This past week, our pastor spoke to us about being so familiar with some things in the church, we almost "warp" our beliefs by the familiarity which has become a way of life to us. Let me explain what he meant with this statement. We get so familiar with the things of God, we almost take them for granted - taking them for granted leads to us not always developing and keeping a keen awareness of the truth. We can sometimes "soften" the truth about God's character. For example, we "believe" God is all powerful - but do we go to him in prayer each and every time we are faced with the impossible? We "believe" God is all knowing, but do we turn to him for the wisdom we need or just try to figure things out on our own. We can end up in the pursuit of religious thoughts and principles, but miss out on the fact of the powerful God in the midst of our lives. As Israel was set apart as the nation God would choose to dwell among, he told them to not create any other image of him as they would be tempted to create because of what he knew they would come into contact with in their journey into the Promised Land. I think God was telling them the same thing my pastor was telling us - have no one else in your life that you trust in more than God - no image that you relate to in order to relate to God. I wonder if we really understand what this means?
But God’s angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth. But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand. (Romans 1:18-23 MSG)
I think God was warning us about bringing him down to our level. We cannot bring God down to our level and remain steadfast in our beliefs. God's kingdom came to us in the reality and power of Christ - we don't change God's character just because his character was present with us in the form of Christ. Any time we take the truth, become so "familiar" with it so as to allow it to lose its original intent and purpose, we have engaged in changing the reality and power of Christ's character into something we form an opinion about rather than the steadfastness of his "real" character. We are always in the business of creating something we trust in, aren't we? I believe God was really trying to remind us of the silliness of trying to create anything more than we trust in him. The issues we face today are really stepping stones to clarify our "image" of God - not a literal image, but our beliefs; what it is we are certain about as it concerns God. One truth we must keep in mind - we become like whatever it is we idolize. Let that one sink in a little.
If we see only one side of a truth, we often don't create a "perfect" image of that which we see, don't we? For example, look at a tree. If you were to close your eyes and then I asked you to create an "image" of the tree in your mind, you'd probably make it leaf-covered, complete with the bark. You'd likely miss the "image" of the inside workings of the tree - the place where the life of the tree is actually maintained. To see only one side of the truth about God's love is to see only one side of his character. Love is both embracing AND just; it is both nurturing AND correcting. We need to have an accurate perception of God's character. We cannot get there by looking at what another "imagines" God to be - we have to discover it ourselves in the truths of his Word, the teachings of his Holy Spirit within us, and the revelation of his character in the creation around us. Even creation serves to reveal him to us. We find out who we are by finding out who God is - for we were created in his image. I think we have struggled with this for a long, long time. We look to anything or anyone else to define who we are, but since we were created in his "image", any other image is really inadequate to express the fullness of his character.
Having any other image of God than the truth of who he is will lead to us having things in our lives which block our growth in relationship with him. We need to see him accurately in order to grow adequately! Others will attempt to "script" our lives for us - we cannot allow this to happen - for only one person really knows what we were created to do - God himself. All God asks of his children is pure and simple devotion - to have no other image of him than the truth he reveals. To "fill in the blanks" with any other "material" about what we "suppose" about God's character is to create an untrustworthy idol of God. We might just need to find out what we have made so "familiar" about God in our lives - those things we have used to "fill in the blanks" the way we "see" them. In so doing, we might have to let go of a few things which really don't measure up to the reality of who or what God is, how he operates. In developing an accurate "image" of God's character, we open ourselves up to the possibilities of following him differently than we ever have before. For truth begets truth - familiarity begets sloppy religious pursuit. Just sayin!