Saturday, July 27, 2013

Subtle Idolatry

Do you tend to think like God or does God tend to think like you? It sounds like a funny question at first, but it's something we all struggle with. Do you struggle with the character and nature of God and try to better shape your life to reflect Him or do you tend to make God care about the things you care about and think about things the way that you think about things?

If you've ever read the top of my blog, I quote a guy named A. W. Tozer. He was a pretty cool dude, usually about 3 notches over my head at all times. The quote I use above is from the book "Knowledge of the Holy" and it essentially asks the question, "What comes into your mind when you think about God?" To Tozer, thinking about God rightly is of the utmost importance, for there can be no greater thought than the thought that is of God. One of profound things that he says in his book though is that when we begin to put attributes on God, we start to turn Him into an idol, for He is truly incomprehensible (even calling God incomprehensible can be a step in that direction). All kinds of writers (including Biblical writers) have described God and so I don't think we need to stop using words to describe God, but I do want us to be cautious of how we do it. 

One thing I tend to see people do is make God be like them. We seem to make God rich, poor, white, black, republican, democrat, etc. based on who we are. God transcends all of these petty things. God transcends gender, race, denomination (as if), viewpoint, and any countless number of things we can imagine. 

I set this up to say a few things. Firstly, I re-ask my first question, do you tend to think like God or does God tend to think like you? If you and God tend to share all the same viewpoints, you may just want to step back and evaluate YOUR position, and see if God actually holds that position or not. It sounds weird because of course we want to have a more godly mindset, but I fear that too often we get the order reversed and try to make God have our opinion, instead of holding God's truths as our opinion. People have made God in their own image since...forever pretty much. It's nice to have something we can sculpt and control a little better. When we make God have our opinion, we're just sculpting our own god in our own image and enacting idolatry. 

I'm now going to take a jump in thought, so if it doesn't quite seem connected, sorry, it probably made more sense in my mind than it did in reality. 

I think something that goes into this discussion of not making God in our own image comes from us needing to put God in a jar. I think we too often try to understand every little facet of God instead of relishing in the fact that He's far too big and complex to understand. If we really could understand everything about Him, He wouldn't be worth giving our lives to and living for. 

That being said, I think sometimes God can do things that we aren't allowed to do. Obviously God can do things we can't do, He's the all powerful creator. But what if He can do stuff we shouldn't do? James 1:20 says "For the anger of a person does not produce the justice of God." James essentially says that the anger that you possess does not bring about the Justice that God would have, and thus taking any initiative on that anger leads to the wrong thing. It's really a fancy way of saying that "vengeance is the Lord's, not man's". 

Remember a couple of posts back when I talked about judging? Jesus says essentially not to do it, because we tend to mess it up. One thing that I'm rather confident in though is that God will judge us all at the end of this world. So God gets to do something that He says He'd rather us not do. Why? Because we don't do it well. James says that our own anger and vengeance are not healthy, and won't bring about the justice that God says will come to the evildoers of this world. Thus, even though they may be judged harshly one day, Jesus asks us to love and pray for our enemies instead of retaliating against them (Matthew 5:38-48). 

We mostly prefer to think about God as loving and merciful. He is, don't get that wrong, but those are not his only attributes. He is also the God who has struck people dead before in their tracks and opened up deep chasms in the earth that have swallowed entire families up. These types of stories really mess with our thought processes because they seem to contradict God's merciful nature. I challenge you not to put God in a jar which you've poked just enough holes in so that He can breathe. You don't have to understand Him fully, but trust me, that's ok. C. S. Lewis created a pretty crazy image for God when he wrote about the character Aslan who is a lion in the Chronicles of Narnia. In the Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe - one of the children asks if Aslan is safe and a beaver replies, "Safe? Of course He's not safe. But He's good I tell you." I'd rather God not be a tame lion, it makes Him worth following. 

There's a flip side of this though. In James 4, it says "Do not speak against one another, brothers and sisters. The person who speaks against a brother or sister, or judges their brother or sister speaks against the law and judges the law...There is one lawgiver and judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But who are you, you who judge your neighbor? (11-12). God's not a tame lion, and he surely has the power to save and destroy, but that doesn't mean that we do as well. That's why I think Jesus asks us to turn the other cheek and love our enemies, our anger and revenge won't bring about the justice that God desires (even though He desires to avenge you). 

God has every right to take away life and pass judgment, but I'm not sure we do. We are asked instead to show the positive aspects, like giving life, mercy, and love to those around us. We are asked to live like Jesus did on this earth. Even Jesus, having all authority to act as God (because He was God) did not judge those around Him nor retaliate against those who did Him wrong. We are asked to imitate Jesus, maybe because there are attributes and characteristics of God we are simply not meant to imitate. 

I'd rather get to the gates and have God be like, "Hey, you were overtly graceful" than "Dude, why were you trying to do my job at stuff like passing judgment and taking life?" 

This kind of mindset represents the other side of the coin of idolatry. On one side we tend to make God in our image, on the other side we tend to put ourselves in the place of God. 

I'm not saying there is no place for correction or confrontation, but I think we can learn alot from how Jesus did things, He saved his harsh words for the religious leaders of the day and spoke grace and healing to the sick and the sinful. 

Don't be an idolater. Craft your life to be in line with the character of God, not the other way around. And also, know your place in the workings of God.

I leave you with a line from the song Vices Like Vipers by my favorite band Oh, Sleeper.

"When I am God, this church is unsound"

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