On March 2, 2013

Everyday Idolatry: My God

“You can safely assume you’ve made God into your own image, when it turns out God hates all the same people you do.” -Anne Lammott

Temple in Chennai, India

It was June 7th, 1964. They had all gathered at the local Methodist church like always. They were having another one of their get-togethers, and as usual they started with a prayer.

Of course, they prayed, they were God’s chosen people, after all, saved by Jesus to bless the world. But on this particular night, someone wrote down their opening prayer. Sam Bowers, their “preacher and leader” opened them with prayer.

Here’s what he said:

Oh God, our Heavenly Guide, as finite creatures of time and as dependent creature of Thine, we acknowledge Thee as our sovereign Lord. Permit freedom and the joys thereof to forever reign throughout our land…May the sweet cup of brotherly fraternity ever be ours to enjoy and build within us that kindred spirit which will keep us unified and tong. Engender within us that wisdom kindred to honorable decisions and the Godly work. By the power of Thy infinite spirit and the energizing virtue therein, ever keep before us our…pledges of righteousness. Bless us now in this assembly that we may honor Thee in all things, we pray in the name of Christ, our blessed Savior. Amen

And then the members of the Klu Klux Klan said Amen, got up, and started planning how to carry out “God’s goal” for white supremacy.

Taking Sides

A few years ago I was talking with a man who was a professional conflict mediator who had worked with Presidents and international government officials. He had helped nations resolve international conflicts bordering on war, but if you asked him who was the hardest assignment, he wouldn’t blink an eye before he told you,

“That’s easy…Churches”

There’s a bizarre little story in the book of Joshua where Joshua is leading the people of Israel into the land of Canaan, and he is suddenly visited by an Angel of the LORD, and Joshua has such tunnel vision that he immediately asks the angel, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

And the angel says, “No. I’m not on either, as the Commander for the LORD I have come.”

I love this little story, because it’s exactly what we religious people do.

There are days when I wonder if church is really good for the world. In out better moments, God’s done some incredible stuff through the church, but often church just gives religious people language to be more mad than they would normally be.

Now they’re not just angry, God is angry too. Now their not just indignant they are filled with a “righteous” indignation. All because we never question the idea that God is on our side.

We approach the Divine like Joshua, “Are you for us or for our enemy?”KKK Worship service

And I think God’s answer is still “No.”

The Faces of Jesus

A few years ago, I read a fascinating book called American Jesus: How the Son of God became a National Icon. What’s interesting is that the book doesn’t talk about the popularity of Jesus, but the diversity of Jesus. Turns out, there are lots of different Jesus’ out there. There’s Republican Jesus, Democrat Jesus, Hot Air Balloon racing Jesus, Nascar Jesus, Moralistic Jesus, Buddy Jesus, and Sweet baby Jesus among others.

Each one gives us a picture of a Jesus who knows how to take sides.

So after the KKK dismissed they left armed to the teeth with shotguns and rope, to fight the civil rights movement that was “invading their Mississippi” and within a few days 3 civil rights workers were killed….In Jesus name.

It’s easy to see, looking back how far this group was from the heart of God, how they had made Jesus into a god of their own image. But I think we do this exact same thing all the time.  At least I do.

I’ve noticed that Jesus tends to vote the same way I do. He’s never against a war that I’m for, and he’s rarely interested into calling me toward self-sacrifice or mercy to people different than me. That’s the Jesus that I am most comfortable with, and it’s most certainly an idol.

I like the way N.T. Wright talks about how to deal with letting Jesus stand on his own:

“My proposal is not that we know what the word ‘god’ means, and manage to somehow to fit Jesus into that. Instead, I suggest, that we think historically about a young Jew possessed of a desperately risky, indeed apparently crazy vocation, riding into Jerusalem in tears, denouncing the Temple, and dying on a Roman cross–and we somehow allow our meaning for the word “god” to be re-centered around that point.”

In other words, the scandal is not that Jesus is like God. The scandal is that God is like Jesus. He’s a God who picked a certain place and time, and entered into it. He came to show us who he really was…and who he really wasn’t.

He came as a Jewish carpenter, in a particular time and place, not to speak about every little agenda we have, but for the redemption of the entire world.

I understand why in conversation or worship lyrics we sometime refer to God as “My God” but never mistake that as meaning God belongs to you.

Because God’s not on your side.You can pray in his name all you want to but you’re enemies are not his enemies.

He’s bigger than your problems, because he’s more than just your God.

Just ask Joshua.

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  • Joe Bob

    Excellent point of view here – trying to decide how to share this with an atheist friend??

  • NBC

    “He’s bigger than your problems, because he’s more than just your God.” This is a very telling statement. It is one that is hard to digest at times. We all want God to be the savior for every issue we have, but you’re right; My enemies are not His enemies. Great reminder.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Nathan, hope y’all are doing well!

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Joe Bob, I really don’t know how or if this is a good post to share. If so, I’d just say “Sorry, we religious people struggle with this quite a bit, and maybe it makes it easier if you know we are at least somewhat aware of it.” Thanks for asking!

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  • Darryl Willis

    Thank you, Jonathan! Well put.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Darryl!

  • Sean Brown

    Thanks for your thoughts. I’ve been reading Leo Tolstoy’s “The Kingdom of God is Within You” which has been challenging me on my view of “forced resistence” and being able to say my government is “good” and others are “evil” and that God is for us and not them.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Sean, Lee Camp’s book Mere Discipleship is very challenging like that as well. He talks about how the German soldiers in World War II wore belt buckles that said basically “God is on our side.” Very convicting image. Thanks for weighing in Sean!

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  • Susan

    Great thoughts! Thanks for thinking about this on our behalf. I’ve sent it to several friends to prompt conversation. Keep up the good work!

  • Tom

    Perhaps the German soldiers were right, albeit only partly so, and the truth was (and still is) God is on all of our sides?

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Hmmm, good turn there. I think that’s good to emphasize that God is for us, but that doesn’t have to mean he’s against the people we are…and it often does.