God Lite: The Idolatry of Reduction
- Wednesday, June 21, 2006
No matter how sincere we are, any idol, image, or representation of God is going to fall short and miss something of His character. Because God is infinite and incomprehensibly majestic, our images are always automatically reductionist. They don't measure up.
We may not have a problem with carved and molten statues like ancient people did, but we do have our images. Some of them might surprise us.
For example, we take the most central room of our homes, arrange all the couches and chairs, build a pedestal, and put our idol in the center and turn it on. Then we ask it to tell us how to think, what values to have, what to buy, how to look, and what to drive. We swallow any image of how to live life to the fullest. We'll find lots of keys to fulfillment: sex, money, power — it's all there. The priesthood of the media serves us well. We get sucked into our idolatry. Then we're surprised why our ethics and behavior are about the same between evangelicals and the rest of American society. It's obvious, isn't it? We're being fed by the same idols.
Making God in Our Image
But it's really subtle when we analyze our worship of God. We have mental images, false characterizations of who Jesus is. It's not that we are hateful or insincere, but we say, "I need a bull." Our pictures of Jesus over the years have ranged from social revolutionary to body builder to young urban professional to whatever else fits our culture. And God says way back in Exodus 20, "Don't do it! I'm God, not a snapshot." Our pictures, however sincere, devalue Him.
Do you know how else we limit God? By our denominations. By our legalism. By saying God can only work inside this box, which also happens to be our box. I've got no problem with the orthodox creeds of history or the biblical parameters of God's character and work. But we often reduce Him to a set of man-made rules or a narrow cultural context of a particular church. That's called reductionism just as much as making a metal idol is, and it's an abomination to God. His Spirit won't be defined by our images.
I grew up picturing God as a judge, a military general, or a cosmic policeman waiting for me to mess up. That's reductionism; it's idolatry. I remember saying, "I like Jesus, but I don't know if I could like God." That's because there was an idol in my mind. Some people have the opposite idol — a white-haired fatherly image who has children in his lap all the time but would never require a standard for behavior. He's always "the God who understands" — God lite. His holiness is left out of the picture.
We don't need a snapshot of God; we need a lifelong project of putting together a photo album, a full picture of all His attributes as He has revealed Himself.
Why? Because He loves us. Exodus 20:5 says He is a jealous God — not with a petty kind of jealousy, but the kind of zealous passion that desires real love from His people. He says, "I love you too much to let you play and pander with images that reduce me. That kind of God would never truly fulfill you. I will."
Forsake every idol, forsake every image, forsake anything that makes Him less than He really is. Then worship Him in spirit and in truth.
To help you build an accurate and complete picture of God, Chip has developed a resource series called God As He Longs for You to See Him. To learn more about this series, please click here.
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