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Theistic Amorism

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Darrell Harrison Urban Family Guest Blogger MORE

Describe God in only one word.

That’s right—one.

Does that intimidate you?

Good.

Such a majestic entreaty should be at least somewhat disquieting to you.

A sense of wonderment is always an appropriate response when contemplating thoughts of God (Exodus 33:20; Judges 13:18).

Rightly did Charles Spurgeon opine, “It is not possible that mortal men should be thoroughly conscious of the divine presence without being filled with awe.”Conversely, J.I. Packer noted, “There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity.

Describing God in one word, or several, is not an elementary proposition. Nor should it be.

Think about it. How does one describe the indescribable? As section 2.1 of The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, God and the Holy Trinity, declares, “The Lord our God is one, the only living and true God. He is self-existent and infinite in being and perfection. His essence cannot be understood by anyone but Him.”

Nevertheless, one cannot have an idea about what God is apart from having an idea about who God is. To describe God is first to define God—which begs the question: who in their right mind would dare to undertake such an interminably futile task?

That question may seem rhetorical. And yet today there are countless professing Christians who consistently defy such ontological asininity by selectively ascribing to God only those attributes that make them more comfortable with Him—and Him with them.

We want a God with whom we can feel comfortable because our sin causes us to instinctively feel uncomfortable with Him. As the French theologian, pastor, and reformer, John Calvin, explains:

“[Thus] man, having been created in God’s image, was so endowed with gifts and superior powers which testified to his Creator’s extraordinary generosity toward him. He was close to God through sharing in his bounty, and he would have lived for ever if he had continued in the integrity conferred to him. Yet he did not continue long. Through his ingratitude, he quickly made himself unworthy of all the benefits which God had given him. The heavenly image he bore was therefore erased; being estranged from God by sin he was likewise deprived of his share in the blessings which can only be had in him.”

It is our nature to shun God because God is holy and we are not (1 Timothy 6:16; Revelation 15:4). As pastor John MacArthur has said,

“We who believe are being conformed to the image of Christ, but our sanctification is always in process. We’re being stripped of our former sinfulness and refined through the work of the Spirit into conformity to God’s righteousness. By contrast, God is, will be, and always has been utterly holy and perfect, totally separate from any stain of unrighteousness.”

As innately sinful human beings, our penchant to want to distance ourselves from the holiness of God is altogether right and proper (Isaiah 59:2; Luke 5:8).

I say that against the historical backdrop of our first parents, Adam and Eve, who, having eaten from the forbidden tree, subsequently attempted to hide their sin against God by hiding themselves from God (Genesis 3:8). Likewise, Cain, having murdered his brother Abel, sought to conceal his sin despite the fact that his brother’s blood was “crying out” to God from the ground (Genesis 4:9). And then there is king David, arguably the most egregious sinner in the Old Testament, perhaps with the exception of Jezebel (1 Kings 21:11-25), who murdered Uriah, his loyal soldier, in an effort to hide from God his adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11; 12).

Those are but a few examples. There are others, of course.

My point is that so unyielding is our natural inclination to distance ourselves from a just and holy God that we often seek to assuage our cosmic consternation by remaking Him in our image. Though God’s nature is immutable (Numbers 23:19; Psalm 102:26-27; Malachi 3:6a; Hebrews 13:8), we have an inherent propensity to view Him as if the opposite were true. And in doing so, we make Him out to be less than who He is. As A.W. Tozer said, soberingly,

“This is the day of the common man—and we have not only all become common, but we’ve dragged God down to our mediocre level.”

One of the more common ways that professing Christians engage in such divine diminution as what Tozer described, is to view God primarily in terms of His attributes that are the most entrancing or winsome to us. And, invariably, the one attribute that we most often set apart about God is His love. In fact, I am convinced that many evangelicals who profess to love God aren’t so much in love with God as they are in love with God’s love.

I’ve termed that kind of romanticized, valentine-esque thinking theistic amorism.

Theistic amorism falls short of how God’s people are truly called to love Him (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Mark 12:30). To biblically love God is to love Him for who He is—for all that He is—not simply for who we might imagine or desire Him to be. As the Puritan theologian Thomas Watson says in his classic work on the attributes of God, titled A Body of Divinity,

“There is in God all that may draw forth both wonder and delight; there is a constellation of all beauties; he is prima causa, the original and springhead of being, who sheds a glory upon the creature.”

Speaking of God’s glory, in his book Show Me Your Glory: Understanding the Majestic Splendor of God, Dr. Steven Lawson testifies to the theological impact of Watson’s A Body of Divinity on his own life, saying,

“The table of contents listed individual chapters on the being and knowledge of God. It followed with chapters on the attributes of God: the eternality, unchangeableness, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, mercy, and truth of God. The book also touched on the unity, Trinity, and providence of God. The whole rest of the book flowed out of this profound teaching on God. This was the first time in my life that I had seen a list of the attributes of God. I was immediately captivated by the theocentric emphasis of this book. Impulsively, I bought the book and took it home with me, little realizing the impact it would have on my life. As I read A Body of Divinity, my view of God became bigger and bigger with every page. New categories of thinking about God were being planted in my mind. My heart was being deepened. My theology was being dramatically elevated. My worldview was being expanded. My Christian life was being steered in a radically different direction, toward higher ground.”

Notwithstanding Dr. Lawson’s personal avouchment for what many regard as Thomas Watson’s magnum opus, and rightly so, what Dr. Lawson is conveying to us is that there is infinitely more for us to love about God than merely a singular characteristic or distinctive of His nature.

Theistic amorism is idolatry.

It is idolatry in that it makes a single attribute of God, as opposed to the person of God, the motive and impetus for our worship and adoration of Him. The God who, of His own volition, loved His elect enough to save them from Himself for Himself (John 3:16, 36; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Ephesians 2:8-9), is a God who cannot—and will not—be reduced to merely a preferred characteristic of our self-centered choosing.

Though we may wish otherwise, God is not like us (Psalm 50:21).

God is a God of love, yes, but that is not all He is.

The God who created us in His image (Genesis 1:27; 5:1) is more incomprehensible than you or I ever could conceive. As Dr. Richard Muller writes, “God is at once the supreme object of theology and also the most difficult object to know.”

Dr. Muller could not be more correct. God indeed is “the most difficult object to know” (Job 26:12-14). And yet that reality is not a reason for trepidation on the part of God’s people. In fact, quite the contrary. Such an unfathomable reality should humble us. As Drs. Joel Beeke and Paul M. Smalley write,

“Doing theology is an exercise in coming to know how little we know and becoming humbler in the process. The more our increasing theological knowledge is sanctified by the Spirit, the more our estimation of our wisdom should decrease. Knowing the smallness of our knowledge should discourage any attempt to impress people with how much we understand.”

God’s people should endeavor to know Him (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 1:17; 2 Peter 3:18). But in doing so, we should seek to know Him for all that He is in accordance with what He has revealed about Himself to us in His Word. Though we will never know God in the fullness of His divine nature—not even in heaven—theistic amorism depreciates what God does want us to know about Him on this side of that reality (Colossians 1:9-10).

The reason God is a God of love is because He is love (1 John 4:8b). But what you and I must understand is that the love of God takes many forms, not the least of which is the love that nailed His only begotten Son to a cross for your sins and mine to satisfy an attribute of His nature that many theistic amorists rarely, if ever, acknowledge, namely, His wrath (1 John 4:10).

 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us — Romans 5:8 (NASB) [emphasis added].

 (Editor's Note: This was posted first on Darrell's blog site HERE).

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