Worshiping a Physical Deity

Worshiping a Physical Deity One of the most significant problems people have with God is that they perceive God as a physical entity. That means God is subject to time, as all physical things are. It means that there are confines of space that limit God. It also means that limitations of energy and mass are problems for God. A favorite atheist challenge is, “Can God create a rock so big he can’t move it?” Marshall Keeble used to say, “Yep, and he can create a bulldozer big enough to do the job.” The problem with both the original question and the snappy comeback by Keeble is that they are dealing with a physical being with physical limitations. The problem is worshiping a physical deity.

Creating a physical God makes the process of creation impossible to visualize or understand. A great astronomer once commented that the problem with the big bang theory is that it does not tell us what banged or who caused the bang. That statement is absolutely true, but it also states the question in terms of a physical being. “What banged” means that there was something physical to do the banging. “Who caused the bang?” implies that a physical person created or directed the process. The biblical concept of God and the view of virtually all cosmologists is that the cosmos came from dimensions far beyond our own. Whether one looks for the explanation in quantum mechanics or God, the fact is that the creation process is not a physical process. Worshiping a physical deity is not logical.

Not only do we get bogged down in the creation question, but even our worship of God is impacted by creating a physical God. If your concept of God is physical, then you will do physical things in physical ways to serve God. The building of cathedrals, shrines, monuments, idols, and icons as focal points of worship have grown out of that concept of God. Instead of building structures that serve the needs of people, this kind of created deity infuses a concept of a physical place for God to dwell. Even the phrase “God’s house” suggests a physical limitation to God. We do not need a place to worship God. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). That shows the importance of the nonphysical nature of God. The Bible says we are created in God’s image, but that does not mean a physical image. The God described in the Bible does not possess a face, hands, feet, and does not have an appetite, a sexual identification, or a race. Terms like face and hand may be used to describe how God acts when interacting with humans, but these are not true properties of God.

When someone asks “who created God?” his question is rooted in a misconception of what God is. They think we are worshiping a physical deity. My usual response to that question is to ask the questioner to draw me a four-sided triangle. The point is that the question assumed things about God that are not true. “Who created God?” implies that there was a time when God did not exist. It assumes that space and energy existed without God and before God’s existence. Those are incorrect physical assumptions. God created time, space, matter, and energy. The question is wrong, and so no answer satisfies, just as it is impossible to draw a four-sided triangle.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Worshiping a God-of-the-Gaps

Worshiping a God-of-the-GapsIn ancient times, people created gods to explain what they did not understand. They were worshiping a god-of-the-gaps. When the volcano blew up with power and awesomeness that exceeded their understanding, they created a volcano god to explain it. When powerful weather systems impacted their world, they invented wind gods and rain gods to explain what they experienced. We smile at their ignorance, but their attempts to appease these created deities sometimes resulted in human sacrifice and a massive waste of resources.

In modem times, we have made similar arguments when trying to explain the power of the Sun, or the majesty of everything from the cosmos to life itself by saying, “God did it.” There have even been those who have explained tragic natural events like hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, lightning strikes, cancer, leukemia, and manic depression by attributing them to “acts of God.” The first problem that this produces is that it makes God an evil, vindictive being deliberately bringing pain and tragedy to his creation. That is not the nature of God, and it is totally inconsistent with His image.

James 1:13-14 tells us, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man: but every man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and desires.” If God caused the tornado that destroyed your home and killed your family, then your love for God and your trust in His care for you are going to be severely eroded. Atheists, and the media in general, tend to blame every natural disaster on God in one way or another. Then after creating a false concept of God, they reject the idea of worshiping a god-of-the-gaps based on the assumptions they made.

Humans or human stupidity cause most natural disasters. We are only beginning to understand how we bring disasters on ourselves. Cancer and leukemia are largely related to human-made carcinogens in the environment. Our injudicious use of the land surface and mismanagement of water resources are primary causes of floods. Even weather problems can be related to the way humans have used the land and what they have released into the atmosphere. Environmental extremists have caused many of us to resistant suggestions that we must address human mismanagement of resources. But there is an ever-increasing body of data that shows that many so-called “acts of God” are the products of human mismanagement. Even natural events like hurricanes and earthquakes which have beneficial effects are catastrophic because of human foolishness. Building tall structures where earthquakes are a regular event is a foolish enterprise, and constructing human habitats where hurricanes regularly strike, causes exaggerated damage.

Worshiping a god-of-the-gaps who caused all the bad things in life is going to be a worship of fear and dread. Trying to appease a god so that he will not zap people with tragedy is what caused human sacrifice and all kinds of pagan rituals in the past. In modern times, such a concept promotes fear and an exaggerated attempt to find a way to please the god for the wrong reasons. There can never be a loving father/child relationship that breeds confidence, peace, and love of life.

Atheists reading this discussion are likely to say that apologists attempting to argue for the existence of God based on design are also worshiping a god-of-the-gaps. If we point to a fantastic property of an animal that allows that animal to survive in a given environment, are we not making the same mistake? Will not someone in the future explain a natural way in which that attribute came about, thus debunking any claim that God designed it? That challenge is a good one, and in some cases, it might be valid. But the fact that we know how someone built a computer does not change the fact that it took intelligence to do it. I have frequently heard people define science as man’s attempt to figure out how God did something.

It is also important to realize that we can approach many design questions mathematically. If we can calculate the probability of an event accurately, then we can get an indication of whether chance is a valid mechanism to explain what we see. The question of design is part of a more general argument. Did the subject at hand have a beginning, or has it always been? If it had a beginning, was it caused or not caused? If it was caused, is chance a viable explanation for the cause, or is there evidence of intelligence? This logical series of choices is not worshiping a god-of-the-gaps, but following a series of logical steps leading to a reasonable conclusion.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Virtual Church and Real Church

Virtual Church or Real ChurchToday we have a choice between virtual church and real church. D.J.Soto quit his job at a megachurch in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 2016 to start a virtual congregation, a “fully computer-generated religious institution.” Members of Soto’s church use virtual reality headsets and tap into Altspace VR’s social media platform that provides digital meeting spaces for avatars. The worship service includes a lecture with computer-driven graphics and pictures. The Easter service included walking into Jesus’ tomb and taking a tour of the cross. There is even a baptismal service in which avatars, which are icons that represent people, are baptized.

Other ministers are using variants of Soto’s methods. Jay Kranda of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, uses livestream services and apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook. Some of the people using these electronic church services call themselves “bedside Baptists” and “pillow Presbyterians.” Churchhome Global is another electronic church with Judah and Chelsea Smith using prayer emojis to engage congregational members.

For those whose concept of a worship service is to be a spectator with only a minimal personal involvement, virtual churche may be attractive. Not getting out of the house on Sunday is attractive, especially in bad weather. The problem with all of this, however, is that it misses the purpose of worship.

The biblical concept of the Church has never been that people come as spectators. Worship is not just one dimensional. We praise God and encourage one another. The communion we share is not only vertical as we thank God for the sacrifice of Christ and the cleansing nature of His blood. It’s also horizontal as we share our unity and love for one another as we participate together. The Church is not a social club. It is a gathering of people who share their resources, their lives, and their desire to serve. When you read Acts 2:41-47, you see activities that are not to entertain, but to serve people and God.

The virtual church may enable people to escape the problems of American denominational worship. However, it doesn’t begin to approach the biblical concept of the purpose and conduct of worship and living out the faith together. See James 1:27 and 5:13-20.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from USA TODAY, May 7, 2019, page 1B.

Creativity, Worship, and Thankfulness

Creativity, Worship, and Thankfulness
Three the things which separate humans from our animal friends are creativity, worship, and thankfulness. Humans, created in the image of God, display that image in our own creativity. We express creativity in various artistic and productive ways. One important area of human creativity is music. Birds sing, but all individuals of any species of bird sing the same song, and they have for as long as we have known that species. They are singing the song they were programmed to sing. The only exceptions are a few birds that imitate various sounds or imitate the songs of other birds. Imitation is not creativity. Humans sing and play, many different styles of music, and we are constantly creating new songs. We even combine worship with our creativity in music as we sing to honor God. Music moves us, excites us, and touches us deeply, making it a natural outlet for worship.

Thankfulness is another area that separates us from the animals. A couple of years ago, my wife and I were leaving a sandwich shop where we ate lunch. An elderly woman with a smile on her face came up to our car window holding a sandwich. I rolled down the window to see what she wanted, and she said, “Are you the ones who paid for my sandwich?” She said the employee in the store told her that a person ahead of her had paid, so she didn’t owe anything. I told her that I was glad for her, but we were not the ones who had done this generous act. As she went away, it was evident that the small kindness had made her day, but she was disappointed that she didn’t get to thank her benefactor.

There is something about humans that makes us want to express gratitude. Our pets are loyal to us because we feed them, and they get excited when they see us open the food container. But only humans are motivated to express true gratitude. We often show thankfulness toward each other, but our greatest debt of gratitude is to God. G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “the worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank.” One evidence of God’s existence is that not only does He give us many good things, but He also has given us the desire and ability to say, “Thank you.”

Creativity, worship, and thankfulness are human traits. I am thankful for the creative ability God has given us. I am thankful for the ability to use that creativity in art, music, and worship. I am also thankful for the ability to express gratitude to God.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

God’s Dwelling Place

God's Dwelling Place
People have constructed massive structures and religious places of worship to get in contact with God. Islam has Mecca, the birthplace of Mohammad with the Kaaba being the “House of God.” Buddhism has its shrines with the five elements–fire, air, earth, water, and wisdom. Bahai followers have their temples with the oldest one near Chicago, Illinois. Hindus have their “mandir” temples with the world’s largest one in the New York City metro area. The Mormons have the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City while Catholics have the Vatican. All of these cost a great deal of money, and all of them are geographically limited and impersonal. None of them are consistent with the biblical teachings for Christians. Where is God’s dwelling place?

Jesus made it clear that a new relationship was coming with the advent of Christianity. When Christ spoke with the Samaritan woman in John 4:20-24, He indicated that there would be no single place for worship. Peter in Acts 2:16-21 quotes Joel 2:28-32 in observing how worship of God and the presence of God was changing. In 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19 we read that our bodies are now the “temple of God.” Ephesians 3:17 indicates that Christ dwells in the hearts of Christians based on love. Galatians 4:4-6 tells us that God sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in us.

The Church is people, not places. It can meet anywhere, under any conditions, with no expense or construction or long pilgrimage required. The Church we read about in the Bible did not own a temple or a house of any kind. When we read Acts 2:46 we see Christians meeting from “house to house.” The disciples met in an “upper room,” and they even met in the Temple (Acts 3:1). There is no justification for spending millions of dollars on a physical place to meet while people starve or freeze to death within sight of the structure.

In Acts 17:22-31 Paul talks to the leaders of the day about God’s dwelling place. In verse 24 he told them and us that God “does not dwell in temples made with hands.” He then told his listeners that people “feel after God and try to find him though he is not far from every one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being” (verses 27 and 28). Paul told them they should not think of God as something made by art and human design. He calls on them to repent (verse 30).

Atheists attack the abuses of religion and the waste of religious acts, and much of their criticism is valid. Humans do silly, wasteful things, but that has nothing to do with what the Bible teaches us about God. God’s dwelling place is not in our structures but in us. That fact should affect our lives as we understand what He calls us to do with what He has given us.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Gathering to Worship

Gathering to Worship
Gathering to Worship

We get emails rather regularly from people denigrating worship. Some come from people who attend a church but “don’t get anything from going.” Others are from skeptics and atheists who describe worship as “a supreme waste of time and energy.” Both of these responses are at least in part due to a failure to understand what worship is and its purpose. The biblical concept of worship is not having an entertaining service by a skilled performer. James tells us in James 1:27 “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep himself unspotted by the world.” The purpose of worship is to help us do that and to be strengthened by our time together so that we can serve.

The Church we read about in the Bible did several things as acts of worship to equip themselves to do God’s will. Our problem seems to be that we don’t always understand how that happens. We are told to pray (Philippians 4:6; 1 Timothy 2:1; Colossians 4:2; Ephesians 6:18). Our prayers are not to inform God or to build up His ego. Prayer is vital for us to learn to focus on something beyond ourselves and to be able to petition God to help us have the strength to do what He calls us to do. We are also told that giving is an act of worship (1 Corinthians 16:2; Acts 20:35; 2 Corinthians 9:7). The giving is obviously not because God, the creator of all things, needs our money. Learning to give cheerfully is a grace that helps us learn how to get the most out of life in relationships and our attitudes. The best of love, sex, work, learning, and security comes when we learn how to give. Singing is another part of worship to help us get the best out of our relationships with each other and God. Singing is not to entertain ourselves or God but to express our joy, unity, and fellowship (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Romans 15:9; and 1 Corinthians 14:15). Our personal connection to God and to one another as we struggle with the problems of life is supported by our communion service, remembering the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16 and 11:23-28).

Worship is not to be entertained, but to participate. It isn’t to admire one another’s talents, but to be blessed with the opportunity to tap into a power beyond our own, and to learn how to live in a way that fulfills our purpose in existing. If someone is not “getting anything out of it”, the reason is that they came with the wrong expectations and for the wrong purpose. Worship is meaningless only if we do not have a relationship with God.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Symbols

Emojis
Emojis

Humans seem to enjoy using symbols for everything in life. Notice the emoticons and emojis used in electronic communication. It is interesting that the use of symbols to convey meaning is an attribute of humans that is not seen in any other form of life. Animals may use sounds or chemicals to alert others of their kind to danger, territory, or sexual availability, but these are not symbols. Sometimes symbols have different meanings to different cultures or even different generations. In my hippie days, holding up two fingers in a “V” meant “peace.” When I was first inducted into military service, the same symbol meant “victory” and indicated an intention to conquer. Symbols convey information, and as the deaf can demonstrate to us, they can even form the basis of complex communication.

Our use of symbols is a reflection of our spiritual makeup. We can create art, express ourselves in music, and worship God because we possess a soul which allows these unique forms of expression. The most mentally challenged among us can use symbols and rejoice in being able to do so.

Sometimes symbols and their use are unique to a particular time in human history. A classic example of this is the use of the cross. In today’s world, the cross is universally accepted as a symbol of Christianity. People wear crosses to express their personal faith. The cross is put on many buildings, Bibles, and along our roadsides. Steven Lemley in an article in Power for Today (January 2, 2017) points out that in the first century the cross was only a sign of the execution of guilty criminals. He reminds us that wearing a cross or having it adorn a place of worship in the first century, would be like us today wearing the image of a hypodermic needle used in executions. Many saw the cross as a stumbling block (1 Corinthians 1:23) or a sign of God’s weakness. Paul used the cross as a symbol of separating ourselves from the world (Galatians 6:14) as well as crucifying our sinful nature (Romans 6:6).

For the first century Christians, the outline of a fish was used as a symbol. The Greek word “fish” spelled out an acronym for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” Archaeological discoveries of ancient Christian symbols display the fish and sometimes a young man holding a lamb. Today we see people with fish symbols on their cars. We also see the cross used as a symbol to remind us of the terrible suffering that Jesus endured, and the ultimate victory of Christ over sin. All symbols, even emojis, can remind us that we have an eternal spiritual nature that we can express in many ways. The use of symbols, worship, and prayer are uniquely human features reminding us that we were created in the image of God.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017