"Notes" to the Belgic
Confession - Rev. C. Bouwman
DOCTRINE OF GOD
WHO IS GOD?
Over the years there has
been a great deal of speculative thinking, debating and philosophising about
this question. What does it mean that there is a God? Who is He? What is
He like? These are question that we might also find ourselves asking. Where,
then, do we turn to find answers to such questions? The only thing for us to
do is to open the Bible, since it is in the Bible that the Lord "makes
Himself more clearly and fully known to us." Since the Bible is His infallible Word, it is fitting for us to open this Bible with an attitude
of modesty and humbleness, and be ready to listen to the answers God has given
to our questions. We are to put aside our own thoughts and opinions about God,
and are to listen to what it is God has to say of Himself.
GOD VERSUS MAN
When discussing God, we
do well to be conscious of the fact that we tread 'on holy ground.' God is God:
holy, the Creator. I, on the other hand, am merely a sinner, a creature created
out of dust. God is much greater than I am. Hence it is a great marvel that
God has revealed Himself to man, to me. God has revealed Himself to me so that
I am able to take His Holy Name upon my sinful lips. As a consequence, there
is the possibility that I abuse God's Name. Therefore I must be discerning in
determining what I may, and what I should, say. I must be careful, lest in the
way I speak concerning God, I do a disservice to God by taking His Name in vain.
As we set ourselves to speaking about God, let us be very conscious of what
we say about God and how we say it.
DOES GOD EXIST?
Since the beginning of
human history, people have always reckoned with the fact that God does exist;
even pagan idolatry is evidence of this. However, the twentieth century is
marked by a new development in the history of the world. No longer is the
existence of God assumed. Rather, in line with the thinking of Nietszche (who
was of the opinion that there is no God), people in the
western world have come to think in terms of God not being there. The countless
number of horrendous deaths in the trenches of World War I, the deaths of
millions of Jews in the concentration camps of World War II, and the hundreds
of thousands of people who lost their lives as a result of the atomic bombs
dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, have led many
to doubt that God is there. If He does exist, why did He allow so much horror
and suffering? It is reasoned that if a God does exist, He is but weak and
helpless, merely a powerless observer - certainly not worthy of being called God.
The concept of God's non-existence has taken deep root in our present society. Consequently, people receive no perspective for living, and wander through their days without purpose or direction. Since there is no God, there is no authoritative Word of God either, with as result that western society denies the existence of norms by which to differentiate between right and wrong.
Where do I stand? I live in a society which lives out of the notion that there is no God, a society which rejects any absolutes, rejects the concept of right versus wrong. Today's art and music, for example, are expressions of a religion which confesses that there is no God. Yet here am I, a Christian, confessing that the Bible is God's Word, and that the God of the Bible is real today, yes, is my God. To confess this in a society which makes an all out effort to say that God is not there just points out how out of step I really am with the 1990s, how very different I am from so many of my contemporaries. Why am I so different? It is simply due to the conviction God has worked in my heart that His Word is true, that the God of the Word IS.
God, the Holy One, has
revealed Himself to sinners. But can sinners, people of dust, know this God?
Is God not too great for man to know? God has revealed Himself in such a way
that we can know Him. God's revelation of Himself is not obscure, hidden, beyond understanding. However, this does not mean that we
can know all that there is to know about God. The study of who God
is will probably raise more questions than it will answer. The fact is that
God has not told us everything about Himself, but only what is needed for
our salvation. Therefore we will not find answers to all our questions. But,
since God is God and we but people, we need not be bothered by the fact that
we don't get answers to all our questions about God. God is far greater than
Knowing God involves more than an intellectual, academic knowledge. To really know God is to live according to one's knowledge of God. To know God as the Almighty, to know Him as the caring Father of my whole life, is to be content with what this God will give. Knowing God cannot be separated from trusting God, living out of His Hand as revealed in His Word.
GOD IS BEYOND DESCRIPTION
Who is God? Rather than
give us an introduction to God, Genesis 1:1 simply commences with telling
us what God did. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the
earth." The fact is that God is simply beyond description. Human
vocabulary just cannot accurately describe who God is. Therefore the Bible
commences with relating God's deeds. What did God do? He created. By His Word
God brought the whole of this world into existence. So God introduces Himself
as the Almighty.
The Hebrew equivalent for the word 'God' used in our translation of Genesis 1:1 is 'Elohim'. The term captures the divinity of God, specifically His great might. God has many more names, but the one which specifically speaks of God's Name is 'Yahweh.' In our Bible the name 'Yahweh' appears as the word 'LORD' in capital letters. There are two different Hebrew words for the two words 'LORD' in capital letters and 'Lord' in small letters. The Hebrew word for 'Lord' means master/owner. Yahweh, or LORD, is God's name.
Just as some words in the English language are contractions of longer words, (eg the word can't is a contraction of cannot), so the Name 'Yahweh' is a contraction of a longer phrase. In Exodus 3:14,15 we read that 'I AM WHO I AM' is God's name forever, and this has been contracted to 'Yahweh.' This name means, I-am-who-I-say-I-am; I-do-what-I-say-I-will-do. This name speaks of God's faithfulness, His reliability. For this reason this name appears in the context of the Covenant: God does what He says He will do. Who is God? He is the Almighty, the One who spoke and the world was there. Yet His power is not ruthless; He is at the same time faithful. In New Testament terms, God is my Father in Jesus Christ.
Who is the Almighty? He is my Father. Who is my Father? The Almighty. There is great comfort in the knowledge that God is Almighty and Father simultaneously. Not all who are fathers can also be almighty and not all who are almighty can be good, caring fathers. Yet God is always both: Almighty Father.
This greatness of God is pointed up in the doctrine of the Trinity, as it is confessed in Articles 8 and 9 of our confession.