Be consistent. That is the advice for parents. Kids love routine and certainty. When they break the rules, they should experience the consequences, and even those consequences should be consistent. From one day to another, kids should know that if they break that rule, they will face this consequence. Imagine the confusion and resentment when one day a behaviour is overlooked and ignored, but the next day the behaviour earned some yelling at and time in their room!
Parents need to be told to be consistent because people are not naturally consistent. One day something will not bother us, but the next day it will. Any number of reasons could be given for this: the amount and quality of sleep we get, whether we’ve already been irritated and the latest irritant – normally something we could overlook – is the last straw, how busy we are, whether we are being interrupted from something we want to do.
People are changeable. From one day to another we react to our circumstances differently. We treat people differently, or even if we treat them the same our attitude towards them will change.
Imagine if God were like that: unpredictable. Imagine being unsure whether today God will accept you, or whether he would want nothing to do with you. Imagine the terror, the fear, and even the attempts to manipulate God to get on his good side.
But we can rest assured. Our God is not like the ‘gods’ of Ancient Greece or Rome. He is not like us. In him ‘there is no variation or shadow due to change’ (James 1:17). God will not shift from loving us to not loving us. He will not wink at sin and then bang the gavel. We can know our God. He does not change. We are safe.
Everyone worships. We all live for and serve something. The possibilities are endless. Youth, family, children, travel, money, adventure, fame, success, pleasure, comfort, approval, technology, self, Allah, the Hindu gods, Brahman, our ancestors – all these and more are just examples of what some people around us worship.
For many in Australia, that language of ‘worship’ is unfamiliar. But it’s something we all do, whether we’re aware of it or not; whether it’s part of our vocabulary or not.
We can often identify what we worship by asking ourselves questions: ‘What can I not live without?’ ‘What do I desperately want?’ ‘What, if taken away from me, would devastate me?’
What do you worship? Is it worthy of your worship?
Psalm 96:5 says, ‘For all the gods of the people are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens.’
Everything we worship that is not the God of the Bible is an idol. Does that sound old-fashioned? Does it stir images of stone or metal statues, sacrifices on an altar, physical bowing and prayers? This is happening all around us, of course. Open your eyes in some restaurants. See how many go to the Stupa.
But they don’t need to be statues. As above, many of us worship the idol of travel or success. But all these idols will fail and disappoint us. Some of these things we worship are good things, but they have become idols because we treasure them too much.
There is only one God who is worthy of your worship. Only one who will never disappoint you, who can give you all you need – who knows what you need better than you do! Stop your search: ‘Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee’ (Augustine).
WSC Q5: Are there more gods than one?
WSC A5: There is but one only, the living and true God.
It was once inconceivable that this belief, that there is only one God, would be abandoned by Western Society. Christianity had held sway for so long, and even as the Reformation challenged (and in some places broke) the power of the Catholic Church, there was still clear agreement between the different groups that there was one God.
Today we are surrounded by many spiritualities and religions. You can imagine, if we were writing an explanation of the Christian faith in the 21st century, monotheism, the belief that there is only one God, would be important to include. God is a mystery to our world, and we would need to go back to basics. This is something the world, new converts and our children need to hear.
But why include it in the Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC), written in the 17th century? This was known and believed by everyone, Catholic and Protestant alike!
The reality is, we always need to go back to the basics. We can never assume that everyone believes or knows the basics. People are continually being added to the church. They need to hear this news, they need to know the basics.
And for those of us well familiar with the basics, we need it too. Like Israel, we can be tempted to believe in other gods – gods of our own making. Gods that are more convenient, that demand less from us, that make promises we prefer, who are easier to understand and fit with our morality and view of humanity.
It’s good to get back to basics. Our God is the living and true God. He is one. And he alone is worthy of our worship.
We are such foolish creatures. We love to make gods of our own invention. Wherever we look, we see people worshipping their gods. Watch ads on the TV and you will see the gods of our age. Beauty creams allow us to chase after youth. Flash cars give us a sense of social status. That relaxing trip means we can worship the self, chasing after pleasure.
This is nothing new. It’s been here since even before Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden, where they worshipped the self and desired to be like God rather than obey him. We see it in the Golden Calf, the Baals and Asherah’s, Molech and Chemosh. To all these sacrifices were made in the vain hope that blessings would be given.
We ‘exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things’ (Rom 1:23). We desperately store up wealth, only for it to disappear, whether in the stock market or by theft (Matt 6:19). We have such a low view of God, and this is what the next question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC) addresses.
WSC Q4: What is God?
WSC A4: God is a spirit – infinite, eternal and unchangeable – in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.
This isn’t all that could be said. It’s only a start. Nothing can compare to him. How foolish to think we could replace him. Why would we ever want to live for anything besides him?
What goes beyond our comprehension is to realise that this God is the one who became a man. Who suffered and died. Who gave the supreme example of his ‘wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth’ in the salvation of sinners such as us.
‘Who am I?’ I remember watching Sale of the Century as a child. It was incredible to watch the contestants compete against each other in the ultimate (in my opinion) game of trivia. They were fast and knowledgeable. Often there was a runaway winner, but there were occasions where, incredibly, there was a draw. The tie-breaker question was always a ‘who am I?’ as details of someone’s life were read out and the contestants guessed who it was.
There are numerous times in the Bible where some aspect of God is described. He speaks the truth, is holy, brings justice, and is powerful. There is one place, though, that stands out.
The people have just been punished for making and worshipping a golden calf, but because of Moses’ intercession they were not destroyed. More, God would not leave them, but would travel with them as they journeyed to the Promised Land. And Moses prays, ‘Please show me your glory’ (Ex 33:18).
What does God do? Does he send thunder and lightning? Do the trumpets sound from heaven? Do angels appear to sing his praises? No. All these happen at other times, but not here. Rather than the spectacle of his power, God speaks. He explains who he is, the essence of his character.
While Moses was in the cleft of the rock in the mountain, ‘the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation (Ex 34:6-7).
This is our God. Let all people worship.