Defining God

by David Tavender

The Scriptures use the term ‘God’ in two distinct ways. There are the entities men worship as ‘gods’, which are merely creations of man’s making, and then there is the one true God. Although Christianity (and indeed Judaism and Islam) rejects the worship of entities other than the single Supreme Being, it is helpful for us to examine the generic pagan sense further. We will almost certainly better comprehend something of what the title actually implies, and its aptness as one of the titles of Christ.

In a general sense, a god is a being that is reckoned to be superior to man, and is worshipped by man. From a Christian perspective, the one true God is the only being actually worthy of man’s worship.

False gods

A god – false or real – is a type of being, a being to be worshipped. Christians worship the one true God who is the creator of the universe. He is known and described by many different names and titles, each with a particular emphasis on some aspect, but the simplest of these names is quite plainly, ‘God’, a word used as both a name and a description throughout the Bible.

Both senses may be found in the one verse in Psalm 50:7 ‘Hear…O Israel… I am God, your God.’ Expanding this, we could read it as, ‘I am God [the name], your God [the being to be worshipped]. No other objects, beings or phenomena were to be viewed by the Israelites as superior or deserving of worship.

A statement like that was necessary because there were many false gods in the world of the Old Testament Israelites. Several of these are named, such as Ashtoreth, Molech, and Baal (1 Kings 11:5,7; 18:21) to name a few, and people worshipped them as gods. The difference is that these were all creations of men, and had none of the power or attributes which people often ascribed to them. The people worshipped them as superior beings, but without justification, as not one of them was truly worthy of worship.

Often, visual representations of such gods were carved and forged into statues and idols, and the absurdity of people worshipping chunks of metal and wood as gods is addressed in Isaiah’s prophecy. In Isaiah 46:6,7 he scornfully describes the foolishness of idol worshippers: ‘They lavish gold out of the bag… They hire a goldsmith, and he makes it a god; They prostrate themselves, Yes they worship… Though one cries out to it, Yet it cannot answer Nor save him out of his trouble.’ And in Isaiah 44:13–17: ‘The craftsman… hews down cedars for himself… He burns half of it in the fire… He roasts a roast and is satisfied… And the rest of it he makes into a god… He falls down before it and worships it, Prays to it and says, Deliver me for you are my god.’

On the same theme, speaking of carving out images of animals and then worshipping them as gods, the apostle Paul later wrote of such people that they ‘…exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator.’ Romans 1:22–25

In a slightly different sense, Paul also referred in Philippians 3:19 to some people ‘whose god is their belly’ – those who place the desire of food above their desire of Christ. Today, we could easily substitute the word ‘belly’ in this verse with other words like ‘money’ or ‘lust’ or any number of things that people place high in their list of priorities at the expense of worshipping the true God. The statement from the Decalogue in Exodus 20:3: ‘You shall have no other gods before Me’, was delivered to the Israelites about 3500 years ago amidst idol worshipping nations, but the basic principle is the same for us today: God alone is worthy of our worship.

The One True God

It should come as no surprise then that God affirms frequently, ‘There is no other god besides Me’, as stated in Deuteronomy 32:39. See also 4:35,39; Isaiah 45:5,6,14,15,18,21,22; 44:8; 46:9; 1 Kings 8:60; and inferred in many other passages. Quite simply, there is only ONE God. This fact of only one being having the right to be called God is known and acknowledged even in the spirit world: ‘You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble!’ James 2:19. This verse is often misquoted, along the lines of: ‘You believe in God. You do well…’ omitting the important word ‘one’, which describes God. Yet James addressed his epistle to the twelve tribes of Israel, James 1:1, who would have been well aware of their Hebrew Scriptures’ repeated reminders that there is only ONE God.

In New Testament times in most regions around the Mediterranean, the ancient Greek culture also abounded with many false gods. Different cities even had their own particular gods they sacrificed to, as shown in Acts 17:16–31. There the apostle Paul observed about the Athenians that their city was filled with ‘objects of worship’ and had been ‘given over to idols’. In speaking to the townspeople, he agreed with them that, ‘in all things you are very religious’ – but their religion knew nothing of the genuine creator of the universe, and Paul had even come across an altar ‘to the unknown god’.

What a sad state of affairs, when people can be obsessed with religious ceremonies and worship entities which don’t even exist, and yet not be aware of the only One genuinely worthy of such adulation. Paul, whose ministry centred around preaching ‘Christ, and Him crucified’, 1 Corinthians 2:2, had to go right back to the beginning with these people and first direct their attention to the concept of the one true God who had made all things, before he could then introduce Christ the Saviour who died for them and was raised from the dead.

It was true in Athens in the first century and it is just as true today, regardless of where we live. To omit or downplay God’s work as our Creator is to not put Christ and His saving work in any sort of context; in effect, it actually becomes quite meaningless. If we do not acknowledge that we are the fallen creation of the one true God, then the event of that God becoming flesh and dying in our place has no role. Conversely, when we do recognise God as our Creator, that a distance between God and man was caused by sin, and that Christ bridges that gap, it then and only then may be said of us, ‘Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Romans 5:1.

Full acknowledgement of our God’s role as Creator should be one of the surest foundations of our faith, and yet we see an increasing trend by many theologians and Christian scholars of dismissing the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2. It is no exaggeration to say that the part God plays as Creator affects absolutely everything else about the Christian faith. The fundamental truth of God creating the heavens and the earth, Genesis 1:1, is closely linked with His right to be worshipped as the one true God, and thus, the Supreme Being. The Creator must be superior to all He has created.

Yet, to some people, the concept of ‘God’ is akin to that of Santa Claus, a being who is able to give us the things we think we need. When this Santa Claus doesn’t give us what we want, he fails to have a purpose for existence, and is not worth believing in.

This thinking stems from humanist self-centredness, hence the misconception that man is the supreme being in the scheme of things; the view that all things must be for our comfort and happiness or else discarded. However, when we come to the point of acknowledging that the one true God (and not mankind) was responsible for creating all the wonders of nature we see around us, this should send us to our knees to pay homage to One who clearly is our superior.

The Psalmist said it well: ‘The heavens declare the glory of God’, Psalm 19:1, and mankind’s greatest achievements are so feeble in comparison. After all, what is greater: landing a man on the moon… or creating that moon and many others in our solar system? Man fits into God’s creation, not God into man’s.

The Lord Jesus Christ: God

With these things in mind, it would be appropriate at this point to remind ourselves that creation is not only attributed to the one we call ‘God’, but also to the one we know as His ‘Son’. ‘By Him (that is, God’s Son), all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth… all things were created through Him and for Him… and in Him all things consist’. Colossians 1:16,17

The principle of there being only one true God is an important one to establish. If we are suggesting that Jesus Christ is also God, then we are really saying that He is not merely ‘godLIKE’ or ‘A god manifest in the flesh’, but in fact THE one true God manifest in the flesh. May I remind the reader that there is only one God, and the Scriptures are emphatic about this. Yet Colossians 1:16–18 tells us that in all things it is Christ who should be afforded the pre-eminence, or the highest position. Phrases like ‘He is before all things’ and ‘all things were created… for Him’ are not appropriate to be attributed to an inferior being. If Christ was anything less than God, these statements about placing Christ in the pre-eminent position would be nothing short of blasphemy, and such high praise of Him would be unmerited.

Nevertheless, it cannot be emphasised enough: there is only ONE God. Some have attempted to demonstrate that Christ, whilst being special, was not the one true God in the flesh. A prime example quoted is John 1:1. Most English translations read, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’

In the Greek, there is no definite article (the word ‘the’) before ‘God’ in this verse; therefore some suggest the last phrase should read something like ‘and the Word was a god’, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses endorse in their Bible translation of preference, The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. If the translators felt strongly about referring to the Word as ‘a god’, they should have been consistent and, in the same chapter, translated all other occurrences of ‘God’ without the definite article as ‘a god’ also. However, forcing such a translation onto John 1:6,12,13, etc. turns the chapter into nonsense. For instance, such logic applied to verses 29 and 34 would have Christ be ‘the Son of a God’, a statement that not even those who deny the deity of Christ could bring themselves to include in that work.

Such a view is quite inconsistent with the often-stated truth of the Old Testament: ‘There is no other god besides Me’ (Deuteronomy 32:39, and elsewhere – refer to the list already quoted earlier). The Lord Jesus Christ cannot be ‘a god’, that is, one of several, because there simply are no other genuine gods. He is either THE God, or not a god at all.

The disciple, Thomas, when faced with the Lord Jesus newly risen from the dead, acknowledged the rightful position of the one he was speaking to with one simple yet profound acclamation: ‘My Lord and My God!’ John 20:28

Thomas was not rebuked for the praise he cried out, nor was he accused by the Lord Jesus of blasphemy. Rather, a blessing was bestowed upon him for his response! (verse 29)

Recognising Christ in the pre-eminent position amongst all things, we can be certain that it was no thoughtless utterance by the man who had previously doubted. The disciple knew exactly what he was saying, and he was well aware that the one true God is the only being worthy of man’s worship. That day, the risen Lord was recognised of being worthy of the same degree of worship Thomas would have afforded his God.

Today, just as we would say that God alone is worthy of our worship, surely we are convinced that Christ is thus worthy of our worship in this manner, too.

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