A version of this article appeared in today’s Chronicle of Mt. Juliet.
Last week, I was excited to catch an interview with one of my favorite comedians on the subject of his faith. Sadly, he threw a wet blanket on my excitement when he and his host proceeded to speak, not about the God of Scripture, but the “higher power” within. At one point, he mentioned the dangers of pride in show biz and how important it is to have a higher power to humble you. That raised a question for me: if the higher power is something we need to discover and define for ourselves, then when we bow ourselves before it, are we not just bowing before the mirror? How can we be humbled by something that exists on our terms?
This reminded me of what the late Presbyterian minister, Tim Keller, often said, “If your god never disagrees with you, you might just be worshiping an idealized version of yourself.” If your god just so happens to share your view on all the things that matter in life, then the odds are you’ve fashioned god in your own image rather than the other way around. And lest you think I’m just picking on the agnostics, I readily confess that this pastor has spent his entire (admittedly short) career helping Christians lay down their preconceived notions about deity in order to encounter the God who both comforts and confronts us in His word.
As one of the Reformers once wrote, the human heart is an “idol factory.” We’re very good at fashioning gods in our own image. We all carry the sensus divinitatis—the implanted sense of the divine. God’s moral law is written upon our hearts (Gen 2:15), and His attributes are written across the skies (Rom 1:20; cf. Ps 19:1-6). So, we all know Him. Yet, at the same time, our sin-stricken hearts and darkened minds suppress the truth (v. 21) and elevate our creaturely ideas about Him to the status of Creator (v. 25). Like the unfortunate chap in Isaiah 44, we use half a log to kindle the fire that cooks our dinner and the other half to whittle the god before whom we say the blessing.
The challenge for all of us—comedian or pastor, Christian or agnostic—is to recognize that, unless God disrupts our understanding with the revealed truth of who He is, we will continue to worship gods of our own making. They might make us feel good about ourselves but, like the oncologist who hides a diagnosis for fear of upsetting his patient, the higher power within will disingenuously stroke our ego until we end up six feet under. What we need is a God who loves us enough to disagree with us—the Highest Power who will confront us with the truth because, as Jesus said, only the truth will set us free (John 8:31-32).