I often wonder these days just how it is that people see or envision God? I wonder that about people in general but I wonder more about how people in the church see him. Maybe I’m wrong but it seems to me that a serious disservice has been done to our churches by a contemporary portrayal of who God is. When I was growing up we felt a deep sense of reverence, awe, and respect in the house of God. There were more quiet moments during the worship hour, times where you were compelled to be serious and reflect on your life in the presence of a Holy God. Though there was not a lot of hoopla and noise God’s presence was still felt nonetheless in a very personal and powerful way. We knew that God loved us and that He cared deeply about us and about the things we had need of. But we were also continually made aware that we were accountable to Him in our lives. We realized that things were not primarily about us but about Him and doing his perfect will. Preachers back then didn’t hedge on the truth. They told it boldly and you knew that God was speaking through them too. Whether or not people responded was irrelevant. People knew when they left church that day that they had heard the truth.
Somewhere along the way somebody got the idea that because fewer and fewer people seemed to be responding to the message as it was being delivered we must be doing something wrong. That’s not to say that nothing was wrong in our churches. But as far as the message itself was concerned that should have been non-negotiable. In many cases it was but in a lot of other cases preachers and churches began to make concessions along the way. That was easy for the liberal churches to do since they held a very low regard for the authority of Scripture. But many other churches also began to bend and started questioning their own methods of doing things. This eventually gave birth to the modern church growth movement and the “seeker” or “user” friendly church model. A small group of church leaders began to reason that maybe we needed to find out why people weren’t coming to church. They thought maybe we ought to ask people (the lost and saved) what they wanted or needed from a church experience. They thought that if we could appeal to them on the basis of those felt needs that we might stand a better chance of getting them into the church. The only problem with that is that by doing so they put people at the center of things and assigned God the task of serving their purposes. Slowly but surely the primary message that man was a sinner and needed a Savior took a back seat to the new message focused on people and their needs.
The result of all this has been disastrous in many churches. Is it any wonder that people don’t revere God in our day? He is not the High and Holy, the One to whom we must each give an account one day. He has become something totally different; a cosmic granddaddy if you will. He is there only for the purpose of tending to our needs. Because He is viewed that way it can always be assumed that He is happy with us ever ready to pour out His blessing. But there are some things about God that we would do well to learn and/or remember. He is nothing like us and we are nothing before Him. As James says, we are “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (Jm.4:14 NIV) About Himself God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is. 55:8-9 NIV) Only when we get a small glimpse of the true God will we begin to understand these things. Jonathan Anders