While I was driving the other day, a curious thought occurred to me to: God is a lot of things, but He’s also not a lot of things. In fact, as I thought back on my Christian walk, I realized that a good share of what the Holy Spirit has taught me involved changing my view of God and separating Him in my mind from everything and everybody else – the things “God is not.”
It can be hard to change your mind when you’ve believed something your whole life, or when you’ve invested heavily in a certain viewpoint, particularly when it’s about God. Many people, in fact, refuse to do so, clinging to a lie because it’s too hard to let it go. I believe this is what God calls “a stubborn people.”
For those who are willing to be changed, the first step is often an emotional sense of betrayal by whoever lead you to believe the lie in the first place – a heart-felt, “But I trusted you!” Some people never get past this stage, turning their back on God and never moving forward.
When we forgive and move on, though, we find that we’ve acquired some healthy discernment. We’re not as gullible as we were before. And after going through this a few times, we find that we’ve become a little more like the Bereans who “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)
That eagerness, I think, is key. The desire to know God’s truth, no matter the cost, no matter how stupid we may look, is what keeps the Holy Spirit opening our minds to new concepts. Conversely, if we don’t receive a love for the truth, “God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false.”(2 Thess 2:11)
So that’s a peek at the “God is not” process from my perspective, and here are a few of the times I’ve been through it.
God is not my father – my natural father, that is. Because our natural fathers are often the first male authority figures in our lives, we have a tendency to equate them with God. While my own father had a lot of good qualities, he was not a forgiving man. He traveled a lot when I was little, often for three or four weeks at a time, and he was distant by nature, as well. So when I had sinned and knew I needed God’s forgiveness, I believed I could not be forgiven. I was resigned to paying the price to an unforgiving God who was always far away. You can read the rest of the story here, but this was the first of my “God is not” lessons.
God is not the pastor. Right after I got saved, God planted me in a local church. Because I was so grateful and so open – and because standard church structure encourages it – in my mind God and the pastor were one and the same. A few instances of the pastor’s humanity and God quickly cured me of that notion.
God is not the church. There’s something special about the first church where we embraced God. We love all the people and support the church’s activities with a whole heart. Church often becomes “the place” where we meet God, “the place” where spiritual things happen and spiritual truth is learned. But God is not confined to a place or time, and when He “appeared” in unexpected places when I least expected it, I finally realized that Sunday morning is probably the least important time of my Christian walk.
God is not the earth. I’ve never been the treehugger that some are, but I surely appreciate the world that God made for us. I can be captivated by the various shades of green contained in a woodlot or a butterfly flitting from flower to flower. But these things are not the Creator, merely the Creation. The ideas that God “is” nature, or God “is in” nature are becoming more common, but they are heresies that are not supported by the Bible.
God is not America. This has been my most recent “God is not” that began three years ago when I suddenly found that I could no longer say the pledge of allegiance. Since then, I’ve posted about various aspects of this issue, some of which are here:
- A biblical approach to the issues of church and state
- WFW on The Manhattan Declaration: Whose Kingdom?
- WFW: Prayer, a Christian Nation, and a Young Soldier
- WFW: A Christian Nation or a Nation of Christians?
The problem with all of these “God is not”, and why the Holy Spirit wants to renew our minds, I think, is rooted in the first two commandments:
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. (Exo 20:2-6)
God is a jealous God, and to the extent that we give glory to anyone or anything else, we take it away from God.