February 15, 2014

Reducing God?

In a Bible class, I suggested that the participants close their eyes and imagine themselves on a park bench with Jesus. They could talk with Him about their issues, praise and thank Him, or just sit there appreciating His love for them and resting in His grace.

This week I read various theology papers suggesting that this could be a form of idolatry in that we should never reduce Jesus to our imagination so we can control what He says and does. In other words, we are not to make an image of God the Son in our minds.

There was nothing in these papers that told what to do about those times He appears to us in startling reality that is not initiated by our imagination. What about the unexpected yet vivid sense of Him when in great distress or incredible sorrow? What about the sense of His presence in our worship?

Today’s devotional reading attempts a distinction between His actual incarnation and our attempts to “substitute a lesser god for the true God.” It says this imagining of God is an attempt to control Him and should not be done. I am having trouble relating to this form of idolatry.

The following verses are descriptions of who Jesus really is — God far beyond the scope of our imagination, yet God becoming the Son of man that we might become the children of God . . .

In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. (Ephesians 4:9–10)

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15)

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high . . . (Hebrews 1:3)

Jesus is God high and lifted up, but also God who descended to us, not by our will but of His own free choice. I can grasp this amazing event with my mind, but cannot completely fathom His choice or what it was like for Him to do this. He is God, not a representative of God, nor like any other. He is not created, but the Creator; not a prince, but the King of kings. In some respects, my mind does not know what to do with Him for God is too lofty, beyond my capacity. Yet this same God became one of us . . .

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)

This reality almost makes my head hurt. I can mentally picture a man riding a donkey, but I cannot fully fathom how (or why) the God of the universe could put Himself into the body of a human child who grew up and died for us, yet remains the God of the universe, even as He remains in that human body from the incarnation into eternity.

I do know one thing – Jesus became man that we might know God, see God, grasp the wonder of God. He did this freely, not because of anything we have done to deserve it. In fact, He did it because we are helpless to do anything that pleases God. It is by believing and receiving Jesus Christ that we receive His righteousness. Because of who He is and what He has done, I am set free from my frantic efforts to be the person I imagine God desires me to be.

Jesus said, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:27–29)

Why would anyone want to control Him? He has revealed the wonder of God and offers me rest! Clearly, this Christian life is not about me, but all about Jesus. My imagination of Him cannot bring Him down to my level, but even if it could, the grandeur of who He is would never be diminished and I’d have no control over Him anyway. 

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