In Deuteronomy 4, there is quite a focus on idolatry. I've heard a number of evangelicals say that believing the wrong thing about God is essentially worshiping another god, or an idol. These evangelicals often say this to theists who believe that God is too loving to send people to hell, or when they want to stress that God is just and holy, not just loving. In the minds of these evangelicals, believing that God does not send people to hell or is too loving is essentially worshiping another god, an idol. I even read one evangelical who said that we have to get the relationship between Christ's divine and human natures right, otherwise we'd be worshiping a false god, an idol. So I guess that Chalcedon was important, after all!
thing is, nobody has God exactly right. Language in limited in
describing God. It cannot capture the entirety of who and what God is.
What's more, what we think we know about God does not capture who and
what God is. Not only is language limited in capturing God, but it can
also be quite ambiguous. Some evangelicals like to thump their chests
and say that one has to believe what the Bible says about God, otherwise
one is worshiping an idol. But what the Bible teaches is obviously
ambiguous, explaining the multitude of interpretations and denominations
that are out there. Moreover, there is the factor of the reader and
how he or she filters the text. We all come to the text with our own
backgrounds, biases, and proclivities, and we stress some things in the
text while downplaying, ignoring, or not even noticing other things.
This is true even of the evangelicals who think that we have to get God
right, lest we find ourselves worshiping an idol. If they're correct
on that, then we're all worshiping an idol.
that intrigued me about Deuteronomy 4 is that its focus was not so much
on orthodoxy (right belief) but rather on orthopraxy (right doing).
Don't represent God visually. Walk in God's commandments, and do not
add to them or subtract from them. Granted, there are claims that are
made about God: God is one, God alone possesses Israel, God freed the
Israelites from Egypt through the Exodus, and God destroyed the
Israelites who followed the Baal of Peor. But, in my opinion, that is
quite different from saying that one has to get God exactly right in
order to avoid worshiping an idol. Those claims about God do
not exhaust who and what God is, nor do they really assert that we have
to have inside of our minds a conception of God that has the exact right
proportion of justice and mercy, or a conception of Christ that has a
certain understanding of Christ's divine and human natures. Rather, in
Deuteronomy 4, what's important is how God has related to Israel: God freed her and thus possesses her, and God punishes her for her sins. Moreover,
even if the Israelites may not have had a perfect conception of God in
their minds (since, as I said, nobody does, but it's also worth noting
that the ancient Israelites' conception of God probably differed from
that of Christians, and yet God still interacted with the ancient
Israelites through their own framework), they could still learn about
God's kindness, mercy, and justice by practicing the law, which was
about kindness, mercy, and justice.
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