Do You Know the God You Worship?
“GOD IS DEAD.” That phrase, coined by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche a century ago, was revived by some theologians in the 1960’s. Many educated people then thought that a purely secular human society could solve mankind’s problems and ensure happiness.
Then disillusionment set in, and the 1970’s saw a trend toward “desecularization.” Sociologists discovered that, to be happy, humans need a spiritual dimension to their lives. Even in scientific circles it became easier to admit the need for belief in God. Thus in his 1979 book Dieu existe? Oui (Does God Exist? Yes), French author Christian Chabanis was able to include interviews with nine French personalities in the field of science, all of whom confessed some form of belief in God.
Of course, millions of people have never gone along with the “God is dead” theology. They have maintained their faith in God. But does this necessarily mean that they have a clear notion about God?
In 1967 the Synod of French Catholic bishops drew up a list of problems that were disturbing Catholics. The first item on the list was “Our knowledge of God,” and the second was “The person of Christ.” In his book God for Men of Today, author Jacques Duquesne interviewed a 58-year-old Catholic man who admitted: “I sometimes wonder if Christ is really God. . . . I try to convince myself. It’s a big problem for me.” Duquesne also quoted two Catholic priests as stating that for many Christians “dogmas are separate, abstract, arbitrary formulas; each has barely any meaning; one dogma does not throw light on another dogma; they are, therefore, difficult to express to people living today. If theologians decided to add a fourth Person to the Trinity, to what extent would that disturb the bulk of even the best Christians?”
Actually, the doctrine that most confuses not only Catholics but also members of the Eastern Orthodox Church and most Protestant churches is the Trinity. Concerning it A Catholic Dictionary states: “We can understand how three individual men are distinct from each other and yet possess humanity in common. The unity of the three Divine Persons is altogether different. When we speak of them as one God, we mean not only that each is God, but that each is one and the same God, and herein is the mystery, incomprehensible to any created intelligence.” No wonder Catholics complain that their biggest problem is “knowledge of God”!
Worshiping an Unknown God
Almost a billion people belonging to Christendom’s churches are called upon to worship a God they cannot comprehend. They find themselves in a situation similar to that of the ancient Samaritans, to one of whom Jesus said: “You Samaritans worship what you do not know.” (John 4:22, New International Version) Why could Jesus say that?
In the eighth century B.C.E., the ten-tribe northern kingdom of Israel and its capital Samaria were conquered by the Assyrians, and many Israelites were deported to Assyria and other conquered territories. Subsequently, the king of Assyria sent various subjugated people, notably from Babylonia, to the area of Israel known as Samaria. This produced a mixed population of Israelites and pagans. Concerning practicers of the resulting hybrid religion, the Bible says: “It was of Jehovah that they became fearers, but it was of their own gods that they proved to be worshipers, according to the religion of the nations from among whom they had led them into exile.”—2 Kings 17:26-33; compare 1 Kings 12:28-31.
Yes, the Samaritans feared Jehovah. They even accepted a part of his Word—the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible. But they mixed the worship of Jehovah with Babylonish false religion. And it was concerning such Samaritans that Jesus stated: “You worship what you do not know.” They knew of Jehovah, but they did not accept all of his Word. Nor did they worship God “with spirit and truth.”—John 4:22, 23.
Do not members of Christendom’s churches find themselves in a similar situation? They know of God, but many of them admit that they do not really know him. You cannot afford to remain indifferent about this, for Jesus stated: “Eternal life means to know you, the only true God, and to know Jesus Christ, whom you sent.”—John 17:3, Today’s English Version.
What is the doctrine that has especially prevented members of Christendom’s churches from knowing Jehovah, “the only true God”? Undoubtedly, it is the ‘incomprehensible mystery’ of the Trinity. Yet when reading the Bible a person does not get a feeling that the early Christians were worshiping a ‘mystery God.’ The apostle John said that “the Son of God . . . has given us intellectual capacity that we may gain the knowledge of the true one [Jehovah God]. And we are in union with the true one, by means of his Son Jesus Christ.”—1 John 5:20.
So how did the churches of Christendom come to worship a God their members cannot comprehend? This matter will be taken up in the article that follows.
[Picture on page 19]
Altar dedicated to anonymous gods, found at Pergamum, Asia Minor