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Why What We Believe About God is Crucial

WHY WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT GOD IS CRUCIAL

Ted Schroder
May 22, 2005

George Weigel in The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God (Basic Books 2005), makes the case that Europe in the twentieth century went through a civilizational crisis of two world wars and the Cold War, because the God of the Bible was rejected in the name of human liberation and nationalistic ambitions. This claim, whether it can be proved or not, raises the issue of the importance of belief in God for our culture and civilization. How does what we believe about God affect what we believe about ourselves, the way we govern ourselves, our politics, our morality, and our laws?

In the classical world of Greece, Rome and Israel, the gods or Fate, played games with people, often with lethal consequences, as the Greeks and the Trojans discovered in Homer’s Iliad, and Odyssey. The prophets of Israel fought against a view of the gods that celebrated fertility cults and demanded child sacrifices. The revelation of the God of the Bible is the self-disclosure in history of one, universal God who was neither a willful tyrant to be avoided, nor a carnivorous predator to be appeased, nor a remote abstraction to be safely ignored. Human beings were not the playthings of the gods or the passive victims of Fate, but the beloved children of God who were partners in God’s enterprise in history. History was not a stage on which human puppets were manipulated by gods and goddesses pulling the strings. History was an arena of responsibility and purpose because history was the means through which the one, true God made himself known to his people, and in Jesus empowered them to lead lives of dignity and purpose through the intelligence and free will with which he endowed them by his Spirit.

This revelation of the God of the Bible liberated believers from the bondage to pagan views of God they had previously experienced. But the ideologies of the twentieth century viewed religion in general, and Christianity in particular, as being the enemy of human freedom. Communism, fascism and secularism rejected the God of the Bible because they contended that he is an authority figure that stands in the way of human progress. Behind these movements are the intellectual prophets of secular revelation that have taken the place of the Bible: Auguste Comte, who elevated empirical science as the only reliable knowledge for all of life; Ludwig Feuerbach, who taught that God is the mythical projection of human aspirations; Karl Marx who claimed that the spiritual world is an illusion; and Friedrich Nietszche, who argued that exercising the will to power is the measure of human greatness.

While the institutional expressions of their intellectual legacy were defeated in World War II and the Cold War (the National Socialist Party of Germany, the Fascist Party of Italy, and the Communist parties of Eastern Europe), their ideas still command the minds of European culture. This is why Europe today suffers from an indifference to Christianity, as seen in the empty churches, and a hostility to any expression of faith in social and political life, as seen in laws against wearing religious symbols to schools in France, and in the rejection of Rocco Buttiglione, a distinguished Italian philosopher and Minister for European Affairs in the Italian government for the position of commissioner of justice in the European Commission because of his Catholic beliefs. The test for upholding European law is seen as requiring having no religious convictions, a phenomenon that is being debated in this country whenever politicians and judges face confirmation for appointments.

The rejection of the God of the Bible in favor of secular utopias, where freedom becomes whatever we will it to be, whatever we choose without restraint, results in a new idolatry, where, like in the time of the Tower of Babel, people worship themselves. It creates a spiritual no-mans-land which is barren, and non-productive. Demographically Europe is not able to reproduce itself and faces a declining population and a resulting dependence on immigrant labor. Christopher Dawson in Christianity and European Culture wrote: “a secular society that has no end beyond its own satisfaction is a monstrosity – a cancerous growth which will ultimately destroy itself.”

In Daniel 2, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, dreamt of a colossal image composed of a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, and legs of iron, with feet of iron mingled with clay. This composite statue was then reduced to powder by a huge stone, and the powder was blown away by the wind. Where the image had stood, the rock grew to the size of a huge mountain that filled the whole scene. Daniel interpreted the dream in terms of successive empires, each of which would pass away and be replaced by another. At the end God will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. “It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.”

Jesus used this passage in his parable of the tenants of the vineyard (Matthew 21:33-44) to warn what will happen to Israel if they don’t acknowledge God’s ownership of their lives, are not good stewards in returning to God what he expects from them, and do not receive his Son, the Messiah, the Christ. Jesus concludes his parable with these words: “‘Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ ‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,’ they replied, ‘and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures: “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. He who falls on the stone will be broken in pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.’”

If you don’t have a sufficient respect for the God of History, and for citizenship in the kingdom of God, ruled by Jesus Christ, the Lord of all, you are in danger of suffering the same fate as so many other civilizations before you. If, as a culture, you trip over believing in Jesus, you will be broken in pieces, and the weight of God’s purposes will crush your hubris.

In Revelation 13 the imperial cult of Rome is portrayed as a beast that masquerades as a lamb (i.e. as the Christ), but speaks like a dragon (i.e. Satan). It makes its citizens worship the Roman state, and deceives them into thinking that Caesar’s government is good, desirable and divine. In order to fit into this society, and prosper, everyone had to receive the mark of the beast, which is 666. This is one short of number of the Holy Trinity which is 777 – the number of completion and perfection (7 days of the week, the seven branched candlestick etc.). 666 is the closest you can get to 777, but despite the attempt of deception it is the Anti-Christ. Rome, Caesar, the imperial cult, attempted to make God in its own image, but failed. Its days were numbered. God crushed it. So it is with any culture that tries to replace God revealed in Jesus Christ.

It is futile to try to make God over in your own image, or to be indifferent to the God of the Bible. Those who have tried to do so in the past have ended up the worse for wear. The God revealed by Jesus is the heavenly Father, whom he represented in his earthly life, and the Holy Spirit whom he sent to take his place on earth after he ascended to glory. This God invites us to live in loving relationship with him, where he is to be reverenced, and obeyed, and we are to be his children and servants. Only when we do that will we experience true freedom, and the earth will enjoy peace.

Amelia Plantation Chapel
Amelia Island, Florida

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