Our Greatest Error: Forgetting That God Is God, and We Are Not
We are not God.
I’m not sure we’re all clear on that, so let me repeat it: I am not God, you are not God, only God is God.
It should be so obvious, but it sure doesn’t seem to work out that way. Our culture plays God every chance they get. This error, massive as it is, has even infected conservative/evangelical Christianity. We need a huge reset on our view of God. In fact, I don’t know any message more important than this: God is God, and we are not.
Some will say “the gospel message” is the most important. I do not disagree agree. I merely insist on this: The gospel message only makes sense if we know God is God and we are not.
There is a reason John opens his Gospel telling us who God is. “In the beginning was the Word [referring to Jesus Christ], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that has been made.”
Through the rest of his Gospel, John does not fail to tell the story of God’s character revealed in Christ: His holiness, His love, His grace, His truth, His salvation, His judgment, and so much more. But he places it firmly in context of Jesus’ being God our Creator. In our day we’re so inclined to emphasize God’s love and grace, we must guarding against failing to tell the truth that He is also our Creator, our Ruler, our King.
The Self-Deifying World of the 21st Century
The world gets this wrong in multiple ways. They’ve given up the ancient idolatries and invented their own. Take the trans movement, for example. It’s a wanna-be god movement, through and through, as I have often argued, seeking to rewrite reality as they do. Only God can do that, and He does not often choose to do so. Trans people then try forcing everyone else to comply with their revised reality, an act of assumed sovereignty over other humans’ minds. Again, such a thing is fitting only for God Himself.
Another example (among many) of self-deifying secularism: economics: Socialism is in large part a false belief in the state’s ability to create wealth the same way God created the worlds: by speaking it into existence.
Religions get it wrong, too. Progressive Christianity would overrule God’s own revelation if they could. Take for example the saying, “Conservatives use the Bible to understand what love means; I use love to understand what the Bible means.” What that actually means is, “I use my own view of love to judge the Bible’s less enlightened view.” Thus they make themselves gods above God. Similar self-deifying moves happen in New Age religion, in paganism, “artificial intelligence as our god,” everywhere.
It’s in conservative Christianity, too. Many have noted the “expressive individualism” of Christian youth. It’s little surprise: The whole spirit of our age is just as Carl Trueman summed it up to be: “The rise and triumph of the modern self.” Each person now claims the right defines his or her own reality, and the highest moral good today is to allow each other that right. But only God can define reality, and only God decides what is the highest moral good. God is God. We are not.
This Message Must Be Told
Is this then where we need to start — with God’s sovereignty, His rulership? In terms of communication strategy, no, not necessarily. I love talking about Jesus’ incomparable character, and letting that conversation lead toward His reality, then ultimately to the reality of God. I would not be so inflexible as to say we have to tell the message the same way every time.
If we stop short of the full truth, however, and fail to tell what it means that God is God, everything else we say will deflate to nothingness.
“For God so loved the world” — what does that even mean, if we don’t know that God is God, and we are not? What about John 3:18, just two sentences later? “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
What could “condemned” mean there if God is not truly, fully God? And who is this “only Son of God,” when everyone lays claim to their own robe of divine royalty?
Man’s Theology, God’s Way of Correction
God is God, we are not. This was God’s message of correction following the single longest stretch of bad theology in the entire Bible, in Job chapters 4 through 37. Job and his friends had been trying to understand the calamities that had befallen him. His friends called it Job’s fault: He’d done something wrong, and God was giving him what he was asking for. Read the first few paragraphs of the book, and you know how utterly wrong they were.
Job himself did better — or, rather, his story is more complicated than his friends’. Some things he got very right, but some he got terribly wrong. In chapter 22, for example, he sounds like he’s ready to put God on trial for mistreating him so badly.
Finally, in chapter 38, God breaks in “out of the whirlwind”: “Who is this who darkens counsel with words without knowledge?” (I love that line!) Then he puts Job on the dock: “Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.”
Why These Questions?
What kinds of questions would you expect God to ask Job? He and his friends had both gotten God’s moral character wrong, so I would expect God’s answer to be an explanation of His moral truth. Honestly, for the longest time it bothered me that God had no such thing to say to Job. Instead He asked him, question after question,
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”
“Who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
“Have you commanded the morning since your days began?”
“Have you encountered the springs of the seas? … Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Or have you seen the doors of the shadow of death? Have you comprehended the breadth of the earth? Tell Me, if you know all this.”
God’s Message: “I am God, You Are Not”
That’s just a small piece of it.
“Moreover the Lord answered Job, and said, ‘Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it” (40:1-2).
Line upon line, question upon question, throughout this entire magnificent section, from Job 38 through 41, God keeps asking Job the same thing we all must answer today: “One of us is God. The other is not. Are you clear on which One is?”
And the one answer that God is the One Creator, Sustainer, and Ruler over the natural world. God is in charge. He decides. He has the right, the power, and the authority, and He uses it rightfully, with power and with authority. Because He is God.
Resetting Our View of God
Ultimately Job repents: He completely reset his view of God. Not because God has clarified the moral question from those 35 chapters of bad theology, but because he saw the main thing so much more clearly: that God is God, and he was not.
“I have uttered what I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. …
I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
But now my eye sees You.
Therefore I abhor myself,
And repent in dust and ashes.”
Repentance, Forgiveness, Remembering
Those last two lines may sound harsh. “God shouldn’t expect us to look down on ourselves that way, should He?” Be careful. Those are the words of one who would tell God how He should do His business, words that are abhorrent in themselves. This, too, call for deep repentance.
The story ends with Job offering sacrifices for his friends’ forgiveness, and with God restoring His fortunes. It doesn’t tell us how much truth he came to learn of God’s moral nature.
Certainly we want and need to know as much of God’s truth as we can. So there are many, many reasons John did not end his Gospel immediately after declaring Jesus was God. But remember: he also had good reason to start it there.
Never forget: God is God. We are not. I am not, and you are not.
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.