Worshipping a Created God

There are many factors which have contributed to the rise in atheism and agnosticism in our culture, but the most fundamental contributor to almost all of them has been and is a failure to understand what God is, and to substitute a created God for the real one. This is a very old problem. In Acts 17, the Apostle Paul was brought to the Areopagus in Athens and observed the gods which the Greeks had created. As he stood in the midst of Mars' Hill, he commented on this to his listeners and then described the God who made the world and described what God was not in verse 29. ".We ought not to think that God is like gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device.."

In modern times, we have created our gods in less obvious ways than the Athenians did, but we have created and worshipped God in ways that are as ignorant as theirs. Because we create God, we are limited by our own mental capacity; and when questions arise that are a function of our limited creation, we are unable to answer them. What we hope to do in this article is to suggest some of the ways in which we create God and what some of the consequences of these creations are. This discussion is not just aimed at the religious, because atheists frequently create what they believe is the world's viewpoint of what God is, and then they tear down their own creation and feel that somehow they have proven that God does not exist--a straw horse process in its worst form.

Worshipping a God-of-Gaps God

In ancient times people created gods to explain what they did not understand. When the volcano blew up with power and awesomeness that exceeded their understanding, they created a volcano god to explain what they saw. When powerful weather systems impacted their world, they invented wind gods and rain gods to explain what they experienced. We smile at their ignorance, but their attempts to placate these created deities sometimes resulted in human sacrifice and massive waste of resources.

In modern times we have made similar arguments when trying to explain the power of the sun, or the majesty of creation of everything from the cosmos to life itself by saying, "God did it." There have even been those who have explained tragic natural events like hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados, lightning strikes, cancer, leukemia, and manic depression by attributing them to "acts of God." The first problem that this produces is that it makes God an evil vindictive being, deliberately bringing pain and tragedy to His creation. That is not the nature of God and is totally inconsistent with His image. James 1:13-14 tells us "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man: but every man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and desires." If God caused the tornado that destroyed your home and killed your family, then your love for God and your trust in His care for you is going to be seriously eroded. Atheists and the media in general tend to blame every natural disaster on God in one way or another. This is a god of the gaps process because one created his own concept of what God does and how He does it, and then he rejected god on the basis of the assumptions he made of what He is and how He functions.

Most natural disasters are caused by man or are a function of human stupidity. We are only beginning to understand how man brings disasters on himself. Cancer and leukemia are almost totally related to man-made carcinogens in the environment. Floods are almost totally caused by man's injudicious use of the land surface and by man's mismanagement of water resources. Even weather problems can be related to the way mankind has used the land and what he has released into the atmosphere. Environmental extremists have caused many of us to be resistant to suggestions that human mismanagement of things needs to be addressed, but the fact is that there is an ever increasing body of data that shows that many so called "acts of God" are not that at all, but are the products of human mismanagement. Even natural events like hurricanes and earthquakes which actually benefit man in many ways are catastrophic because of man's foolishness. Building tall cement structures where earthquakes are a regular event is a foolish enterprise, and constructing human habitat where hurricanes regularly strike land causes exaggerated damage.

If there is worship of a God who caused all the bad things in life, it is going to be a worship of fear and dread. Trying to placate a god so that god will not zap people with tragedy is what caused human sacrifice and all kinds of pagan rituals in the past. In modern times such a concept of god promotes fear, unpleasantness, and an exaggerated attempt to find something that will please god for the wrong reasons. It will never be a loving father/child relationship that breeds confidence and peace and love of life.

Atheists reading this discussion are likely to say that apologetic attempts to argue for the existence of God based on design are also flawed for the same reason. If we point to a fantastic property of an animal that allows that animal to survive in a given environment, are we not making the same mistake? Will not someone in the future explain a natural way in which that attribute came about, thus debunking any claim that God designed it? That challenge is a good one, and in some cases it might be valid. The fact that we know how someone built a computer does not change the fact that it took intelligence to do it. I have frequently heard people define science as man's attempt to figure out how God did something. It is also important to realize that many design questions can be mathematically approached. If we can calculate the probability of an event accurately, then we can get an indication of whether chance is a valid mechanism to explain what we see. We can be accused of making a mathematical error, but the challenge is to the adequacy of chance. The question of design is part of a more general argument. Did the subject at hand have a beginning or has it always been? If it had a beginning, was it caused or not caused? If it was caused is chance a viable explanation for the cause or is there evidence of intelligence of some sort. This logical series of choices is not a God of gaps discussion, but a series of logical steps and choices dealing with a reasonable conclusion.

Worshipping a Created Physical Diety

One of the major problems people have with God is that they perceive God as a physical entity. That means that this being is subject to time as all physical things are. It means that there are confines of space that limit this being. It also means that problems of energy and mass are a part of this being. A favorite atheist challenge is "Can God create a rock so big He can't move it?" Marshall Keeble used to say "Yep, and He can create a bulldozer big enough to do the job." The problem with both the original question and the snappy comeback by Keeble is that they are dealing with a physical being and that being's limitations. Only physical beings have limitations of a physical nature. Only physical beings need to invent physical ways of solving problems.

Creating a physical God makes the process of creation impossible to visualize or understand. A great astronomer once commented on the big bang theory by saying that the problem with the big bang is that it doesn't tell us what banged or who banged it." That statement is absolutely true, but it also states the question in terms of a physical being. "What banged" means that there was something physical to do the banging. "Who banged it?" implies that a physical person created or directed the process. The biblical concept of God and the view of virtually all cosmologists is that the cosmos came from dimensions far beyond our own--perhaps in as many as 11 spacial dimensions. Whether one looks for the explanation in quantum mechanics or in God, the fact is that the creation process is not a physical process, and the notion of a mass exploding is not what anyone in cosmology believes.

Not only do we get bogged down in the creation question, but even our worship of God is impacted by creating a physical God to be served. If your concept of God is physical, then you will do physical things in physical ways to serve God. The building of cathedrals, shrines, monuments, idols and ikons as focal points of worship have grown out of that. Instead of building structures that serve the needs of people, this kind of created deity infuses a concept of a physical place for God to dwell in. Even the phrase "God's house" suggests a physical limitation to God to a creation of man. We do not need a place to worship God. When Jesus said "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them," (Matthew 18:20), He indicated the importance of the nonphysical nature of God. When someone asks how we are created in the image of God, the explanation given is frequently one of physical criteria. The God described in the Bible does not possess a face, hands, feet, and does not have an appetite, a sexual identification, or a race. Terms like face and hand may be used to describe how God acts when interacting with man, but these are not properties of the true God.

When someone asks "who created God?" his question is rooted in a misconception of what God is. My usual response to this question is to ask the questioner to draw me a four sided triangle. The point is that the question assumed things about God that are not true. "Who created God?" assumes that there was a time when God did not exist, and that there was space and energy that existed without God and before God's existence began. These are all incorrect physical assumptions. God created time, space, and energy. The question is wrong and so there is no answer that satisfies, just as trying to explain a four sided triangle is impossible.

Worshipping a Human Diety

Closely associated with the concept of a physical god is the concept of creating a human god. This time the way in which the god is created is with human limitations and needs. Questions about the race, sex, culture, language, and appearance of God are all rooted in the misconception that God possesses human properties and limitations. God does not have a sexual identity, and in the Bible God has both masculine and feminine properties. There is no neuter gender in Hebrew, and that means that if a sexual identity is to be given it has to be given by the context in which it is written. Even in the New Testament there are many times when a feminine description of God is given (see Luke 13:34).

Man's creation in the image of God is also not a human concept. We do not look like God physically or in any human way physically. The way we are in God's image is in our capacity to love sacrificially, our creative abilities in art and music, our capacity to engage in spiritual things, our ability to feel guilt and sympathy and compassion. Even the purpose of man's existence is linked to this concept. If you try to explain why God created man on a physical human plane, you are going to end up making God a limited finite being. Humans were not created because God was lonely. The purpose of our creation is rooted in nonhuman struggles that we can only vaguely comprehend, but which emphasize things that are independent of any physical human objective (see Ephesians 3:9-11; 6:12; Job 1,2).

Our worship of God is frequently skewed by our conception of God as a human with human needs. Sometimes we seem to act as though God needs our praise because God is depressed. Praising God is not done because God has a self-image problem. The quality of our singing is not of importance to God, but sometimes we emphasize the quality of our singing more than the participation of everyone in the process, again reflecting our limited understanding of the nature of God as a spirit. The notion that "God is a spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24) gets lost in our minds because we have a limited human concept of God. The simplicity and total involvement of the first century church in their worship of God tends to get replaced with elaborate theatrical productions that may have entertainment value, but reflect a failure to understand that God is not placated with things humans deem as important. Over and over the Bible portrays God as looking on the hearts of those who worship him, not the overt process. One of the best biblical examples is in Leviticus 10:1-2 where Nadab and Abihu, two priests, offered "strange fire" in replacement for what God had ordered. There is no indication in the passage that they neglected anything that God had told them to do, but they dressed up the fire in some way that would make it more appealing on a human level. God reacts strongly to this human substitution. The Bible is full of examples like this, trying to pry mankind away from creating God in their own image and doing things that please humans instead of working to make our hearts right with God.

It is easy for people living in Western societies to look at human-like images present in primitive societies and wonder how they could conceive of God in such a distorted way, but we do the same thing in our own way and create our own problems and have our own inabilities to answer the tough questions of life by what our misunderstandings are all about. God continually calls us to understand that His ways and thoughts are not like ours, and that He is not limited by the things we are limited by. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9). Let us listen to the true God and strive to understand what He wills for us rather than creating God in our own image and trying to appease something of our own creation.

--John N. Clayton

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