CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

The Weightlessness of God (In Today’s Church)

Jul 3, 2010

In 1941 C.S. Lewis wrote a brief but very important essay entitled “The Weight of Glory”. There is a play on words with his title, since the word ‘glory’ in Hebrew means weight or heaviness. In his essay he was writing about the glory each of us as divine image bearers carry.

“It may be possible for each of us to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden, of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.”

He wrote this to remind us that there “are no ‘ordinary’ people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” But the glory I wish to address here is that of God, and the fact that for most believers today, he is really not that glorious or weighty at all. Indeed, we have managed to domesticate God, to dethrone God, and to bring him down to our level.

Many concerned Christian thinkers have pondered this issue and lamented the direction the church is heading today. Donald McCullough wrote about this in his The Trivialization of God (NavPress, 1995). He begins with these words: “Visit a church on Sunday morning – almost any will do . . . You will not likely find much awe and sense of mystery.”

Instead, “reverence and awe have been replaced by a yawn of familiarity”. He continues, “We prefer the illusion of a safer deity, and so we have pared God down to more manageable proportions.” Such a god, he says, “inspires no awe, of course, but neither does it threaten our security”.

A year earlier David Wells produced a significant critique entitled God in the Wasteland (Eerdmans, 1995). There he bemoaned the fact that the contemporary church has been “attempting to heal the church by tinkering with its structures, its services, its public face.”

Such superficial remedies remind one of Jeremiah’s words about Israel’s carnal leaders: “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious” (Jer. 8:11). Says Wells, these lightweight remedies are “clear evidence that … God himself is secondary to organization and image, that the church’s health lies in its flow charts, its convenience, and its offerings rather than in its inner life, its spiritual authenticity, the toughness of its moral intentions, its understanding of what it means to have God’s Word in this world.”

He correctly warns, “The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is not inadequate technique, insufficient organization, or antiquated music, and those who want to squander the church’s resources bandaging these scratches will do nothing to stanch the flow of blood that is spilling from its true wounds. The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church. His truth is too distant, his grace is too ordinary, his judgment is too benign, his gospel is too easy, and his Christ is too common.”

Philip Graham Ryken, commenting on the above-mentioned passage in Jeremiah puts it this way: “More than anything else, failing to take God seriously is the problem with the contemporary church. We trivialize the holiness of God, so we end up with a trivial view of sin. We trivialize the majesty of God, so we end up with trivial worship. We trivialize the truth of God, so we end up with a trivial grasp of his Word. We trivialize the judgment of God, so we end up with a trivial appreciation for the atonement of Jesus Christ.”

The great English Anglican laywoman, Dorothy Sayers felt the same way back in 1949: “The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore; on the contrary, they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified Him ‘meek and mild,’ and recommended Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.”

Of course the Bible has many warnings about attempting to bring God down to our level, to domesticate him, to strip him of his majesty and holiness. One could cite any number of words from the Old Testament prophets on this for example. But let me finish by citing a more recent prophetic voice who warned repeatedly about all this.

A.W. Tozer never ceased to warn a wayward and apathetic church about these tendencies. He rightly offered these words of rebuke: “Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms. We want to get Him where we can use Him, or at least know where He is when we need Him. We want a God we can in some measure control.”

Indeed, he penned an entire book on this theme. In one of his most important works, his 1961 The Knowledge of the Holy he hammered home the vital importance of recovering a vision of who this God is with whom we have to do. I encourage everyone to get this book and read it, and read it again, until its truths penetrate our hardened spirits.

Here are just a few choice quotes from this utterly important volume:

“The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshiping men. This she has not done deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge; and her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic. The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us.”

“The decline of the knowledge of the holy has brought on our troubles. A rediscovery of the majesty of God will go a long way toward curing them. It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous or inadequate. If we would bring back spiritual power to our lives, we must begin to think of God more nearly as He is.”

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.”

“A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well. It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb the whole structure must sooner or later collapse. I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God.”

“The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him – and of her. In all her prayers and labors this should have first place. We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to them undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers of generations past. This will prove of greater value to them than anything that art or science can devise.”

Absolutely. If the church hopes again to become a force for good in the world, and to be the salt and light it is called to be, it must rediscover who God is. And he is not the God of our own devising, but the holy, majestic and transcendent being who said, “This is what God the LORD says – he who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: ‘I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols’” (Isaiah 42:5,8).

[1413 words]

11 Responses to The Weightlessness of God (In Today’s Church)

  • Amen and Amen Bill. As much as I know that God’s love is for us and the Godhead lives within us as believers there is a sense of shallowness in my understanding of God’s attributes. As one who attends prayer meetings and leads the worship I have this sense of not really knowing the one whom I worship and my prayers are not being as effective as they should be. I soon run out of adjectives with which to describe His holiness and majesty etc and even though these times are precious I’m frustrated at the shallowness of my worship experience. The revelation of God’s attributes to our hearts comes from the Holy Spirit and that by spending precious hours in His presence and in His word. Sadly our fast and busy lifestyle today numbs our hearts to the Spirit’s work and it is so hard to get out of this rutt but get out we must if we are to become the mature sons of God!
    Keith Lewis

  • Thanks so much Bill.
    Paul Adams

  • Truly spoken Bill,

    Speaking to a ‘not yet believer’ once about the things of God, she replied, ‘God is alright, I suppose, in His place’.

    My reply, ‘That’s true, and He owns the place.’

    Sometimes we blood bought, who should know better, also attempt to put God in His place and it’s good to be reminded as you have done that the universe can’t contain Him.

    Glenn Christopherson

  • The thing I find most terrifying is this: God is not “like us”; we are just a little “like Him” in that we are made in His image. Yet we seem to consistently try to make Him in our image. Selah!
    Stephen Frost, Melbourne

  • Thank you. A thoughtful and excellent article. Must try to find my copy of Tozer’s book(s) stored before we went to Aus. I am tremendously grateful to be pulled up short by you, Bill, and our lovely Pastor, in this line. Never too old to learn. Never to old (or too young) to go on being transformed from one degree of glory into another by increasing one’s ‘knowledge of the Holy’.
    Katharine Hornsby

  • Yet God became man in Jesus but became one of us in all things except sin. He was not weightless. He was also accessible to all of us and expressed and moved amongst even outcasts in all thier personal situations.
    In other words He did come down to our level and did so out of humility and love so as to reach us.
    Michael Webb

  • Thanks Bill, spot-on,

    Why is it so! Is it partly that fear of a holy & righteous God has become an optional extra?

    To rediscover who God is, we need to repent and believe. But believe what? Do we believe the bible IS God’s word, or simply “contains God’s word”, or worse? Is our doctrine the result of careful exegesis (sola scriptura) or, is it contaminated by reading into scripture (eisegesis) concepts foreign to the plain meaning of the text?

    Why I raise this (not again do I hear from some) is that atheists frequently challenge with claims such as these:

    “(E)volution destroys utterly and finally the very reason Jesus’ earthly life was supposedly made necessary. Destroy Adam and Eve and the original sin, and in the rubble you will find the sorry remains of the Son of God. If Jesus was not the redeemer who died for our sins, and this is what evolution means, then Christianity is nothing.” G Richard Bozarth,
    and
    “Now that we know that Adam and Eve never were real people the central myth of Christianity is destroyed. If there never was an Adam and Eve there never was an original sin. If there never was an original sin there is no need of salvation. If there is no need of salvation there is no need of a saviour. And I submit that puts Jesus, historical or otherwise, into the ranks of the unemployed. I think that evolution is absolutely the death knell of Christianity.” Frank Zindler.

    Yet how many Christians can give a logical scriptural and scientifically sound answer to Bozarth or Zindler? Sadly, many cannot defend Genesis 1-11 as being true history and so have no answer. So if we don’t believe the Genesis foundation of the gospel, how can we get a coherent idea of who God is?

    Perhaps this is why so many in the church avoid the creation-evolution debate and is one of the reasons why so few believe that the bible IS God’s word and why we “must rediscover who God is”.

    Peter Newland

  • Too true Bill….the modern church needs to realise that God is not a concept…He is real….and we need to seek Him to find out who He is… putting God in a box is a dangerous thing to do. I believe we really need to follow the directions given by god in 2Chron7:14 ….if we as christians will truly humble ourselves and seek God, maybe this nation has a chance….

    Keep up the good work mate.
    Andrew Munden

  • In response to Peter Newland’s question above “Why is it so”? , I am wondering if it because so often we want God to change some part of us, but we don’t want Him to change all of us.

    In his book “Mere Christianity” CS Lewis cited an example of a boy having a tooth-ache. He knew his mum could give him aspirin to help the pain, but he doesn’t want to ask her because he knows she will then take him to the dentist who will fix up his teeth properly (with probably some pain!).

    I think the bigger perspective we have of God , the more we realise we need to give God everything. That is, we need to go to the dentist rather than just getting the aspirin.

    It is much “safer” to keep God as a small god, since a small god requires less of us. The God of the Bible is not a small god.

    Peter Baade

  • One item that has received very little attention is that of a genetic survey printed in Time Magazine some years ago that stated that all of man kind could be traced back to just two people. If that fact alone was publicised a little more effectively it would surely blow evolution right out of the water. In fact any genetic study that links the population of earth to a small initial number of humans would still destroy Darwin’s theory that we mutated from apes.

    Dennis Newland

  • I do not believe that those who aspire to be true Christians or attempt the impossible goal of becoming like Jesus can ever really place God in a box. To know God is to be fearful when we realise what is required of us to enter his Kingdom.
    As Jesus said narrow is the way and few there are that achieve it and when I consider those words I realise what God expects of us and I tremble.
    Seriously knowing what we have been told and what we hope the new heaven and earth will be with no crime, no death or sorrow, no hatred or covetousness, no lust or greed, we will surely have to honestly and fervently desire all these things before we are chosen.
    If just one soul retaining any of the earthly lusts were to ever gain access to the heaven we all hope for then it would no longer be heaven.
    In the book of Revelations after the thousand years ruled by a rod of iron it tells us that Satan will again be loosed for a short while. This implies to me that this thousand years will be a further refining before the New Heaven and New Earth bathed by the light of our God (not the ball of fire created to warm our earthly dwelling) becomes our final dwelling place. If we earnestly believe this and want to live in the love of our lord then we ignore his majesty and his expectations at our peril.
    Jesus said I know my sheep and my sheep know me and we must live up to his faith and knowledge of who we are otherwise his sacrifice will have been in vain.

    Dennis Newland

Leave a Reply