Sunday, February 22, 2009

God in Our Image?

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

As I was reading the paper a year ago, I came across an article about a new movie starring a black Jesus. In providing a rationale for a black Jesus, Jean Claude LaMarre, who stars in, wrote, directed and financed the film stated, “Black people in the country are the only race of people who worship a god outside their own image.” I was suddenly taken aback by the brazen nature of that statement. I was stunned that he would conclude that black people are the only race who worships a god outside their own image.

I found myself arguing with the article. I thought, “This just isn’t true! White people don’t worship a god in their own image.” I continued, “Doesn’t this guy understand that we are in God’s image and not the other way around?” I realized he just did not understand what being in the image of God meant, and I concluded that I had vanquished my imaginary opponent.
As I reflected on this man’s statement further, I concluded that he was at least partially correct. I realized that much of contemporary American Christianity does indeed worship a God in man’s image. While I knew his theology was poor, I also recognized that he unwittingly pointed out what may be one of the great theological errors of our day. We have remade God in our image. Rather than our being made in His image, we have reversed it so that He is altogether like us.
I have seen this trend of remaking God after our image grow in popularity among professing evangelical writers and speakers. What is most surprising is that the “God in our image” teaching has grown in such popularity that it is now being boldly professed as evangelical theology. In fact, some of the most popular books espousing this heresy are being pushed from pulpits across America and have rocketed to bestseller status. Last Spring, I was in attendance at a marriage retreat in which I heard this theology so clearly stated. The presenters were trying to ground their misguided psychological advice with some theological support. In the midst of their justification they stated the following, “We know God’s nature is part female and part male, because we are male and female.” I almost came out of my chair in indignation. I could not believe the reversal of roles I just saw take place. I remembered Deuteronomy 4:

“Then the LORD spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice. And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone. And the LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and rules, that you might do them in the land that you are going over to possess. “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.” Deuteronomy 4:12-19

Later in the same text, God declares that He is a jealous God. He does not want His glory given to any other. The Bible is clear that God is Spirit (John 4:24). He does not have gender. Someone might retort, “Don’t we have characteristics that are part of His image and thus isn’t okay to look at ourselves to find out about Him?” The answer to that question is, “NO!” We are made in His image. We cannot turn the paradigm on its head. We definitely reflect characteristics of God. However, it is to the self-revelation of God in Scripture that we turn in order to find out about Him. As we understand Him, we are then able to understand ourselves better. Furthermore, it is clear in Psalm 50:21 that God is not altogether like us, “These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.”

Let’s make sure we get the order of things correct. God is the Creator and we are His creatures. God is the Lord and we are His servants. God is perfectly holy and we are sinful. God is Spirit and we are embodied souls. God does not suffer from our limitations or our errors. God is perfect in all His attributes and works, needing nothing. We are fallen and desperately in need of divine assistance. God is the source of all things and we are part of the effects of His causation. We have no say in who He is, in what He does, or in how He reveals Himself. We should not forget how humiliating it was for the Son to take on himself a human nature. Paul says of this that Jesus “…made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:7)

This remaking of God in our image is not confined to gender or race. We see it in character attributes as well. You repeatedly here the statements, “Well, my God is not…” or “My God would not…” or “I don’t believe in a God who…” You can fill in the blanks with a multitude of denials about the biblical witness of the character and works of God. People simply want a god after their own image. Why? We often want a God like us because we are then elevated. If God is like me, then I must be as intrinsically lovable as I believe I am. When Jesus died for me, He affirmed my worthiness. This is not the good news. Jesus did not die for me because I am lovable or as an affirmation of my intrinsic worthiness. When Jesus died for his people it was an affirmation of how loving God is, not how lovable I am.

It is the fact that God is not like us that makes the good news truly good. When we understand the gospel, we are set free from the sin of remaking God in our image. We are able to see that God is so much more glorious, majestic, and grand than any fallen creature. When we catch a glimpse of Him in His glory, we are finally able to look beyond ourselves because we are eclipsed by the vision of God revealed in the Bible.

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