A few months ago USA Today ran an article detailing the growing dilution of spiritual belief in America and general apathy towards anything beyond the material.
It came as no surprise to me. I know a lot of people who are cynical about god, disillusioned, disappointed and angry. Perhaps that is you. Maybe you ended up here by typing “god sucks” into a search engine. If so, please keep reading–it may not be what you expected but I hope you’ll find some thoughts worth pondering.
However, I also know many, many people who aren’t necessarily angry at God but simply uninterested. This group tends to believe in a curious blend of romanticized Eastern mysticism and shallow platitudes. “The Universe will guide me where I’m supposed to go.” That sort of custom-religion stuff where we create our own “god of what we feel like today.” Often a combination of the Force and a jolly old Santa Claus: a god who never relates to us, never asks anything of us, never challenges us to become more than we already are.
If God is just some mystical energy force with no personality and no real intent, then you my friend have already out-evolved God.
Think about it: you yourself have a personality—an identity. You strive to live your life with purpose, and meaning, and direction. If God does not possess an identity, then you are a higher being than It. That kind of New Agey Star Wars god is a flabby, wimpy thing and you’re probably right not to spend a lot of time thinking about how to relate to it.
This is one of the things I love most about the actual God, the God of all gods. He has a fierce personality, clear intentions, and he moves with absolute purpose in everything he does. He fights for you. And He knows you. The real You.
He’s also got a terrific sense of humor. I can just imagine God speaking with a chuckle in his voice the following words to the prophets:
Don’t follow the customs of those nations who become frightened when they see something strange happen in the sky. Their religion is worthless! They chop down a tree, carve the wood into an idol, cover it with silver and gold, and then nail it down so it won’t fall over.
Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk.Jeremiah 10:2-5
Can’t you just hear Him practically busting up as He’s saying this? “Hey, did you hear the one about the people who prayed to the god they dragged out of the forest? They had to nail the dang thing down so it wouldn’t fall on top of them!”
Or this one:
“Present the case for your idols,” says the LORD. “Let them show what they can do,” says the King of Israel. “Let them try to tell us what happened long ago so that we may consider the evidence. Or let them tell us what the future holds, so we can know what’s going to happen.
Yes, tell us what will occur in the days ahead. Then we will know you are gods. In fact, do anything—good or bad! Do something that will amaze and frighten us.
But no! You are less than nothing and can do nothing at all.Isaiah 41:21-24
You want a one-liner? Look to Hosea:
[My people] consult a wooden idol and are answered by a stick of wood.Hosea 4:12
Perhaps I’m taking it a bit too far, for God’s heart certainly is not in insulting His children…but I gotta believe He at least had a twinkle in His eye when He spoke those words.
And yes he does eventually get around to performing a serious idol-smackdown:
Those people who make idols are nothing themselves, and the idols they treasure are just as worthless.
Worshipers of idols are blind, stupid, and foolish. Why make an idol or an image that can’t do a thing?
Everyone who makes idols and all who worship them are mere humans, who will end up sadly disappointed. Let them face me in court and be terrified.Isaiah 44:9-11 (CEV)
The blacksmith takes a tool and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He prays to it and says, “Save me! You are my god!”
They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand.Isaiah 44:12,17-18
Aren’t you so glad that we’ve evolved enough to move beyond worshipping man-made things?
Compare those pathetic man-made non-gods with the actual Lord of the universe:
The LORD is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King. When he is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure his wrath.
When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar; he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth. He sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.Jeremiah 10:10, 13
To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.Isaiah 40:25-26
And in stark contrast to an impotent god carved out of wood or a nameless, faceless “Universe”, God shows power and involvement. And passion:
Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
To me, you are very dear, and I love you. Don’t be afraid! I am with you. From both east and west I will bring you together. I will say to the north and to the south, “Free my sons and daughters!Isaiah 43:1-7 (NLT, CEV)
Listen, I respect how difficult it can be to read those words and believe them, especially when everything around you is burning. I don’t have the final answer to questions like “Why didn’t God stop ____ from happening to me or someone I cared about?” What I do know is that God doesn’t say if you go through deep waters, he says when. And he doesn’t say “I will prevent you from going through the fire,” he says “I will be with you when you do go through the fire.”
I respect those of you who know what you believe and why you believe it, even if you completely disagree with me. At least I can have a conversation with someone like that.
But I have a real hard time understanding how people can go for so long with such a superficial, unexamined belief about ultimate meaning. Is it a product of the steady fatalism of our scientific age, in which we are just collections of matter that came from nothing and have no purpose except whatever we make up? Is it a reaction to fanatics and zealots who make us want to avoid any serious beliefs for fear we might turn into one of them?
It certainly is easier to have a casual spirituality, that’s for sure. How could it not be? But a god you make up yourself is worse than worthless. It cannot save you when your life begins to fall apart. A god you’ve created in your own mind can do absolutely nothing to comfort you when your husband leaves you or when you lose your job or get the bad news from the doctor. Or when a gunman opens fire on you at the movies. A god you have to nail down to keep from falling over can’t empower you to face your addiction, or your greed or your bitterness or your arrogance. These are exactly the times when you NEED a Strong God who stands on His own.
Do you really want to entrust the care of your eternal spirit, of what makes you you, to a cafeteria-god that you hand-picked and chose yourself? I hope the answer is no, but even if you do—you’re kinda out of luck. God IS. You don’t get to make your own custom god like you’re creating an character in World of Warcraft.
If you’re open to exploring this matter further in your own life but you have trouble believing that the god from a 2000-year old book is any better to believe in: well, first of all I think that’s a great place to be. The real God doesn’t want unthinking drones who just go through the motions anyway. “I’m after love that lasts, not more religion. I want you to know God, not go to more prayer meetings,” he says. Rituals and tradition mean absolutely nothing to him if the heart offering them up is empty.
Secondly, I urge you to borrow or purchase any of the books I recommend on this blog. I don’t care if you buy them through this site or not, just get one and start reading it. Or read through my series on why I personally follow and worship Jesus.
I can guarantee you that if you attempt to find the living God who’s really there, He’ll meet you. He’ll reveal himself as the Strong God Who IS. He’ll challenge you and some of your deeply-held beliefs. But more importantly, He’ll accept you. He’ll tell you that you belong here, that you have a valuable place in this world and an important place in his family that no one else can fill.
And when things get really bad for you in this world, as they invariably will, you won’t have to nail down the real God to keep him from falling over.
You see, God already did that to himself.
But it wasn’t to keep himself standing…it was to keep you.
Truth poorly defended loses not its truthfulness;
Falsehood aptly defended loses not its falsity.