Gray Gods and Broken Compasses
Exodus 32: 1-4 – “They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it, and have sacrificed to it, and said, “This is your God O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”
A compass is a great tool to have in life. With it, you can always navigate your way safely home. My father-in-law was a navigator in the Air Force. He knew the value of having a good compass and the wisdom of following it. I live on the lake, but I’ve always found being out on the lake at night to be a little frightening. My father-in-law was never intimidated by the darkness of the night when on the lake. I remember him once telling my husband, “As long as you follow your compass, it will get you safely home.” Wise words! Anyone who lives on the lake knows that without a compass you could wander around on the lake all night, just going around in circles, trying to find your way home. When we don’t follow the compass of God’s word, we can do the same thing. We all know people who scoff at using a map, preferring to rely instead on their own natural instincts to guide them. Similarly, Jude 2:17 speaks of this type of person, cautioning us to, “remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold” concerning them: “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” These are men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.” We need the sure compass of God’s word to navigate us through the darkness of this world we are living in. Just following our “mere natural instincts” won’t get us safely home.
In Psalm 119:35, the Psalmist asked of God, “Direct me in the path of your commands. That’s a wise request. We live in a world today that is increasingly choosing to follow the path in life that seems right to them, rather than the path of God’s commands. But his word cautions, “There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” (Prov. 14:12). Choosing to discard the sure compass of God’s word to follow the broken compass of our own self-will, only causes us to drift further and further away from the truth. I recently read an interesting article written by Nicolette Manglos-Weber, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Kansas State University, pertaining to a study of the faith of Millennials today. In observing some of the characteristics of faith common to them, the writer concluded that Millennials were, “an oddity when it comes to religion.” She noted that, “most believe in God with some certainty” but that it was unclear from the survey “just what kind of God they mean and how they ‘experience’ that God in which they believe.” In summary, she concludes that, “It is clear that God matters to today’s Millennials, and their God is a distinctly personal one.” I agree with the study’s observations, but I don’t think they are necessarily attributive to Millennials alone. I think God has always mattered to people, and that he is a “distinctly personal one” as relates to the kind of God they want and need him to be. People in general tend to base their faith in God on what they want him to be, need him to be, and feel he should be. God matters to them but he must fit the image of what they desire him to be. They want a god of gray.
As so often happens when refusing to follow a compass, you lose your way and can actually find yourself going backward rather than forward. All the way back to the book of Exodus to be exact. Exodus 32:1-4 – “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it, and have sacrificed to it, and said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!” The NIV Application Study Bible says, “They had grown weary of a God without a face.” Much like the people of that day, many today have also grown weary of seeing the face of God as it actually is, and have decided to give God a new face, a face that looks a lot like their own. Ironically, the god the Israelites fashioned was in the image of the god of their oppressors. Someone once said, “It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.” So true. They made a god that better suited them, and gave it the face of a god that represented their bondage. The Canaanites around them worshiped Baal, who was closely connected to immoral sexual practices. Baalism appealed to the sensual nature. Its image is still being worshiped today. Many well-intentioned Christians today have forged a god out of their own sensual nature, and given him the face of compromise. They now try to worship this god of their own making along with the Most High God. The NIV Life Application Study Bible commentary observes that the people of that day, “may even have thought they were worshiping God. But their apparent sincerity was no substitute for obedience or excuse for disobedience.” Sincerity of heart toward worshiping God cannot compensate for “turning aside from the way which I commanded them.” Scripture says that after forging this false god, the people, “sat down to eat and drink and indulge in revelry.” This sounds a lot like what goes on today. They liked this new image of God they had forged. He was much more tolerant and accommodating of their sins. This was a god who suited their wants and needs. They somehow convinced themselves that they could worship the one true God through this distorted image of their own creation Many today, while thinking themselves to still be worshiping God, have also changed him up a bit to better fit the image of the god they need and want him to be. In making him convenient to them to obey or ignore, molding him to fit their moral expectations, desires and circumstances, they have taken a God of purest light and turned him into a god of gray. Nothing new is happening here that hasn’t happened in the past, though. Romans 1:21-25 just as easily applies to our day: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal men …. they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” Many today have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and now worship and serve a god they have created in their own flawed image, rather than the true image of their Creator.
In Deuteronomy 32:12, Moses encouraged the people to, “remember the days of old; the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders and they will explain to you. When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the peoples.” God is a God of boundaries. He alone determines what those boundaries are to be, and he has set them forth in the compass of his word for us to know and to heed. Refusing to acknowledge them is like refusing to follow a compass. Deviating from it will get you lost every time. There is only one right way to get you where you want to go. Following the wrong way will never get you to your destination. Proverbs 27:5 instructs, “Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed.” My mom practiced that truth throughout my whole life! Looking back on my life now, I can see that every time I failed to heed her rebuke, I got lost. Fortunately for me, her love always got me back on course again. I am so grateful that she “trained me up in the way that I should go,” rather than accepting and leaving me to the way I wanted to go. She wisely knew God’s truths don’t change just because the world gets rearranged, and the truths that held within her time, are still the same in yours and mine. Time and time again, I drifted off course, and time and time again, she faithfully rebuked me for it, guiding me back to where I should be. Time and time again, when the people relented and turned back to God he forgave them, and helped them to get back on course. He didn’t forgive them just to allow them to remain on the wrong course, however. Just like my mom, he didn’t accept their behavior or accommodate them in it when they were going the wrong way. He was merciful and forgave them when they turned to him in repentance, but in order to go forward with him, they had to forsake going their own way, the wrong way; repent, and turn back to following him. In his grace to us in Jesus, God will also forgive us time and time again, when we repent in sincerity of heart, and turn back to following his way; the right way. But repentance without turning is like ignoring a compass. You cannot get to your destination until you turn yourself in the right direction. Just following the way that seems right to you won’t get you there. “Ask your father and he will tell you.” That’s good advice. We have a loving, Heavenly Father who wants nothing more than to guide us safely through life and bring us safely home. He has given us the compass of his word and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to chart our course. When we are going the wrong way, he will never alter the course he has charted for us in order to accommodate the course of our self-will. “Accommodation will never produce transformation,” and transformation is what it’s all about. (Tim Bagwell). Romans 12:2 exhorts us, “Be not conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It is our minds that need to be transformed to accommodate God’s word, not God’s word that needs to be transformed to accommodate ours. We cannot conform God into our image, but he can transform us into his, if we will let him. The face of God is not, and will never be, one of compromise. So to those who have chosen to follow the broken compass of their own way, and to forge a god of their own making, I must say, “God is not gray!” You may attempt to alter the boundaries of God’s word, chart your own course and follow your own way, forge your own god and color him gray, or hope that he will just go away, but he is God and God he will stay! A compass cannot be altered. It’s only purpose is to navigate you safely home.
THE GOD OF GRAY
I believe in God, I do, I believe that he is real
In the cosmic of the universe, his presence I can feel
I believe that I will see him when I leave this world some day
and that the path I walk upon will guide me on my way
Though he’s given his Word to instruct me in the way that I should go
It is a bit outdated now and things have changed you know
So I have fashioned for myself a new and better way
That God might better suit my needs, I’ve forged a god of gray
For a god of absolutes no longer fits in the world of today
And a more tolerant god must now arise to show a better way
He must take to heart and he must try to understand
The complexities of this changing world that I am living in
I know he will approve of the changes I have made
And surely will appreciate that some things I have saved
I kept love as his image and the equality of mankind
A greater need in our world today would be hard pressed to find
And love must mean the acceptance of whatever way in life I choose
Made possible by the grace of the Gospel’s own Good News!
Which of course I’ll keep, so I might continue to embrace
that which he calls sin, by the mercy of his grace
For that is by far the quality of his image I like best
That my sin might allow me to put his grace to test!
For if I have no accountability for the sin I choose to do
With his grace being for me, how can I possibly lose!
Yes, I like very much this new image of God that I have forged
It is an image of a god that I can bow before
And the new color suits him much better I must say
I very much now like this god I’ve forged of gray
I hope that he too likes it and that he is pleased
After all it was in his image that he desired for me to be
And now that I have changed him up a bit he can clearly see
That the reflection of his image now looks much more like me!
(Jude 2:17 – “In the last times, there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires. These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.”)