“The God Delusion”
October 15, 2017
By John Partridge*
Exodus 32:1-14 Philippians 4:1-9 Matthew 22:1-14
Have you ever lied to yourself?
It isn’t uncommon. We lie to ourselves so that we don’t have to struggle with the realities of a difficult truth. We pretend that our children are not grown up, or that they aren’t doing some things that we know they are probably doing. We pretend that our parents never had sex despite the fact that our existence is obvious evidence to the contrary. We pretend that the sins of our favorite political candidate are not as bad as the sins of the opposition, or we tell people that we can’t do math, simply because we find it difficult.
Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said:
“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”
And this is the way that we often lie to ourselves about God.
In C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Aslan the Lion is the ruler of the land of Narnia and is an allegory for Jesus Christ. In the book, we are reminded that humans often rewrite, reimagine, reinvent God into something that he isn’t. In the one conversation, Susan, learns of Aslan from Mr. Beaver, who says…
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”… “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
And that is the first of what I am calling “God Delusions.” Humans deceive themselves that God is safe. A cursory reading of either the Old or the New Testaments should cure us of such a delusion.
God is not safe.
God is a jealous God. God will not allow us to worship anything or anyone more than we worship him. God punishes sin. God is not safe… but he is good.
Another time, the children remember something else that Mr. Beaver had told them about Aslan…
“He’ll be coming and going” he had said. “One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down–and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”
And that is, once again, a common delusion. God is not tame and that frightens us. And so, rather than being frightened, we pretend that God is something that he is not.
This is exactly what happened in Exodus 32:1-14.
32:1When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”
2 Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” 6 So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.
7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’
9 “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”
11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
Last week we heard that the people were terrified of God. And so, when Moses took too long to return from the mountain they imagined the worst. None of them would go up the mountain to look for him, and their fear began to direct their thoughts. “God is scary” they thought. Perhaps God has killed him. And if God has killed Moses, then we can make new gods that aren’t so scary and we will pretend that these are the gods that brought us up out of Egypt.
The people of Israel were prepared to do exactly what Kierkegaard described; to believe what wasn’t true, and to refuse to believe those things that, from their own experience, they knew were, absolutely, true about God.
Israel wanted a god that was tame and safe, despite knowing that the God that had rescued them from slavery was neither of those things.
We see the same thing in the Gospel stories about Jesus as the leaders, the teachers, and the Pharisees, ignored the facts and the evidence that they had seen with their own eyes. In Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus sums up their behavior.
22:1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
Since we live in a republic that elects its leaders, we should remember what it is like to live under a king. This is something that everyone in Jesus’ time would have immediately appreciated. Whether the ruler of their country called himself King, or Caesar, or Pharaoh, there were rules and expectations that everyone knew. In this particular case, what is important is that a royal wedding is a big deal. They don’t happen often, sometimes only once in a lifetime, and an invitation to such an event is of utmost importance. An invitation from the king is really less of an invitation and more of a command performance. The only thing that should excuse you from such an event is a funeral, and then only if the funeral that you are attending is your own.
In Jesus’ story, the people who were invited, and who were expected to attend, didn’t have an excuse. They totally ignored the king, and went off instead to do something that was absolutely trivial in comparison. Not only was this simply not done, it was a terrible insult to the king, and as you might expect, insulting someone who commands armies is not a great idea, especially in a world where life had little value. Not only did these fools ignore the king, they decide to kill the king’s messengers. These people suffered from a delusion. They deceived themselves into believing that the king was tame. And so, not unexpectedly, the king kills them and burns their city to the ground.
Anyone listening to the story could have predicted the outcome based on their personal experiences with their kings and those of neighboring nations. But then, the king does something unexpected. With a wedding already planned and a banquet already prepared, the king invites everyone he can find. We are told that the king’s messengers went out to the streets or to the street corners to invite people to the wedding banquet. There is language here that most of us miss unless we are reading the footnotes or following along in a biblical commentary. What we miss is that the Jews often referred to the Gentiles as “the people of the streets” or as people who lived on the streets and street corners. And so, when we are told that the king invited people from the streets, Jesus’ listeners would have understood that the king was inviting Gentiles to the wedding banquet.
But so what?
What does this all mean?
In Philippians 4:1-9, Paul puts it this way:
4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3Yes and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
It is never safe for us to suffer from the delusion that God is safe, tame, and inconsequential.
You see, our God, is a god of peace. Our god is a god of love. Our god is a god of justice. But much like the lion Aslan, God is neither tame nor safe … but he is good.
Ignoring the invitation of God, or the commands of God, is not a good idea. It is not a good idea to sin and offend God. Doing these things, believing that God doesn’t care, and expecting that God is powerless is delusional.
We must not allow ourselves to suffer from this God delusion.
Mr. Beaver and C.S. Lewis said it well. Our God is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion. He isn’t safe. But he is good. He’s the King, I tell you.
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.