THE INTIMIDATING GOD WORTH FINDING

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Paul approached the scholarly philosophers on Mars Hill to free them from their vain philosophies and introduce them to the true God. He warned the Colossians against falling to vain philosophies (Col. 2:8). Now he worked to free the Epicureans and Stoics from their own error so they could know the true God. The Epicureans were devoted to atomic materialism which found its greatest good in pleasure. So they in effect, worshiped pleasure through modest living. The Stoics sought virtue through logic and that the external things (pleasure, health, life, death, etc.) were not good or bad but were only tools for logic to find virtue.

When we look at the philosophers of Athens, we need to remember that they were religious. Many times we think that philosophers or secular scientists don’t believe in any deities. In reality, we all worship something. That is why the city of Athens and the Greco-Roman world was filled with idolatry. This is why the Athenians and residents there “spent there time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21 CSB). They were ignorant of the one God who could give them everything they needed so they looked for anything to fill that void.

Even when someone denies the existence of any god, they will make a god of their own for worship and purpose. This led to a flood of idols in Paul’s day. “Whatever strange gods were recommended to them, they admitted them, and allowed them a temple and an altar, so that they had almost as many gods as men—facilius possis deum quam hominem invenire.”[1] We see the same flood of idolatry (covetousness) in our own day, we just don’t see the carved idols as clearly.

When Paul introduced the God of the Bible into Athens, conflict necessarily arose. The covetousness manifested in idolatry could not stand the presence of the true God. Paul’s God is responsible for all things and needs nothing. Paul’s God gives life. This is the opposite of the Athenian gods. The idols needed men for everything. They could do nothing on their own. The idols had to be imagined and brought to life by man. These cheap imitations could not bear the presence of the real thing.

So, what did Paul teach about God that was so different from the pagan deities surrounding the city? What does Paul teach about God that is so different than the covetous idolatries of our own day and our own lives?

He is the Uncreated Creator

Paul began his speech with the affirmation that “The God who made the world and everything in it—he is Lord of heaven and earth—does not live in shrines made by hands” (Acts 17:24). This opening affirmation tells us three things: 1) God made everything and wasn’t created; 2) He is Lord of both heaven and earth, and 3) he does not live in temples made by human hands.

First, note that God is uncreated and created everything. Logic demands that something uncreated and eternal created everything that has a beginning. If there is no uncreated eternal being, then there can be no temporal creation. God has to be at the beginning. But then we are told that this uncreated God created everything. He is the reason for all creation. Unlike the pagan deities who were responsible for particular things and locations, the God Paul preached transcends both space and time. He is the Divine Creator of all things.

Second, since he is the sovereign Creator, he is Lord of all things. The ordered arrangement of the universe points to God at the pinnacle and being at the pinnacle he is the ruler of all. Everything that owes its existence to God, therefore everything that owes its allegiance, submission, and worship to God.

Finally, God does not live in temples made by man nor is he served by human hands. He does not need us to prepare a place for Him. He is too great to be held by human imagination. He is too great to be confined to one space. He is omnipresent. He is equally everywhere. He doesn’t require anything from us to exist perfectly. In Job 41:11 God said, “Who has given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.” God needs nothing and provides everything. He is the inextinguishable source of all everything. This is referred to as God’s aseity.

Describing this attribute of God, the Westminster Confession of Faith stated, “God has all life glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of Himself; and is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which He has made, nor deriving any glory in, by, unto, and upon them.” Dr. Barrett noted that although this attribute of God, “this attribute is assumed and taught everywhere in Scripture and proves to be the key that unlocks God’s attributes.”[2] Jesus taught the aseity of God when he said He and the Father have life in themselves (Jn. 5:26). God is uncreated and provides life to all who live. God is self-existent.

This self-existent God is pure essence. He has no parts (Divine Simplicity).[3] It is impossible for him to change (Divine Immutability). He always is. This is known from God’s self-revelation as the “I AM” in Exodus 3:14. “It appears then that the most proper of all the names given to God is “He that is,” as He Himself said in answer to Moses on the mountain, Say to the sons of Israel, He that is hath sent Me. For He keeps all being in His own embrace, like a sea of essence infinite and unseen.”[4] We can learn from God’s revealed name that He Is. This is the basic nature of his being and the source of everything else which has being.

Bavinck said, “When the church fathers, in their attempt to determine the nature of God’s being, started with the name YHWH and described him as ‘Being,’ they had in mind not God’s being apart from his attributes, but the total fullness of God’s being as it exists and is revealed in his attributes.[5] This fullness of perfection demands that God is the fullness and supreme of every attribute which he possesses. “Hence, the being ascribed to God was not an abstraction but a living, infinitely rich, and concrete Being, a Supreme Being at once identical with supreme life, supreme truth, supreme wisdom, supreme love”[6]

Being self-existent, God is fully content with the Divine Trinity. Jonathan Edwards beautifully expresses God’s perfect enjoyment of his own self: “God is infinitely happy in the enjoyment of himself, in perfectly beholding and infinitely loving, and rejoicing in, his own essence and perfections.”[7] He doesn’t require worship to be satisfied. He requires worship because that is the proper relation of the creation to the Creator God who is “infinitely happy in the enjoyment of himself.” Matthew Barrett summarized this, “if God is self-sufficient, he must be self-excellent, for if there were another being more excellent, more glorious, more majestic than God, then he would be dependent on that being for the very excellency that characterizes who he is and what he does.”[8] This God, who needs nothing, has created us so that he might be glorified in the providing of all things to his creation.

He is the Omnipotent Provider

Paul’s God “gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth” (Acts 17:25-26, ESV). The true God which Paul preached needed nothing and provided everything. God “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). This principle is seen again in Colossians 1:16-17, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him, all things hold together.” There, God the Son created all things for himself and continues to hold all creation together.

The aseity or self-existence of God is on full display here as Paul shows how God provides everything for creation, yet he is never resupplied. His determination and power are inexhaustible. God is unlike everything we experience. He is even more than a renewable resource. He is an unchanging infinite resource that powers all of creation. How can one not be moved to awe when considering the work of his fingers (Ps. 8:3)?

Instead of being born in the imagination of man and carved by man’s hands to be placed in a shrine which man had built, God created all creation and fashioned man for his own purposes. He “formed the man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Gen. 2:7). He is the God who “created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it, and spirit to those who walk in it” (Is. 42:5).

God made all mankind from one man. This demonstrates the equality of all peoples. “This is a distinctly biblical perspective, based on Genesis 2–5, where God formed Adam first and then Eve, and caused their offspring to multiply (cf. Lk. 3:38; Rom. 5:12). The Greeks did not have such a view but largely considered themselves superior to other races, whom they called barbarians. ‘Against such claims to racial superiority Paul asserts the unity of all mankind, a unity derived ex henos, i.e., from Adam.’”[9] Racism continues to plague mankind. God views all mankind as equals because he is “no respecter of persons.” All mankind is placed as one on earth for God’s glory and to seek God.

God’s intention for mankind on earth is to seek him, and perhaps feel their way toward him (Acts 17:27). God placed mankind to rule the earth as his regents, but he also designed the earth to seek for him as they enjoy creation. Paul stated that all mankind is without excuse for divine ignorance because of natural revelation. The whole creation continues to cry out for God’s glory. The whole creation continues to point to the grand Designer (Ps. 19:1-6).

THE INTIMIDATING GOD WORTH FINDING

God is different. He isn’t like the gods we can fashion and be comfortable with. He is totally transcendent. Perhaps this is why we turn to gods we can control. C. S. Lewis described God this way in The Lion the Witch, and the Wardrobe: “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” Our God isn’t safe, but he is good. We shouldn’t want a God who is safe. We should want the God who terrifies us with his beautiful glory. This terrifyingly awesome God is the same God who calls us to himself with nail-pierced hands. “To conclude, it is precisely because God is free from creation that he is able to save lost sinners like you and me (Eph. 1:7–8). If God were a needy God, he would need our help just as much as we need his. What good news it is, then, that the gospel depends on a God who does not depend on us.”[10]

 

[1] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2142.

              [2] Barrett, Matthew. None Greater (Grand Rapids: Baker 2019): 56.

              [3] “The Deity is simple and uncompound. But that which is composed of many and different elements is compound. If, then, we should speak of the qualities of being uncreate and without beginning and incorporeal and immortal and everlasting and good and creative and so forth as essential differences in the case of God, that which is composed of so many qualities will not be simple but must be compound. But this is impious in the extreme. Each then of the affirmations about God should be thought of as signifying not what He is in essence, but either something that it is impossible to make plain, or some relation to some of those things which are contrasts or some of those things that follow the nature, or an energy.” John Damascene, “An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith,” in St. Hilary of Poitiers, John of Damascus, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. S. D. F. Salmond, vol. 9b, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1899), 12.

              [4] John Damascene, “An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith,” in St. Hilary of Poitiers, John of Damascus, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. S. D. F. Salmond, vol. 9b, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1899), 12.

              [5] Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 120.

              [6] Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 120.

              [7] Matthew Barrett. None Greater, 57-58.

              [8] Matthew Barrett, None Greater, 66.

              [9] David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 496–497.

              [10] Matthew Barrett None Greater, 69.

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