For the week of July 23, 2011 / 21 Tammuz 5771
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 30:2 - 32:42
(English 30:1 - 32:42)
Haftarah: Jeremiah 1:1 - 2:3
Are You a Deist?
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations. (Jeremiah 1:5; ESV)
Years ago, I was sitting in the lunch room at my place of work, and my colleague, who claimed to be a believer in God, was eating an apple. For a reason I can't remember I said that God made that apple. I was surprised at how he didn't share my perspective. He believed that while God created the original apple tree, all apple trees and apples since then were only the result of the natural processes that God put in place at creation.
That viewpoint is called "deism." Deism affirms the existence of God and his role as Creator, but denies his direct ongoing involvement with the laws of nature he established. God, according to deists, is likened to a watchmaker who, having set the creation in motion at the beginning has simply let it run on its own since then.
A deist doesn't necessary believe that God is irrelevant as far as our day-to-day lives are concerned. As the Master Watchmaker, deists may accept that he knows best as to how his invention should be handled and maintained. Therefore we would do well to follow his instructions. Deists may feel pretty close to God as they study and obey the Scriptures and derive great benefit in following God's moral code as defined by the Bible. This would include experiencing his blessings and curses, since they are the God-ordained results of adhering to or neglecting his instructions. Deists have a lot in common with true Bible believers, but they're not.
Jeremiah, for example, was no deist. He claimed that God personally formed him in his mother's womb. Some, like my colleague with the apple, may respond with a "yes, but," saying that this is a metaphorical way to refer to God as the first cause in creation. He therefore can be credited as the creator of all humans without personally forming each and every human being.
The problem with that interpretation is that it doesn't take into account everything that Jeremiah says in the verse I quoted. Not only did God form him, God personally knew him and set him apart for a particular purpose from before he was born. This kind of intentional purposeful language which fills the pages of Scripture contradicts any notion that God might simply be an impersonal first cause. Our existence and the outworking of our lives are not like dominoes tipping over in sequence based on a single act of God at the beginning of human history. Rather, God has been actively and personally involved with his creation and people all this time.
There may be people who agree with this last statement and yet still be deists. You may have agreed with me about my friend's apple and yet not fully accept how much God is intimately involved in your life. Your sense of loneliness, your lack of direction, your fear and anxiety, or your bitterness may be symptomatic of your being a deist. You may believe in God and acknowledge him in many ways. You might love him and seek to obey him. You might believe that he is involved in his creation and even with people. And yet you fail to recognize his presence and involvement in your own life. Your deism might be evident in how you make decisions or your refusal to submit your lifestyle to God. You might think that God and business shouldn't mix. You might think that your addiction is beyond God's ability to help you. If that's so, you're a deist.
We are all deists to some extent as we need to grow in our understanding of how intimately God is involved in our lives and how much more involved he wants to be. The sooner we realize and accept this truth the better.
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