Debasing God and Deifying Man

Andy Naselli provides an insightful quotation from Packer regarding man’s perpetual attempt to make God in his own image. Though Packer seems to be addressing errors in Christian theology, never has the principle he describes been clearer to me than on my trip to Greece last October. The many gods worshiped in ancient Greece were essentially deifications of human virtues—and vices. In worshiping them, men were essentially worshiping what they most esteemed in themselves. The gods and goddesses were masters of seduction, vengeance and debauchery. Though each city had its own patron deity, it seemed that Dionysus (the god of wine, often associated with grossly immoral festivities) was everywhere. The trip gave me a whole new understanding of the significance of Scripture’s oft-repeated description of God as “good.” Pagan gods were many things, but they were not good. Why would they be? They were deified men.

Efforts to debase God and deify man are perhaps more subtle today, but they continue nonetheless. For example, consider what scandalizes us today. Think about it:

  • To utter a racial slur today is among the vilest thing a person can do. Imus hints of a race-based slight (though he didn’t use a particularly offensive word) and he loses his job.
  • To take the Lord’s name in vain, on the other hand, or to openly mock Scripture? No big deal. It’s commonplace. Colbert does it routinely and is rewarded with an invitation to entertain our nation’s leaders at the White House Correspondents Association dinner in 2006.

I’m not defending Imus. Both men are a mess. But the lesson is clear: you dare not take man’s name in vain. Jesus? Do what you will. Cut him down to size. It’s about time.

The comparison of blasphemy to racial slurs was brought to my attention today while listening to Dr. Carl Trueman’s second lecture on John Owen (HT: Andy Naselli). Commenting on Owen’s intolerance of wrong theology, Trueman makes the following statement:

“[H]eresy is as much a sign for Owen of a defective morality as of a defective epistemology. For Owen, people are heretics because they are bad people, not because they have intellectual problems. Now, that might be a bit extreme, an extreme way of putting it, and I’ve often thought that it marks a difference between our age and Owen’s age, that we think now of heresy in terms of the mind rather than the moral state of the heart. But we have our heresies, too, today. If somebody is a racist, we think that they’ve got a moral problem, don’t we? They may dress it up in fancy intellectual language, but at the end of the day, they’ve got a moral problem. They’re bad people, at the end of the day, and they’re making bad arguments. If you can think about that in terms of the seventeenth century for Owen, when somebody comes up to him and says, ‘I just can’t believe this trinity stuff,’ to him that’s the equivalence of someone coming up and making a racist comment. They’re doing it because their hearts are fundamentally perverse, not because they have intellectual problems.”

Isn’t it interesting that in order to explain Owen’s repulsion at false teaching he has to apply to our modern repulsion at racism? What a powerful illustration of our divergent attitudes toward god and man. Blaspheme God and you get a laugh. Blaspheme man and you get fired. Man is god, after all.


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