The Problem with “My” God

“What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols” (Habakkuk 2:18).

How often have you heard (or even said), “My god wouldn’t” or “My god doesn’t” or “My god isn’t?” The problem with “My” god is that god doesn’t have a shelf life beyond one’s death date at the latest or, at the earliest, when one remolds that god to suit my newest whims and wishes. In other words, “My” god is an idol created in the image of the god maker. “My” god is created in my image, not God’s image!

You would think that “My” god would be limited to younger folks who have an exaggerated sense of their own knowledge and abilities. After all, there may not be any smarter person in the world than a college freshman or a new graduate of seminary or divinity school. Those of us blessed enough to have been humbled by older, wiser folks when we kept acting like know-it-all jackasses have had occasion to repent of our previous low opinion of anyone not named “me.” Other dwellers in echo chambers will keep reinforcing their unfounded high opinion of themselves. The trick is to find an ever-gullible audience to feed one’s narcissism by buying books or paying high dollar speaking fees for hawking stuff farmers would never put on their crops. But I shouldn’t speak so bluntly about many elected officials or folks with media credentials.

The problem is not about a sense of calling. The word “vocation” means calling and implies God has given one a calling through the various gifts, talents, and relationships into which one has been born. When you hear people in clerical collars or others touting the title “pastor” or “reverend” speak of their job or their career, you probably want to get away from that person as quickly as possible. Pastoral ministry is a calling, but so is waiter, factory worker, mower of lawns, and so on. The person who talks of his or her calling is, at least, in the right theological ballpark.

If you are a baptized Christian, you have a calling as child of God. By your Baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection, you are a theologian, literally “one who speaks of God.” Bad theologians, like the lying prophets of the Old Testament, are those who speak their own words instead of God’s Word. The true prophets are known, usually after the fact, by the Word they have spoken having come true. Good theologians are faithful speakers who speak a Word normed by the canonical Scriptures of the Christian faith.

There is no shame, although there is usually some embarrassment, when one has read the Scriptures wrongly or recalled them wrongly. It occasionally happens to us preachers when we get on a roll and make an obviously huge mistake on the magnitude of saying, “When the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor….” Those of us over 50 will think of the longtime host of the Tonight Show, Johnny Carson, who was at his funniest when he made a mistake and used self-deprecating humor to embrace it. It’s good to laugh at yourself and to invite others to do so.

There is, however, great shame and something far worse than embarrassment to teach, preach, or write knowingly that which one knows does not conform to the plain sense of Scripture. Why would one do so other than to try to say something new for the academy or to sell books? The defense of one’s life is a temptation when one doesn’t want to accept the plain Word of God that says “I am wrong.”

The Lord Jesus often uses parables in the New Testament to sneak past the defenses of His hearers in order to expose sinners to the truth about ourselves. When we most resist the truth, He says things like, “You strain at gnats and swallow camels.” The bottom line on this is that everyone not named God’s Son, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, needs Him to exercise His calling for us. We need a Savior to save us from sin, death, and the old evil one. That Word that tells us we are wrong has one intent – to drive us to the One who saves. He does that by His saving death. If you don’t understand why, I invite you to find a traditional Lutheran church where you can learn the Word through the lens of Law and Gospel, No and Yes.

The heretics described in the New Testament, and those described by the early Church, are lying prophets. Not just back then, but even now! Of them, the Lord Jesus said, “It would be far better for them to have a millstone tied around their necks and tossed into the sea, than to lead one of these little ones astray.” Pedophile clergy, pedophile youth workers, or pedophile teachers, and even those so-called counselors “who help people to embrace their real selves” are in the greatest danger of being eternally separated from God, precisely because they construct “my” gods that make people feel better about ignoring the clear and plain Word of God.

Heresy is a choice. That’s what the word means – “to choose wrongly.” If you don’t know better, that’s one thing. If you do, God help you. That is, the real God of the Christian Scriptures and not “my god” over whom it will be said, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”

St Matthew's Pastor Sam Zumwalt

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The Rev. Dr. Samuel Zumwalt has worked in churches for 42 years and in May 2018 celebrated the 37th anniversary of his ordination to the holy ministry. He is a member of the Society of the Holy Trinity (www.societyholytrinity.org). In 2004, Pr. Zumwalt moved with his family to Wilmington from Texas, where he served for 23 years as pastor of small, midsize, and large congregations.