Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Anthropomorphic God - Monday Manna

God is not a man, that He should lie,

Nor a son of man, that He should repent.

Has He said, and will He not do?

Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

(Numbers 23:19)

Voltaire once quipped, “If God made us in His image, we have more than returned the compliment.” We’ve taken the statement that man was made in God’s image, and transfer our own traits back onto Him. The trouble is, the backwards projection from the “copy” to the original is not logically solid.

This is particularly true when we are told specifically to the contrary. This verse in Numbers addresses specific human character flaws. Unlike men, who might purposely deceive, or might change their minds, or even make an innocent mistake and forget the promise, God is one hundred percent reliable in what He says. The character faults that are so evident in us are the product of our fallen state, not the expression of His image in us.

Throughout history, though, we have also projected our physical limitations on God, and this was not just limited to the one true God. So many of the gods represented by the idols of various cultures are very imbued with human characteristics. While it is not so immediately obvious, the prophet Elijah drew this contrast during the famous confrontation on Mt. Carmel, when he challenges the priests of Ba’al.

And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened.” (1 Kings 18:27)

Elijah isn’t just taunting. He is pointedly reminding the prophets of Ba’al that their god is limited. One connotation of one of the things Elijah says is a suggestion that Ba’al is using the latrine. Their god has to go potty, and has to delay answering them until he’s finished. Or, perhaps Ba’al is taking a nap, or preoccupied, or maybe he’s on vacation in Aruba.

Honestly, if I were a god, I’d enjoy hanging out in places like Aruba, rather than being stuck waiting to light a fire for a bunch of guys that should be grown up enough to light their own fires.

The Bible doesn’t just leave us with an implied refutation of these human physical limitations. Psalm 121 states explicitly,

Hine lo yanum, v’lo ishan, shomer Yisrael.

The Hebrew is so lovely, I thought I’d share it first. The literal, word-for-word translation is simple:

“Behold, no slumber, and no sleep, Who watches Israel.”

The standard translation is a bit more filled out in English.

Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. (Psalm 121:4)

God doesn’t have our physical limitations. He doesn’t need to sleep to refresh a body. There is never going to be a moment when He might be caught unaware. He’s never looking away, or distracted elsewhere. He’s not conflicted deciding where He should turn His attention, and where He should neglect so that He can attend to something important.

God is God, and we are not. We need to always remember that we are just a small image of Him. He is not a big image of us.

Monday Manna is hosted by Joanne over at An Open Book, where you'll find links to more essays on this theme.


Joanne Sher said...

What a fascinating piece. I had never thought about this verse quite this way. An excellent and powerful reminder of our own limitations and God's lack of them.

Yvonne Blake said...


"God is God, and we are not."

I love that statement! The thought that God actually cares about little me is the greatest wonder.

(May I quote you? it original with you?)

Lynda Schultz said...

Terrific post. That last line is the capstone for me.

Helen said...

I never thought about it like that before; that because we are made in God's image, we juxtapose and think He is like us. Interesting.