslaves both men and women, I will in those days pour
out My Spirit" ( Acts 2:17,18)
The disciples saw the fulfillment of God's promise to anoint anyone who humbly came to Him, with the Holy Spirit. Now, the ministry of mediating between mankind and the Lord was not the responsibility of a particular "class" or profession. God was not recognizing age, sex or social status. There was no longer to be a unique priesthood as a class. In Peter's epistle, he says that all believers are a "royal priesthood". ( 1 Peter 2:9). Later, the Apostle John states that the angels declare of the redeemed from every nation that they are a "kingdom of priests to serve our God" (Rev. 5:10 ). It is very interesting to note that there was not a separate and distinct priesthood operating in the church during New Testament times. God was being consistent with His Self-revelation as an omnipresent God by anointing all who sincerely sought to serve Him. The early church services were amazingly open and inclusive, and all were encouraged to deliver a "psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation" ( 1 Corinthians 14:26 ). There were elders who oversaw the congregation, but they definitely did not dominate or "lord over" the congregation. It is not until the early third century that there is any evidence of a "clergy" class of priests arising in the congregations. This was not only a clear regression against the pattern of God's Self-revelation, but it was also prophesied by Paul during his ministry. He said in Acts 20:29-30 that
I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among
you not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will
arise, speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after themselves.
The immediate result of the rise of a "professional" clergy to mediate for the people was that the common believer now became a mere spectator in the Christian faith. Moreover, the believers were now dependent upon priests as a "go between" in their relationship with God. As the position of "priest" became more solidified within a growing hierarchical structure, the vitality and zeal of the common believers was squelched beneath a system that was contrary to God's unfolding pattern ministry. Today, many churches are beginning to realize that the "clergy/laity" distinction has been an artificial, and largely a detrimental distinction in the church. God's Self-revelation has been one of continuously demonstrating that He is not a respecter of persons ( Galatians 3:27-28). Although He recognized only a select few as ministers in times past, today he universally sets apart and empowers for service all who would receive it. The faster we can harmonize our ministries with that truth, the more congruous we will be with God's Self-revelation.
God's Pattern Regarding Things
As one would expect, God has specifically demonstrated a pattern moving away from focusing on objects, to a recognition of the spiritual and immaterial. When the Law was given, there were items associated with worship which were "holy to the Lord." Among these were the objects in the tabernacle, the lavers, altars, and the ark of the covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was considered so holy that a man named Uzzah was struck dead just for touching it while it was being transported ( II Sam 6:7). Great emphasis was put on the articles brought for sacrifice: the lambs and goats, the grain, and oil. Usually the priests had a portion of the sacrifice and the Law went into fine detail how that which was to be eaten would be prepared. Jesus, however, dismissed the idea that there is an inherent sanctity in objects. He addressed one particular object in the tabernacle, the sacred showbread, which He pointed out that David actually ate. It was technically unlawful to eat the showbread, yet in the higher understanding of God's will, it was perfectly lawful.( Matt 12:4). A fuller understanding of God's nature reveals that God does not consider some objects "holy" and others "profane". In particular, the whole issue of food came to a head in the early church, and the issue is still hotly contested today. Jesus had declared that nothing that goes into a man can make him unclean. For anything one eats goes into the stomach and then passes through him. ( Matt 15:11 cf.). Conversely, we can then assume that nothing that goes into a man can make him "clean". Paul confirms this in his first epistle to the Corinthians when he states that "Food will not make us pleasing to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat." ( 8:8). Yet, when it comes to the "Lord's Supper" ( Holy Communion), suddenly many become convinced that food will somehow make them more presentable to God. Many think that there are qualities inherent in the bread and wine that have been blessed that actually impart spiritual life. This is not to speak disparagingly of the many who have had deep spiritual experiences during Communion, but should we think that a "spiritual booster shot" somehow is objectively present within the elements of bread and wine? Jesus dismissed this in His discourse regarding the eating of His "flesh and blood" in John 6, verses 52 to 65. When the disciples were debating exactly how they were going to actually eat His flesh and blood, Jesus said:
Does this cause you to stumble? What if you should see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh
counts for nothing; the words I have spoken to you are spirit and are life."
( vv. 61-63 )
The essence of the matter is that spiritual life cannot be imparted through physical anything. Not through communion bread today. Not through Jesus' physical flesh 2,000 years ago. Only the Word of God, in conjunction with God's Spirit can impart life. The concept that the bread and wine itself are inherently holy is absent in the very early church, and one can carefully discern the development of the idea in the writings of Christian writers and theologians over the centuries. It was not formally accepted and defined by the Roman church until A.D. 1215. The growth of the idea of the sanctity of the elements ( frequently called the "transubstantiation) is inversely proportional to the mature and spiritual understandings of the church. In other words, the whole belief is merely a digression from God's Self-revelation, and can be considered a lapse into superstition.
Paralleling this belief was the sanctity ascribed to the waters used in baptism, or waters otherwise "blessed" by a priest. After "blessed" waters and bread and wine were accorded an innate holiness, a myriad of other items followed. Blessed salt, medallions, oil, candles, icons and countless other objects became the focus of the common believers adoration. As the western world slid into it's Dark Ages, religious relics and artifacts became an integral part of the Christian churches. Crucifixes, Rosary beads, and statuettes still are earmarks of the churches that reigned during those years. In other religions of our culture, healing crystals, magic stones, "pyramids" and the like dominate the New Age practices, and all represent the same departure from God's Self-revelation. They are all merely demonstrations of man's primitive and superstitious thinking, out of sync with the pattern that God has objectively demonstrated.
God's Pattern Regarding Time
We have seen that God reveals Himself in space as omnipresent and infinite. His progressive revelation always reflects that. Lastly, we will look at how God's attribute regarding time, His omnichronologicalness, affects our evaluation of belief.
If we go back to the very first chapters of Genesis, we can see God establishing His principle of the Sabbath. God rested from His works of the "seventh day". He declared that it was "blessed" and "sanctified" ( Gen. 2:3). All of Israel was commanded to keep the Sabbath holy. The calendar of the Jewish people revolves around observation of the Sabbath, the great feasts, and the different festivals that are celebrated at appointed times. One cannot read through the Jewish Scriptures without noticing the tremendous emphasis that the Lord put on the observance of these appointed rituals. When Jesus lived, being a Jew, He too observed the Sabbath and other ceremonies. He did, however, make a very candid statement about the nature and purpose of the Sabbath. He said in Mark 2:28 that the "Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." Even though He Himself observed the seventh day Sabbath, it stressed that it was not a practice to be observed for it's own sake, but it was designated as a period of rest for our benefit. The early church observed the Jewish customs, since it was largely of Jewish origin, but soon the habit of meeting on the first day of the week became the norm. The first day of the week (Sunday) was also called "The Lord's Day" and it was presumed that since Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week, then that day ought to be the accepted day of congregational gatherings. Many today mistakenly think that the directives for keeping the Sabbath holy now are applicable to Sunday. There is nothing in Scripture that would even hint that the Sabbath is now Sunday instead of Saturday. But rather, in view of the fact that God exists outside of our understanding of time, and we would therefore expect Him to direct our beliefs in a way that would reflect this, both the "seventh day" sabbatarians and what we might call the "first day" sabbatarians are in error. The whole matter is clearly answered in the book of Hebrews chapter four. In the preceding chapter, the author states that we are to
exhort one another daily, as long as it is called "Today" , lest any
of you become hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. ( 3:13)
The day properly named "Today" is an idiom which is clearly is meant as an expression for "daily". Every day that we experience is "Today." In context, we are to exhort and encourage our brethren every day that is "Today". This same term is applied to the Sabbath in chapter four. The verses 4 through 7 read:
For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way,
"and God rested on the seventh day from all His works." and again
in this place "They shall not enter my rest." Since it remains that some
must enter it, and to those it was first preached did not enter because of
disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David,
"Today", after such a long time, as it has been said, "Today, if you
hear His voice, harden not your hearts."
This is the clearest example of God's progressive Self-revelation concerning time. We are no longer bound to a single sanctified day of the week. Since God is in the "ever-present now" rather than stuck at one point in time looking forward and back to the future and past, every day that exists is "Today". In the years before, because of the hardness of men's hearts, one day had to be set aside each week when we could rest and meditate on the Lord and His word. But now God designates another day. It isn't Sunday. It isn't Christmas or Easter. It is "Today". The Sabbath was a type or a foreshadowing of the rest we have perpetually before God in Christ. No longer do we have to "work" for our salvation, since it was procured by Christ on Calvary. Paul wrote to the church at Colossi in Colossians 2:16,17 that we should let
no man judge you in food or drink, or regarding a festival or new
moon or Sabbath, which are a shadow of things to come, but the
substance is of Christ.
This new understanding is also carried out in other New Testament writings. It would seem that the early church did not put the same importance on the recognition of special days that many Christians do today. Paul wrote to the Romans that
one esteems one day above another, another esteems every day alike.
Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the
day, observes it to the Lord; he who does not observe it, to the Lord
does not observe it. (Romans 14:5,6)
The real issue is not which festival one keeps, but whether the Lord is sanctified in their hearts all the time. God's omnichronologicalness would demand that our understanding grow more towards a faith without times, seasons, and special observances. The pattern of God's Self-revelation is one moving away from the temporal, to the perpetual and eternal. As Paul said in II Corinthians 4:18
For we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen;
for what is seen is temporal, but what is unseen is eternal.
Although the early Christian church did indeed have traditions and customs about their worship, they did not ascribe a special God-given significance to those customs. Many of the early Christians of Jewish origin still went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, yet, it would appear that it was largely because of the Jewish context of the culture. When Paul was ministering in Troas, and his "congregation" was mostly from a "heathen" culture, it would seem that Sunday was very adequate as the day of the gathering. ( Acts 20:7). Furthermore, it would seem that observing a certain day as matter of religious "duty" was actually an undeniable sign of apostasy and backsliding! In Galatians 4:9-11 Paul laments how his converts in Galatia have returned to "weak and poor elements" by again "observing days and months"! No can have an inherent sanctity of it's own. There is no such thing as a "holy day of obligation". That is contrary to God's Self-revelation. The Sabbath is not to be legally enforced upon anybody, Christian, Jew or otherwise. Similarly, observances like Ramadan in Islam, and the observances in eastern religions have no objective bearing of authority. A religion that attempts to elevate a day as holy, other than "Today", betrays it's lack of congruity with God's Self-revelation.
The attributes of God that He has revealed about Himself progressively over the millennia are not merely a matter of theological hypothesis. What we conclude about God has direct bearing on our lives; how we should live and how we should respond to God. As mentioned in the beginning of this paper, the end result of any belief system is that it should be subjectively experienced in the lives of it's adherents. In this case, we know that there is a personal God, Creator of the universe, who is intimately involved with His creation, who is waiting for the people He has created to respond to Him. We can deduce that He is holy and just, but our own inability to obey universal moral law ( i.e. our sin ) prevents us from approaching God on adequate terms. In the Judaic tradition, a lamb without blemish used to be sacrificed as an atoning sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. The blood of lamb ( or sometimes a bull) would be accepted by God to restore man to righteousness before Him. Similar sacrifices were emulated throughout most cultures and peoples of the world. This same figure is found in cryptic symbolism in mythologies, in the signs of the Zodiac and in the languages of different peoples. The word for "righteous" in Chinese, for example, consists of two of their character symbols. The top one is the symbol for a lamb, the bottom one is the symbol for the first person pronoun "I". Together, one could say, the complete symbol carries a coded message declaring that "I, under the lamb, am righteous." When Jesus Christ made his debut in Palestine 2,000 years ago, the first declarative statement about him was John the Baptist's exclamation " Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!" (John 1:29).
Since Jesus also apparently understood his mission as one of a substitutionary death for mankind, it is imperative that all peoples seriously consider the evidence that Jesus is the unique, once-for-all sacrifice ordained by God to bring the human race back into relationship with Him. Jesus lived exactly when the Hebrew prophets had foretold, fulfilled hundreds of prophecies regarding His ancestry and his ministry, and was put to death exactly when and in the same manner that various prophets had declared centuries earlier. All mythologies of the ancient world are capitulated and fulfilled in that one drama of the ministry of Jesus Christ. Many Greek and Roman philosophers converted to Christianity in the second and third centuries A.D. demonstrated quite successfully that all philosophies and mythologies that had been known up to that time were laden with "seeds of truth" and that Christ was the object that every belief system was ultimately pushing towards. The one thing that stopped what appeared to be the inevitable conquest of Christ over all nations, tribes and tongues in that era was the regression of the church in the early fourth century into superstition, irrelevancy, and disregard for maintaining church tradition in sync with God's pattern for Self-revelation. Had the church avoided the ignorant trend of feeble minds towards the veneration of places, objects, people, and the observance of festivals and sacred times, the Dark Ages might have been avoided. As a matter of historical fact, the church digressed from doctrinal soundness and instead, concentrated on temporal reign and power struggles within the Empire. The western world slid into a period of ignorance almost completely devoid of societal contribution. It wasn't until the Renaissance that the western world began to reclaim the scientific, philosophical, cultural and spiritual heritage that maintained during the Greek and early Roman eras.
Today, we have the benefit of being able to critically examine the content and beliefs of virtually any religion or philosophy quite easily. With such resources available to most people in the United States, it is not justifiable to credit all belief sytems with the same intrinsic worth when some are clearly more consistent with God's attributes than others. Since we understand that these attributes of God are objective characterics, it is not "bigoted" or "intolerant" to make qualitative judgements about certain beliefs systems that contradict "a priori" knowledge of God, and historical revelation of God. As for the gospel that Jesus preached, we can safely say that it remains the epitome of what all persons would consider Divine virtue. Jesus "recalibrated" the standard of what mankind's universal conscience would dictate as "Divine". Consequently, even if we were to ignore the claims he made of himself, and disregard the accolades showered upon him by his contemporaries and disciples, we would still have no other logical alternative but to declare that he is indeed God incarnate. And being completely consistent with Self-revelationof God's attributes previously mentioned, Jesus holds the gift of eternal life which he has procured with his own blood. Does he offer it only to the learned? Does he receive only the devotee? No. In keeping with the revelation of God's omnipresence, it is reserved for "whosoever will". All are invited to partake of this free gift. And is it only available at certain times? During special services perhaps? No. Again consistent with God's omnichronologicalness, we are beseeched to receive it "Today" for Paul declares in II Corinthians 6:2: "Behold; now is the