on realistic gods

Why is the Bible compelling? Many reasons: it’s a message of love, hope, the correct way.

How about a message of realism? One thing that strikes me is how well God knows us. Better often than we know ourselves. If all gods are figments of our imagination, what does one call a god who is in many ways quite un-godly? What kind of a god says things no human priest would ever dream up?

Man-made religion appeals to a human sense of nobility, to austerity, rules, betterment. “Prove yourself to me,” booms the false god, “rise up from the filth and contamination of those who don’t follow me. Sacrifice this for me, and this, and that. Give yourself up, make yourself less human, more like a god. Make yourself better than everyone else and I will accept you.”

The God of the Bible tells us: “I know you. I have loved you since the day you were born, I loved you when you were still an enemy, I have been wooing you since time immemorial. I know your weaknesses and sin, and terrible though that is, it has all been paid for by my Son. Forget human goodness and honour, don’t look inside yourself for the answers. I came to give you life, life as it should be. So now you’re family, and because you’re family I want you to follow Jesus, know him, do as he did, love as he loved – I’ll give you my Spirit to make it so. Because you’re already safe, you’re already family, because of Jesus.”

This is the same God who answers Peter’s question of “what about John, he’s a special Christian right?” with a brisk “None of your business, just mind yourself.” The same God who says to the people he has set apart from the rest of the world, “You’re special and dear to me but that doesn’t mean I play favourites. You need to bring other people into this family too.”

God knows how much money bothers us – which is why Jesus addresses this issue more than any other. Unexpected for a high and mighty deity, who might have talked more of generosity, the worthlessness and unnecessity of money and the worthiness of spiritualism. But Jesus tells us not to worry about these things, because God takes care of even the flowers of the field and the little birds of the air. He tells us that love of money can lead you to evil, and appeals to us not to place our worth in it. He doesn’t tell us to throw it away because it is evil.

But what of God’s harsh judgement in the Bible because of money? The rich young ruler, and Ananias and Sapphira? The young rich ruler was commanded to give away his riches because that was the only thing keeping him from knowing God. No responsible or loving God would tell him to do otherwise. Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead not because they refused to give away all their money but because they had lied about it. When God acted radically because of money it was never because he desired asceticism.

Jesus knows our money woes and deals even-handedly about it time and again – surprising for an ivory tower deity, but spot-on for the God of the Bible who knows us better than we know ourselves.

Religion is often about extremes – asceticism; jihad; living by grace alone with no care for holiness or obedience; its opposite, living by works alone with no understanding of sonship or grace; modern Charismatic movements which stress gifts alone and no biblical teaching; their opposite, deadened legalism with absolutely no emotion or experience; the ‘social gospel’ which stresses social action to the detriment of personal holiness and teaching; its opposite, the academic, introverted church which produces no fruit of loving non-Christians or outward action; where we find extremes in churches, they often corrupt. But the God of the Bible appeals to an even-handed approach. God and man (which is where the Arian and Nestorian heresies go wrong); servant and King; lion and lamb; commands holiness yet forgives seventy-seven times; commands us to cut off from our bodies anything that causes us to sin, yet cut himself off from his people for our sake; loves his ninety-nine sheep yet risks everything he has to find just one that is missing; assures us we are secure yet exhorts us to live worthy and guarded lives; the list goes on.

The God of the Bible manages time and again to rein in human zealotry and show us his way, the divine, wise way. Which is why I am convinced he is God. He is so unlike all gods, and knows what man is like – because he was once a man! – far better than man’s artificial gods know their worshippers.

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