Some people think of God as a human – the “old man in the sky.” They think of a god with human limitations and needs as if we are worshiping a human deity. Questions about the race, sex, culture, language, and appearance of God are all rooted in the misconception that God possesses human properties and limitations. God does not have a sexual identity, and the Bible describes God with both masculine and feminine qualities. There is no neuter gender in Hebrew, so if a sexual identity is given, it must come from the context. Even the New Testament, sometimes provides a feminine description of God. (See Luke 13:34.)
Man’s creation in the image of God is also not a human concept. We do not look like God physically or in any physical human way. We are in God’s image by our capacity to love sacrificially, our creative abilities in art and music, our capacity to engage in spiritual things, and our ability to feel guilt and sympathy and compassion. Even the purpose of human existence is linked to this concept. God did not create humans because He was lonely. The purpose of our creation is rooted in nonhuman struggles that we can only vaguely comprehend. The reason for our existence is independent of any physical human objective. (See Ephesians 3:9 -11; 6:12; and Job 1,2.)
Our worship of God is frequently skewed by our conception of God as a human with human needs. Sometimes we seem to act as though God needs our praise because He is depressed. We don’t praise God because God has a self-image problem. The quality of our praise or singing is not of importance to God. Sometimes we emphasize the quality of our singing praises more than the participation of everyone in the process. That emphasis reflects our limited understanding of the nature of God as a spirit. John 4:24 tells us that, “God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” We forget that because we have a limited human concept of God. We are not worshiping a human deity.
We tend to replace the simplicity and total involvement of the first century Church in their worship of God with elaborate theatrical productions. Our productions may have entertainment value, but we often fail to realize that God is not appeased with things humans deem as important. The Bible portrays God as looking on the hearts of those who worship Him, not the overt process. One of the best biblical examples is in Leviticus 10:1-2 where Nadab and Abihu, two priests, offered “strange fire” in replacement for what God had ordered. There is no indication that they neglected anything God had told them to do. They dressed up the fire in some way that would make it more appealing on a human level. God reacts strongly to this human substitution.
It is easy for people living in Western societies to look at human-like images from primitive cultures and wonder how they could conceive of God in such a distorted way. But we may be guilty of worshiping a human deity in our own way. God calls us to understand that His ways and thoughts are not like ours and that He does not have our limitations. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Let us listen to the true God and strive to understand what He wills for us rather than creating God in our image and trying to appease something of our own creation.
— John N. Clayton © 2019