Psalms 10:1-4 (NASB)
1 Why do You stand afar off, O LORD?
Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?
2 In pride the wicked hotly pursue the afflicted;
Let them be caught in the plots which they have devised.
3 For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire,
And the greedy man curses and spurns the LORD.
4 The wicked, in the haughtiness of his countenance, does not seek Him.
All his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
Scientists have recently conducted research on which parts of the brain are active when we are talking about ourselves, about famous people, about our friends, and about God. The researchers used active scans of brain activity during survey responses from a wide range of people, from conservative to liberal, agnostic to faithful. One thing they noticed is that when speaking about the moral and ethical qualities of friends or famous people, the respondents used a part of the brain normally associated with social interaction. However, when speaking about their notions of God, the subjects used the same part of the brain that was active when they talked about themselves. The researchers concluded that the subjects were creating God in their own images, constructing their notions of deity around their own morals and ethics. Of course, their conclusions presuppose that God is created by man, rather than man created by God. However, a different conclusion might be reached from their research: the subjects already had a notion of who God was and were trying to map their own behaviors and morals to His standards.
1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
2 “Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.'”
I suppose on some level that the researchers are right concerning the moral ideas of those who want to live however they like. When you talk to people whose notions of God are NOT based on the Bible, their ideas vary as widely as the ocean. Agnostics and the “spiritual but not religious” and many liberal Christians will reply that God approves of their behavior, no matter what it is. Such people are sure that God will allow for their sexual immorality, their pride, their anger, their greed, their oppression of others, and their prejudice and abuse. Atheists, on the other hand, cannot see any true good in themselves or their fellow men, and so they conclude that there is no one good at all, not even a loving God. In all of these people – the “spiritual but not religious,” the liberal Christians, and the atheists – it is true that these people are molding God to fit their own images. They use a sliding scale of morality and faith that allows for pretty much any behavior. They refuse to conceive of God as being absolute in His standards and judgments, and so it is easier to imagine God approving of their immorality – or to imagine He doesn’t exist at all. To those people, no God at all is better than conceiving of a moral God who would judge their actions.
But what about people who truly look to the Bible for their understanding of God? What about people who truly allow themselves to be transformed into the image of their Savior, Christ Jesus? For true Christians, the atheist mantra of “There is none good” is still true. We ARE all sinners and “fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) But the difference between the faithful Christians and the “spiritual”/liberal/atheist folks is that we faithful KNOW we fall short of God’s standards, that His ways and thoughts ARE higher than ours, and that our own holiness depends solely upon Him. We Christians spend our lives submitting to His will and trying to be more like His Son, allowing His Spirit to reign in our hearts (and brains!), and we form our moral standards to His righteousness, rather than forming His righteousness to our sinfulness.
In today’s verses, we see some of our own thoughts, our wondering about where God is when the wicked and boastful are plotting against the meek and faithful. The Psalmist clearly concludes that the wicked person wants to believe there is no God at all – quite literally in Hebrew, “God is in none of his thoughts.” Three times, David speaks of the pride of the wicked, and that should tell us something: pride is what keeps many people from knowing God in their lives. Proud people DO see themselves as their own god, putting themselves first and all others second, never conceiving that there is a higher way, a better way.
The truth is that God DOES have absolute standards that are clearly laid out in His Holy Word, the Bible. And any time we try to conform God’s holiness to our own sinfulness, we are simply being prideful and rebellious. Such pride leads only one direction: DOWN.
Pride goes before destruction,
And a haughty spirit before a fall.
A man’s pride will bring him low,
But the humble in spirit will retain honor.
When God said to the Israelites to “be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy,” He wasn’t telling them to think of themselves as already holy, already moral and righteous enough simply because they were His chosen people. Quite the opposite. God was telling them to keep HIS holiness as their standard, to conform themselves to HIS righteousness. When Jesus spoke about loving our enemies and forgiving them completely, He explained that this sort of love is what will change us and make US more like GOD: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) GOD’s love is perfect, GOD’s holiness is perfect, GOD’s forgiveness is perfect, and ours is NOT.
So the question for today is this: Will we mold God to fit our image, or will we allow ourselves to be molded to His image? In the beginning, “God created man in His own image” (Genesis 1:27), but prideful man rebelled against his Father and ignored God’s clear instructions. You and I are no different than Adam except in one respect: we have the salvation of Christ and the power of God’s Holy Spirit to make us more into His image again. When we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we partake of His righteousness and are no longer found wanting in the eyes of God. But that faith in Christ needs to transform us, needs to bind us to walk in the Spirit and no longer in the flesh. We must seek God’s standards – found in His Word – and understand them with our hearts and our minds. THAT is the God we should know, not a notion of God founded upon our own pride or sinfulness but a living God found in His Word and embodied by His Son. You see, contrary to the beliefs of the prideful and despairing, there IS a God, and His love for us is so great that He became a Man in order to break the curse of our pride and sin and to bring us to Him once again.
Gracious and merciful God, I thank You for being so forgiving, for renewing Your mercies every morning. I thank You, too, for Your Holy Word and Your Holy Spirit, which both serve to guide and keep me. Mold me, Lord God, to the image of Your Son, and accept me not as I am but as what You want me to be. Teach me to be holy, Father, just like You. Amen.