I am sitting on a couch not far from Jesus. He has a tender face and a flowing red robe. He gestures as if interested in those around him. He is beautiful in every way. This catches my attention, but I feel no desire to weep or cast myself at his feet and call upon his merits and mercy. No sense of worship arises in me or cascade of light fills my soul.
This is because this is merely a statue of Jesus. However magnificent, this is merely an artist’s conception of who the Lord is. Someone made this up, and though certainly, the statue is done with skill and undoubtedly has some attributes of the real Lord—he has long hair and wears a robe–I am not fooled. This statue has stood on the table for some time, and, I am not confused in any way that this is the real Lord.
Yet, it brings up a question. Do some of us carry the burden of worshipping a lesser deity, one we have made up or imagined, just as the artist did? Coming to know God is the object of our entire lives and God has made sweet promises to us in that quest.
He said, “Ye shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
He is available to be known, yet too often we are content to be led along with false ideas about who he is. We make him up. We imagine Him. We refashion a god, instead of taking the road to find Him. We may like or be frightened by the god we have created, but He will always be a lesser deity than our actual, living God.
Author, Max Lucado, mentions three false projections of God we might make, and I will add another.
“A Genie in a Bottle: Convenient, Congenial. Need a parking place, date, field goal made or missed? All you do is rub the bottle and poof—it’s yours. And what’s even better, this god goes back into the bottle when he’s done.” Harry Emerson Fosdick added this, “God is not a cosmic bellboy for whom we can press a button to get things done.” He is not Santa who just gives us what we want. Hand him the list and it will be delivered. No need for cookies and milk.
How grateful and glad we can be that God is not any of the above. If He were, that would mean we were in control—rubbing the bottle for the genie or ringing the bell for the bellhop. We would fashion our lives and our eternity based on small ideas—because “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). We can’t imagine what the Lord has for us nor the road to get there.
We can be thankful that God is not limited by our perception of things and that we cannot stamp our foot and boss Him around like a toddler crying for candy. It is surprising, however, how often many of us get mad at him because He is not our genie, thinking, instead, that He should solve all of our problems.
“God is not there,” a college girl says, “because I asked for a husband, and I am single.” God doesn’t love me,” says a recent graduate, “because He hasn’t brought me a job.” It is so easy to be derisive of God, to whine and wheedle, to pout and shake our fists. When we are thus tempted, we are complaining to a lesser deity—a genie, someone, we ourselves have imagined. We are upset at our own conception of who we thought God should be.
I had a friend who was sick with a chronic disease that began to take a heavy toll on her sleep. Night after night she was sleepless until it became almost unbearable. She prayed for help. She pled with the Lord and received an intriguing answer. “I cannot answer this prayer, because I am answering a prayer you asked long before this world was.”
“A Sweet Grandpa. So soft hearted. So wise. So kind. But very, very, very old. Grandpas are great when they are awake, but they tend to doze off when you need them.” We may be fooled to assume that God is a lesser deity who expects nothing of us, but what an unfortunate God that would be.
C.S. Lewis said, “What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’, and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’…I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed on such lines. But since it is abundantly clear that I don’t, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction.”
“A kind grandpa is too weak to carry your load” and is indifferent to the very weaknesses that are secretly hurting you.
Love does not mean letting us continue to be self-wounding or broken by our weaknesses, however fond of them we are. Our Father does care who we are and what we are becoming.
As Elder Dale G. Renlund said, “As the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ views disease in His sheep as a condition that needs treatment, care and compassion. The shepherd, our Good Shepherd, finds joy in seeing His diseased sheep progress toward healing.
“The Savior foretold that He would ‘feed his flock like a shepherd,’ ‘seek [out] that which [is] lost,…bring again that which [is] driven away,…bind up that which [is] broken, and…strengthen that which [is] sick.’ Though apostate Israel was depicted as being consumed with sinful ‘sounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores,’ the Savior encouraged, exhorted, and promised healing.”
God can not be indifferent to our putrefying wounds that would ultimately consume us.
“A Busy Dad. Leaves on Mondays, returns on Saturdays. Lots of road trips and business meetings. He’ll show up on Sunday, however, so clean up and look spiritual. On Monday, be yourself again. He’ll never know.”
This false conception of God suggests that, after all, since He has billions of children, and no time for you, it would be difficult if not impossible for you to get his attention. Preoccupied with running the universe, like any consumed executive, he is too busy and uninterested to answer your prayers. He is far away in some other corner of existence and your mumbled prayers aren’t heard anyway.
Though we can’t comprehend how this can be, God is intimate with each of us. “Thou hast searched me, and known me,” the Psalmist said. “Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thoughts afar off…and are acquainted with all my ways” (Psalm 139: 1-30.] This is not a casual distant Father who is unsure of your name. The silent chambers of your soul have been radiated by His light.
Here’s an example of just how well the Lord knows our hearts. Our friend Susan Catudal is from Britain and she said that around the summer of 2004, she was attending a CES symposium at BYU, and decided to go to the Salt Lake Temple to do an endowment session.
It was her first time at the temple and as she sat in the celestial room, she had the sense that a temple worker was staring at her. She had never seen him before, but after some minutes he came over and told her that he felt impressed to speak with her.
As soon as he heard her British accent, his eyes lit up and he told her that he had served his mission near London decades ago in the early 1960’s. He also confessed that he felt his mission wasn’t very successful because he never baptized anyone.
He did, however, remember teaching a young family, a couple with a toddler, in the St. Albans area, but he never knew what had happened to them.
Susan mentioned that when she was growing up her stake president had been from the St. Albans area and mentioned his name. The temple worker was aghast. This was the family he had taught!
“I was able to tell him,” said Susan “that not only did the young father grow up to be a stake president, but that his son, the toddler, also had grown up to become a stake president!
“I never did get that temple worker’s name, but he said that he would go home that very day and write in his journal that his mission, after all, was indeed a tremendous success.” (And, of course, his mission was already a success because he had given all his heart.)
This may seem like a small incident, but consider how important it was to the man who had always nursed a small wound, believing that his efforts on his mission had been in vain. Clearly, decades later, the Lord had not forgotten his ache and directed him to Susan, who was perhaps the only person who could have shared that information with him.
The Policeman. Out to catch you making a mistake. Judging your every move to slap a fine on you. Someone who likes to catch you in trouble.
No wonder people would run from a god they conceptualized like that. Instead of seeing God as a person who loves you with a love that is far beyond your imaginings, you imagine this lesser deity who wants to catch you, trap you, hound you.
This would be a God hard to pray to, for your words would never be enough, and what’s worse, you would never be enough. It may be that some others are good enough to talk to Him, but you might have the sneaking suspicion that you are always and forever unworthy before Him.
The Problem with These False Gods
When you hold a false idea about God, it colors everything in your relationship. It is an imaginary god and a lesser deity, that we whine to or run from or only call upon when we have lost our keys. It is a god who we’ve made up that disappoints us and keeps us twisting in the wind because he is so uninterested in our well-being.
Perhaps the reason that we misunderstand God, is that we project our own shortcomings upon Him, like a movie is projected on a screen. It is us, not Him we are seeing when we create these illusions about who God is.
Thus, back to that most primary purpose of life. It is to seek Him and, line upon line, find Him—this Father whose Spirit shines upon you with light and love, and is nothing like the limited god we create. He is not a limited god who cannot work you into his schedule and delights in denying you.
The Real God
Think of when God first appeared to Moses as described in The Pearl of Great Price.
Moses had to be transfigured to endure His presence and after the vision it was the “space of many hours before Moses did again regain his strength.” Meeting God who sets the boundaries of time and space, who remembers His covenant from generation to generation, who keeps all things in His care, was simply so transcendent Moses was utterly drained.
Here was a God who was glorious beyond comprehension and could show Moses “the world and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are, and which were created.” No wonder Moses marveled at this.
The Lord had introduced Himself, “Behold, I am the lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?”
Then with the that towering pronouncement, He says to Moses, “And behold, thou art my son” (Moses 1: 3,4). Can you imagine? There is God, glorious beyond our comprehension claiming this intimate, personal relationship with man. Not only do I know you, He says, but you are my son, and therefore, what I am is your destiny. We are made of the same stuff. Moses, you have every attribute, emotion, intellect, and sensibility of mine in embryo.
He is both more glorious and more personal than we understand. His character and being is simply a reality that is the best news in all of time or space.
Catch yourself if you start to worship a god that is really of your own creation. You can tell if you are because your relationship will not satisfy. Yet, a relationship with the true God of heaven will bring you light and expansion and a wonderful, much needed, sense of security.
He says, “My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from the beginning; therefore my hand shall be over thee” (Abraham 2:8). A false god cannot make the same promise.