One Thing is Needful
But there are some few things that are absolutely necessary. Not to know these things is a calamity that will result in our complete destruction. If we do not know them it would be better for us to have never been born. And the chief of these necessary things is the true nature and character of God.
But why does it matter what we think about God? Everyone has his own opinion, but who really knows what God is like? Who knows for sure that he even exists? I will answer these three questions in reverse order.
Some people say they don't believe in God. But this is a lie; for all men come into this world knowing God. When they deny this, they are only expressing the vain wish that they did not know Him. They are saying that they cannot endure to think of God. They want Him to go away and leave them alone. But let them experience some of the common tragedies of life, and we will see what they really believe about God. Let them come to the level of desperation and fear that most of us have felt at one time or another, and they will pray.
The universal instinct to pray when we are in trouble is proof both that God exists, and that we know Him innately, as a necessary aspect of our consciousness. It also tells us what we naturally know about this God.
We do not need to be told who God is; for we already have a specific idea of God that is as distinct as the idea of our self. Nor do we need to be taught how to pray. It is as natural as breathing. It is as simple as applying to One we have known all our lives; whose voice we have heard in what is called conscience. We are all familiar with the experiences of heeding conscience and resisting it. We all know what it is to feel guilt, to fear the wrath of God. This is a universal phenomenon. So if you've ever prayed, you have already revealed the fact that you know God exists.
What we Know about God
Now, consider that, when we pray, we show that we know the following truths about God:
That He is a personal being; otherwise He could not perceive or respond to our prayers.
That He is an independent being, and we dependent on Him.
That He is the creator; and we His creatures.
That He is all-powerful; otherwise, why go to Him with unsolvable problems?
That He is good; otherwise we would run from Him.
That He is infinitely wise; else how could He hear and answer the prayers of billions while running the world all at the same time?
That He is holy; for in trouble the consciousness of our sin and unfitness for His presence is usually intense.
That He is merciful; otherwise we would have no reason to pray.
That He is unchangeable; else we would not know what to expect.
All these foundational truths about God are implied in the simplest act of sincere prayer to Him.
Why Did God Create the World?
Is it probable that God made the world, and everything in it, that he made mankind, and that he never gave us the least clue about himself? Even for God, making a universe is a pretty substantial undertaking; and one would think that a being intelligent enough to do it had some purpose in mind, some end in view that would justify making such a huge investment. What's in it for him? What does he expect in return?
I can tell you, on the authority of God's own written Word, that He created the world for His own glory! Do you think a crimson sunset is glorious, or the starry sky on a clear night? How much more beautiful and glorious must be the mind that conceived them and the power that spoke them into existence! The Bible tells us that God wanted intelligent beings other than Himself to have the elevating experience of knowing all the wondrous thoughts hidden within Himself, that from eternity were known only to Himself. So he made a breathtakingly beautiful universe, and angels and men to enjoy it. He wants all His creatures to endlessly celebrate His Divine genius and craftsmanship, and the goodness and almighty power revealed in all His works; and He wants us to be grateful for the privilege of being made with awareness and understanding and the capacity for enjoyment.
So Why Does it Matter?
This leads us back to the question, "What does it matter what we think about God?" For you must see that, if God's purpose in creation was to set forth His own glory, for us to admire Him for; then it matters a great deal to Him what we think of Him! If we never think of Him, or think of Him in an unworthy manner, then He "loses His money", as far as we are concerned. We are then unprofitable to Him, and what's more, ungrateful and disrespectful!
How many fathers and mothers do you know who love it when their children treat them with ingratitude and disrespect? You just can't get enough, right? What's really great is when they talk back, and tell us what they will and won't do! That's really enjoyable, isn't it? Or when they scream curses at us and slam doors and call us ugly names!
What? You don't like that? You don't appreciate that kind of behavior? You don't allow it? At all? Well, then why would you think that it doesn't matter to God what we think of Him, or how we treat Him?
Why we Should be Grateful
See, it's not that He needs us: He doesn't! He doesn't need anyone or anything. He got along just fine for eternal ages before He made us. But because He is good, He wanted us to be able to share His happiness. We are the gainers. We had nothing--- not even existence! Now that we exist, we have the capacity for joy and wholesome pleasure, so that we may enjoy all that is good in life. Best of all, we have the privilege of knowing God, being originally made in His image and likeness. And this is a benefit, even if we do not use it properly, and consequently end up miserable.
Let's say I have two sons: one good and one bad. One of them does everything I tell him and grows up to be happy; while my other son rebels against me, and does all the stupid, self, destructive things that are popular today, and ends up dead. Did the bad son receive less from me than the good son? No! I gave them the gift of life, love and nurture, and they made their own choices. They both had the same reasons to be thankful, respectful and obedient. Here's the point: God is not responsible for our happiness or misery. He is not less than good because we are not deliriously happy. He made man with the possibility of happiness; and it is our duty to be thankful to Him for that.
What the Bible Says
It matters to God what we think of Him because He made the world so that He might make himself known to us as He truly is. It matters so much to Him that He has denounced the severest sentence against any who would misrepresent Him. He makes it clear in His Word that He hates all false worship, all bad theology, all idolatry, and every man-made philosophy that is not in accord with truth. These are some of the many declarations of Scripture on the subject:
"I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments." (Exodus 20:2-6)
"I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:6-9)
"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." (Colossians 2:8)
"Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie." (Revelation 22:14-15)
The Wrath of God
Most people don't understand the biblical doctrine of the wrath of God. It seems to them that the God of the Bible gets way too upset about seemingly trivial offenses. Why can't He just ignore bad behavior? Or, if it's serious, why can't He just forgive? And why does Hell have to go on forever? Besides, God is supposed to be love, isn't He?
Is Man Wiser than his Maker?
I will answer each of these in order, but first something must be said about the radical error that underlies them all. That root error is the idea that we
are fit judges of what God is like. (We may not be aware we are making this assumption, but that is what we are doing when we say such things). The true picture is that God tells us, always and only, the truth about Himself, about the world, about ourselves; and we get to accept it, or else suffer the consequences of having believed lies.
God has nothing to gain by lying. There is nothing in Him that wants to deceive. Scripture says that it is impossible for God to lie.
Furthermore, God is the only one who knows everything. No one else is qualified to state dogmatically the ultimate truth about anything, except to repeat God's word on the subject. If man is just the product of a chance universe, how can He know anything for sure? It may be that, by pure chance, he has so evolved that he is deceived about everything that he lives in a dream world, like the Matrix, that has no relation to what is actually happening. We would never know it!
We can only have real and certain knowledge if there is a God who always tells the truth, who has purposely made man to be like Himself and capable of communication with Him, so that we can receive true knowledge from God. In that case, we can also rely on our senses to generally tell us the truth about the world around us; because God gave us our senses for that purpose.
God is the expert witness, the infallible Doctor, the ultimate source of truth. It is both insane and irreverent to dispute with Him. We must bow to His Word, or live a lie and ultimately be destroyed!
Now, let's look at some of the common objections to the doctrine of God's wrath:
Why Can't He Just Ignore Bad Behavior?
The simple answer to this is that God is more patient than we are, and bears with our innumerable offenses as far as His wisdom permits; but that God is the supreme judge of all men. If God does not judge, who will? Is it fitting that God should allow His creatures to commit every sort of crime against Himself and man and yet escape punishment? That would be poor government indeed! It would encourage bad behavior while discouraging the good.
Besides, God truly hates sin and loves righteousness. He actively opposes evil and promotes His good purposes with total determination. It would contradict His character and disposition to treat evil and good the same.
Why Can't He Just Forgive?
God is by nature merciful, and so is disposed to forgive; but He cannot forgive where there is no repentance. Who among us would forgive someone who does not cease to abuse our kindness? Where there is repentance, there is forgiveness.
Why Does Hell Have to go on Forever?
So it is no mystery why God must punish sin. But why must He punish eternally? Why does he not destroy us after we have paid our debt? Paid our debt, you say? But that is just the problem--- we can never pay it! Our sins have an infinite dimension, as they are sins against an infinitely good and deserving God! Moreover, since the damned are past the possibility of repentance, they can never stop sinning! Without grace, the longer they are in Hell, the more furious will be their rage against God; and their unhumbled hearts will be hardened even more, like those described in Revelation 16:9-- "And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory." So the debt continues to run up even as they are being punished! No, there can be no hope of clearing the debt by time served in prison. That is the terrible truth!
Some cults say that when the Bible talks about eternal punishment, it just means annihilation. That would be a kind of eternal punishment, it's true. But it's not what the Bible means. Let's be honest, annihilation would be a relief to anyone who had spent an hour in Hell. To be punished, one must exist to experience it. For proof, consider well these Scriptures: Mark 9:42-48; Revelation 14:10-11, 19:20, 20:10. Does this sound like annihilation to you?
But God is Supposed to be Love, isn't He?
"God is love." That is the wonderful truth! If it were not so, there would be no point to this discourse, and no point to anything we do. We would all be sucked down in the whirlpool of sin and death and misery into the abyss of utter darkness! But God's love toward us is exercised in a particular way, according to His wisdom and goodness, and in a way that accords with perfect justice. This is the unique message of Christianity. None of the false religions of the world remotely resembles the marvelous gospel of Jesus Christ; in which God's love to man is manifested through free and sovereign grace.
The wrath of God cannot be appeased by our doings, for they are at their best 'splendid sins'. It cannot be quenched by our sufferings, for they are of no value in proportion to the gravity of our offenses. It can only be removed by a sacrifice acceptable to a holy and just God. That one, only, perfect sacrifice upholds the inviolable justice of God, appeases His just wrath, and reconciles hateful sinners to God. It is sublimely simple: our sins are laid on Jesus, and punished there. His righteousness then becomes ours, and we stand from henceforth justified before God. The Lord Christ has taken our place and endured punishment for us so that we may be set free. Since the whole work of reconciling sinners to God has been accomplished by God's dear Son, there is nothing for us to do but to believe the good news and receive the salvation offered to us in the gospel!
A Word about Repentance
Many people put off repentance, thinking it will be easy to do whenever they want. While they fear Hell, they love their sins more; so they choose to delay. But this is a great deception. It is the hardest thing in the world to repent, as those who have attempted it have always found. For to repent is to cease loving what we love most our own way! It is to turn our backs on the things we most enjoy, and to find joy in things that we don't even find attractive or interesting now! How hard is that? It's really impossible for us to do by our own power. God must work it in us.
Yes, the repentance God requires is also His gift. Ask for it! Ask God to show you what he wants you to do. Ask Him to give you spiritual light and understanding, to convince you of the truth of His way of salvation, to remove your doubts, to give you faith in Christ. While you're asking, read and search His Word diligently, as one looking for hidden treasure. If you are sincere in desiring a changed heart, it will be because God is already at work in your heart, and He will not refuse you those things which are necessary.
Repose upon the infinite mercy and grace of God in Christ, who has come into our sinful world to suffer that we might be saved! You have no reason to mistrust Him, for he is the Truth incarnate. Read the record of His sinless life in the Gospels of the New Testament, and you will see that He is holy, just and good unlike any other human being that has ever lived! You can trust Him! Do trust Him! Receive Him and be at peace with God forevermore!
Howard Douglas King
Revised August 9, 2014