A Bodiless God

Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Westminster Confession of Faith

“Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth.” (Deuteronomy 4:15–18)

One consequence of the spiritual nature of God is that his is invisible. One consequence of this invisibility is that whatever image you might wish to make of God is, by definition, an idol. When God gave the Law on Mount Sinai (also known as Horeb) the Israelites saw no form, so they should not presume to make any form of God. The Temple at Jerusalem was unique in antiquity in that it did not contain a large statue of the god in whose honour it was built. As around AD100, Tacitus sought to explain this oddness to his readers:

“The Egyptians worship many animals and images of monstrous form; the Jews have purely mental conceptions of Deity, as one in essence. They call those profane who make representations of God in human shape out of perishable materials. They believe that Being to be supreme and eternal, neither capable of representation, nor of decay. They therefore do not allow any images to stand in their cities, much less in their temples. This flattery is not paid to their kings, nor this honour to our Emperor (Histories, Book V)

As a nation we have a centuries long history of Christianity, and as a result we find the idea of statues of gods odd. As a result it is tempting to think that we are immune from this particular form of idolatry, but it is possible to construct idols in our heads. It is possible to think of God as a being like us, as having limitations, and dealing with us as an equal (even if he is a more powerful equal). Idols in the mind, however well intentioned, will do just as well as idols carved out of stone.

The Israelites were warned not to imagine God as having any form, as being like anything which he has created. What nonsense it is to imagine God as being simply a larger version of something he has created. That would be like imagining Mary Berry is in fact a large Victoria Sponge!

A Most Pure Spirit

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth”. (John 4:24) - “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17) - God is spirit, and yet we are material. God is infinite, and we are not. God is spirit. He is not simply a bigger and better version of human beings. He is other. He is spirit.

Does God Change?

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17) - “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6) - As we age, the aches begin to dog our joints and names seem to evaporate from the tip of the tongue. Things which our twenty-year old selves thought were dull and boring, become familiar and comforting. Joy turns to sorrow, anger flares up and then ebbs into regret. Compassion pricks our conscience, and sympathy brings tears. God’s love for us does not wane or change, and it is already pure and total. God’s goodness is entire and eternal. He is a firm foundation for our faith. He is utterly reliable, and a safe haven for all our hope.

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