“In the beginning God…” – Moses (Genesis 1:1), ca 1450 BC
“…the infinite abyss (within man) can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.
Man is obviously made to think. It is his whole merit; and his whole duty is to think as he ought. Now the order of thought is to begin with self, and with its Author and end.” – Blaise Pascal, Pensees, ca 1660 AD
I have always been, I suppose, somewhat of a philosopher. I suspect that all of us are to some extent, even though most of us have had little, if any, formal schooling or even reading on the subject. As Pascal tells us, we were made this way – “made to think.”
I recall as a child sitting off to one side in our living room in the evenings, listening to the conversation of the adults. My father and my uncles and their friends would sit for hours discussing the great issues of life. The conversations would, actually get quite deep and cover a wide range of heavy topics – especially after they’d had a few beers. And the deeper they got, the more likely God would intrude into the conversation. I’m not speaking of what we would call “religious” discussions. They were, as I’ve implied, quite philosophical. Nor am I simply talking about the occasional use of His name in oaths.
I started reading quite young and before I entered high school I had devoured, besides westerns and science fiction, a number of the classics as well as works of historical fiction which were popular in that day. And again in my reading, there would be God, intruding uninvited as it were.
He’s always there!
Scholars and scientists have studied and attempted to ascertain what makes man (or humankind) different from the other creatures, especially the higher animals, such as chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans which we are informed, are our “cousins” and with which we share 98% of our DNA. Without getting too deep into anthropology or theology, I’d like to oversimplify by saying that God has put into us – humans – the consciousness of Himself. He has not done so with His other creatures.
It makes little difference whether we are educated or uneducated, whether we refer to ourselves as Christians, pagans, Atheists or whatever; God is always intruding Himself into our thoughts. He is inescapable.
“… (a man) sets for himself trees of the forest; he plants a fir and the rain makes it grow. And it is something for a man to burn. He takes from them and warms himself; he builds a fire and bakes bread; he also makes a god and worships it; he makes a carved image and falls down before it.
Part of it he burns in a fire; on this part he roasts meat, eats and is full; he also warms himself and says, ‘Ah, I’m warm, I can see the fire.’ And the rest he makes into a god – his own carving. He falls down before it and worships it; and he prays to it and says, ‘Save me, for you are my god.’” -- Isaiah (44:14b-17), ca 650 BC
“…men who suppress the truth in their unrighteousness, because what can be known of God is revealed among them, for God has revealed it to them. For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being comprehended through the things He made, leaving them inexcusable; because though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or thank Him, but became futile in their reasoning and their senseless heart was darkened; claiming to be wise they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image of corruptible man, and birds and four-footed animals – even snakes.” – Paul (Romans 1:18-23), ca 56 AD
According to Paul, the one who worships idols – false gods – does so not because of lack of knowledge of the true God, but because of deliberate choice. Though elsewhere he speaks of the ignorance of these worshippers, it is apparently a chosen ignorance. God has revealed enough of His attributes in nature to be able to demand worship of Himself and to hold inexcusable those who do not do so.
Paul doesn’t discuss the “why” of man’s rejection of the God revealed in nature, other than what appears to be pride – a supposed wisdom which is anything but that when it comes to one’s perceptions of God. Paul calls it elsewhere “the wisdom of the world.” (See: JESUS FOR DUMMIES.)
Could idolatry also be motivated by fear – fear of facing the truth about who God is? Certainly what I have seen of various religions has seemed to demonstrate that fear. The rituals of paganism can bring comfort and relief from fear. By fulfilling religious obligations one can feel protected from having to think about the God who has revealed Himself and of any obligations one might have toward Him.
I might also add that present day idolatry does not necessarily involve the worship of objects, animate or inanimate. It may also involve the worship of ideas – the creation of a god in one’s own mind. How often when speaking of God have I heard a remark something like, “That’s how you think about God, but here’s how I like to think about Him”?
What about Atheism?
“I am talking about something much deeper – namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy be the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is not God! I don’t what there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.
I am curious, however, whether there is anyone who is genuinely indifferent as to whether there is a God – anyone who, whatever his actual belief about the matter, doesn’t particularly want either one of the answers to be correct (though of course he might want to know which answer was correct).” – Thomas Nagel, The Last Word, 1997
Could the Atheists’ rejection of God also be influenced by fear? The words of Thomas Nagel would seem to strongly imply that possibility. Mr. Nagel is quite honest and his confession shows his vulnerability. I suspect that one day he may open his mind to the existence of God. As Jesus once said of a perceptive scribe, he is “not far from the Kingdom of God.” But those “angry Atheists” – Dawkins and company. Could their angry arguments be the rantings of a disguised fear – disguised even to themselves?
And then there are those of us who claim to know God. I fear that we too sometimes seem to be doing our best to avoid Him. We try to protect ourselves from thinking too deeply about Him by getting wrapped up in religious or legalistic – even “theological” thoughts and activities. We try to wall Him off into a corner of our lives and minds, but it seems that He always seems to punch His way through our barriers and intrude Himself back into our thinking.
So if God is going to intrude into our thoughts, with or without our permission, perhaps we would do well to pay attention to Him, to cease fleeing, to start listening and to allow His thoughts to influence ours.