Sometimes, God doesn’t quite fit into our cultural values. We are surrounded by a whole worldview and philosophy that is not totally compatible with God. That was certainly the case in Colosse. Paul wrote to the Colossians in opposition to the Gnostics, who believed that spirit was good, matter was evil, and thus Jesus didn’t really come in the flesh. They held these clearly heretical views because they wanted the gospel to fit into the philosophical trends of their day. Paul condemned the Gnostics with these words:
Colossians 2:6-10, 15
6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority…. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
We are not to try to adapt the gospel to human philosophical systems (à la liberal and Emergent theology); rather, we are to recognize that Christ defeated the spiritual rulers and authorities who are responsible for these systems. We should never be afraid that others will think we are foolish; instead, we are to remember that God has declared the wisdom of this world to be foolish (1 Corinthians 1:25).
Unfortunately, well-intentioned Christians sometimes fall into the trap of trying to conform God to societal values. They see something in the Bible that offends them, and so they build a philosophical system to make God’s actions more palatable. A couple examples I’ve run across:
- Claiming that God’s wrath comes from his love, i.e. God is wrathful only because he is loving. I’ve heard this traced back to the love between members of the Trinity, but quite frankly, this is just a way to make God’s wrath seem less offensive. Biblically, God’s wrath is traced to his holiness—he cannot stand the sight of sin and has promised to punish evildoers.
- Claiming that the reason evil exists in the world is that God values man’s free will. That is, it’s so important to God that people will choose him freely and unrobotically that he’s willing to allow people to do evil things. Of course, this is nothing more than speculation—there is nothing in the Bible that says God allowed sin to enter the world because he wanted people to love him out of their own free will. In fact, it’s clear from the Bible that it is by God’s sovereign decree or plan that evil takes place.
In the past, I’ve definitely valued many theodicies attempting to defend God that are based on human speculation and philosophy, not on the Bible. In fact, I probably still do. May we heed the words of Solomon, who warned us to “beware of anything beyond” the words of the wise, “given by one Shepherd” (Ecclesiastes 12:11-12).