“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List.
False Gods Gush from the Human Mind Like Water from a Faucet
Because people suppress the knowledge of God, they flood the world with error. Not only does it seem like each nation has its own territorial “god,” but also, each individual person often creates a god in his or her own image to worship! In addition to being ignorant, many people make up crazy speculations concerning God and indulge themselves in selfish thinking. Therefore, most people substitute some idol of their own creation for the true and living God. A variety of made up gods come from the human mind like water which gushes out of a faucet. Each person makes up these “gods” to give himself the license to do whatever he or she wants. Each person devises some kind of idol so that his or her view of “right” is vindicated.
Now, it is completely unnecessary to document all of the false beliefs that have spread all over the world. The list would be endless! If such a list were created, it would prove beyond doubt the blindness of the human mind. I’m not even talking about all the false beliefs generated by wicked and vulgar people! Just look at the philosophers who have tried to figure God out through their own reason, and you will see such a variety of errors. In fact, the most intelligent—those with the most education and the most training—often come up with the most misleading errors because they sound plausible. When you examine their claims closely, however, they end up being totally wrong.
For example, the Stoics argued that God’s various names could be learned from the various parts of nature. They claimed that they upheld God’s unity but, in actuality, they advocated polytheism (multiple gods). The mystic theologians of Egypt tried so hard to present themselves as being rational (and perhaps at first glance it does seem like they are rational). But their religion too is thoroughly corrupt. In response to all this confusion of belief, the Epicureans began advocating that God does not exist. They argued that since so much diverse opinion about the nature of God exists (so much so, that no one can seem to agree!), it is therefore pointless to torture yourself about thoughts of God. He does not exist. It is safer, they argued, to deny the existence of God altogether than to believe in a false god or engage in endless arguments with others. What they end up doing, however, is covering over their lack of reverence for God through their own ignorance. Yet, their ignorance does not impinge on the gloriousness of God!
All people recognize that differences of opinion exist on almost every subject. The proper inference is this: people are blind to the knowledge of God. Some people praise the response that Simonides (a Greek poet) gave to the Heiron II of Syracuse (leader of Syracuse in Silicy) when he was asked the question, “What is god?” Simonides asked for a day to think about it. When he was called to the king the next day, he asked for two days to think about it. And then four days. Finally, Simonides replied, “The longer I think about God, the more obscure the subject becomes.” Simonides wisely did not give his opinion on the matter when he could not see a clear answer. What his answer shows, however, is that when people only learn about God from their own reason or experience, they do not have any solid knowledge of God. Rather, they fasten themselves onto all sorts of contradictory thoughts and theories and consequently present worship to an unknown God.