Sunday, June 8, 2014

Is Your Hope Set on the Living God?

In the Hebrew Scriptures, Yahweh - the God of Israel - is frequently contrasted with the false gods worshipped by the nations. To emphasize the superiority of Yahweh over these false gods, he is sometimes referred to as "the living God." One notable example is found in Jeremiah 10. After describing the gods of the nations as lifeless idols, the prophet goes on to declare in v. 10, "But Yahweh is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King. At his wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure his indignation."

The apostle Paul also used this expression when contrasting the true God with the false gods worshipped by the nations. In Acts 14, we read that the people of Lystra were so astonished by a miracle performed by Paul that they mistakenly believed he and Barnabas to be manifestations of the gods Zeus and Hermes. When they attempted to offer sacrifices to them, Paul cried out, "Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them." Here Paul referred to God as the "living God" to contrast him with the false gods believed in by the people of Lystra. And in Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, we read of how these believers had "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come" (1 Thess. 1:9-10). As in Acts 14, the true God is said to be "living" not just because he is living (which, of course, is true) but to emphasize his superiority over the idols which the believers in Thessalonica had formerly served.

Now, consider how, in v. 10, Paul refers to Christ as "his Son." Whose Son? Answer: "the living and true God." Being the Son of the living and true God, it necessarily follows that Jesus is not himself the living and true God (for Jesus is not his own Father). Moreover, Scripture is clear that the living God is not only Jesus' Father, but he is also Jesus' God (Matt. 27:46; John 20:17; Rom. 15:6; 2 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 1:3, 17; Col. 1:3; 1 Pet. 1:3; Rev. 1:6; 3:12). Jesus is therefore distinct from the living God. It also follows that any object of man's worship that isn't the God and Father of Christ is also not the living God. This criteria not only disqualifies the deities of other major world religions (such as Islam), it disqualifies the deity of mainstream Christianity as well. For the God affirmed in the orthodox creeds of Christianity (as well as in the various "statements of faith" of mainline Christian churches) is a "triune" being consisting of three distinct but equally divine "persons" (i.e., God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit). But Jesus is not the Son of this "tri-personal" being. He is instead the Son of a "uni-personal" divine being (i.e., the Father). And since the triune God of mainstream Christianity is not the God and Father of Jesus, this god is not the "living and true God" of whom Paul wrote.

In 1 Timothy 4:10, Paul provides us with another important criteria that disqualifies the god of mainstream Christianity from being the true and living God. There, Paul writes, "For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe." To better understand Paul's use of the word translated "especially" here, we need only look to other examples of this word in his letters. In Galatians 6:10 we read, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith" (cf. 1 Cor. 14:1; Phil. 4:22; 1 Tim. 5:8, 17; Titus 1:10; Philemon 16). Obviously, Paul is not saying here that believers are to "do good" to those who are of "the household of faith" to the exclusion of all others. Paul is saying that believers are to do good to all people, but that those who are of "the household of faith" should be of first priority. Similarly, Paul calls God the Savior "especially of those who believe," since Scripture reveals that believers are going to be saved by God before everyone else. But this early salvation of believers does not in any way take away from the salvation that all people are certain to receive from God at a later time, when Christ abolishes death (including the "second death!") and God becomes "all in all."

Unlike the living God on whom Paul and his fellow believers relied, the God of mainstream Christianity is most assuredly not "the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe." The God of mainstream Christianity is the savior of believers exclusively (not "especially"). Depending on which theological "camp" they fall into, Christians must admit that the God in whom they believe is, in the end, either unable or unwilling to save all people without exception. According to mainstream Christian doctrine, all who die without faith in Christ will be lost forever and consigned to a place of eternal conscious torment. But thank God that this god - a "savior" who either cannot or will not save all people from such a hopeless and nightmarish place - is just as imaginary as the place itself, and that all who presently lack this knowledge will one day come to rejoice in it.

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