making God in our image

If a liar and deceiver comes and says, “I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,” he would be just the prophet for this people!  — Micah 2:11

Nicholas Epley, social psychologist and associate professor at the University of Chicago, has done several studies showing the connection between egocentrism and God.  It’s assumed that religious individuals will attempt to align their views with God’s, as he is always right.  But Epley suggests we are actually more likely to align God’s views with ours.  Epley asked participants in the study what they thought about several current issues, such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and the death penalty.  He also asked them how God felt about those same issues.  It’s no surprise the overwhelming majority of people believed they were siding with God on every issue.

What’s interesting is that when researchers were able to convince individuals to change their minds on certain subjects, God’s mind also “changed.”  In fact, even the participants’ confidence in their own positions (on a scale of 0-5) corresponded with their estimation of God’s own level of conviction… and changed as theirs did.

Epley and his staff explain that people set their moral compass in accordance with what they believe to be God’s standards.  The researchers add, “The central feature of a compass, however, is that it points north no matter what direction a person is facing. This research suggests that, unlike an actual compass, inferences about God’s beliefs may instead point people further in whatever direction they are already facing.”

If I like to dance when I sing,
you should see God get down.

Epley’s research is nothing new.  We like for God to agree with us on issues.  And we’re willing to “change his mind” if necessary. That’s certainly easier than seeking the mind of Christ and allowing our own beliefs, hearts, and actions to be transformed — so that we would align with the desires of our Father.  It’s just easier to assume:

  • If I’m a protestant, so is God.
  • If I’m a premillennialist, so is God.
  • If I’m a Baptist, so is God.
  • If I know turning the cheek is only a metaphor, so does God.
  • If I believe miracles don’t happen anymore, God doesn’t do them.
  • If I believe Catholics are going to hell, it’s because God’s sending them there.
  • If I like infant baptism, God intended it.
  • If I think everyone should close their eyes when they pray, it’s only because Jesus closed his.
  • If I’m a Republican, God invented that party.
  • If I believe same-sex marriage should be against the law, God’s writing legislation even as I write this blog post.
  • If I believe we should only use one cup during communion, God’s wondering what took me so long to side with him on this incredibly important issue.
  • If I believe instruments are wrong in worship, it’s because I’ve seen God’s fingers in his ears, trying to block out their noise.
  • If I like to dance when I sing, you should see God get down.
  • If I believe I should kiss dating goodbye, God jingled his keys and told dating to go start the bus a long time ago.
  • If I want to buy a really expensive car and “use it to God’s service,” that’s why he gave me that money.
  • If I’m tired of my marriage, God just wants me to be happy.
  • If I think Texas should’ve won the national championship, God’s wearing orange.

I’m not suggesting truth doesn’t exist… or that we can’t know it.  I’m merely suggesting sometimes we don’t care to know it.  Often we don’t want to know it.  We may even ignore it when we do know it.

And the problem isn’t specific to individuals .  Churches are just as guilty.  We often mold God into our own shape and form. Just like Israel in Micah’s day, we hire preachers who tell us what we want to hear.  And we fire them if they teach against some prescribed doctrine… or don’t teach that prescribed doctrine well enough.  There exist entire denominations that vote God into their likeness, and pass their “findings” down to individual congregations.

A creator made in the image of his own creation.

We like having God in a box.  But even more, we like to select the box ourselves, wrap it with our favorite paper, and decorate it with ribbons and bows of our own choosing.  And then we call it a gift as we share it with others.

“Here’s a God that looks like us.  Believe in him, and you’ll be saved.”

Next post in this series: prophets for hire — preaching God in a congregation’s image.


Filed under woe to us

8 responses to “making God in our image

  1. Brittney Harrison

    Great post Bubbie. Sadly, I think, our society has adopted this way of life-in so many ways. I love reading your posts. And I love you.

  2. Brett: one of the most freeing moments for me was after a book called Wisdom Hunter by Randall Arthur and I realized that I had put God in a box and I needed to let Him out. I do believe in absolute truth (Bible) but I also have to be careful of cultural interpretation and contemporary interpretation and of course, “I want it to say this so it does” interpretation. You have given me some great food for thought here.

  3. sissie, a public blog is no place for affection and caring.

    bill, thanks for the book suggestion. i won’t say that i will get to it, but i’ll say that i may. on a separate note, i was able to get my bike tools off our container yesterday. i thought i was really close to being able to ride again — but then i realized i still have to find a pump that will take presta valves (there’s one in some box on the container). so tomorrow will not be my first real bike ride in africa. i need to talk to someone about bikes, and you’re here. so congratulations, you’re the winner.

  4. T

    I don’t think Texas should have won the national championship. We all know God wanted Alabama to win it anyway…

  5. Pingback: prophets for hire: preaching God in a congregation’s image « aliens and strangers

  6. Bummer about the pump. I haven’t been able to ride since a week before Christmas due to the weather. Cold and now snow and cold. Like 5 degree cold. Hope you find that pump soon.

  7. Pingback: tendencies of an american church « aliens and strangers

  8. Pingback: top 10 (visited) in 2010 [but not the 10 best] | aliens and strangers

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