Theology Lessons from Brandi Huerta
If you’ve been with us any length of time, you’re aware that one of the foundational reasons this ministry exists is that Christians often know a lot about God and the Bible but don’t often change to reflect what they know. Our passion is to help folks practicalize their faith and be doers of the Word and not hearers only. It may seem odd, then, for us to write a series on theology.
You may even be tempted to think that theology is useless information. One of my favorite modern theologians, James Dolezal, actually agrees that the study of God is a useless activity! What he means by this is that knowing, loving, and worshipping God are the summum bonum—the greatest good in and of themselves—and not some means we use to arrive at a greater and more useful end. There is no greater end.
You exist for God. He is excellent and praiseworthy, quite apart from any benefit you receive from Him and to render attention and praise to Him is the greatest possible thing you could do. It’s what you were made to do. The answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
When we say we exist to glorify God, what we are not saying is that our worship adds glory to God that He did not previously possess. He is perfect in glory—His glory can neither increase nor decrease because it’s identical with His nature. What we mean when we talk about glorifying God is that we exist primarily to spread His fame among creatures, both through our verbal testimony and through bearing His image, or looking like Him, before a watching universe.
Much of what is taught today in the name of theology actually drags God down to our level in some sense. Usually, modern theologians will happily affirm that God is greater than we are, but they measure His greatness in a matter of degree, meaning that He is a lot like us, only much better. But this approach misses the fact that He is completely other than we are: He is not a creature; He is something else entirely.
In fact, He is the sufficient explanation for Himself and for everything that is not Him. Something we will talk about over and over again during this series is the creator/creature distinction. The best theologians acknowledge that, although we are in some sense like God, it’s never proper to say He’s like us. We do reflect God’s nature and attributes in important ways, but we are not any of those things in the same way God is.
It’s disastrous when we try to reason back from ourselves to ascertain what God is like. For instance, goodness is identical with God’s essence, and yet goodness is something not intrinsic to human essence. We may participate in goodness as an image-bearer of God, but if you or I die, goodness itself will still exist because its existence is not dependent on us in any way.
On the other hand, goodness is not something external to God in which God participates; it is what He is. Every creaturely thing that can be said to be good ultimately gets its goodness from God Himself. A mistake Christian teachers often make is to tell people that since they experience goodness in the world—ice cream, good dogs, nice people, and good books, for example, they know something of God. This perspective is a mistake because God is not good in the same way creatures are. Again, we’ll talk more deeply about the difference later, but I wanted you to have a placeholder for this idea in your mind.
We’ve established that God is the primary reason to study theology, but that doesn’t mean studying our great God will not affect you. Of course, it will. The benefits to you are only the secondary reason to learn about God, but you absolutely will benefit, nonetheless. How so?
G. K. Beale has famously said that we become what we behold—either for ruin or restoration. What he means is that idol worship of any sort always has soul-mangling consequences. Whenever you read sensory malfunction language in the Bible, understand that it’s talking about idolatry and its effects on the human soul.
The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them (Psalm 135:15-18).
Worshipping false gods makes you spiritually blind and deaf, and it gives you a hard heart. In contrast, when you worship the God who is in spirit and truth, you are transformed into His image. You become what you behold. You resemble what you revere.
In the Old Testament, the people who worshipped idols did so, not because they loved the idols but because they wanted something from them. When the children of Israel thought they had a better chance of getting what they wanted from their neighbors’ gods than from Yahweh, they turned away from their God to serve others. The idols were not the chief end of their worship; they were only a means to an end.
Yahweh could not be manipulated, so they cast Him off in favor of someone who could. But Christians don’t do that, do they? Being a Christian is the opposite of being an idolator, right? John Calvin said that the human heart is a factory of idols. Martin Luther said that the nature of that idolatry is to be incurvatus in se, or curved inward on itself, living for self-interests above all like the Israelites were. Does this ever apply to you? The first and greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
I’m going to assume you have some room to grow in this area. I do too. Please don’t be tempted to think that just because you’ll never love God with all you are this side of eternity that you shouldn’t be growing in that direction now.
Coming back around to the question about why to study theology, you can’t love what you don’t know. If learning about God and loving Him more is not the aim of your life, you will find heaven to be an uninteresting place. Heaven is heaven because God is there. Although you will be a much different, much better creature in heaven, you will still be a creature, and God will still be a source of knowledge and delight for you for all of eternity.
He is inexhaustible because He is infinite. There, you will be like Him because you will see Him as He is. You will behold Him aright, so you will be transformed! Why would anyone not want to start now? As we begin, I’ll tell you at the outset that I’m going to ask a lot of you, intellectually, through this series. Part of the reason for this is that our God is incomprehensible, which is an attribute we will discuss more fully in the following article.
We think in creaturely categories, and as we said before, God is not a creature. We simply cannot know Him as He is. What He has revealed to us, though, through His Word and His creation, we can know truly, if not fully. We are going to work hard to at least begin to know what can be known about God, understanding we must not seek to eliminate mystery as we think about who God is.
So much heresy has arisen because people have sought to make the unfathomable God fit into human understanding. In seeking to make Him understood, people reduce God to creaturely categories, thus making Him an idol. Most of the time, they had no intention of doing this, I’m sure. The result has been that God has been reduced to a bigger, better creature, with little to no mystery left to His nature, inspiring little to no awe in His creatures.
Removing mystery in God destroys the awe that fuels true worship. Think of the angels around the throne who cry out day and night, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty who was and is and is to come!” They see Him, so their awe and thus their worship, in the form of adoration, never ceases. I want to help you either to recover or to grow in your adoration for God. Together, we will pray prayers of adoration, which are different than prayers of thanksgiving, which focus on the benefits we receive from God.
Prayers of adoration focus on who God is in Himself, not on His gifts to us. It’s always good to thank God for what He’s done for you, and I hope you won’t stop doing that! But I want to help you spend time beholding your God and telling of His perfections. Consider this prayer from Augustine. I invite you to pray this to God right now:
Most high, utterly good, utterly powerful, most omnipotent, most merciful and most just, deeply hidden yet most intimately present, perfection of both beauty and strength, stable and incomprehensible, immutable, and yet changing all things, never new, never old, making everything new and leading the proud to be old without their knowledge; always active, always in repose, gathering to yourself but not in need, supporting and filling and protecting, creating and nurturing and bringing to maturity, searching even though to you nothing is lacking; you love without burning, you are jealous in a way that is free of anxiety, you “repent” without the pain of regret, you are wrathful and remain tranquil.
You will a change without any change in your design. You recover what you find, yet have never lost. Never in any need, you rejoice in your gains; you are never avaricious, yet you require interest. We pay you more than you require so as to make you our debtor, yet who has anything that does not belong to you? You pay off debts, though owing nothing to anyone; you cancel debts and incur no loss. But in these words, what have I said, my God, my life, my holy sweetness? What has anyone achieved in words when he speaks about you? Yet woe to those who are silent about you because, though loquacious with verbosity, they have nothing to say.
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