“Yahweh is the true God; he is the God of the living and the eternal King. The earth shakes from his wrath and the nations cannot bear his curse.”
There are many adjectives that are applied to God: mighty, glorious, faithful, etc… but perhaps two of the most common and most important are that of true and eternal. Essentially, what these adjectives communicate is that God is the one true God — there is no other and all others who seek to present themselves as God are false and only lead mankind astray and into eternal condemnation. In addition, this is the way it has always been and will always be, for not only is God true, but he is eternal and not bound by the constraints of time as are we. To God there is no before and no after; he never changes, learns new information, or weakens. He simply is. And thus, if we are going to stand in this life and in the next, we must stand upon the foundation He has laid.
And thus, as Question 25 of Heidelberg comes to a close, it affirms both of these adjectives in the context of who our Triune God is…and who he will always be. So note, not only is this statement being made in the broad sense of God, but in the catechism, it is being made of the Triune God. Numerous heresies have arisen around the nature of the Trinity (some say that God did not become Triune until the birth of Jesus, others say that he is divisible, others say that God was just taking different forms), yet the catechism affirms that God is Triune, he has always been Triune, will always be Triune, and that this is the only true way to understand who God is.
Why is this important for the individual Christian in his day to day life? First, because the things that he has been taught (assuming they were taught correctly) are not going to change. God is the same yesterday, today, and eternally. This, my friends, is the true faith in service of the true God. If one would be saved, let him believe on these things.
You will notice that in question 25 of the Catechism, when asked about the Trinity, the answer begins with the language of “because God revealed…” At first, that might seem like a simple enough phrase and one that is not that important, yet, from the perspective of the Christian faith, it is of significant value. While indeed, the creation testifies to its creator (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20), such knowledge is not sufficient to save or to produce saving faith for faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ, not by works or by innate knowledge (Romans 10:17; Galatians 3:2). Further, that Word cannot be found in nature…no matter how hard you may look or how far you may search. That word must be revealed to us by God himself.
With this in mind, we Christians have a faith that is a “revealed faith.” Apart from the revelation from God, we are lost forever. Left to our own devices, we will seek to earn a salvation that we can never earn and thus be lost in despair. Left to our own devices, our imaginations will create gods after our own image which would be molded by our own hands — little gods that cannot save us from our sins. Left to our own devices, we will create philosophies that will justify our own preferences, thus leaving us in utter moral relativism where each man essentially becomes his own god.
And so, God reveals himself to us and while he did so in many ways (think Hebrews 1:1 — dreams, prophesies, history, poetry, wisdom sayings, etc…), the culmination and compilation of the entirety of God’s revelation is found in His Word. Nothing outside of the Bible (66 books, Genesis-Revelation) is the Revelation of God and thus even the most noble and wisest observations of men must be scrutinized by the light of God’s revelation (not the other way around as is done in many liberal circles).
The sad thing is that many people today would prefer subjective experience to the objectively revealed Word of God. Many prefer their own pragmatic insights to the revealed wisdom of God on high. And many more would prefer a god of their own making to the God of Heaven. Many prefer a god they can control rather than a God who can make demands of them. Such is the nature of fallen man and such is what distinguishes Christianity from every other religion — for Christianity is a revealed religion, not one constructed by men.
Our God is a “Personal God.” You know, I never really grasped what that statement meant until I was in seminary. Really, but that goes to show how the phrases we commonly use or hear affect our theology. Think about it this way. I grew up in a Methodist church out in the country and especially as I started coming into my late teen years and early twenties, the church took on a more evangelical and pietistic tone. As a result, what I heard people saying is, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” That is the kind of thing that Billy Graham always said, wasn’t it?
In the years following my conversion (I was born again in my early twenties), I became more and more involved in the evangelical and renewal movements that were connected with my denomination — Walk to Emmaus and the Confessing movement amongst other things. And again, that is what we talked about… “a personal relationship” with God.
Now, to me, what I understood by that was that my relationship with God was personal, deep, intimate, and in many ways, unique to my personality — much like I might have a personal relationship with a close friend of mine. Thus, my relationship with God would look different than yours might not because one was better or worse, but because it was unique to my personality. Surely, my relationship with Jason looked different from my relationship with Heath and that looked different from my relationship with Denise (who became my wife!). So, shouldn’t my relationship with Jesus look different than Jason’s. That’s how I thought at least.
The problem is that there is a gulf of difference between talking about having a personal relationship with God and having a relationship with a personal God…or, more accurately, having a relationship with a personal God through the person of Jesus Christ. The first is the common verbiage of the modern evangelical movement; the second is the verbiage of historic Christianity.
Now, if you are reading this, don’t get all excited and angry with me just yet. What I am not saying is that you should not have a deep relationship with God. Have that deep relationship; strive for it and grow in it. Jesus called his disciples “friend” just as God did with Abraham. It is right and proper to desire this kind of relationship that has been shared by so many saints that have gone before you — and that I have been blessed to share as well. This is not of what I speak. So, bear with me.
“Personal” can be used in a variety of ways. We can use the word to refer to something that belongs only to me (my unique relationship with Jesus). We can use the word to refer to an action I take in my life (my personal finances…or the personal/intimate aspect of my relationship with Jesus). Or, we can use the word “personal” to refer to someone who is a distinct person, not an idea or a force of nature (God being a person, not a force). And, when you recognize that this third way of using the term — that God is a personal God…hence He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — three persons — then that gives you a little bit of perspective on what the church has meant by a “personal God” (at least up until the 20th century).
So, theologically, when we talk about God being “personal,” we are talking about the reality that he exists as a person (in the case of God, as Three Persons). This distinguishes him from the gods of Hinduism and other pantheistic sects which have a view of their gods that presents themselves as forces of nature. That distinguishes the God of the Bible from the god of Buddhism, which exists more as a cosmic force that unites all things together. It also distinguishes the God of the Bible from Deism which views god as being distinct and separate from mankind and thus impersonal in every sense. Even the god of liberalism can be viewed in an impersonal ways as he is viewed as little more than a social construct and not as a sovereign God. The god of Islam, could arguably be spoken of as “personal” in this sense, yet he is certainly not the kind of person with which one could have a relationship in any meaningful sense of the term.
And so, perhaps when we talk about God being “personal,” we ought to listen more to historic Christianity than to twentieth-century “Billy Grahamesque” pietistic evangelism. Perhaps we ought to be saying, “Do you have a relationship with the personal God of the Bible through Jesus Christ?” That’s more of a mouthful, but it conveys a deeper and more accurate truth than I was given, given the language I heard growing up.
“Hear of Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is One.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
“You believe that God is one? You do well; the demons believe that also…and they tremble.” (James 2:19)
“A mediator means there is more than one, but God is one.” (Galatians 3:20)
“And now, Yahweh our God, please save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth will know that you, Yahweh are God and you alone.” (2 Kings 19:19)
“One who sacrifices to a god shall be destroyed; Yahweh alone — to Him alone!” (Exodus 22:20)
The Bible is clear that while God exists in three persons, he is one and exists over and above all things both that he has created and that has been created in the imaginations of men. The question sometimes gets asked, “Aren’t there other gods that people worship?”
To answer that question properly, one must first offer a definition of what constitutes a “god.” If, by a “god,” what you mean is anything that people worship (rightly or wrongly), then I suppose that we could say that there are many gods. There would be the obvious things that come to mind: images of Buddha or of the Catholic saints (or Mary), Asherah or Totem poles, and idols to Hindu gods like Shiva. Money falls into this category as people will pursue it with all of their energy rather than pursuing God with all of their energy. Famous people are another illustration of the gods people bow down before and fawn over.
Self also can be defined as a god by this standard. We live in a culture of narcissism and people obsess over their looks, their image, their pleasure, and their self-gratification. Body art, plastic surgery, and even “gender re-assignment” have become commonplace and drug use has become an epidemic. On one extreme, people are working to genetically modify embryos to emphasize “more desirable” traits and on the other hand, children are being murdered in the name of “Family Planning.” Worse yet, like the Israelites in Canaan who ignored and participated in the paganism in their midst rather than pushing it out of the land, the Church largely ignores these false gods in our midst rather than pushing these false gods out of our churches.
And further, when you broaden the definition of a word so much that it can mean almost anything, then the word ultimately means nothing. To put it another way, our ability to communicate with one another is predicated on the idea that words have a limited semantic range. If “god” is defined as anything that man bows down to, everything becomes a god and the word is ultimately meaningless.
To this end, let me offer a more narrow definition from a Christian perspective. And this is to borrow the definition that St. Anselm used when he was devising his “Ontological Proof” for the existence of God. His definition is: “God is a being which no greater being can be imagined.” To narrow that down even more, one might point out that this definition demands that God not be one of a subset of gods but instead, that God is in a class of his own — the being par excellence. By this definition, there can only be one God — and this is the definition found in the Bible. Whether people worship themselves, the works of their hands, or demons, none fo these are in the same class as God — he is truly unique and alone in terms of his person and character; none is like him, no not one.
And to this end, both Christian theology and Hidelberg Catechism, question 25 insist on God being defined as One being even when we are defining him as three persons. It is an essential of the faith and non-negotiable in Christian theology.