Summary: Third in a series on popular illusions. We try to limit God by turning to religion instead of relationship. The issue is in our own integrity. The world understands the power of God better than we do! The loss of our idols is fatal, but in Christ ther
She was obviously tired of discussing the issue. The wrangling had gone on long enough. Neither side was about to give in to the other. It was time for somebody to settle this matter.
So she drew herself up to her full five feet two; she threw her shoulders back; and with that certain toss of the head and that rising tone of voice, she flung it out there, "You all can do whatever you want to. But my God tells me to do this."
"My God tells me to do this." That’s one way to settle an argument: bring in the heavy artillery! But I confess to being a bit scared of people who drag in God by the hind legs. I confess I am skeptical of people who claim to have such a handle on God that they can declare with no uncertainty whatsoever what God is about. I get uneasy when someone tells me that the Spirit told her to say this or that God has led him to do that.
I get uneasy, not because I don’t think that the Spirit speaks or that God leads. I get uneasy because I have noticed that when we get into tight spots, we use God, we define God, and we put God into a corner. Have you seen that? When things get tough, and we feel like we are losing, then we start talking pointedly about what God will do and about what God wants. Defining God.
One of our great expectations, in chaotic times, is that, "I can define God." When everything that’s not nailed down is coming loose, we hope that we can at least nail God down.
But that’s elusive at best and idolatrous at worst. It is elusive to try to define God. It’s something like the old puzzle about what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object. Like the fellow said about his forceful mother-in-law interacting with his stubborn son, he didn’t know what would happen, but he wanted to watch it at a safe distance! Defining God is elusive; the story is that years ago Dr. Dale Moody, who taught systematic theology at Southern Baptist Seminary, gave a final exam that consisted of one and only one question: "Discuss God". What would you do with an exam question like that? Maybe you would answer it like the Sunday School student did, who was told by his teacher to go sit in a corner and draw a picture of the Holy Spirit. Well, he thought and he thought and he rummaged around his Bible for a little while, and came up with the answer, a perfectly blank piece of paper! May be a very good response. Defining God is elusive.
And defining God gets to be idolatrous, too. Some years ago, J. B. Phillips wrote a fine little book called, "Your God Is Too Small". He said that in the crunch times of life we try to define and limit God, and, bottom line, we make a God who serves us.
The armies of Israel had suffered defeat at the hands of the Philistines. They had so often been victorious, but now they had to contend with a disastrous defeat. How could this have happened? And what could they do now?
Have you noticed that when things go sour, we are tempted to turn to religion? I did not say, turn to God; I said, turn to religion. We are tempted to turn to religion, when we feel that everything is coming apart.
When the battle with the Philistines had been lost, the leaders of Israel gathered for a post mortem. They said, "Why has the Lord put us to rout today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, so that he may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies? So the people sent to Shiloh, and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim."
The ark of the covenant, that portable shrine, had been made as a device in which to carry the tablets of the law. It was created to be a symbol of the presence of the liberating God. It was designed to remind them that at special times, their God had come forth and had fought for them.
So what were they about to do? They were about to confuse the symbol with the reality. They were about to say that it was the ark that had won the battles. They were about to bring in the ark, thinking that this box would fight for them. They thought they could define God in a box. Religion was more interesting than God. It’s like taking a piece of fruit and peeling it, then eating the peeling and throwing away the fruit! We miss the reality because we are so enamored of the package!