What we believe matters. Our behaviours and feelings, the choices we make – whether wise or foolish – are all linked to whether we believe truth or lies about God, Creation, Humanity and New Creation.
We’re now going to look at what we should believe about God and see how that affects our lives. What lies do people believe about God? Well, here are some of the big lies that people have believed about God throughout history.
God is distant
Like most lies, this one starts with a kernel of truth. It seeks to recognise that God is distinct from his creation; that he is transcendent. However, the result is that God is seen as distant, unloving, impersonal, and disinterested in the World that he has made. This God is not knowable.
This belief was the root cause of a number of ancient heresies. For example, the Gnostics believed that because the true God was pure Spirit that matter (created things) was evil. They therefore believed that God would not have been directly involved in creation, attributing this work to lesser and possibly malign deities. Likewise, if God is distant, then he is unlikely to get involved in the mess of a fallen creation through incarnation; thus a number of early heretics denied that Jesus really was fully God and fully man. Indeed, this argument was already being made when the first apostles were still alive (see 1 John 4:1).
God is near but small
In contrast to those who see God as distant and impersonal, others have wanted to emphasise his nearness and intimacy. For many, this results in polytheism and idolatry as they end up with a multiplicity of gods that are interested in their lives but so near that they have become small and unable to exercise sovereignty over the entire Universe.
Such gods are powerless to really help us in life. Often they seem to require appeasing and winning over. We seek to manipulate and control them. Polytheism may be seen when people overtly choose to worship a number of different gods, but it can also be seen when people look to specific people and things to supply meaning e.g. money, sex, fame, power, celebrities etc.
We also see others who theoretically remain monotheists but they seek to reduce God down to their own definition of him by emphasising specific characteristics with the result that God is weakened as other aspects of his character are denied. Classically this happens when people attempt to explain the problem of suffering. The problem is presented in the following terms.
If God were both loving and sovereign, then He would be willing and able to prevent suffering. As suffering exists, then God must either be unwilling or unable to prevent it.
It seems preferable to think of God as unable rather than unwilling and so God’s love is emphasised at the cost of his sovereignty. Open Theism presents a theoretically consistent form of this argument, but we can all at times slip into ways of thinking and behaving which suggest we have too small a view of God. Whenever we act out of fear rather than faith, we are saying that God is small.
God will change his mind
Open Theists argue that God does change his mind and identify specific Bible passages which they believe prove this. They argue that God sometimes makes mistakes and/or acts on limited information because He is unable to see the future.
Most Christians will at least theoretically believe that God is able to see the future (His foreknowledge) and that God does not change, but once again we can live as though we believe He will change his mind. This is seen when we struggle to exercise faith in God’s promises and particularly when we are tempted to believe that he will cease to love us and act towards us in love.
God doesn’t change his mind because He is stubborn/impersonal
We may end up holding an orthodox position by believing that God does not change, but still have a distorted view of what this means. In human behaviour, we tend to associate unwillingness to change with stubbornness and a lack of flexibility. If we read this association across onto God, then we end up seeing him in a negative light. We might once again fear that God is distant and disinterested and so our prayers are pointless, falling on deaf ears.
God does not and cannot love me
There are few things sadder than hearing someone say with utter conviction that God not only does not love them, but that He cannot. They believe that who they are, the things they have said and done and the things said and done to them mean that they are unlovely and unlovable. They see their circumstances as evidence that God is specifically distant from them or that if He is near, it is only to punish and harm. Such a view of God will lead to despair.
God will not judge
Then there are those who argue that a loving God cannot punish sin by sending people to hell. For example, author Rob Bell has titled one of his books “Love Wins.” Judgement and punishment are seen as incompatible with love, mercy and forgiveness.
If belief that God does not love leads to despair, then belief that God will not act in judgement leads to arrogance, the belief that I can do as I please.
In fact, each of these lies will tend to either despair or arrogance. We either believe that because God is distant or powerless that we are in charge and we can do as we please, or we believe that because God is distant or powerless, we live without hope.
Arrogance will lead to recklessness and selfishness. I will live for today and I will live to please myself. Despair may cause me to look for ways to escape from the reality of life and to dull the pain of suffering. That’s why when we meet people who are in a mess such as debt, addiction or broken relationships that a good starting point is to ask them what they believe about God. At the root of their mess is likely to be a faulty understanding of God and therefore a false god or idol.