Making God Human

Greek God and woman One of the most serious errors made by atheists, agnostics, deists, fundamentalists, and mainline religious groups is the error of attempting to explain something God does in human terms. Those who attack the existence of God and those who worship God both have a tendency to do this. Many times the arguments going on are totally caused because both sides are constructing arguments that are rooted in words and concepts that are human when the subject of the discussion is completely nonhuman or nonphysical. What we hope to do in this article is to give some examples of areas where this happens and hopefully provide some clarification of issues in the process.

Explosion There is a tendency among all those (including your author) to think of creation as an act at a particular place in space. When concepts like the big bang are discussed, many of us conceive of the process as a massive explosion occurring in space with the fragments flying out like shrapnel sailing away from the explosion of a bomb. This is not what is indicated either from a biblical standpoint nor from a scientific standpoint. When the Bible says that God created the cosmos and the earth, the word used for created is a Hebrew word that is never used in reference to something a human can do, and it is also never used in conjunction with existing material . The indication is that the process is unique to God, and no human or physical involvement is participating. The Bible tells us over and over again that God is outside of time and space, and descriptions of the processing of celestial bodies involve the "stretching out" of space ( Job 9:8 ; Psalm 104:2 ; Isaiah 40:22 ; 42:5 ; Jeremiah 10:12 ; 51:15 ; Zechariah 12:1 ). It is also important to notice that biblical descriptions of God's actions never really give a causal agent to what God does. The whole concept of miracles is an indication that God can and does function outside of the physical human world.

Universe Recent studies in cosmology and quantum mechanics support this point. The most recent studies of the makeup of the cosmos suggest to us that only 4% of the cosmos is made up of ordinary matter; 26% is made up of what is called exotic dark matter, and 70% of what is called dark energy (see Scientific American, January, 2001, pages 37-53). The fact that the cosmos is accelerating has opened a whole new understanding of the subject of cosmology, but scientists are regularly talking about multi-dimensions beyond the three-dimensional physical creation that we are familiar with. Discussions involving the big bang theory or the inflation theory are saying that space itself as well as time was produced in creation. The assumption that the big bang was an explosion of something in space is not what is being proposed. String theory requires 11 spacial dimensions for its proposals to even be discussed.

Creation is not a picture of an old-man-in-the-sky playing with cosmic tinker toys. It is an act in which the very fabric of space/time is produced by something nonhuman and nonphysical, but still within reach in some degree of the human mind.

Worship and Service to God Are Not
To Satisfy Human Requirements

When we think of worshipping God, we tend to think in many cases that we are putting on a performance to please God. The atheist will suggest that a god needing praise and adoration is a deficient being and thus must be a creation of man. Many religious leaders conduct services as if God is going to evaluate the quality of what is done, so great emphasis is given to the quality of singing, praying, preaching, etc. Over the years, there have been many debates about what should be done in worship and how it should be done, and the emphasis has often been on what will please God. Let me state categorically that God does not need our worship, praise, encouragement, work, prayer, or money. If we understand God as the creator of the cosmos, and if in any way we comprehend that "in Him we live and move and have our being," then surely we must understand that God is not dependent on us. If all Christians on the planet were to stop worshipping God and stop giving their money, God would not be affected in the slightest. God's work on this planet would still be done.

The purpose of all of these acts is not to benefit God, but to benefit man. The person who does not learn to give in a cheerful and willing way is a doomed person. Their inability will not allow them to know the real joy of love, family, marriage, sex, friendship, or being part of something greater than themselves. Learning to give cheerfully and joyfully is the only cure for selfishness and all the destructiveness it brings.

Worship to God is the same kind of thing. Just as God told us how to give, He has given us the way worship should be carried on. The adopted phrase of addictive treatment groups is "learn to look to a higher power." Worship enables us to have the potential to leave all the cares and frustrations of life for a while and look to something better and more positive. Rather than use a drug like alcohol, the worshipper does his or her trip away from life's hassles in a constructive way that builds and leads to something better. Worship is not a spectator sport; it is a beneficial tool God has given us for our benefit. One that can be done by everyone no matter what their age, physical, or mental condition, body condition, or status in life. We please God in our worship by our attitude and willingness to allow His spirit to mold and shape us, not by theatrical accomplishments or sophisticated displays of our abilities.

Heaven and Hell Are Not Places
to Satisfy Human Retribution

It has always been interesting to me to hear an atheist use the phrase "go to hell" to someone they do not like or have a disagreement with. People throw phrases around without considering their meanings, and I am sure that is the case with most profanity. In this case, the phrase would suggest that the person saying "go to hell" wants punishment to happen to the person that they are telling it to, but knows it has to be something or someone greater than they are to do it. Even phrases like "hell on earth" or "his own personal hell" are expressions of physical oppression and suffering and do not radiate an understanding of what God is all about.

The Bible goes to great pains to try to convey to us the notion that hell is not a physical condition. Jesus describes hell as a place reserved for the devil and his angels ( Matthew 25:41 ). The condition of the rich man in Luke 16 as well as the story of Lazarus is a picture of one isolated from God, family, love, and peace, and a "great gulf" separates hell from heaven. All of these pictures which the Bible paints of hell show it to be isolation from God and everything associated with God. Heaven is shown to us in a similar way. Through the apocalyptic eyes of John in Revelation, we see heaven as a place free of all physical sorrow, death, pain, and tears ( Revelation 21:3-4 ) because all of these physical things are passed away.

Our willingness and sometimes our desire to assign people to hell or to heaven is too often simply a case of wanting an appropriate reward or punishment for what we feel they have done to or for us in this life. God gives us David as a man who did some awful things physically and reaped the consequences of much of what he did. God knew David's heart and, in spite of David's repeated failures and shortcomings, David is held up as a positive model for us. We do not have the ability to know what is in a person's heart, so we are told to leave judgment to God ( Matthew 7:1 ; Romans 12:19 ). Understanding heaven and hell as spiritual places and God as the perfect judge can relieve us of a lot of grief, anger, and guilt.

God Is Not Just a Smart Super Human
Using Advanced Human Techniques

Earth as seen from Moon Someone has coined the phrase "If I can know the mind of God, then God isn't God." Whoever said that was likely to have been dealing with a problem of suffering or tragedy. The statement, however, is also true of those of us dealing with questions of apologetics. When we talk about the creation, creationists may say "God spoke it into existence." In the minds of many, sound is the processor. The notion is that somehow God's voice literally did the creating of the physical cosmos. As a teacher, I might say "pass your papers in." In a few moments, the papers would be in my "incoming" tray. Did I speak the papers into existence? In a sense, I did because my spoken word carried enough authority to get the job done. My voice did not create the papers, but I did speak them into the tray.

Scientists who subscribe to naturalism and maintain that there is no god have a similar problem. They assume that the man-made laws, principles, and theories that govern matter as we see it today are the only factors that can legitimately be used to explain what we see in the cosmos around us. Quantum mechanics, relativity, and much of the new cosmology--especially the acceleration of the cosmos have shown the fallacy of such an approach.

When God says "my ways are not your ways" and "my thoughts are not your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9 ), He is giving us a clue about trying to explain all we see on a human physical basis and that clue is "don't try to do it."

Someone has said something like "The cosmos is not only stranger than you can believe; it is also stranger than you can imagine." The methods of creation God has used are far beyond man's processes, techniques, and understandings. This does not mean that we should not try to understand these things; it just means that we should not be arrogant enough either scientifically or theologically to believe that the methods of creation are going to be those that we know and understand. Isaac Newton said it well when he described his monumental discoveries as having now and then discovered a pebble or a pretty stone while a whole ocean of truth lay before him.

Discussions about the age of things seem to be a major issue for many people on all sides of the evolution/creation controversy. People also want God to solve problems for them in a time frame that suits them. We tend to want immediate retribution to those who mistreat us, eternal life in our physical bodies, instant relief from physical pain and infirmities, and natural conditions to fit our needs.

The fact of the matter is that God created time and is in control of it. There are numerous passages in the Bible that tell us this-- Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 ; Acts 1:7 ; and 2 Peter 3:8 . Man fails to understand that God functions outside of time and is not restricted by time. This means that God sees time as we look at a wall--able to see all points of time as "now." Someone has said that time is God's way of keeping everything from happening at once, and there is great truth in that statement. Time is something that God created for the physical cosmos in which we live.

The creation itself and the things man is dependent on--oil, water, coal, iron, soil, chemical cycles, and the like--were not produced by human methods. The fundamentalists want to restrict God to a short period of time, and the promoters of naturalism want to restrict God to a long period of time. There is nothing wrong with having an opinion on this subject, but the fact is that the Bible does not tell us what time element God chose to use. The biblical week of Genesis 1 is undated and describes only a few things. We tend to view God's creative process as a construction job, operated as we would build a building. The more physics studies the evidence of how the cosmos came into being, the more obvious it is that the creation was nothing like what man can do, nor is it anything like we can imagine.

King watching a battle We also see our humanization of God when we approach our physical lives and the problems we encounter in life. The book of Job makes it clear to us that our lives are a part of a war between good and evil. Ephesians 6:12 summarizes this marvelously when it says:

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places

God's focus in the affairs of this life is on the wrestling described in this passage. This battle is not limited to a human lifetime, and its implications extend far beyond our physical deaths. When we want God to punish those who wrong us, we are asking for a human response to our own personal pain. Jude 6-10 ; Romans 12:19 ; Luke 21:22 , and the whole book of Revelation all tell us that everything that happens is seen by God as having an eternal purpose. We attempt to limit God when we try to demand that He function in our lives as we want Him to.

May I emphasize that as I write this, I make no pretense to understand it all. If I could, then God would in fact be human. It has been said, "If I can understand the mind of God, then God isn't God." The practical part of this, however, is that if we understand that God is not human and that our purpose in existing is not a human purpose, then many of our problems in understanding life are reduced, if not solved. Death in this life is not the ultimate tragedy. God's purposes look far beyond what we can see, and what is best is frequently beyond our reach mentally or visually. As Ethel Louise Richmond, a friend of ours, likes to say, "If it isn't of eternal significance, forget it."


--John N. Clayton

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