“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” These words came into my life via an acquaintance’s Facebook page. I had encountered similar before. I read those words and couldn’t find any instant disagreement with them. Of course human beings do have a built-in inclination to make God/god/gods after our own image. It’s called idolatry and, trust me, it’s bad. When we have prejudices and petty hatreds for people unlike ourselves that is not good. When we assume or assert that God feels the same way as us, that’s even worse. It is creating God in our own image.
But as I reflected for a few minutes afterwards, I started to wonder. Where was this sentiment was aimed? A sneaking suspicion arose that it was aimed at people who are sort of like me: Christian (yeah, I still believe it all), conservative (for lack of a better word – certainly not politically conservative necessarily), traditional (in all the ways that are becoming more unpopular in current culture), and Evangelical (a term fraught with unwanted associations but I’m not giving up on it yet). I don’t honestly believe I have ‘hatred’ for anybody – whether individuals or collective ‘other’. But I do have lots of disagreement. And if a statement like that is aimed at someone like me, then I need to receive it as a challenge. And I do. But I also felt obliged to challenge back.
If we can make God in our own image, that sad fact can cut both ways. If we can make a god/gods that hate everything and everyone we do, we can also fall off the other side of the horse. We can make a god/gods that accept, promote, tolerate everything we do. And that’s also a sure way we’re making a god in our own image. And the thing about idolatry is that our god isn’t the God. Idolatry always gives us a comfortable god who already conforms to our way of looking at the world. Our god likes what we like and hates what we hate. But its not the True God. The True God does hate. He also has great love. How can He, for example, both hate something (sin – which He gets very specific about) and love other things (sinners – no exceptions made in this area)? Well, the answer to that lies at the heart of Christian belief – the Cross of Christ and the offer of just forgiveness made there. But God doesn’t conform to our ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’. God obeys neither current cultural norms nor the preferences of our individualistic hearts. He is Who He is. In fact, the only way to prevent making a god in our own image is to accept that reality.
One of the ways I know God is real is that He doesn’t agree with me. I have many other reasons too – personal, rational, existential, confessional – but this one is important. It’s also one of the reasons I believe that the Bible’s revelation of Him is true. He doesn’t conform to me. He has challenged (and continues to challenge) my preferred opinions about poverty and wealth, sexuality and what it’s for, who gets to be considered a human person, what faith is, who Jesus is, how I must live my life. In fact, I’ve done a 180 in every one of those areas. And I still get challenged to not go with the flow and choose the easier option. If I were to make up a god, there wouldn’t be any difference between me and him. If He’s real, though, He’ll be unlike me and perhaps the majority opinion around me.
I believe that the wisdom of W H Auden (a man whose personal faith I am not qualified to evaluate) is in order here:
“I believe because He fulfills none of my dreams, because He is in every respect the opposite of what He would be if I could have made Him in my own image. . . . None of the others arouse all sides of my being to cry ‘Crucify Him.'” -W.H. Auden