Last night, I was at a Christian concert in which the choir director repeatedly spoke of how God was their shield from suffering, their savior when in need of recovery, and their provider when blessing was given. God is all these things. However, so is god.
For a long time, I struggled with the distinction between god and God. In other words, what sets the Judeo-Christian God apart from all other gods. In the last few years, I have broadened my thoughts on this to include Allah, Brahman, and all of the unique gods that mono-theistic religions center around.
I now have an answer; god is God. Profound, I know. It basically means that there is only one god, and all religions are ultimately seeking Him.
This didn’t solve my question of what makes God different. Therein, lies the problem. God was never different from god, it was our desired relationship with him which differed.
Given the importance of the relationship with God, the real question has become “What is the difference between God and an idol?” This answer is much easier. I am meant to serve God, but an idol is chosen to serve me.
All religions, at the lay level, including Christianity, seek god for the purpose of personal benefit, be it protection, providence, blessing, etc… We want god to fill our basic needs.
However, God never said that he existed for our individual basic needs. In fact, God suggested that we not worry about our basic needs. We pray that he gives us “our daily bread”, so that we don’t worry about it. If God chooses to provide, that is His choice, not ours.
A relationship with an idol exists for our basic needs, or any need on the Maslow pyramid. However, a relationship with God exists for us to serve God’s basic need, that He be glorified.
What was obviously missing from the concert director’s prayer was this last component. He had prayed that God provide our basic needs, and only for that. Effectively, he turned God into his idol.
Western cultures, those in which individualism professes that money is the root of our provision, turn money into an idol. Christians preach that money becomes an idol because we worship it. We seek it for our providence. We serve it in order for it to provide for us.
While this is true, it is still a flawed understanding of the relationship between God and Man. Most preachers suggest that we should simply replace money with God.
In this case, God becomes our reason for worship. God becomes the source of our providence. We serve God in order that he provide for us. We have simply exchanged idols. Money is no longer our idol, God has become that idol. We have reduced God to god.
The true problem with “worshiping” money is not that money is not God. It is that, money, like any other idol, simply shows we still cling to a need for an idol. To worship God, to have the correct and intended relationship with God, he can not be our idol.
God said that we should have no other idols before Him. I suggest that he was insinuating that we should not even have an idol OF him. This is why we are not to have any images of Him, nor figures of Him, nor are we to even pronounce His name for fear of death.
God meant for us to serve him. To serve the creation system he designed. In order that he be glorified.
Is it wrong to pray for our daily bread? Obviously not. It is never wrong to hope that your employer pay your salary. However, your purpose at work, while on the job, is not simply to figure out how to get more salary. You simply have faith that your salary will be paid. Rather, your purpose is to seek and discover new ways that further the vision of your employer.
A relationship with God is the same. He is not an idol to serve you. He is your master that you serve. Ask not what your idol, your god, can do for you; ask what you can do for your God.