The Study of God
Our series now comes to the doctrine of God, the formal name of which is theology proper. This division of “The Foundations of Faith” will examine the major scriptural truths concerning God and will consider some of the implications of those truths.
Various Views of God
A survey of all mankind would uncover so many different views concerning God that it would be impossible to describe them in a single article. However, we shall examine several of the more prominent views that have been held historically.
Atheism. Atheism asserts that there is no God. No personal being or object should be worshiped as a god. Madalyn Murray O’Hair prominently represented this view in America.
Agnosticism. Agnosticism claims that perhaps God exists, but we do not and cannot know that fact with any degree of certainty.
Pantheism. Pantheism, in its ultimate sense, believes the universe in its entirety is God. The basic expression of this view is “all is God.” Every individual object in the universe (every tree, flower, animal, rock, human, etc.) is part of God. This position prompts the worship of nature and such concepts as “Mother Earth” and the protection of the environment, animals, and trees because they are sacred.
A different form of pantheism is the belief that the gods of all religions or faiths must be regarded and respected as equal. Any claim that there is only one true God is to be rejected as intolerant. As part of its goal to unify all of mankind, the ancient Roman Empire adopted this form of pantheism as official policy. Emperor Hadrian gave visible expression to this policy by having a magnificent temple called the Pantheon built in the capital city of Rome to house images of all the gods worshiped within the empire.1 Because the early Christians insisted that the God of the Bible is the only true God and refused to recognize all other gods worshiped in the empire, they were despised and persecuted by many of the people and the imperial government of Rome.
Polytheism. Polytheism claims many gods exist, not just one true God. Hinduism is a classic example of polytheism because, in its most popular form, it believes in the existence of some 330 million gods.2
Deism. Deism began in 17th-century England as a naturalistic religion based solely on human reason. Deists believe in the existence of one personal God who created the universe with precise design but then withdrew from it to let it be governed solely by natural law. Deism contends that at no time in history has the Creator interacted in any way with the universe He created. Thus there have been no supernatural interventions, miracles, special divine revelations to mankind, prophecies, or divine acts of providence. Jesus Christ was not a divine being who took humanity on Himself through incarnation. He was only a man, but the greatest human teacher and example of morality and ethics who ever lived. The Bible is not a divinely inspired revelation to mankind. It is the human record of the discovering of God’s moral and ethical laws totally through human reason.
As a Deist, Thomas Jefferson studied the moral and ethical teachings of the Bible but literally cut all references to the supernatural out of its pages.3
Non-Trinitarian Monotheism. Non-Trinitarian monotheism declares that there is only one personal, moral, supernatural God. But that one true God is one divine person or being. He is not triune (a union of three divine persons or beings). Judaism, Islam, some forms of Buddhism, the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses), and Unitarianism advocate this view.
Finite Theism. Finite theism believes in a personal God, but He has limitations. He is not infinite. This God is in a struggle against evil, against great odds. He is unable to determine the outcome of that struggle on His own because of His limitations. His victory over evil depends on what the majority of human beings choose to do. Only if the majority chooses to join Him by opposing evil will God ultimately defeat it.
Zoroastrianism, an ancient Persian religion that continues today, and a number of modern philosophers of the Western world are proponents of finite theism.
Biblical Theism. Biblical theism is the view of God presented in the Bible. It claims there is one, personal, moral, infinite, supernatural God consisting of three equal Persons (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). In other words, the one true God is triune. Biblical theism has been the historic view of Christianity.
The Knowableness of God
The existence of these and many other views concerning God prompts the following question: How can a person determine which one of these views is correct? The only way would be if God is knowable to mankind. Is it possible for human beings to know that God is a reality and, if a reality, then to know God’s nature, thoughts, ways, actions, and relationship to the universe, planet Earth, mankind, and individual persons? If these points concerning God are knowable to mankind, then it is possible for a person to determine which view of God is correct.
The Bible addresses the issue of the knowableness of God. In fact, it presents two major concepts related to it.
The First Concept. Mankind can know God. The Bible makes this assertion in several ways. The Bible presents the following divine command to human beings: “Know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). In addition, Psalm 100:3 commands people to know “the LORD, he is God.” These commands imply that God is knowable to humanity.
In addition, the Scriptures assert that God communicated knowledge to people. They state that God “teacheth man knowledge” (Ps. 94:10) and that “the LORD giveth wisdom; out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding” (Prov. 2:6). The Bible also records God’s promise to make Himself known to prophets (Num. 12:6).
Many biblical passages indicate that the Israelites knew God in Old Testament times. For example, God made Himself known to them when they were in Egypt (Ezek. 20:5, 9). God was known in Judah, and His name was great in Israel (Ps. 76:1). The Lord “made known . . . his acts unto the children of Israel” (Ps. 103:7). In addition, they were to know such things as the following: “the LORD, he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath; there is none else” (Dt. 4:39); that He is the one who brought them out of Egypt so He might dwell among them (Ex. 29:46); that the Lord “put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel” (Ex. 11:7); and that He is “the faithful God, who keepeth covenant and mercy with them who love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations, And repayeth them who hate him to their face, to destroy them” (Dt. 7:9–10). God desired that Israel have the knowledge of God more than He desired their burnt offerings (Hos. 6:6).
Scripture also reveals that individuals possessed knowledge of God in Bible times. God made His ways known unto Moses (Ps. 103:7). Rahab, the Jericho harlot, told the Israelite spies, “I know that the LORD hath given you the land” (Josh. 2:9). As the result of being healed of his leprosy, Naaman, captain of the Syrian army, declared, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel” (2 Ki. 5:15). Job knew that God could do everything and that no thought can be withheld from Him (Job 42:2). Balaam said he “heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the most High” (Num. 24:16). King Manasseh “knew that the LORD, he was God” (2 Chr. 33:13). Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon’s greatest king, “knew that the Most High God ruled in the kingdom of men” (Dan. 5:21). Jonah knew that God is “a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” (Jon. 4:2). David knew that God tests the heart and has pleasure in uprightness (1 Chr. 29:17) and that He would “hear him from his holy heaven with the saving strength of his right hand” (Ps. 20:6).
The Bible indicates that knowledge of God was available to all nations. Originally, the whole world knew God (Rom. 1:21). But through time, most of humanity willfully abandoned the knowledge of Him (Rom. 1:18–23). Through the supernatural plagues that God brought on Egypt, He gave the following knowledge to Pharaoh and the Egyptians: the Lord is God (Ex. 7:5, 17), there is no one like Him in all the earth (Ex. 9:14), and the earth belongs to the Lord (Ex. 9:29). Kings Solomon and Hezekiah prayed that all the people and kingdoms of the earth would “know that the LORD is God, and that there is none else” (1 Ki. 8:60; cf. 2 Ki. 19:19).
The Scriptures also teach that today every person who is born of God spiritually knows God (1 Jn. 4:7) and can increase in the knowledge of God and His will (Col. 1:9–10).
The Bible even reveals several facts about the knowledge of God in the future. First, as a result of God supernaturally destroying the massive armies of Gog of Magog and their allies when they will invade the nation of Israel, He “will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know” He is “the LORD” (Ezek. 38:23). In addition, God will make His “holy name known” among His “people, Israel . . . and the nations shall know” He is “the LORD, the Holy One in Israel” (Ezek. 39:7).
Second, at the beginning of the Millennium, every person on Earth will know God (Jer. 31:34; Mt. 25:31–46).
Third, throughout the Millennium, “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9).
The Second Concept. Mankind cannot fully comprehend or understand God. The Bible teaches that God is knowable but incomprehensible to men. King David declared that God’s greatness “is unsearchable” (Ps. 145:3). The apostle Paul wrote, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33).
The next article will address how it is possible for mankind to know God.