Conflating God with People


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I have an old friend who is “disgusted” that many Christians supported Donald Trump and were a significant factor in Trump winning the election. She, like many women (and men), cannot get past the infamous words that Trump spoke how about a woman reporter. I won’t repeat them here. They are too vulgar for polite company.

My friend has been so turned off of Christians and “the” Church by the fact that many Christians voted for Trump and were a factor in electing him, that she no longer goes to church at all after decades of being a church-goer.

I don’t want to get into politics here. That isn’t the issue I’m focused on.

I have family and friends who say that they can’t believe in God, or can’t believe in the Christian God, because Christians are hypocrites. This is what leads me to write this piece.

I have to admit that I have found myself at times in my life having nagging negative feelings of the institution of the Church because of my experiences of church and with church people. I have always known that we can’t conflate people who claim to be Christians with God, no matter how holy they seem to be (or claim), but feelings are sometimes hard to dismiss.

I went to a very vibrant church for a time in my life that I truly felt was as close to the 1st Century church as a modern group of people could get. After spending years in the church, I naturally began to see rough edges, brothers and sisters who fell by the wayside and issues.

After I left the church, not because of the issues in the church, but to pursue a path I believe God had chosen for me, the church began to splinter and fall apart. The splintering began at the leadership level, among the men that I respected most highly. One of the pastors got divorced, and his ex-wife is now married for a fourth time.

Not long after I left that church and returned to the Midwest, I learned that a pastor of a previous church I attended in my early Christian years, a dynamic, visionary, personable man, had also gotten divorced. Along the way, I got to know people who had once professed a strong faith and kinship in Christ, living like heathens and talking like sailors.

Upset girl is not believe in GOD

depositphotos Image ID: 70694931 Copyright: realinemedia

All of these things were highly disappointing for me. These things took a toll on my faith. On the one hand, they suggested excuses for me not to follow Christ so closely, but more deeply than that, they shook me to the core. I began to wander off, to lose my fervor and to shrink back to worldly habits and ways of thinking.

I’m not sure I am fully recovered, even today.

All along, I knew the truth. The heart of man is deceitful and desperately sick.[1] We have all sinned and fallen short.[2] If we put our faith in men, we will be disappointed – always disappointed.

I was continually reminded of one key passage in Romans 3. Paul first asks, regarding the Jews who miserably failed God though they were “God’s people”:  “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?”[3] It’s a rhetorical question, of course.

Lest anyone fail to understand the import of the question, Paul adds, “By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar”![4]

We can’t judge God by the conduct of the people who call themselves by God’s name. People are sinful, faithless, flawed and unreliable. But people don’t make God faithless, flawed or unreliable. Just the opposite! Though we continually fail, God never fails! Though we lie, God is always true! Though we are faithless, God is always faithful! God is always reliable!

But, what about those who have been born again? Is it a lie? Are we not new creatures in Christ? Yes! We are! But there is another law at work in us, as Paul bluntly states:

“I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”[5]

That we have sin waging war in our flesh is no excuse for giving into to it, but the point is that we are all flawed by sin and prone to fail. If we put our faith in flawed, sinful people, instead of God alone, we will always be disappointed. If we conflate God with people, we will view God through the lens of the flaws, failings and disappointing experiences we have with people.

We are each accountable only to God. As Paul says next in the Romans 3 passage, after the statement that, though every man be a liar, still God is true, it is so that God may be proven right when He speaks and prevail when He judges.[6] This Paul quotes from Psalm 51, David’s famous Psalm where he begs God to create in him a clean heart.

We are all sinful, yet we perpetually look to others for our confidence, and our confidence fails when people fail us. We put people on a pedestal, as gods, and we judge people when they fail us.

But, not only are they (people) exactly like me, I also fail God (and other people) all the time!

I need to go to God for forgiveness for my own failings and, most importantly, as the only true Source of my confidence. Against God only have I sinned,[7] and others have not done me wrong, but they have to account to God. God delights in truth in my inmost being;[8] He takes no delight in my judgments of other people.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right[steadfast] spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.[9]

Praying

God’s work starts in me, and then it flows out from me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.[10]

If I conflate God with people, I completely miss God. If I conflate God with people, I see God only through the distorted prism of flawed human beings. If I conflate God with people, I don’t have an accurate view of God, but a distorted, flawed view of God that will ultimately disappoint me and let me down.

God alone must be my salvation. God alone must be my Source of confidence. He alone can cleanse me from my own sinfulness and deliver me from the evil that threatens to undo me. When God is my Source, the failings of people will no longer disappoint me, but will be the opportunity for me to teach transgressors God ways and lead sinners to return to the Source of our salvation.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[1] Jeremiah 17:9-10 (“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”)

[2] Romans 3:23 (“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”)

[3] Romans 3:3

[4] Romans 3:4

[5] Romans 7:14-25

[6] Romans 3:4 (“Let God be true, and every human being a liar. As it is written: ‘So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.’” (citing Psalm 51:4) (NIV))

[7] Psalm 51:4

[8] Psalm 51:6

[9] Psalm 51:10-12

[10] Psalm 51:13

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