For as I [Paul] passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.
~ Ac 17:3
I like apologetics. That is the discipline of explaining a certain belief or position in order to persuade someone of its validity. It isn’t the act of apologizing for one’s beliefs. While that isn’t the dictionary definition, which tends to center on the branch of Christian theology by that name, I think it encompasses the modern usage of the word. Apologetics can be in support of specific Christian beliefs, but it sometimes goes as far back as providing proofs for the existence of God.
It’s a funny thing, though. God introduces Himself with the assumption that He exists. “In the beginning God….” There are never any arguments in defense of His existence, of how He created things. In fact, He more or less told Job (in other words, a paraphrase is coming), “I created the universe and all that is in it. Can you match that?” Even His name, YHWH, declares “I AM”. He then spends an entire book explaining His character, our natures, our relationship with Him and with each other. In little ways, we see evidences, via descriptions of places or events, sometimes God stating how the wicked think they have hidden their ways, but, by and large, He doesn’t appear to people, nor does He try to prove His existence.
Why? Why is He the “UNKNOWN GOD”?
Herbert W. Armstrong (HWA) titled Chapter 1 of Mystery of the Ages as, “Who and What Is God?” In it, he wrote:
The first created man Adam, taking to himself from the forbidden tree the knowledge of good and evil, was at the same time rejecting God as Creator. It is certain that God had revealed somewhat of himself, a certain knowledge to Adam.
Nevertheless Adam had cut himself off from God his Creator.
~ HWA, Mystery of the Ages, http://reluctant-messenger.com/HWA/Mystery/Chapter1.html
Adam had cut himself off due to his sin. Sin separates us from God.
Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:
But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
~ Isa 59:1-2
The apostasy continued even after the Flood.
After the Flood certain historic accounts imply that Shem, one of Noah’s three sons, had some knowledge of the true God. But undoubtedly, as generation succeeded generation of humanity, knowledge of God had become greatly distorted.
Nimrod, as recorded in chapter 4 of this book, made a virtual god of himself. Through the succeeding generations and centuries knowledge of the true God faded almost completely. The ancient pagan nations made many different idols out of clay, wood, stone and other materials. Many examples of pagan idol gods have been dug up by archaeologists and may be seen in museums today. As the apostle Paul said, they worshipped the creation rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25).
So, is it any wonder that during the first century, there would be statues to “The Unknown God”? And, what of today? HWA goes on to state that if you went to a college campus, a place of higher learning, even if they profess to believe in God, they cannot tell you Who or What He is! Our educational system provides outstanding instruction in material things, but none in the spiritual. Our churches should be teaching these things, but they don’t know either!
The worst part is that mankind likes it that way! When confronted with God on Mt. Sinai, what did the people tell Moses?
And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.
And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.
And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.
~ Ex 20:18-20
They did not want to be near God!
When God, in the form of Jesus Christ, came to the earth to be among men, Immanuel, what happened? They crucified the One who was prophesied to save them!
Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.
What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?
~ Job 21:14-15
From the first humans to now, the vast majority of human beings have rejected God. They have created their own cultures, their own rules, their own religions and their own gods. Human nature does not want to know the real, true God because then it would have to change!
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
~ Ro 8:7
The carnal mind rejects God and becomes willingly ignorant of God.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
~ Ro 1:18-21
So, Just Who Is God?
First, and foremost, we are told God is love (1Jn 4:16). He loved the world so much, He was willing for His Son, Jesus, to come and die for us (Jn 3:16). He did this even while we were still unconverted sinners (Ro 5:8). Everything God does is motivated by love. The two greatest commandments are about love (Mt 22:36-40).
It is important to be very conscious of this fact. There are some who will tell you that “God is angry” or “God is holy, righteous and just” but do not present a balanced picture of God. Yes, there are times God is angry. Jesus was angry at things the Pharisees did, and He did not hide it, but He did not sin either. We cannot compare our anger with that of God’s. “For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (Jas 1:20). Likewise, we must be careful about how we assess justice. “Doth God pervert judgment? or doth the Almighty pervert justice?” (Job 8:3). Yet, there are some who will proclaim God’s justice while ascribing all sorts of evil attributes to Him! We are warned to, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (Jn 7:24). Yet, God does not need to be reminded to judge righteously!
God is holy, God is righteous, and God is just, but that is tempered by His love. If something seems to be in contradiction to His love, then we need to ask a few questions. “Is it for the greater good?” “Does it fit within His plan?” “Is it our understanding that is incorrect?” “Is there something I am overlooking or about which I need to find out more?”
We also need to realize that in order for God to be just and righteous, there must be some set of rules or law setup. Otherwise, these words are meaningless. Indeed, we see that God is a Covenant God. He makes promises throughout the Bible to various peoples, but He also sets upon them obligations that they are to be carried out. Some were restricted to a group of people. Circumcision was expected upon the descendants of Abraham. Some, like the Ten Commandments, are incumbent upon all humanity.
God is the Creator. He made all things. We owe our very existence to Him.
God is timeless. In fact, He created time. He stands outside of time and can interact with events flowing through time just as we can interact with our physical environment. “YHWH” means “I AM” in short. “I AM THAT I AM,” He told Moses in Ex 3:14. Often, in the COG tradition, we render the word “LORD” (note the all caps), which comes from YHWH, as “The Eternal”.
God is spirit (Jn 4:24). We are made of flesh and bone, but God is composed of spirit. It is his composition. Spirit is invisible to the human eye unless it is willed to be visible (Col 1:15; cf. Jn 3:8). That does not mean that God doesn’t have a body, rather that He has a spiritual body (cf. 1Co 15:44).
I have saved the best for last.
God is a Family
When was the beginning? Some would point to Ge 1:1, which says, “In the beginning….” However, that was the beginning of creation. What happened even before time itself? For us, that question doesn’t make much sense, but if you created time itself, stand outside of time itself, then the concept of time is radically altered. Before anything was created:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
~ Jn 1:1-3
In order for Jesus, the “Word”, to have created anything, He must have existed before time itself because time is a creation. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity only makes sense if time and mass (physical matter) are related. If physical matter did not exist, then neither did time as we know it! In short, Jesus is “eternal” even as God the Father is “The Eternal”.
How do we know the “Word” is Jesus?
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.
~ vv 14-15
Of course, John later did identify Jesus as the One when he baptized Him. There is no doubt of Whom is being spoken here.
Notice something, though. Jesus constantly referred to God as His “Father” (Mt 5:16, 45, 48; Mk 11:25, 26; 13:32; 14:36; Lk 2:49; etc.). Note that there is a family relationship! God instilled in human beings a need for relationship, a need for family. Why? Because God is love and because God the Father and Jesus Christ His Son have such a wonderful family relationship that they want to share it with others!
“God”, as in “In the beginning God…”, comes from the Hebrew “elohim” (Strong’s h430). It is variously translated as “rulers”, “judges”, “divine ones” or “angels”. However, it can also mean “gods”! It can also be used in a “plural-singular meaning” (Strong’s words, I’m not making that phrase up), as “goddess”, “godlike one” or even “God” as in the One True God.
Why did God choose such a vague word? If that were the end of it, then there would be very little discussion afterwards, and it would probably not be very convincing. However, notice also what it says in Genesis:
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
~ Ge 1:26-27
Note the plural “us”. Who was God talking to? The angels? No, that cannot be, for human beings are not created in the image of angels. Who would have been there except for God and the angels? The cattle? I don’t think we were created in their image, either.
Who was doing the talking? Remember when John called Jesus “the Word”? Why “the Word”? When God in Genesis is creating, how did He create? He spoke! Who was speaking? The Word! Who said “Let us”? Jesus Christ! Who was He talking to? God the Father!
So, we see from the beginning that there is something plural yet something singular about God. As a reflection of that, He created two sexes, but one human race. So, how does this reconcile with there only being “one God”?
Let’s look at a few verses that may seem unrelated at first. However, we are looking for patterns of speech throughout to determine how they can be “one” but separate.
Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
~ Ge 2:24
Obviously, when two get married, they are still two individuals. However, they do become “one” family. God created human beings in His image, and He created two! However, those two were intended to be bonded together physically, emotionally and spiritually and create offspring in unity.
Then will we give our daughters unto you, and we will take your daughters to us, and we will dwell with you, and we will become one people.
~ Ge 34:16
This doesn’t mean they are only one person, but they desire to be joined as a community.
The seven good kine are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years: the dream is one.
~ Ge 41:26
Obviously, Pharaoh had two dreams, not one. Therefore, Joseph is simply telling Pharaoh that both dreams are the same, i.e. have the same meaning.
And the LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.
~ Jdg 6:16
This verse states “as one man”, an expression of great unity.
Then all the children of Israel went out, and the congregation was gathered together as one man, from Dan even to Beersheba, with the land of Gilead, unto the LORD in Mizpeh.
~ Jdg 20:1
Obviously, still an expression. They were one in unity.
And the children of Benjamin gathered themselves together after Abner, and became one troop, and stood on the top of an hill.
~ 2Sa 2:25
“One troop”, but many soldiers. This is similar to how there is one family, but there are individual members of the family.
And he bowed the heart of all the men of Judah, even as the heart of one man; so that they sent this word unto the king, Return thou, and all thy servants.
~ 2Sa 19:14
Again, an expression of unity, but deeply felt unity.
And the messenger that went to call Micaiah spake to him, saying, Behold, the words of the prophets declare good to the king with one assent…
~ 2Chr 18:12a
One assent, but separate voices. Another idiom for unity.
Also in Judah the hand of God was to give them one heart to do the commandment of the king and of the princes, by the word of the LORD.
~ 2Chr 30:12
Here is an even more direct idiom, as it does not have “as” in it.
And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
~ Mt 19:5
Jesus concurs that a man and woman become “one flesh” in marriage. However, they are still two persons. They become one, united, in emotions, and, hopefully, spiritually.
And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.
~ Jn 17:11
Obviously, Jesus was on earth (and preparing for His death), fully God and fully man, and His Father was in heaven. So, how were they one? They were united in purpose and in love, as Father and Son.
That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
~ v 21
Again, they weren’t joined at the hip, nor were they merged into one person, but they were to be united in the love of God as brethren.
When God created Adam and Eve, He created two human beings to be united in an intimate relationship. God the Father and Jesus Christ are united as a family in an intimate relationship. And, God often works in 2’s: 2 sexes, 2 eyes, 2 nostrils, 2 hands, 2 feet. These things produce a symmetry. Most importantly, God created man and woman, “created he him” and then “created he them” in His image! If both were created in His image, then there must be something plural going on. There must be something symbolic about the relationship, and the symbolism is the close relationship between the two members of the Godhead!
Notice God is not a “trinity”. If we are made in the image of God, then we must reflect what God is like. Human beings are not three persons joined at the hip! Indeed, please consider the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. If Jesus was “fully God and fully man”, did He die on the cross? Yet, if God is a trinity, then that would have been impossible. Either God died on the cross, or He did not. If God were two separate beings working so closely together as to be one, then one could die and the other resurrect Him.
The word “trinity” did not even appear until the later half of the second century. Even then, it did not have the meaning it does today.
In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the Trinity [Τριάδος], of God, and His Word, and His wisdom. And the fourth is the type of man, who needs light, that so there may be God, the Word, wisdom, man [emphasis mine, Greek supplied by source].
~ Theophilus of Antioch, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity
Notice that the Holy Spirit is not a person. The Holy Spirit is often compared to fire, water and wind. It may be personalized as an “advocate” just as wisdom and understanding are both personalized in the Proverbs. However, the preponderance of verses show that Holy Spirit to be the power of God. Just as electricity does our bidding and turn on our electrical appliances, the Holy Spirit provides the power to do the work of God.
God and Jesus are in a family relationship. God is creating children out of fallible human beings. To ignore the family aspect of God is to trivialize His very plan! He even starts out the Bible using the plural-singular word “Elohim”, often translated “God” in the KJV. Just as the Smith family all share the same name, God the Father and Jesus Christ share the name “God” (Elohim).
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named
~ Eph 3:14-16
HWA closed the first chapter of Mystery of the Ages with this summary:
Finally, in briefest summary: God is a FAMILY composed at present of the TWO Persons of John 1:1-4, but with many thousands, already begotten by God’s Spirit, in God’s true Church, soon to be born into that divine family at Christ’s return to earth. Jesus Christ, by his resurrection, was BORN a divine Son of God (Rom. 1:4)–the first so born into the God family (Rom. 8:29).
Both God and Christ are composed of spirit, formed and shaped as a human person, but with eyes like flames of fire and faces bright as the sun full strength!
God is Creator of all that exists. Both God and the Word (who became Christ) have existed eternally and before all else. From them emanates the Spirit of God, by which God is omnipresent and omniscient. God the Father is the divine Father of the God family, into which truly converted Christians shall be born.
We will soon explore this role of man in God’s plan by exploring “What is Man?”