“When we started out and we were talking about the origins of the universe and the physical constants, I provided what I thought were cogent arguments against a supernatural intelligent designer. But it does seem to me to be a worthy idea. Refutable–but nevertheless grand and big enough to be worthy of respect. I don’t see the Olympian gods or Jesus coming down and dying on the Cross as worthy of that grandeur. They strike me as parochial. If there is a God, it’s going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed.”
-Dr. Richard Dawkins
My brother is the pastor of a church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He’s a good pastor to a faithful church, and he mentioned something in a sermon a few weeks back that struck me. He briefly tackled the oft-heard complaint that begins with, “I simply cannot believe in a god who would…” and you can fill in the blank.
“Not save my children.”
“Allow hunger and genocide.”
“Kill my goldfish.”
“Permit reality television.”
I’ve certainly played those games before. What my brother so correctly pointed out was to ask what kind of god we could believe in. It’s a meaningful exercise. If I were to dream up a god, to start fresh and invent one of my own fancy, what sort of attributes would he have? Would he be loving? Would he be kind? Would he be a he? What kind of powers does god have?
If we let this thought experiment play out I think we will find that “god” ends up being a sort of thing that we would wish ourselves to be. He’s not so much a god, but a superlative human, capable of not falling into the temptations we fall into or battling the same vices. The problem with this god, though, is that he still looks a lot like us.
Maybe he looks like a very good us, but he’s altogether humanly in nature. He’s only as powerful as our minds can imagine him to be, and the most imaginative of us already comes with preset limits. JB Phillips, in his great book Your God is Too Small, says the following:
“Man may be made in the image of God; but it is not sufficient to
conceive God as nothing more than an infinitely magnified man. There are, for
example, those who are considerably worried by the thought of God
simultaneously hearing and answering the prayers and aspirations of people
all over the world. That may be because their mental picture is of a harassed
telephone operator answering callers at a switchboard of superhuman size. It
is really better to say frankly, “I can’t imagine how it can be done” (which is the
literal truth), than to confuse the mind with the picture of an enlarged man
performing the impossible.”
Throw the old ideas of turning god into a superhuman away. A god that looks like we would prefer to look and acts like we would prefer to act is a god utterly confined to our own thoughts and aspirations. He’s a rouse, a people pleaser, and he’ll tell you anything you want to hear because you didn’t invent him to tell the truths that you don’t like. Get rid of him, put him away, because I don’t want anything to do with him.
This brings us back to the quote by the esteemed Richard Dawkins, all the way at the top. He said this at the end of a relatively informal debate between he and the evolutionary evangelical, Francis Collins. What I find so striking about this quote is how much of it I agree with while I still see a great many missed points. Richard Dawkins, like many of us, can’t believe in a god that looks like the god of the scriptures because the god of the scriptures already fails to fit what he has predetermined to be “a whole lot bigger and more incomprehensible” than what’s already out there. I might suggest that the idea of an all powerful diviner of the universe becoming a human man while simultaneously sustaining the cosmos and saving humanity is already bigger and more incomprehensible than any of the gods I’ve invented in my mind.