One Nation Under God
The most vital fact about any nation is what it thinks of God. I am not a historian, neither by profession nor by any great amount of study. But I do believe I could predict the future of any nation if I could discover exactly what that nation’s concept of God is—if I could learn exactly what America thinks of God, what the rank and file, the masses, the lower echelon leadership in America thinks about God; if I could send out a questionnaire and ask the question, “When you think of God, what do you think of? What concept enters your mind when you think about God?”
If I could find an instrument that would tell me what the majority of the people thought about God, I could predict the future of the nation, barring of course the possibility of revival, which would change all that. But even a revival cannot come where a concept of God is low. A missionary cannot go to a heathen land and immediately preach the gospel. One of the first things they have to do is talk about the high God and purge the minds of the people from low and unworthy and ignoble concepts of God. We cannot rise higher than our concept of God.
Personal faith cannot rise higher than a person’s concept of God. That is why I for one am indignantly crusading against this concept of God as “the man upstairs.” The nice, lovely God that you can slap on the back, laugh, and tell Him a joke; the God that will condescend to anything and pal along with anybody. That kind of God is not the kind of God of the Bible. That is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; it is not the God that gave the law to Moses; it is not the God that led the children of Israel out of Egypt; it is not the God of Isaiah or David, John or Paul; it is not the God of Martin Luther or John Wesley; it is not the God of the Church. It is another kind of God, a soft God that will condescend to anything and overlook anything, with no spine and no character. That God is the divine teddy bear, the huge panda that everybody can cuddle to and coo about but they have no respect for Him because they have no concept of Him.
One Church Under God
I say that not only of a nation but also of a church. You say, “Oh well, every church has the same concept of God, every church knows about God; they read their Bible. They have a Christian concept of God.”
Our concept of God could be thought of as a river where we receive tributaries from everywhere—from books and unworthy songs and fiction and religious literature of various kind—until even a church that ought to be a sound, biblical church is a poor, anemic imitation. Our concept of God is likely to be down so that instead of thinking of God as He is—high and lofty, inhabiting eternity, He whose train fills the temple and who walks on the wings of the wind and makes the clouds His chariot—instead of our thinking about that high God, the God we know about or think about or conceive is a very much smaller God.
I believe in evangelism, but I have listened to evangelistic sermons that set forth a God I could not respect and would not want to go to heaven and live with for another few million eternities. I do not want to live with a God like that, the kind of God I have heard set forth in pitiful, nose-wringing, eye-drenching stories as though God were like one of us. The poor little undersized, small-minded preacher gets up and begins to chatter about a God he has made in his own image, and then I’m supposed to want to go to heaven and sit beside the throne of a God I could not respect on earth?
No, I want the God of the Old Testament and the God and Father of the New, or else I do not want to go to heaven. I would rather go somewhere in some neutral place. I have not courage enough to say I would rather go to hell, but maybe a limbo in between where I can stay as far as possible from these teddy bear gods that are being preached now and again.
Some have a lot against John Calvin. I do not go along with everything John Calvin believed, but there is one thing he did believe that I go along with. He had a high concept of God. He believed in God’s sovereignty—God high and lifted up. And so do I.
If we could find out exactly what a church thinks about God, we would know that church’s future. We would know where they are going for the next several years.
A. W. Tozer, And He Dwelt among Us: Teachings from the Gospel of John, ed. James L. Snyder (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2009), 205–207.