It was A.W. Tozer who wrote (in The Knowledge of the Holy), “what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” That is a broad statement, a grand one, but one that merits some thought, for as Tozer says, “the history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God.” If no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God, the same must true of individuals. We can never rise above our idea of God.
Tozer says, “We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. …Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech. She can never escape the self-disclosure of her witness concerning God.” I think he is right. Once we have decided who God is, we chase after that image. The application becomes obvious: It is critically important that we gain an accurate understand of who God is through the Bible, God’s own self-disclosure. Otherwise, we will inevitably move towards a fabricated and false image of him. We will put aside the real thing and chase after a mere shadow.
Here are words that have long gripped me and are worthy of lengthy reflection: “Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, ‘What comes into your mind when you think about God?’ we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man. Were we able to know exactly what our most influential religious leaders think of God today, we might be able with some precision to foretell where the church will stand tomorrow.” This is a sobering thought and not only for those who pastor megachurches and enjoy a national platform. If Tozer is right, then what he says applies to the smallest local church, it applies to the family and wherever else there is spiritual leadership. What comes into the pastor’s mind will predict where his church stands tomorrow. What comes into dad’s mind will predict where his family stands tomorrow.
“It is my opinion,” writes Tozer, “that the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the twentieth century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God and actually to constitute for professed believers something amounting to a moral calamity.” If this was true of the middle of the last century, it must be equally true in the early years of the current century. And yet, “All the problems of heaven and earth, though they were to confront us together and at once, would be nothing compared with the overwhelming problem of God: That He is; what He is like; and what we as moral beings must do about Him.” But still many Christians do not think deeply about God, about what he is like, or about what we must do about him. They do not seek him. “I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God.”
This is a serious matter. “Before the Christian church goes into eclipse anywhere there must first be a corrupting of her simple basic theology. She simply gets a wrong answer to the question, ‘What is God like?’ and goes on from there. Though she may continue to cling to a sound nominal creed, her practical working creed has become false. The masses of her adherents come to believe that God is different from what He actually is; and that is heresy of the most insidious and deadly kind.”
And here is Tozer’s charge to the church of his day and the church of our day: “The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worth of Him—and of her. In all her prayers and labors this should have first place. We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to them undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers of generations past. This will prove of greater value to them than anything that art or science can devise.”
That is a heavy obligation, indeed. Yet it is one that we ought to do fulfill joy. It is one we can fulfill with confidence, trusting that with the help of the Spirit—help he longs to give—we can know God as he truly is, pursue the God who really is, and have our minds full to overflowing with the reality of the God who made us, the God who saved us and the God who soon enough will call us to himself.