By Mike Leake, Crosswalk.com
His anger was as obvious as a neon sign in the dark. He was glowing hatred of God. I should probably make that a lower case “g,” though. It wasn’t the God of the Bible that he was raging against. He described all the reasons why he hated God — then informed me that is the reason why he doesn’t believe in God.
Forget for a moment the irony of being incensed at something you believe to be imaginary. His hurt and pain were real. If God was like this, he didn’t want anything to do with him. That’s when I was able to tell him that I didn’t believe in that God either. He truly was angry with a god who doesn’t exist.
One of A.W. Tozer’s most popular quotes is fitting here. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” It’s true, because we are formed by the God (or god) that we behold. In his book, Practicing the Way, John Mark Comer gets at the import of this, and outshines even Tozer:
“If a person’s vision of God is distorted — if they view him as harsh, demeaning, or chronically angry…or as liberal, laissez-faire, and simply there to champion their sexual pleasure — the more religious they become, the worse they become. Because we become like who we believe God is.” (John Mark Comer, Practicing the Way, 104)
This is why it is helpful to look at things the world (and at times even us church folk) believe about God that simply aren’t true. Here are five of those.
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1. God Is Whatever We Make of Him/Her/It
In Exodus 3:14, Moses encounters God through a burning bush. He calls Moses to give a message of deliverance to the people. Moses asks, “who should I say sent me.” God’s response is filled with theological implications. He says, “Tell them, I AM has sent me to you.”
One of the implications of this is that God is self-existent. He is. That means we don’t mold God or shape Him. He is who He is. Our belief has no bearing on who God actually is. And Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…” God is always bigger than anything we could imagine. God reveals Himself through the Bible, and it is our responsibility to align our beliefs with the revealed truth rather than attempting to mold God into our limited human understanding.
Contrary to this revealed truth, many believe that God is who we make Him to be. It is believed that He is a construct of our imaginations or a collective creation. We also drift into this way of thinking when our Bible studies are centered around questions like, “What does this mean to you…?” Our task is to learn/hear what God has said and conform to Him — not the other way around.
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2. God Has Calmed Down over the Years
One of the more common views of God is that He was an angry and emotional tyrant in the Old Testament, but has really softened over the years. By the time we get to the New Testament, it is thought, God has changed the core of His message to love. The angry God of the Old Testament gives way to the merciful and compassionate deity in the New Testament.
This misunderstands the complex nature of God throughout both testaments. Yes, certain Old Testament passages depict divine judgment and discipline. But the New Testament also reveals God's justice and holiness. Malachi 3:6 declares, “I the Lord do not change.” God is always consistent in his nature.
Both justice and mercy are present in God. Jesus exemplifies love, mercy, and compassion, but he also speaks of judgment and accountability. Perhaps Romans 11:22 can help us here. "Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off."
God is both kind and severe. And both are woven throughout both testaments. The perceived contrast between Old and New Testaments is often a result of overlooking the multifaceted nature of God's character, which includes both justice and love. That is always who God is.
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3. God Is a Harsh Father Who Hates Fun
Sometimes we read our own relationship with our earthly parents into how we perceive God. And there are plenty of passages in Scripture which could be used to support an idea of God being strict and stern or hard to please. But usually that is when it’s ripped out of context or we are reading things into the text that aren’t there.
Yes, God has rules. Yes, there are moral principles and such a thing as righteous living. But why? Why does God give us these rules? Is it because he likes to be punitive and has a heart that is joyless? Or is it because He knows what will increase our joy?
Consider a musical instrument. I know how to play exactly zero chords on a guitar. My wife has been playing and practicing for years. Who is more apt to have joy with a guitar? It’s my wife. She is free to play almost anything because she has practiced and knows how to “obey” all the rules of guitar playing. I’m not free to do much of anything. I’ll put it down after only a couple minutes of annoying plucking. Spirituality is similar. Following the path which God lays out for us leads to more joy and not less.
Just consider Jesus. For one, consider his words in John 10:10, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." Secondly, read the gospels. Jesus is the very image of God. He is God made flesh. I don’t believe you can read through the gospels and see Jesus as harsh and fun-hating. That role seems to be filled by the religious leaders of his day. Jesus was the one getting in trouble by them because he came “eating and drinking.”
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4. God Likes to Play Hide and Seek
Famed atheist, Bertrand Russell, once was asked what he’d do if he found himself standing before God and questioned about his unbelief. Russell quipped, “I probably would ask, ‘Sir, why did you not give me better evidence.’” Russell’s belief here is common. We believe that God is distant, aloof, and hides himself from people.
Some come to this view through what Jesus said about parables. He essentially tells us that he speaks in parables so that people can’t understand. That certainly sounds like He is playing a game of hide-and-seek. But in reality, what is happening is that God, through Christ, is inviting us to deeper discipleship. He’ll be easily found if we seek Him. The Bible underscores God's desire for communion with His creation, as seen in passages such as Jeremiah 29:13, which states, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."
God wants to be known, and graciously reveals Himself. The problem is that we are dull to see and hear. But even this God overcomes through His merciful work in our lives.
5. God Is Waiting for You to Get It Together
Many people view God like the pool at the YMCA or the city park. What do I mean? You know how they ask you to take a shower before getting into the pool? It seems ridiculous. Won’t the pool clean me up? But we understand that if we come into the pool all muddy — it’ll contaminate the waters. In the same way, some think that in order to come to God for cleansing (that pristine pool), we need to take a shower first.
We assume that God is waiting for us to get our act together so He can have a relationship with us. This couldn’t be further from the story of the Bible. The Scriptures present a God who pursues. Romans 5:8 says it well, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God's love is proactive and reaches out to humanity in our imperfection. God calls upon individuals to approach Him as we are and experience transformation through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
There are many misconceptions about God. Truth be told, we’ll all carry around at least some of these until we meet the Lord face to face. At that moment all the distortions will fade away and we’ll walk in truth. But until then we labor to know God for who He truly is, constantly reshaping our preconceived notions to square up with how God has revealed Himself. God is always better than we can imagine!
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