Why We Start With God
In the Christian life, we start with God. We think, as Augustine said, "the best about God," because it "is the foundation of piety." In fact, the greatest teachers of the Bible throughout the history of the Church began their great works with the study of God. This is seen in the creation of systematic theology (what the whole Bible says about certain subjects).
Origen of Alexandria (185-254 AD) was considered a pioneer in theology when he wrote On First Principles. This served as the first systematic theology for the early Christians—even though it was laden with theological error. Later, Peter Lombard's Sentences, a systematic theology written in the 12th Century, landed closer to orthodoxy. About a century after Lombard, Summa Theologiae (The Summary of Theology), a massive 3000-page tome by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was published, covering more topics with greater precision than any works prior. Then, in the 16th Century, John Calvin published his Institutes of the Christian Religion responding to the king of France who believed the Reformers did not espouse a viable religion. This soon became the standard of theology for all of Protestantism, and every systematic theology produced by faithful pastors and scholars since follow a similar outline.
What did all these have in common?
If you read the first section of any of these works, you will start with the subject of God and His Word. You will be brought face to face with everything the Bible has to say about God.
The significance of this is found in the modern drift of Christians away from considering the nature and attributes of God towards an infatuation with self. There is unhealthy contentment with the love of God which overrides all other attributes. In turn, this tends towards a fixation with 'felt needs' and spiritual experiences. In one subtle step, many have exchanged the true God for a god they have imagined for themselves and imposed on the Bible. With this new god, they have the freedom to pick and choose from the commands of Scripture what best suits them.
We are better off considering the positive reasons for starting with God, than to descend this horrid pit of despair. I have four reasons why we should start with God.
1.) Because God is God and we are not Him. God is the creator, we are the creation, and it takes a mighty step of pride to dismiss the former in order to uplift the latter. That is what we do every time we fail to give God what is due His name. Whenever we dismiss His sovereignty, holiness, righteousness, and goodness to make room for our sin, we vainly use His name. How often do you dismiss certain characteristics or attributes of God because they just don't feel loving or nice? To do so is to transgress the law of God. God knows Himself best, therefore we must let Him tell us who He is.
2.) Because Scripture starts with God. "In the beginning, God…" (Gen. 1:1). "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). Both in the creation of the world, and the creation of new life, the biblical authors begin with God. The Scriptures begin with God because He is, as Aristotle wrote, "the unmoved mover." It is in God that "we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).
3.) Because we cannot know ourselves without Him. The Bible starts with God because He is the source of everything we know, and this connects to the previous point. If God is our creator and sustainer, we will not know much of ourselves until we know Him. We won't know how to be fulfilled; we won’t understand our purpose in life; we won't understand the existence of evil or how to overcome it. It is as Calvin portrayed us, looking around us and thinking we have good eyesight, but when we look to the sun, we realize our eyes are not as powerful as we previously thought. Furthermore, we realize that the only reason we can observe all the things around us is because of the existence of the sun.
4.) To teach us our chief end in life. This point expands the previous point in explaining our purpose for life. When our greatest goal in life is to display God's glory and enjoy Him fully, we find what we were made for. Life is not for the things which fade, but for the things which last forever. We most certainly must continue with the monotonous maintenance of this earthly pilgrimage, but never in a way that forgets eternity. To forget eternity is to miss the meaning of each moment and miss the truest fulfilment this life brings. When we start with God—not in a trivial sense, but a thorough and holistic start—we start not only on the right path but with the best foot.
When we do not start with the God who Is, we reveal our sin. The great and united aim of the world, the flesh, and the devil is to distract us from God using whatever means possible. Perhaps it is to disregard Him altogether. Perhaps it is to make Him out to be something He isn’t. Perhaps it is to regard the god we want higher than the God who Is. So, as you start with God, do not be surprised when the God who Is is vastly different from the God you want.