What is the Fundamental Criterion for a True Understanding of God?
If you listen to a group of people talk about God, it won’t take long to realize that there often as many different understandings of God as people. For some, God is simply the most powerful being you can imagine, who can do anything at any time. For others, God is a loving presence that makes you feel good. For still others, God is a mysterious providential force that is working behind the scenes for our benefit.
When it comes to the Bible’s understanding of God, there is only one fundamental criterion to determine the one true God. Psalm 82 bears witness to this criterion in a remarkable way. The psalm begins with the Most High God calling a meeting of the other gods and conducting an inquiry of their legitimacy.
God stands in the council of heaven
and gives judgment in the midst of the gods:
“How long will you judge unjustly,
and show favor to the wicked?” (v.1-2)
The psalm begins with the one true God accusing the other gods of being quacks. Why? Because they act unjustly and show favor to the wicked. They are not acting like real gods. What then does true godly behavior look like? A true god is one who acts on behalf of those who are vulnerable:
Save the weak and the orphan;
defend the humble and needy;
Rescue the weak and the poor;
deliver them from the power of the wicked (v.3-4).
The psalm then goes on to describe that the pretender gods, who are in fact no gods at all, disrupt life in this world, but in the end they will not endure. They and their followers and institutions shake the foundations of the earth (v.5), but they shall eventually die “like mortals” (v.7).
The fundamental criterion for being the one true God is this: care for those who lack the resources to sustain their lives. The church’s claim that Jesus is God incarnate is grounded in the fact that he did what God does. His whole life was spent on behalf of “the weak and the orphan…the humble and the needy.” The church proclaims, “If you want to know what God looks like, it looks like Jesus.”
In the Gospels, Jesus often plays down his miracles. Why? I think he was aware that people often mistake such displays of power with what God is. In fact, at the time of Jesus there were other so-called “wonder workers” wandering around the world. Jesus was aware that we often mistake such displays of power with God. According to Jesus and the rest of the biblical witness, the real power of God is revealed in making the world a welcoming place for all. Every time we make more room for those who are forgotten and left behind, we make God’s power known. Every time we resist laws and systems that oppress, we make God known. This is the God of the Bible who reigns forever; the other pretenders will eventually die and be forgotten