Creating God In Our Own Image
I Samuel 5:1-12
It says in the Bible that “God created man in his own image.” But let’s be honest enough to admit that we try to create God in our own image. That is to say, we try to shape God to suit our own tastes, our own thoughts and our own desires.
For example, many Americans believe that God always tilts just a little bit toward America. He cannot possibly love those who are our enemies as much as He loves us. The laboring people see God as wearing a hard hat, while corporate executives picture Him in a pin-stripe suit. Some people believe Him to be a kind and benevolent old man with long, flowing whiskers, while others regard Him as an angry tyrant with fire in His eyes and thunderbolts in His hands. Not long ago, Dr. Walchenbach asked a class of our ladies to draw a picture of God—and everyone in the class had a different idea of what God is like. We all have a tendency to make God into what we want Him to be. Even Presbyterians sometimes have a tendency to say to others: “You worship God your way, and we’ll worship God His way!” It’s such a nice feeling, isn’t it, to have a God who feels the same way about things as we do. And that nice feeling is as old as the Philistines.
In our Scripture lesson today, the Philistines had captured the Ark of the Covenant, the visual symbol of the God of Israel. They took it to the temple of their god, Dagon, and they placed the Ark right next to the statue of Dagon. The next morning they were astonished to discover that Dagon had fallen flat on his face on the floor. Well, they said that Dagon had been blown over by the wind so they carefully propped him back up on his pedestal again.
Now, that’s absurd on the face of it. If Dagon was a god, he ought to have been able to get back on his pedestal by himself. And, in any case, it’s clear from Scripture that Dagon had fallen down in reverence before the one true God, the God of Israel. But those Philistines did not see it that way.
The next morning, they discovered to their chagrin that Dagon had fallen on his face again, and this time he was broken in pieces. Surely that would have been enough to turn the Philistines to the God of Israel. But no, that’s not what happened. Do you know what the Philistines did? They packed up the Ark of the Covenant and shipped it back to Israel. They wanted no part of a God who was too big to control.
I see this same thing happening among Christians today. We have our little pet notions about God with which we are so comfortable that when some great new concept of God comes along, we have a tendency to reject it outright in favor of that with which we have become comfortable. Like the Philistines of old, we want no part of a God who is too big to control. As a matter of fact, I happen to believe that is what Palm Sunday is all about. So join me in looking first at Dagon, then at the Ark of the Covenant, and finally at Jesus’ Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem.
Let’s start with Dagon.
Archeologists have told us much about Dagon. It seems that in ancient Philistia in various parts of the country, Dagon was represented in different ways. For example, along the coast where the fishermen lived, he was portrayed as a fish. Inland, where the farmers were, he was pictured with golden kernels of corn. In both instances the people had fashioned a god who satisfied their desires.
The same thing happens to us. We take a notion from here, an idea from there, a word from a favorite Sunday School teacher, a thought from a sermon—we take these things and weave them together and say: “This is what God is like.” Little wonder then that the God we build for ourselves looks very much like us. He has the same values, the same ideas, the same tastes.
J. B. Phillips, once wrote a whole book on the subject. He called it, Your God Is Too Small. In that book, he declares that many of us have failed to permit ourselves to be grasped by a God who is big enough to account for all of life, big enough to transcend this scientific age, big enough to command our highest respect and admiration, and therefore our willing cooperation.” I think that’s true. We like to make God into what we want Him to be. We do not like to have a God who disagrees with us. We prefer to have a nice little God we can control, one who sees things the same way we do, one with whom we can be comfortable.
And I would suggest to you that that is precisely what put Jesus on His Cross; the fact that He came talking about a God too big to be controlled. And the political and religious leaders of the day—and even the pewsitters in the congregation—couldn’t stand that kind of talk. When Jesus said these things in Nazareth, they ran Him out of town. And when He said these things in Jerusalem, they sought to do Him in.
But, now let’s look at the Ark of the Covenant.
It was a box made of acacia wood. It was 4 1/2 feet long, 2 1/2 feet high, 2 1/2 feet deep. It contained the holiest articles in Israel’s history, including the tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments. Interesting, isn’t it, that the second of those Commandments speaks to the matter before us now. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” God was saying to the people: “No one can paint my pictures. No one can carve a statue of me. An accurate representation of me cannot be made, so do not even bother to try.”
My friends, our God is simply too big to be caged up in a building or a geographical space. He’s too big to be portrayed by the power of art or sculpture or even the written word. He’s too big to be defined by any philosophical concept or theological system. It just cannot be done.
As an example, I would suggest that the most quoted description or definition of God is that which is found in our own Westminster Shorter Catechism: ” God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” That’s the noblest definition of God ever written, yet it is altogether inadequate. It says that “God is a spirit.” That’s true. But the Bible says He is also Father and Son. It says that “God is infinite.” And that’s true. But the word “infinite” appears in Scripture only three times and I doubt if any finite, human mind can fully grasp what infinite means. It says that “God is eternal”, yet with our human limitations we cannot think in terms which are beyond the boundaries of time. It says that “God is unchangeable.” Yet never once do the Scriptures apply that word to God. Understand, please, that I am not making light of the Catechism definition. I say it again: it’s the noblest definition of God ever written, but it is still inadequate. And if that noble expression is inadequate, then how much more inadequate is it for us to try to define or describe God in terms of our own thoughts and ideas, our own values and prejudices, our own likes and dislikes. It cannot be done! Our God is too big for that.
I love that verse in Deuteronomy where it says that God is like “an eagle stirring up its nest.” Here’s the picture. The eagle always builds its nest high on a rocky ledge. There it lays its eggs. After the eggs are hatched, the young eaglets are permitted to remain in the nest only for a short time. Then the eagle removes the young from the nest and pushes the nest over the ledge—that’s to keep the young from becoming too dependent on the nest. Now the eagle encourages the young ones to try their wings in flight. If perchance one of them is not willing to try to fly, then the eagle will actually push that eaglet off the ledge so that he is forced to try his wings. If, for some reason, the wings do not support the eaglet in flight that first time, the eagle swoops down beneath the falling bird and spreads its wings and catches it on its back and lifts it back up to the ledge again, where the whole process begins over once more.
That’s the picture of our God. He is a God who is stirring up His nest. He will not let us be comfortable in Him. He will not let us take Him for granted. He is constantly challenging us to fly higher and higher in our understanding of Him. He is constantly demanding more and more of us, demanding that we learn more and more of Him, demanding that we give more and more of ourselves to Him. And if in the process we should stumble and fall, then like the great eagle, He swoops down and spreads His wings and catches us and bears us up. That’s the picture of the God of the Bible, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the God who commands us to grow up in Him and to let the knowledge of Him grow up in us. And I would suggest to you that that happens only when we confront Jesus Christ. When we want to know what God is like, when we want to know whether our beliefs about God are true or not, the one to whom we look is Jesus.
That now brings us to Palm Sunday.
You see, Jesus didn’t want to be known as the popular preacher of Galilea who packed them in on Sundays. He didn’t want to be mobbed as a miracle-working faith healer. He didn’t want to spark an insurrection that would splash His name across the headlines, vaulting Him into political power. He didn’t want to come across as some kind of first century “Superman” who could turn stones into bread and leap safely out into space from the roof of the temple. No. He came for one purpose and one purpose alone. So what did He do? He took a common donkey as a mount instead of an imperial charger. And then with dusty palms and soiled clothes beneath Him instead of a royal red carpet, and with joyful peasants and singing children as His escorts instead of legions of marching soldiers, He came riding into human history as nothing less than God Almighty Himself, demanding in return our full response, our complete allegiance, our total commitment. So this is the challenge of Palm Sunday and Palm Sunday now: that we see Jesus for who He really is—nothing less than the full revelation of God Himself—and that we give to Jesus nothing less than the full commitment of our lives.
Jesus. Jesus. Jesus is the best photograph God ever had made. The Bible says that He is “the image of the invisible God.” The little girl said: “He is God with shoes on.” Oh, it’s true, that we don’t have any picture of Jesus. We don’t even have a single word that He ever wrote. It’s just as well. If we had snapshots or written words, we would worship them, not Him. You know how it is. Some people make the mistake of worshipping the Bible. But I tell you today that just as God will not be. made of wood or stone, so He will not be made of pages. We do not worship the Bible. We worship God. We see God in Jesus Christ. And we encounter Jesus on the pages of the Bible. That means that we must put aside everything but Jesus. Only Jesus.
The Bible calls Him Man, God, Son of Man, Son of God, Son of David, the Messiah, the Good Shepherd, the Divine Physician, the Prophet, the High Priest, the King, the Cornerstone, the Bridegroom, the Bread of Life, and the Light of the world. He is the door, the vine of which we are the branches, the Judge of the living and the dead, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He is the Mediator, the Forerunner, the Scapegoat, the Beloved One, the Chosen One, the Just One, the One who is to come. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. He is the Bright and Morning Star. He is the Foundation of the world. He is the Lord. He is the Saviour. He is the One in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. He is the Christ. He is Jesus—and this Jesus shall save His people from their sins.
And He comes on this Palm Sunday. He comes preaching not force but love. He comes saying not, “Look after Number One,” but “Look after the least of these.” He comes conquering not with a sword but with a cross. He comes in the name of the Lord.
So I pray that this Palm Sunday, we shall see Him and we shall know Him and we shall love Him and we shall serve Him and we shall surrender to Him. I pray that before this day is out, we shall say with Thomas, the disciple of old:
“Jesus Christ, my Lord and my God!”