I often say to my students that Christians believe in God, but most of them do not know the God in whom they believe. This is most evident when it comes to the God of the Old Testament. The problem is that our knowledge of God comes from reading books, listening to sermons, or by studying the Bible in small groups which are led by lay leaders whose knowledge of the Bible, at times, is also limited.
Our knowledge of God comes also by the things we hear about God in conversation with other Christians. Most Christians’ knowledge of God is similar to that of Job. When Job was confronted with the many questions asked by God, questions for which Job had no answer, Job acknowledged that his knowledge of God was very superficial. Job said: “I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you” (Job 42:5 NAB).
Most of our knowledge of God comes by word of mouth. A few Christians read books of theology which provide a chapter on the doctrine of God. Thus, either by word of mouth or by reading the writings of others, our knowledge of God is secondary.
The primary source for the knowledge of God is the Bible. The Old Testament does not provide a systematic doctrine of God. The God of the Old Testament is revealed in what he does and in what he says about himself.
One book that most Christians have never heard of, but one that most Christians should read is Gerald L. Schroeder, God According to God: A Physicist Proves We’ve Been Wrong About God All Along (New York: HarperOne, 2009).
Schroeder has a Ph.D. in physics and the earth sciences. He is a scientist who believes in God and who seeks to present an honest view of God as he is revealed in the Hebrew Bible. I read Schroeder’s book last year and I am taking my Christmas break to read it again. The reason I am reading this book a second time is because I learned so much from it the first time around.
Francis Bacon, in one of his essays wrote: “Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”
I believe that God According to God is one of the few books “to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”
Below is an excerpt from Schroeder’s introduction to his book:
The problem so many people, believers as well as skeptics, have with God really isn’t with God. It’s with the stunted perception of the biblical God that we imbibe in our youthful years. As children we yearn for a larger-than-life figure who can guide and protect us.
Our parents fulfill part of that mission. But the parentlike image of an infinite, error-free God is even more assuring to our young minds. So we grow up retaining this childhood notion of an all-powerful, ever present, ever involved, never erring Creator.
Unfortunately, that image fails when as adults we discover that the facts of life are often brutally at odds with this popular, though misguided, piece of wisdom. It’s no wonder that atheists chortle at the naiveté of the idea of such a God.
We are about to correct that misperception, and in doing so we’ll develop an understanding of the Divine as made manifest in our world.
What is the God of the Bible? What can I expect from Him-or Her-or It? What can I demand? Does God want me to make demands? Why did the God of the Bible tell Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his and Sarah’s only child? Does God want us to argue when we confront what appears to be Divine injustice, or are we merely to accept the slap and turn the other cheek?
When I feel the surge of emotion at the beauty of a star-studded sky or the joy of a baby’s smile, is that a part of the same transcendent God that created a less than perfect world? And if there really is a God, why so often is God’s presence so fully hidden that even in the Bible people wonder, “Is there a God among us?” An obvious and predictable God would be so much easier to understand.
By abandoning preconceived notions of the Author of creation and replacing them with the Bible’s description and nature’s display of God-we will learn about God according to God. The surprise is that the many episodes brought in the Bible mirror with alarming fidelity life as we experience it.
That initial statement deserves to be repeated: “The problem so many people, believers as well as skeptics, have with God really isn’t with God. It’s with the stunted perception of the biblical God that we imbibe in our youthful years.” It is necessary for most Christians to deal with their “stunted perception of the biblical God.”
I hope if you are buying and reading a book for Christmas that you buy God According to God and that you read it “wholly, and with diligence and attention.”
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary