Wednesday, March 22, 2017

How We Make God To Be

“Those strange beings that populate the world of mythology and superstition are not pure creatures of fancy. The imagination created them by taking the ordinary inhabitants of earth and air and sea and extending their familiar forms beyond their normal boundaries, or by mixing the forms of two or more so as to produce something new. However beautiful or grotesque these may be, their prototypes can always be identified. They are like something we already know.” - A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

This comment, crossing my eyes last night, caused me to stop and look afresh.  I have read this book at least four times and never before has this presented itself to my consciousness in such a fashion.

But it is true, is it not? I would argue that most in Western Culture wish for a spiritual dimension to exist and be true - or if not spiritual, than a dimension in which there is something "Out There Amidst The Stars" ready to press into us.  We have no idea what these creatures would be like, so we tend to present them in thoughts and forms that we can comprehend. Our fantasy, our science fiction, even some religions are all like this - oh, we generally tend to picture those beings as intelligent and kindly (except of course in apocalyptic fiction), but they still hold some tangible grip in the world we know.

The Christian Church, of course, has done this to God as well.

I suspect in the beginning the Church never intended to do this on the whole.  They sought to make God more "culturally relevant" to the people of their time - after all, late 19th and early 20th century Western Civilization was bursting with ideas and technology and somehow God had to fit into it all.  The problem, I suppose, was that rather than the Church separating God as He is and the world as it is and hold both ideas separately, they were combined (I would argue this is no great feat.  We constantly hold two ideas together in the same time; I suspect some were just not as diligent about their philosophy and theology as they should have been).

The result?  Tozer captures it well:

"Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms. We want to get Him where we can use Him, or at least know where He is when we need him. We want a God we can in some measure control. We need the feeling of security that comes from knowing what God is like, and what He is like is of course a composite of all the religious pictures we have seen, all the best people we have known or heard about, and all the sublime ideas we have entertained.

If all this sounds strange to modern ears, it is only because we have for a full half century taken God for granted (n.b. published 1961) . The glory of God has not been revealed to this generation of men. The God of contemporary Christianity is only slightly superior to the gods of Greece and Rome, if indeed He is not actually inferior to them in that He is weak and helpless while they at least had power.”

In other words, the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, of David and Isaiah and the Apostles, is now not the God of the Christian church.  Add on another 56 years and we have almost a century of taking God this way.

There is a litany of items that could be inserted here about what the Church has made God, most of which some of you will heard.  That is not really the point:  the point is that we have made God something other than what He is; should we be anything but surprised when, like Tozer suggests, His glory no longer manifests itself among this generation?

God, Tozer argues, is completely other. Those that saw Him used words such as "like" and "as" express what they saw, acknowledging that what they were actually seeing and experiencing was completely different from the world the dwelt in.  But we have doggedly tried to tie God to our conception and our physical laws and what we think a supreme being should look like, act like, and be like.

God is Other.  Which is what makes the coming of Christ all the more amazing (something else we enervate by this doctrine of "like us').  The Unknowable, the Unsearchable, the Un-Us became like us.  Suddenly God was here, present among us, not a Raging Fire and and Unapproachable Light but a man we could see and talk to. 

Which makes for the relevant question for me:  Am I treating God like He is? (I am not, of course, and this is mostly written to me).  And more importantly if I am not, how do I begin to to do so in a way that reflects who He really is?


LindaG said...

Deep thoughts.

PeteForester1 said...

God is what He is. Attempts to turn God into "Buddy Christ" (google "Dogma") are nothing new, and always lead to the same end. The Bible is rife with accounts of what happened to the Israelites when they did this. It will be no different this time around.

What's happening in the world now is the result of the latest attempt to "fundamentally transform" The Almighty God. There is no longer a standard for right and wrong. And so, the world's people run around like rats on a burning ship, trying to figure things out. Without God, in His pure form, this is impossible...

LindaG said...


Anonymous said...

Well said, Pete. God and Jesus are not Cousin Bubba.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Alas, these are the trails my mind wanders in when left to itself, Linda.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Certainly the "Christ is my best buddy" thing has certainly diminished God (in the eyes of the world and church of course, not in reality). But I would also argue that the church has undertaken another error in that it has simply made God what He is not. Not even as a friend; we give God attributes that we can comprehend - put God in a box of our understanding and choosing - and simply ignore what He has said about Himself.

But I wonder, if in some respects, if He acts within those constraints - turns us over to our own sin as it were - to prove to us that He is not what we believe Him to be. If we picture Him to be less than He is, I think He sometimes lets us live that way until we figure out that we have defined Him as other than He is.