Dear Associates, Students and Friends:
We would all like to see God. Why does God not show Himself to us?
When I attended seminary one of the best courses I took was titled "Folk Religion." It discussed religious concepts and systems as they are actually practiced by the peoples of the world. 1 While these religious beliefs varied greatly, most were based on superstition, some form of demonism, and usually involved animal sacrifice. Those practicing their religions do not feel they are doing anything wrong. Why? Because the gods that they make sacrifices to, that they worship through idols and pray to communicate with them or their leaders in dreams, visions and voices. The gods (actually demons) tell them they are doing good. See 1 Corinthians 8:1–10. Make no mistake, most people in the world today practice pagan folk religion.
An experience from a fellow student who was from the interior of South America helped me understand this with a great clarity. He was a 2nd generation Christian whose Indian parents and tribe used to cut themselves in various ritual tattoo patterns. They were told to do so by their "gods," who demanded the bloodletting. Their leaders did not like it. The people did not like it. The "gods" required it. If the cuttings were not done, the tribe was threatened with dire consequences.
When the Christian missionaries came and told them that now the Creator God was communicating with them, they told them about Jesus Christ and the written Word of God. The tribe asked if they could stop cutting themselves. No one liked the practice; it was painful and unhealthy, even though it was a very old tradition. The missionaries said, stop, of course. God does not require such a thing now. The missionaries asked, "Why do you do such things to yourselves and your children when they are so painful and horrible?"
The tribe’s answer was simple. The Creator God never communicated with them. They knew the Creator God existed, but He never seemed to care about them. The demons (as the tribe now understood) did communicate and they were the only gods who talked to them. God the Father did not communicate with them until the missionaries came and showed them the Bible, the Word of God. Because of the supernatural nature of the demons (who did communicate with them) it was believed that the demons had great power and were wiser than the elders. They did what they were told to do. Of course, the demons lied to these people.
I learned two lessons from this story. First is that missionaries are not always useless. At times God uses even missionaries to do some good. Second, it brought home the reality of the blessing that we have available to read, study and absorb into our minds the Word of God, the Bible. We are most blessed by having access to God’s mind through His Word, and we (myself included) often take it for granted.
It is this theme of "God’s silence" (the theological term for the experience that we all share) that connects the two articles for this month. The first article is "The Secret of Ancient Religion Revealed! (Part 1)." It introduces a major aspect of ancient pagan religion, the false divinization of human beings. One reason the pagans "created" gods in their own image, and allowed demons to contact them and represent themselves as gods 2 was because God the Father only communicated with mankind through the Old Testament patriarchs and, once He separated a peculiar people to Himself, Israel. Then, God finally communicates through His Son,
"God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he has appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds."
The second article is titled, "Where Is God?" It addresses directly the question as to why God is distant, even to us His own children, so unlike any "normal" parent. Is God really distant? Yes. Dr. Martin gives the reason why God acts in this seemingly bizarre way.
The ancients created all sorts of strange religious beliefs precisely because God was so distant from them, just as He is distant from us today. The philosophy of radical skepticism is actually a recent one in history. In ancient times to be an "atheist" did not mean that a person did not believe in a Creator God, but rather that someone of our tribe, race, or community did not believe in "our" god as presented in "our" traditions and beliefs. In ancient times everyone believed in some sort of Creator God who did not communicate (or so they thought). This is the problem Paul addresses at Athens in Acts 17:15–33.
God’s direct communication to you is through the Bible, the Word of God. We must study His word if we desire to know the mind of God. To expect instant gratification for all your questions is unwise. God has chosen to answer us or communicate with us through His Word inspired by His Holy Spirit at this time in history. We simply have to accept this fact as the means by which God deals with us at this time.
Next month’s article will be "The Secret of Ancient Religion Revealed! (Part 2)" by Ernest L. Martin. It will go into greater depth and detail from history about pagan religions, how they transformed themselves to confront the challenges of major historical events, and how several biblical characters became the "gods" of the pagans.
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We sincerely thank you for the grace God as shown to us through your gifts and contributions. We are acutely aware that His gifts come from each of you who give willingly and liberally of the small measures (for many of you) that God has given you to share. It is gratefully accepted.
David W. Sielaff
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