A.W. Tozer claimed, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Your view of God affects every aspect of your life. When you contemplate God, what is the first thing that springs to mind? His love? Power? Wisdom? It ought to be His holiness.
We think we understand love. After all, we love our families, country, and pet. We have watched many Hollywood movies about love. We have also experienced power, either by using it or responding to it. The same can be said for wisdom. So, when we think of God’s love, we automatically filter it through the lens of our experience. If we had a loving father, we tend to view God much like we do our parent. Sadly, if we had an unloving or absent father, our conception of God’s love is tarnished. If we experienced the abuse of power, we may fear God will likewise exploit us. In terms of wisdom, we assume God thinks like we do. If a plan makes sense to us, it surely pleases God as well.
But then we encounter God’s holiness. God’s holiness declares He is entirely unlike us, or anyone else, in every respect. God is not a mixture of various elements. He is absolutely pure. His holiness also means we cannot know or understand Him unless He reveals Himself to us. Saul of Tarsus assumed he knew God better than most. When God dispelled him of that illusion, knowing God became Paul’s life-long obsession (Phil. 3:7-10).
Sadly, most people, including Christians, make assumptions about God. Because we speculate about God’s nature, we tend to make God into our own image. Eighteenth-century enlightened Europeans envisioned God as an “enlightened” European. Nineteenth-century Victorian English people assumed God shared their values and idiosyncrasies. Twenty-first-century postmodernists assume God is as progressive as they are. Such thinking is fatal.
The prophet Isaiah warned that when people fashion their own god, they inevitably create a monster (Is. 44:9-20). The psalmist cautioned that you become like what you worship (Ps. 135:18). If you have an anemic, indecisive, shiftless god whose only concern is making you comfortable and happy, you are in great peril. A.W. Tozer concluded, “So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards declines along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.” Tozer would be appalled at our generation.
Modern society has been repeatedly assured that God loves them “just the way they are” and that He wants everyone to be happy, healthy, and wealthy. People are told God is always there for them and wants to be their best friend. All they must do is invite Him into their hearts, and they will live a blessed life. But they never hear about God’s holiness. They are never taught that the Person inviting them into a relationship is entirely different from them. As a result, people are confused when they read that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. “Fear” God? “Of course not! He loves us!” The “wrath” of God? “That must be the Old Testament God!” A “jealous” God? “He would never be so petty!” Because we do not understand God’s holiness, we cannot comprehend how He could be angry, jealous, or wrathful.
In our misguided zeal for evangelism, we have removed everything that makes God unique and left Him as a candy-coated version of us. No wonder God asked incredulously, “‘Do you not fear me?’ says the Lord. ‘Will you not tremble at my presence?’” (Jer. 5:22).
As my father says, a high view of God leads you to take your sin seriously. And when you take your sin seriously, you take obeying God seriously. Today, we have a low view of God. The Church has emasculated God in a futile effort to make Him more palatable and politically correct, and, in so doing, we have grossly distorted Him. What the Church needs today is revival. But revival comes from an almighty, holy God, not from the anemic, non-judging, fickle god being hawked in the public square today.
America is facing enormous problems and societal chasms. People are rioting and looting in the streets. Racial division continues to create pain and injustice. Though the United States is the most powerful nation in history, it cannot solve some of its fundamental problems. Tragically, the Church is experiencing large-scale decline and weakness. Roughly 70% of churches are plateaued or declining. Four thousand churches close their doors every year. At a time when people desperately need the aid of an all-powerful, loving God, why are they turning away from the Church in droves?
I believe this trend is occurring, in part, because the Church has lost its view of the true God. We have made God into our own image, and, unsurprisingly, people don’t need an enlarged version of us! They need God, not how we would like Him to be but as He actually is. They need the God of Isaiah who made the prophet fall to the ground trembling and cry out, “Woe is me!” They need the God of the apostle John who, when he saw God on the Isle of Patmos, fell to the ground like a corpse. They need the God of the twelve disciples who, when they saw Jesus calm a fierce storm with a mere word, cried out, “What manner of man is this?”
Our problem is that we have reduced God to a manageable size because we mistakenly thought our version would be more acceptable and less offensive than a God who issues commands and judges sin. We tried to convince people that it was all about them and not all about God’s glory. We have downsized God’s commandments to heaven’s suggestions. With every new societal trend, churches have felt forced to issue an update to their version of God so He stays “relevant.” But the churches updating God the most are also the ones declining in attendance most rapidly.
A socially acceptable god is not what people crave. They need a God who is bigger than they are. Much bigger. They need a God who views their problems differently than they do. They need a God who doesn’t change but remains just as powerful, wise, and relevant as He has always been.
We need a God who is holy. We require someone who speaks from eternity, not the latest opinion poll. We need someone who tells us the truth, not what we want to hear. We must have a God who cleanses our sin, not someone who justifies it. We need a Lord who sets us free, not someone who adds to our chains.
Thankfully, God is not like us! We could never have imagined Him, let alone created Him. He is wholly beyond us. That knowledge ought to make us tremble (Ps. 99:1; Is. 66:5; Jer. 5:22). Today, we need a great God more than ever. Mercifully, that’s what He is. Holy! Holy! Holy! Is the Lord God almighty!