The Artificial God

In one of those genie-in-a-bottle stories, a poor man wishes for a million dollars, and he really should have been suspicious when the genie acceded so, shall I say, genially? to his request.

Oh, how we love gold, often to our detriment. But the golden sunset on an isolated beach heals our scarred souls. Golden Beach by Steve Henderson

Sure enough, the hapless hero receives one million gold coins in a showering cascade over the top of his head, resulting in death by burial under suffocating treasure. But he did receive his wish.

While the surprise ending is clever, what’s not so amusing is that in many ways, the genie represents the kind of God that many of us unwittingly follow — capricious, cruel, unpredictable, unkind, to the point that when we ask Him for something, we are compelled to add all sorts of caveats:

“Please help me with all this stress at the office with that new manager.

“But don’t get me fired.

“Or on disability leave because I have terminal cancer.

“Or have the manager quit because he runs off with my wife and cleans me out of everything I own.”

If you forget a caveat, you’re doomed, because sure enough that’s the one God will pick,  as well intentioned people remind us when things turn really bad and we can’t understand why, to the point that our prayers sound like groans:

“Well you know, God’s ways aren’t our ways, and His thoughts aren’t ours.” (In order to get the full impact of this, you need to hear it with the trill at the end.)

I’m sure if you’ve been slapped by this paraphrase, at a really low point in your life when you were seeking comfort, as in the God of Comfort, you weren’t comforted.

Good shepherds treat fragile creatures gently. The Blue Poncho by Steve Henderson.

It’s not so odd, however, that many of us battle such a touchily fickle God, since this is the image nudged gently forth, intentionally or unintentionally, by such statements like,

“God’s taking you out of your com—–fort zoooooooone!” (There, I added the trill.)

This favorite phrase, mercifully not found  in any holy book, is trotted out with tiresome predictability when recalcitrant group members push their heels in about teaching a class, say, or coming in on their day off to provide hours of free labor, or wondering aloud how they will pay for a short term mission trip without setting the whole thing on their credit card. (Apparently, that’s fine.)

What is not fine is questioning someone else’s idea of what is right for you, and the one verse that could come in handy in cases like this is generally not brought up:

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” Jesus asked rhetorically in Matthew 7:9-11. “Or, if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you .  . . know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?”

Dragging people out of their comfort zone and depositing their limp bodies on the rocks is not the action of a benevolent father, but then again, the Jimmy Kimmel idea of giving young children brightly wrapped Christmas presents with dreadful things, like rotten bananas, inside, just to gauge their reaction, isn’t such a benevolent deed either. Sure, the kids responded  like brats, but the behavior of their parents — who were theoretically grown-ups — wasn’t much better.

Maybe the parents should have put a garter snake in the styrofoam fish-wich box and seen how the kid responded to that.

A real sailboat on real water with real waves and a real breeze -- it's a lot scarier than the model in the bathtub, but it's worth a lot more as well. Zephyr by Steve Henderson

But I digress. Or maybe I don’t — maybe the reason we follow an artificial God — one that is margarine as opposed to butter: looks like butter, sort of tastes like butter, but definitely isn’t the real thing — is because we allow ourselves to be content with the poor substitute set in front of us, as opposed to putting aside other people’s opinions, other people’s voices, other people’s books and interpretations and sermons and workbooks and study notes and seminars and DVDs — and actually seeking out God for ourselves.

As intelligent human beings, we are free to read, and analyze, the words of our holy books without the distraction of outside voices, which may or may promote valid points, but which definitely affect our final thoughts, if we let them.

So don’t let them.

Strike out on your own and look for the real thing, the real God, the real Father — who loves his children to the point of distraction.

I mean, isn’t that how you love your own kids?

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5 Responses to “The Artificial God”

  1. myrna berard says:

    Loved this article!! In the past I have been that person with the guarded prayer, trying to say everything just right so God won’t give me a serpent or a stone. Your piece has given strength to my growing relationship with the ” Real God “. My earthly father was kind and compassionate, how much more my heavenly Father. Thank you.

    • You are most welcome. It is, indeed, a day by day, all through our life process getting to know this God who loves us so much. He is a good and patient teacher, and for that I am most grateful!

  2. I found this blog article while skimming through the Jamestown Sun web page. I appreciate your comparison of our false views of God with a genie in a lamp. I’ve never like the slogan “Prayer Changes Things!” because it tends to suggest that prayer is a way for us to manipulate God as though He were a genie in a lamp who exists to grant us our wishes – so if we rub Him the right way, our prayers are answered; if we rub Him the wrong way, well ….

    I prefer the more biblical slogan “Prayer Changes Us!” God doesn’t need our prayers, but WE need to pray – and God Himself, in Holy Scripture, teaches us how to pray properly so that by such prayer our hearts and minds will be shaped by God. Jesus Himself taught us to pray “Thy Will Be Done.” God doesn’t always give us what we want, but He will always give us what we need. That’s the whole point behind Jesus’ analogy about an earthly father not giving his child a snake if that child asks for a fish. Jesus’ point is not that God will always give us what we want (esp. since there are time when what we want is hurtful for us or even sinful!) but that He will give us what He thinks is best for us. Sometimes what God thinks is best for us is to endure times of suffering and loss. We may not understand all the reasons behind this, but God clearly teaches us in Scripture that He will use our times of trial to strengthen our faith in Christ and to give us opportunity to witness to others (especially unbelievers!) about the hope we have in Christ even in the face of death itself. (Romans 5:3-5; 2nd Corinthians 1:3-9; Hebrews 12:1-13; 1st Peter 1:3-9 & 4:12-19 & 5:10-11)

    The artificial God of which you speak is a good example of the idols we create as we strive to create a god who fits our job description of what we think God ought to be like. In contrast, the One, True God has revealed Himself to us – and in ways we sinners would never have expected. For example, God reveals His true heart as we behold Him suffering and dying on a cross in our place of damantion. The God who was willing to die for His enemies (that’s us! – Romans 5:10)) so that we might become His children is the farthest thing from a “genie in lamp” we can imagine. No wonder the apostle John admonishes us: “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1st John 5:21)

    • Tom: I actually dislike most slogans dealing with Christ, Christianity, or God — the latest one I saw on a reader board was “Got Sin?” I thought, what person walking by is going to stop short and say, “Oh my God — I am a horrible sinner and I need to go into this place and be redeemed.”

      If we must copy 21st century marketing practice and slogans (and we don’t! we don’t! We’re supposed to be showing a better way), then maybe that misled person putting the sign together could have put, “Got Pain?” “Got Hurt?” “Got Confusion?” and even the most self-delusional person would stop and say inside himself, “Yeah, I do. And I hate it.”

      I agree with you that we have a deep-seated need to pray and connect with this God who loves us so much. I am struck by Jeremiah’s observation of God — ” . . . you who examine the righteous and probe the heart and mind,” which at first sounds horrendously invasive, but upon thought I realized, “I’ve actually given you permission to do that, by accepting who you are and saying that I want to follow You.” And I further realize that, while like Jeremiah I get frustrated because it seems that God looks at everything I think and do and doesn’t seem to do so with others who give him public lip service and no more (Jeremiah 12:1-3), I wouldn’t want him to stop, because I truly want to grow into the person he is shaping me to be.

      It is, indeed, a travesty this artificial God that we have created, isn’t it? The hardest thing about grasping this is that the god isn’t made of wood or gold, and from surface level view, looks like what God should be like. As dear children of God, it is crucial that individual Christian believers think things through; question what they are told; read and study with an open, inquiring mind; and recognize that living for Christ is so much more than posting Bible verses on Twitter or Facebook. You are right in quoting John — there are many snares out there, and we must be wise and vigilant indeed to sidestep them.

      Thank you for connecting and leaving a thoughtful, thought-provoking response.

      • Oh, by the way — I do earnestly request that, if you like my writing — or the artwork of my Norwegian Artist — that you pass us on. We grow, like many things in life, one by one, by word of mouth. It’s an interesting ancient path God is leading us on right now.

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