“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” — A.W. Tozer
This is the first article in a series called The Knowledge of The Holy in which each article will be based around a chapter from A.W. Tozer’s book of the same name (my review). This is a journey worth taking because not only is Tozer’s book a classic in the spiritual world, but the subject matter is God’s character.
Before Tozer begins to talk through the attributes of God’s character, he lays a crucial foundation that must be considered. He wisely knows that without this foundation, everything else will go awry. That foundation is what we think about when we think about God. That’s because we will never rise above our understanding of the Almighty, and, “we tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our image of God.”
Thinkly rightly about God affects not only our theology, but how we live as well. Tozer speaks of knowing God as being the foundation for worship which, like the foundation for the temple, will begin to collapse as soon as the foundation is found to be inadequate or out of plumb. And surely this has been seen to be true. How many cults, strange offshoots, and shameful pursuits have we seen as we trace the history of the Church?
When Tozer calls his readers to think rightly about God, he means according to what the Bible tells us about Him. As his famous quote from above tells us, this is the most important thing about us. As if that was not heavy enough, he ups the ante, rightly saying,
“All the problems of heaven and earth, though they were to confront us together and at once, would be nothing compared with the overwhelming problem of God: That He is; what He is like; and what we as moral beings must do about Him.”
Coming to terms with God
This is the pursuit of all of philosophy and theology, and mankind will forever be reckoning with the fact that there is a God, regardless of what they determine to do about it.
But for the person who comes to terms with God and understands and accepts His gospel, he, “is relieved of ten thousand temporal problems,” because he sees that they all pale in comparison to that which God is at work doing in the world. But unless “the weight of the burden is felt the gospel can mean nothing to the man; and until he sees a vision of God high and lifted up, there will be no woe and no burden.” If we don’t think rightly about God, we will not see our need for God and the goodness of His grace and mercy in the cross of Jesus. This is nonsense to those who don’t yet know Him, of course, but it is the power of salvation for those who believe.
Tozer writes with such force because he sees a right view of God slipping away, endangering not only the institution of the church, but the very Truth it stands for. The danger is that, “Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them.” These low views of God pave the way for the most destructive of all sins — idolatry; the essence of which, Tozer writes, “is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.”
When considering how much of the New Testament is a rebuke of false teaching or an exhortation for others to correct false teaching, this makes a great deal of sense. False teaching leads to false thinking which leads to false gods. Any entertainment of a god other than the God as revealed in the Bible is idolatry because it epitomizes that which is not actually God. “The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true.”
Believing in an imaginary God
What a message for today when we are so susceptible to wrong thinking. The rampant pluralism, intense social pressure, and increasing secularism of the day make for an ideal moment for the Enemy to attack our understanding of God. This was the first and most dangerous temptation first uttered in the Garden. And our epidemically low Bible literacy makes it like shooting fish in a barrel.
And perhaps this is precisely how Tozer felt when he wrote of his own day that,
“The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshiping men. This she has done not deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge; and her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic.”
Surely Tozer was viewed as a doomsdayer by some when he wrote that, and perhaps the same will be said of me. But I cannot help but feel like the situation is even more dire today. Those in the Church are daily giving way to low views of God and His Word, handing over not only the foundation for their convictions, but the very foundations of the faith itself. It feels as if the Devil learned from his reign in Babylon that he can succeed in turning us away from God by simply assimilating the world into the faith, thereby assimilating the faith into the world. This is an ingenious, insidious plot to replace a high view of God with a far lesser one. This, “low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us,” Tozer writes. “A whole new philosophy of the Christian life has resulted from this one basic error in our religious thinking.”
The way out
There is only one way out of this mess. I’ll let Tozer himself explain:
“The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him — and of her. In all her prayers and labors this should have first place. We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to the undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers of generations past. This will prove of greater value to them than anything that art or science can devise.”