In my last post, I mentioned one of the easily overlooked benefits of the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s new book. In this post, I want to point out what many observers believe is the heart of the problem with Bell’s view. It is an unwillingness to let God be God. One of my favorite authors, Tim Stoner, is currently reading and reviewing the book. I think he hits the nail on the head in this post:
Bell repeats the same dreadful mistake made by so many teachers scandalized by God’s self-disclosure through the ages. Rather than humbly submit, he deconstructs what is unappealing and crafts a more tolerable God in man’s image.
The God who is revealed in Scripture makes Bell uncomfortable, so with the best of intentions (I believe), he sets out to give God’s image a makeover. Someone once quipped that God created man in His image and man has been trying to return the favor ever since. That’s a humorous way to put it, but there’s nothing funny about the idolatrous impulse behind it. J.I. Packer, in this article, refers to that impulse as our “inbred sinful habit of making God in our own image.”
If it is right for man to have the glory of God as his goal, can it be wrong for God to aim at the same goal? If man can have no higher end and motive than God’s glory, how can God? And if it is wrong for man to seek a lesser end than this, then it would be wrong for God too. The reason why it cannot be right for man to live for himself, as if he were God, is simply the fact that he is not God; and the reason why it cannot be wrong for God to seek His own glory is simply the fact that He is God. Those who would not have God seek His glory in all things are really asking that He should cease to be God. And there is no greater blasphemy than to will God out of existence.
If the objectors’ line of reasoning is so clearly false, why are so many today convinced by it? The appearance of plausibility which this view derives from our inbred sinful habit of making God in our own image, and thinking of Him as if He and we stood, as it were, on the same level, so that His obligations to us and ours to Him correspond; as if He were bound to serve us and further our well-being with the same entire selflessness with which we are in duty bound to serve Him. This is, in effect, to think of God as if He were a man, albeit a great one. If this way of thinking were right, then for God to seek His own glory in everything would indeed make Him comparable to the worst of men and to Satan himself. But our Maker is not a man, not even an omnipotent superman, and this way of thinking of Him is not right. It is, in fact, gross idolatry. (You do not have to make a graven image picturing God as a man to be an idolater; a mental image of this sort is all that you need to break the second commandment.) We must not imagine that the obligations which bind us, as creatures, to Him bind Him, as Creator, equally to us. Dependence, of whatever form, is a one-way relation, and carries with it one-way obligations. Children, for instance, ought to obey their parents — not vice versa! And our dependence as creatures upon our Creator binds us to seek His glory without in the least committing Him to seek ours. For us to glorify Him is always a duty; for Him to bless us is never anything but grace. The only thing that, as God, He is bound to do is the thing that He has bound us to do — to glorify Himself.
Has Rob Bell created a God in his image? Perhaps. If so, that’s a big problem.
I will say this (and I know it’s a bold statement)–if your view of God deviates from the portrait Packer paints here, then your view of God deviates from God’s own revelation of Himself in Scripture. God is unique; transcendent; utterly unlike us in His very essence. He is the only being in the universe who has the right to seek His own glory. But we have to take that assertion a step further. Not only does God have the right to glorify Himself, He must do so. He would not be God if He didn’t, and one thing He cannot do is “cease to be God.”