My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? All reality is iconoclastic.”
From time to time, many times, in fact, I have woken up, as it were, to find that I was worshiping a God I had imagined existing rather than the God who does exist. I made him up. These “Gods” have some points of contact with the real God, enough points that unless I look closely enough I can easily assume the counterfeit as the real.
This experience is so frequent that when someone tells me they believe in God, I am inclined to ask “which one”? The same for the atheist who says he does not believe in God at all. I ask which God is it in which they do not believe. Often I find that the God they do not believe in is a God I do not believe in either.
How do I find if my God is a counterfeit God? Invariably the God I construct never commands me to forsake my sin NOW. This God I construct ends up always taking my side in controversies. He also is amazingly tolerant of lack of time to pay attention to him. He hangs around, hears some prayers, gives some gifts, understands my weaknesses, strokes my ego and is generally compliant to the way things are.
He doesn’t start off being all these things at once, but over time the shape takes the form. And every time I get shocked back into reality by recognizing my idolatry and knock this totem off the pole, he resurrects. Not in three days. But like the gathering of a sandbar from tidal waves, it all comes back together again, unawares and without intention.
How shall I worship the true God? First, I must immerse myself in his story. Not the one I make up as if my experience of God is the last word about the God who is. The reliable story is the Bible story. It is full of episodes when the true God stands up amongst the false gods, like on Mt Carmel or in Egypt confronting Pharaoh. Second, I must fiercely attack every sin that rises up within me. Make no truces. I must be about, to use an old King James word, mortifying the flesh. The false god promises me that he will do this for me. The true God tells me that I myself must raise the knife. If the god I am serving has become rather comfortable with my sin, the warning light has come on my spiritual dashboard and the bell is chiming. Third, if I no longer am moved by the condition of others, there’s a good chance I have changed gods. God is a sending God. Whoever meets him ends up moving somewhere on a mission, like an Abraham who was called to be a blessing to the nations of the earth. Like Jesus, who clothed himself in flesh and moved into the neighborhood and became a next door friend. If my world has become the 21st century trinity–me, mine, my–then the true Trinity might be missing. Fourth, if I am no longer tugged toward a great sacrifice, a great striving, then my god is probably not the true God. The real God tells me that the harvest is ripe and to pray for harvest hands to reap. If the God I know is subsumed under the category of me and mine, then I need to take another look.
There is a fine line between knowing God better and seeing more clearly and actually worshiping a stealth god who has under cover set himself up in temple but is an abomination no matter how many obeisances I give to him. I must be Gideon-like and destroy the family god with whom we have all become most familiar.