We live in an ironically polytheistic culture.
I say “ironically” because we do, in fact, live in a culture that has done its utmost to abandon all thought of the divine. And I say “polytheistic” because in its attempt to distance itself from the archaic, primitive worship of “divine beings,” the culture has simply shifted focus. The focus is no longer to be freed from the concept of gods, if it ever was; rather, the focus is on the simple (not so simple) escape from that uncomfortable God who is too big, too demanding, too strict, and in short, too contrary. It is a focus on replacement (an easier version of eradication).
Of course, we (the culture) have made a brilliant show of educating ourselves, since those long bygone days of paganism. Paganism hit puberty. It grew up; became self-aware. It became human. It became Atheism. We have escaped the dark ages of human sacrifice and alter-groveling, and even the least educated of our young, freshly mustachioed representatives, in their prescription-free glasses and denim legs, can say with the utmost confidence, with an elbow-patch firmly on the table, “I don’t believe in God.”
This may be true. Not believing in God is, after all, safe. He can’t reach you, if you don’t believe in him. He can’t even see you, if you cover your own eyes tight enough and assume the two-year-old hide-and-seek-fetal position. It is safe. That is, it seems safe. It seems safe in the same way that saying “I don’t believe in gravity!” and jumping off a cliff might seem safe to someone who has never experienced falling (or gravity or cliffs or logic).
The unfortunate fact of the matter is, that our belief does not dictate our universe. It is as unswayed by human opinion as a roomful of bored kindergarteners. I do not, for instance, believe in chemistry. Not because I actually don’t believe in it; not even because I don’t understand it. But because I don’t like having to learn it. Because I don’t like it.
Simple enough. Safe enough. Disbelieve what you don’t like, and everything is that much easier. Whole Holocausts disappear, shipwrecks, scandal, catastrophes and cancer, all cease to exist.
The only problem is that everyone, whether they know it (acknowledge it) or not, worships. Humans were created to worship, and we do. If not at the altar of God (who, after all, does not exist) than at the altar of a thousand other gods. The counterfeit gods. The gods we make for ourselves.
Sometimes, though, we must remember that our idols, the altars to which even the most granola-induced of suspender-bound individuals, with their PhD in human philosophy from the school of H&B (that’s Hipster and Blog, for those who don’t know) kneel, are not like the idols that civilization overruled. Humans are not afraid of stone statues, any longer.
Our gods are much more powerful than that. Our gods are much more beneficial than that. They are strong and supportive and based only on the most educated of principles, and so very distinctly nothing at all like that. We are too mature, obviously, for such childishness. Our gods are, in short, so very agreeable, that it is a marvel that not everyone sees eye to eye with us—or that is to say, them.
To put it even shorter: Our gods are very much like God to begin with. That is, we start with him as a rough model. But then we take a very large opinion-shaped knife, and we start to trim. We start to customize the creator of the universe. We cut out all of the grim bits, and shave off things that don’t fit in like “wrath” and “doom” and “destruction.”
We take the same scalpel to his word, and we decide that some things don’t need to be there, any more. They are outdated, arcane. We say things like “I don’t think I can believe in a God who would wipe out the whole world in a flood. I don’t think I can believe in a God who would command the destruction of Canaanite women and children. I don’t believe in a God who is jealous or a God who can be provoked to anger.” We trim out everything that separates God from us.
We leave all of the beneficial bits, of course; omnipotence is handy. Only an omnipotent God can give me what I need and want. But we can leave off things like omnipotent justice. It’s not necessary, after all. It is too harsh. Too extreme, for my god. My god would never hurl sinners into hell (but the God of the Bible would).
We want gods without power to go against us (but power enough to go for us.) We want gods who act like us (but do we really?).
We do our best to make God look as much like us as we can. Albeit, a very powerful, very good version of us. We are all for the gods who are all for us. And we forget that there is only one God who is truly for us.
Newsflash: God does not give us what we want.
And never once has he promised to. No, rather, he has promised to always give us what we need, and do to us what is best for us. Even if the only thing we need is him. He is so much like that loving parent who tells his child “No” when it is best. And we are so much like that child who, when father says no, turns to the mother. Turns to anyone else. “God won’t give me candy before supper. Will you?”
That is the thing about the counterfeit gods; they make a point of giving us what we want. That’s how they win us, and that’s how they keep us. Candy before supper? Every night. Whatever you want.
Whatever you want.
(Thank God that we serve a God who loves us far too much to ever say that to us!)
We want to carve gods in our images. In the images that we want to save us. Into pocket sized portions and necklace-hung compactability. We string them on beads and tattoo them, because it is easier. Because golden calves are easier. Because neutered gods are so much safer. Because gods without teeth and claws are far more acceptable to flash around on keychains.
We forget one thing, though, in all this. God is the Carpenter of Souls. He cannot be shaped; he cannot be sculpted or stuffed into cookie cutters. He is the infinite God. And he is the one who shapes us, as he shaped the universe. He who carves us. Who trims off our impurities and carves us into his image.
So go ahead. Stuff God into a bag. Pour him into molds and try as hard as you can to make him look like you. Good luck. You can’t carve God. No one can. And the counterfeits cannot save you.
The reality is that God is the God who floods and the God who destroys. He is also the God who loves, the God who disciplines, the God who dies to save. He is the God who cannot be contained. Who cannot be represented in images. He is the God who demands (and solely deserves) the worship we are hardwired to bring forth.
So sorry (not sorry). But God does not fit into sacks. He cannot be trimmed, his teeth cannot be pulled. He is not pocket sized. So try (if you want) to put the sustainer of universe neatly folded into your wallet, or in the box under your bed. Try to catch Niagara falls in a waxy little Dixie cup. And when those don’t work, try one more thing. Hide.
Clap your hands over your ears and pinch your eyes tight as they’ll go. Hold your breath. Assume human position 1.0 (Womb-dweller fetal). Curl up and retreat from existing. Repeat these soothing, empowering words: “There is no God. He does not exist. I don’t have to answer to him.”
And when you are done, repeat after me: “There is no gravity. It does not exist. I can fly if I want to.” And float away, if you can. Free yourself, from it, if you can. Again, good luck.
Try hiding in a closet, with all of your little gods, your puny, miserable you-shaped gods. And let them stand before Him, and defend you. Let your bloodless gods handle the wrath you tried to take from Him.
We cannot stand with a foot in heaven and a foot on earth. We do not have the capacity to love them both. As they grow further apart, as your life progresses and you find that you can only do the splits so long, you will have to choose. You cannot have both. So cut your chains.
And when you can’t, let him. Tear free. Struggle, and tear down the altars you have made. You tried to take the teeth from God, but he still has them. And he will use them. He is the Lion—the jealous lion—and you tried to replace him with house-cats. And when house-cats become jackals, he will save you.
If ever I am comfortable with my image of God, then my image is wrong. It is too small. It is too tame. A god without teeth cannot protect me. A god who cannot damn cannot save me from damnation. A God with teeth is one that I cannot be comfortable, in the face of; God, don’t let me get comfortable.
God, tear down the altars. Give us you, and no one else.
God, tear free our chains. God, destroy our counterfeits.