The Faceless Deities of Our Culture and Seeking the Face of GodRelated Media
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob-indeed the God and Father revealed in and through Jesus Christ, my God and your God-is a super-personal being. He created the entire universe and is now upholding, loving, and guiding it to His appointed ends. He has revealed, saved, and judged throughout human history, but most dramatically and decisively in the death, resurrection, and glorification of His Son, Jesus Christ.
He has also poured out His own Spirit upon all those who by faith receive His wonderful provision of forgiving mercy in Christ. He has heard from heaven and drawn near to protect, comfort, strengthen, and deliver his people. Not a single sparrow falls to the ground apart from his knowing it, and all the hairs on our heads are numbered. He is Isaiah's Holy One and Pure Love, according to the apostle John. The last way in the world anyone should think about Him is as something less than profoundly personal. He is Personality par excellence, the Source of everything personal. Apart from Him there would be no other personalities in the universe!
Our Culture's Faceless Deities
But, in our culture, the way we pray and talk about Him these days reveals certain disturbing realities about us. When probed concerning our relationship with God, many of us seem more like taxonomists than people in love with the Lord. To many He is either extinct altogether or to be nicely shelved under the rather innocuous order of inanimate objects-a curious relic of the past, interesting to think about, I suppose, but on the whole, quite harmless.
At other times we "handle" Him as if He were a machine-a nickelodeon, to be exact; we put our money in (our prayers?) and demand that we get what we've selected. But, in the final analysis, I wonder if this says more about us than it does about God, i.e., his character and ways in the world?
Now the risky proposal that God is somehow a machine, or at least looks and feels like a machine, has a long and sad history on the anvil of human theological blacksmithing. It has been advocated by various peoples and groups throughout all recorded time. During the Enlightenment period, Georg W. F. Hegel (1770-1831), though more sympathetic to certain Christian doctrines than his predecessor Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), nonetheless judged that God, the "Absolute Spirit," was nothing more than an impersonal force in which everything in history was a developing manifestation.1 There was no face to Hegel's God and sadly no heart either.
Now what's sadder still is that many Christians today, at least here in the West, still "live, move, and have their being" in Hegel's god-a mute divinity resembling more a sterile ghost than the El Shaddai or YHWH of the Old Testament. We labor, day in and day out, under the impersonal and endless drudgery of Hegel's faceless deity or some edition thereof. We are, for all practical purposes, personally untouched by this god. Is it any wonder the sky in our world is always grey? To some of us, God is, on the whole, distant, aloof, and quite happily detached. Certainly He cares nothing for our struggles, hopes, and dreams. This is true, of course, whether or not we know anything about Hegel. In short, many are overcome by the powerful current of a polluted philosophical river, the force of which is only exacerbated by ignorance.
Thus, much of Christianity in the West is akin to the proverbial lifeboat that not only sits in the water, but unfortunately much of the water now sits in the boat! Many of us-some unwittingly and others quite gladly-have traded the tantalizing possibilities of intimacy with the Person of our Lord for the calculated humdrum and emotional safety of a god(s) who never shows up and makes no claim on the conscience. Like most prescription drugs these days, these gods do a good job of relieving certain symptoms, but, in the end, you're just as sick and the side affects...well...that's another matter.
This nameless god(s) has led us without surprise into the very twilight of our culture-the last act of the play-and we are now trafficking in the soul wrenching terror of existential listlessness; we are, as it were, an abandoned and free-floating lyric with no rhyme nor reason. People are searching frantically, everywhere, for a raison d'e,tre. No stone will be left unturned, I'm sure. But this is the inextricable and exacting price for sterilizing God, shunning his claim on our lives, and suppressing His searching presence. Like a boat cut loose from the dock in a storm, God has let us go adrift on the waves of philosophical opinion, human device, and the latest fads-the powerless deities of our culture. In short, since we deemed it unworthy to have God in our minds, he has deemed it unworthy to have us in His mind (Rom 1:28)! "Fair is fair"....as we always say.
Oh yes, I agree...Hegel's god and the lesser gods of the West (self, money, sex, power, prestige) are much safer than Jesus' or Paul's God, but they are in the end useless! Perhaps they won't scrutinize or judge you, but they cannot save you either! Perhaps you can hide your deepest, darkest secrets from them, but to whom will you reveal your intimate longings? Perhaps you can remain incognito, but to whom will you cry out when you're lost?
You can't have it both ways. What we gain with the illusion of safety, we lose at the point of real meaning. These gods, if they be called gods, are impotent; they struggle hopelessly to touch us at our deepest level of need. Indeed, they cannot touch us; they have no hands. They cannot see into our hearts; they have no eyes. They cannot hear our cries for mercy; they have no ears. Can we live, let alone flourish, with these truncated and domesticated deities? Hegel's god cannot save us, even if he wanted, for he simply has no desires, tastes, feelings, speech, authority, or actions. Like society's deadbeat dad's, he's conspicuous by his prolonged absence and faceless by his studied distance and utter lack of meaningful engagement. Again, he doesn't care; he can't, for on most people's reckoning-he is really an it.
Seeking the Face of God
But what is true for the culture at large is not true for the Christian. We have a different spring nourishing our souls-pure, life-giving, and eternal. The source of our joy, liberation, and hope is the living God, who through the cross is present in power to bless, encourage, and bring tender mercies. He holds our hand as we pass through the fire. He is an ever-present Father to the orphan and a affectionate husband to the widow. Does this sound like Hegel's god? Like the gods of our culture? Why then are we Christians so naively wedded to the fickle winds that never cease blowing around us?
Turn your heart to the living God and seek his face, for His mercies endure forever and his compassions never fail (Lam 3:22-23). Pursue His beautiful presence and drink deeply of the nourishing rivers flowing from his gracious throne (Ps 46:1-7). Do not let the world steal your inheritance (Acts 20:32); meditate on His truth in Scripture, your reliable guide leading you unswervingly into rich communion with your heavenly Father. Draw near to your God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8). He is not the deistic, faceless One who wound up the clock, so to speak, and then left the "scene." His name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6)! Yet He is present with the humble, with those who admit their rebellion and seek his face!
Worship Him today with all your strength. By His grace sing a new song to Him. And when you're tired, rely on His love and keep worshipping Him with greater affection and strength. Pour out your heart to Him and give up all hope of taming Him. He will not be mastered by you, but He will allow you to draw close for a first hand glimpse (Exod 33:18-23)! And when you're too tired to take even one more step-like the marathon runner nearing the midpoint of the race-push through to your second wind! Worship Him until your heart finds its home in Him and your soul rests joyfully in His presence.
To this end you were created. To this end God you were saved. God rewards those who earnestly seek Him, so fight for what is yours (Heb 11:6). According to Jesus, these are the kind of people your Father seeks (John 4:23)! So seek the Lord while He may be found! Perhaps the Psalter sums it up best:
My heart says of you, "Seek his face." Your face, O Lord, I will seek! (27:8)
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and behold the face of God? (Psalm 42:1-2)
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us! (Psalm 67:1)
1 See Mortimer J. Adler, "History," in The Great Ideas (New York: MacMillan, 1992), 310-15; P. H. DeVries, "Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich" in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter E. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 502-3; Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), 268; Diogenes Allen and Eric O. Springsted, eds., Primary Readings in Philosophy for Understanding Theology (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1992), 210-18.