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Made In Our Image
October 15, 1995

ISAIAH 44:9-20; ROMANS 1:18-15

On the sixth day of creation (Genesis 1:27), God created humankind in his image. Because God is spirit, image does not mean that humans look like God. God doesn't have hands, feet, or even a body. What is meant by image is that humans have the moral capacity and ability to think, act like God, and relate to God. God did not create us to look like him, but to be like him.

Since the beginning of time, humankind has reversed the verse, and has tried to make God in our image--to be like us! The first sin was committed by Adam and Eve who disobeyed God, deluding themselves into believing, "Surely God didn't mean what he said!" They wanted to live on their terms, not on God's terms. They made up a god who would be like them, rather than worship and follow the God who made them to be like him. And, they suffered the consequences by being banished from the Garden of Eden.

People make up their own gods. To address this phenomenon, the first two of the Ten Commandments prohibit the making and worshiping of gods. You shall have no other gods before me, says the Lord. And, you shall not make for yourself an idol. In the early days, they made idols in human or animal form. Our reading this morning from Isaiah dealt with the absurdity of idol worship. All who make idols are nothing, said Isaiah. Who would fashion a god or cast an image that can do no good? Isaiah's probing question is as relevant today as it was then. Why worship and follow a god you have designed of your own making? What good can such a god do? How effective is a god we have made in our image? Isaiah describes in fascinating detail how one goes about making an idol, and ends this passage by calling it a fraud. Indeed, each of us must ask ourselves the provocative, serious, life-changing question, "Is my god a fraud?"

Oh, we don't make idols anymore. We don't make images of humans or animals, and put them on a shrine in the corner of our prayer room. However, we also are tempted to make up a god who happens to be like us, with the same aspirations, desires, and ethics we have! Is this a new idea to you this morning? How often do you question yourself, asking yourself if you are truly worshiping and following the true God, or some facsimile you have invented?

In the Roman passage read this morning, Paul contends that the wrath of God is stirred up when we make up our own god. They did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened...They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. Worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator (ourselves rather than the Creator) is what it means to make a god in our image.

A young Ku Klux Klan mother appeared in her hood and cape on the Donahue TV show, and shouted at the top of her lungs how she was going to raise her children to be "good Christian kids." The head of a Christian Militia (Isn't that a contradiction in terms? An oxymoron?) called the Oklahoma City bombing of an office building and day-care center, "As fine a piece of art as any Rembrandt painting." It's obvious to us how the Ku Klux Klan and the Christian Militia have created a god in their image--a god like them. It's obvious because their values and beliefs are so radically different from ours, but it's not so obvious to us how we too might be guilty of creating a god in our image.

Would you be willing to examine your beliefs about God this morning? Let's begin with the affirmation of monotheism: there is one God who created and is creating all there is. A little boy was having difficulty with his ABCs. He could never seem to recite them in the correct order. When his mother told him he couldn't go to his friend's house until he knew his ABCs, the boy replied, "Mama, I know my ABCs. It's just that my ABCs are different from your ABCs!" I'm afraid there is only one objective order for the ABCs, as there is only one God. The ABCs are not subjective--with each person having his/her own unique order. And, in the final analysis, your God cannot be different from my God, and vice versa. Doesn't God have objective existence, apart and separate from each of our perspectives, beliefs, and experience? Wouldn't it be wise of us to seek to find and worship the one true God, the one who created all there is? To quote Isaiah again, why believe in, worship and follow a god who does you no good?

Let me ask four questions this morning to help us examine our beliefs about God. 1) What does your god demand of you? Expect of you? Cost you? If your answer is little or nothing, I suggest you take another look at God; because the God described and worshiped in the Bible demands your life. Any god who demands anything less than your very life is not worthy of your worship, is not worthy of you. An irate father phoned William Willimon who is chaplain of Duke University, the United Methodist school in North Carolina. Let me read you Willimon's account.

A while back I got a call from a parent, an upset, very upset parent.

"I hold you personally responsible for this," he said.

"Me?" I asked.

The father was hot, upset because his graduate school bound daughter had just informed him that she was going to chuck it all ("throw it all away" was the way the father described it) and go do mission work with the Presbyterians in Haiti.

"Isn't that absurd!" shouted the father. "A BS degree in mechanical engineering from Duke and she's going to dig ditches in Haiti."

"Well, I doubt that she's received much training in the Engineering Department here for that kind of work, but she's probably a fast learner and will probably get the hang of ditch-digging in a few months," I said.

"Look," said the father, "this is no laughing matter. You are completely irresponsible to have encouraged her to do this. I hold you personally responsible," he said.

"Me? What have I done?"

"You, you ingratiated yourself with her, filled her head with all that religion stuff. She likes you, that's why she's doing this foolishness," he said.

"Now look, buster," I said, struggling to keep my ministerial composure. "Weren't you the one who had her baptized?"

"Why, yes," he said.

"And then, didn't you read her Bible stories, take her to Sunday School, let her go with the Presbyterian Youth Fellowship to ski in Vale?"

"Well, yes, but..."

"Don't but me," I said. "It's your fault that she believed all that stuff, that she's gone and thrown it all away on Jesus, not mine. You're the one that introduced her to Jesus, not me."

"But all we ever wanted her to be was a Presbyterian," he said, meekly.

"Sorry. You've messed up and made a disciple."

The father played with fire and got burnt. He wanted his daughter to believe in the god he had created in his image. But, he introduced his daughter to the God of creation, the God of Jesus, who got hold of the daughter. I repeat the question: Does your god make demands of you? Does your god ever challenge you to risk? To step out of your comfortable routine and do something, knowing that when you do, you will probably get clobbered, or certainly criticized? Or, is your god a comfortable old shoe you put on to make you feel good? Do you want just enough religion to be respectable, but want little to do with the God who made you, the Jesus who loves you, and the Holy Spirit who powers you to do God's work?

2) Does your god ever judge you? Does your god ever force you to look at yourself, to confront what you believe, how you live, how you spend your money, what you give? Does your god judge your beliefs? Does your god judge your politics? Your country? Your religion? Your church? Your work ethics? Your family? If not, does this mean that your politics or your country or your job is more important than God? Who or what then holds you accountable?

If your god does not judge you, is your god then some bumbling old fool who loves you anyway, who never holds you accountable, who lets you get away with everything, who allows you to rationalize all your behavior and attitudes? Can you manipulate your god around your little finger? If so, I suggest you take another look at the God who holds you accountable to the Ten Commandments and the lifestyle revealed in Jesus; the God who thunders, (Ezekiel 33:20) I will judge all of you according to your ways!

3) When you think about your god, when you worship your god, when you pray to your god, do you ever feel awe? Wonder? Do you ever feel small? When Isaiah had a vision of the majesty of God, he responded, (Isaiah 6:5) Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips. When you worship the one, true God, you are sometimes convicted with the need to confess your sins and your unworthiness, to cast yourself on the mercy of God.

4) Are you in a relationship with the god you worship? In fellowship? Are you on speaking terms? Have discovered what a friend you have in Jesus, a friend who walks with you and talks with you, and tells you you are his own? Do you know a God who, yes, judges you because God wants you to be and do your best; but also a God who picks you up when you fall, wipes your tears when you cry, loves you so deeply it cost him his life on the cross, and will be with you and power you to do what you have been put on this earth to do?

Do you know the God of creation, the God of Jesus, who demands your all, and offers you a relationship in return?

© 1995 Douglas I. Norris