Idolatry and Immediacy

“Idolatry, taken in its broadest sense,
is born of the human need for a God who is near.”
(Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 1, page 326

As we saw in our last post, Bavinck distinguishes between general and special revelation: whereas the former refers to God’s self-revelation in creation, the latter refers to God’s self-revelation in a supernatural way (i.e. something not found in the created order).  The Christian faith, he notes, believes that God has revealed something of Himself in creation but has especially made Himself known to fallen man in the special revelation of Holy Scripture.

However, he reminds us that Christianity is not alone in its reliance upon a divine book or claims of heavenly messages that guide the faithful. For “[h]istory teaches us that not a single religion can survive on general revelation alone” (Volume 1, Chapter 11, page 324). This belief in divine revelation manifests itself in historical religions in three ways: 1) the desire for a god who is near and not far away 2) that gods make know their thoughts and will to man & 3) that special intervention and divine assistance from the gods is available to man in times of distress (as summarized from page 326).

What then, according to Bavinck, distinguishes Christianity’s and other religion’s understanding of special revelation? Or what makes the Bible so special?

“In pagan religions it is human beings who seek God (Acts 17:27). In every way they attempt to bring God down to themselves and into the dust (Romans 1:23), and by all kinds of methods they try to achieve power over God. But in scripture it is always God who seeks human beings. He creates them in his image and calls them after the fall. He saves Noah, chooses Abraham, gives his laws to Israel. He calls and equips the prophets. He sends his Son and sets apart the apostles. He will one day judge the living and dead. The religions of the nations, on the other hand, teach us to know human beings in their restlessness, misery, and discontent but also in their but also in their noble aspirations and their everlasting needs – human beings both in their poverty and riches, their weakness and strength. The noblest fruit of these religions produces humanism. But Holy Scripture teaches us to know God in his coming to and search for human beings, in his compassion and grace, in his justice and his love.” (emphasis mine – Volume 1, Chapter 11, page 327)

As Bavinck notes, in the quote at the top of this post, the human need is for the divine to be near to him. But because man is sinful and thus twists God’s general revelation to suit his needs, he makes a god or a faith based on his need: this is what scripture calls idolatry. The only way out of this morass is to believe in God who, as Bavinck notes, came to us and promises to fulfill our greatest needs and desires: not by being whom we want Him to be but by meeting our needs even when we would not have sought Him out on our own (Romans 3:10-11 & 5:8-11). That is, those in the scripture record & church history who have truly found God, discover that it was not they who were seeking Him, but He who sought them. As John says: “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

The special revelation of the scriptures, therefore, it is not merely an outward gift (a book to be read) but also the inward testimony of God’s implanted word that changes and remakes us (1 Peter 1:22-25). May we therefore praise our God, who is always near in that Word: to comfort, to bless and to help us.


Religions All, But Not All Are Equal

“One who… calls all religions equally true or equally false, in principle takes the position of the sophists who saw man as the measure of all things.” (Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 1, page 249)

One might think the quote above was written for our day and age but Herman Bavinck wrote these words in the early 20 century. But they do apply to the time we live in, don’t they? We really shouldn’t be surprised though, since this kind of philosophy has been around for a long time. 

According to Bavinck, those who believe that all religions are equally true or false, take the position of the sophists (the wise men of ancient Greece). And apparently the statement “man is the measure of all things” dates back to Protagoras, a Greek philosopher who lived in the 5th century BC. Since, then, this seems to be a common or repeated problem for more than just one generation, it must not be the analysis or diagnosis that is the most significant but the criticism of it that must not fail to expose it for what it really is.

Well, Bavinck notes the preconceived (or presupposed) thought in the minds of those who adhere to this kind of thinking: namely, the religion of humanism. So though it may take many different forms in different times, it always and relentlessly submits everything to the mind and heart of man. Instead of being neutral or diffident about religion, these critics of religion have, in fact, simply put themselves in the driver’s seat and declared, to the world, that their judgment of these matters is final and undebatable. 

In other words, they are just as religious as the next man: they simply won’t allow anyone to have a corner on the truth because they themselves believe they have complete monopoly over the market by their wares. But their wares are vain and worthless.

So the next time someone says “all religions are the same,” or “all religions are false, so your religion is just as foolish as the rest” tell them: “But that is just a man’s opinion. All you have done is toss your hat in the ring with the rest of mankind. But you and I are lost. So it is God, who as the measure of all things, must tell us what is true and what is false. Let us then listen to God’s Son who said: ‘I am the light of the world.’ John 9:5 & ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’ John 14:6″