Loving God, or idolising him.

If I were to say to a friend ‘let’s go to the pub and hang out’ (clearly an English friend, because I can’t get a drink in the States) what would be the motive behind my request? Would this friends response change if I said ‘You have a car and I need you to drive me into the city’?

Or, imagine you were seeing someone and they said to you ‘I really want to have sex with you, so you should marry me.’ Apart from realising that you were dating a creep, you might call into question the very motive behind that person ever wanting to date you in the first place.

What about your parents? What would your life have looked like if they only ever fed you when you did exactly what you were told? Aside from having a very well disciplined childhood, you might well be in long term therapy after such a childhood.

So these might have been some silly examples (or perhaps a little close to home for some) but I am trying to imagine a world where we only valued people because of what they can do for us. Where every item only had value because of how well it could perform a certain task or fill a role. Gone would be the family quilts (not warm enough). Gone would be mother’s wedding dress (too out of style). We’d have disposed of our childhood bear and our kid’s first pair of shoes. In this utilitarian world, where value is proportional to usefulness.

We wouldn’t have friends anymore, we’d have employees. We wouldn’t have parters, we’d have colleagues. We wouldn’t have parents. we’d have tyrants.

By the way, if you find the above, rather Orwellian, vision of the world rather compelling I’d suggest you go and talk to a professional. Really. I don’t want to live in the world of 1984.

As it is, this strange bond of love seems to override the logical, utilitarian ideal. It is love that causes our communities to continue existing, love that holds families together, love that makes friends, friends.

I happen to believe this ‘love’ is an attribute of God (1 John 4:8) imputed to humanity by virtue of being made in his image. It is a wonderful blessing for humanity to enjoy.

Yes, it is wonderful that I can be loved not because of what I can do, but because of who I am.

But is this how I think of God?

Do I, a Christian, a Theology student and a full time Church worker love God because of who he is? Is my love for God as superficial as the man who will only love a woman because he wants to get into her underwear?

God has done a great deal for me – I can’t escape this. He created a world for me to enjoy, he gave me life and a body and a mind. He put me in a stable family in a wealthy country. Though the place he put me was sometimes dark, and many people would go on to cause me great pain, he reached into my life and brought me into a whole new family, the church. He gave me a strange desire to learn the Bible and gave me all I needed to go off and study theology. He even saw fit to send me to America to serve him. I have enjoyed many blessings. The chief of which is that Jesus, the son of God, entered into human existence to show me how to live, to demonstrate the character of God and to pay a price I never could so that I could be united with God.

All these things have been enough to win my heart, at least for a little while. Each time God answers a prayer, or heals a friend, or takes me on some new adventure my obedience to him spikes. I read scripture more, I love more, I serve more. Then, inevitably the memory, the feeling fades. I am bored with God once again. Whilst love might be enough for me to spend time with people I sometimes disagree with or even find a little unpleasant, it is not enough to keep me walking in step with God.

Often I’ll say to myself:

“I’ll obey God with my money, when he provides me with a proper wage”, or
“If God gives me this opportunity, I will seek his face”, even
“I don’t think I need to seek God, because he let me down”

Sometimes it’s the other way around:

“God hasn’t done what I wanted him to, so I must have done something wrong”

Even recently, when I had the opportunity to lead a 24 hour prayer vigil, I noticed that I wanted to seek God more as a result, because having the oppo

It occurs to me that when I think such a, frankly, absurd thought I have made God into my own personal servant. I have made God into what I want him to be. I have created an idol.

Idolatry is nothing new for a follower of God like myself. In the days of the monarchy of Israel it took on a very blatant form. Elijah the prophet even charges Israel to choose between 2 deities: Yahweh, the God of Israel, or Baal the Canaanite god. In 1 Kings 18:25-29 we see the disturbing consequences of the Baal-worshipper’s idolatry, as they worked themselves into a frenzy of self-mutilation to persuade their god to hear them.

Today I don’t think God’s people mutilate themselves to persuade their idols to hear them, but I do know that I have though of God like that. My idea of God has sometimes been based on some sort of cosmic economy: I obey and so God acts, or I ask God to act so that I obey. In either case, God’s actions have become governed by my own, making me sovereign in my own life.

I think the logical conclusion of a love for God built upon what he can do for us is an idolatry equally as disturbing as the Baal-worshippers in Ahab’s time. We idolise God as giver of gifts, not worship him as ruler of the whole universe. We elevate how good it is to be a Christian above how good it is to really know Christ. We bow down to the experiences of life, not yielding our hearts to the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Like the man that seeks to marry in order that he might get to sleep with a woman, we have a shallow, easily blown, flirtatious affection for God. When he finds another girl who will say yes, he will no longer pursue that first love.

It is a deep, enduring love for the character of God, the person of God, the very nature of God that Christians are called to. Remember Moses, who was leading the people that God was saving from Egypt. In his prayer he asks God to go with them, so that they might be free and might be his people. God promises this to Moses (Exodus 33:12-17), and then Moses asks for something more.

“Show me your glory” he asks.

God then passes before Moses, proclaiming:

“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7)

This great old saint moved from seeking God because of what he could do for the people of Israel, to seeking God for who he is.

This is where I find myself. All the ‘cool stuff’ God can do – has done – in my life isn’t really enough to provoke me to faithfulness.

I have come to recognise that though it is a fine place to start, it is not enough to create an enduring relationship.

I’d rather love the God that sent his Son to die on a cross for me, than love God because his Son died on a cross for me. For to know God is better than to merely enjoy the benefits of being a Christian.

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