The Church suffers from a mistaken identity. There is this disorder called face blindness, or more technically prosopagnosia (not knowing face), where a person’s brain can not hold in memory the face of another. This causes the person to feel like they are meeting someone for the first time over and over again. It’s almost an amnesia of sorts, where, in extreme cases, you can’t recognize a person you’ve known for years, even if they happen to be your father or your husband.
The Church not only forgets who God is, but also, to make matters worse, starts fantasizing about God, allowing a perceived reality to overtake true reality. Rather than us being conformed into the likeness (eikon) of His Son (Romans 8:29), we end up molding and deforming God into our own image (eikon) and mindset. This doesn’t actually happen to the Person of God, but it does happen to our perception of Him and, as some have noted, the way we think about God informs/effects our worship towards Him.
When we forget His face, we end up worshiping a non-existent fantasy rather than the Living God. Anger ensues when our fantasy God falls apart and false expectations aren’t met. Furthermore, our culture-wide, post-modern dilemma dealing with the loss of identity, the lifelong narcissistic quest of “who-am-I?” is tied into all this, for if we don’t know who we are, it’s because we don’t know (or remember) who God is. Legitimacy of being is called into question when the source that creates us is mistaken, hence leading to our own mistaken identity.
Now in the confides of this post I’m using fantasy as a negative term, but that’s not always the case. Dwelling on, gazing at, questioning through, contemplating, dreaming, imagining, re-imagining… these things can be fantastic (nice pun, eh) and by faith reveal more and more the depths of creation and the Creator, uncovering truths that would otherwise not be accessible. But I’m talking about a destructive kind of fantasy, something on a heart level akin to romance novels and pornography.
While there are a myriad of reasons why we might engage in destructive fantasy, here’s two big ones. First, more actively, it’s a way to escape expectation, a way to take control and define life and people and assign voided value according to our own terms. Secondly, in a less direct fashion, we enter fantasy when we partake in a type of exclusivity where we get so tied up in one way, thinking that we have everything figured out, that we forget or neglect the more holistic picture of reality. Don’t get me wrong, there are a handful of good things in life that are exclusive by design. However, those beautiful things in their exclusivity don’t limit, rather they produce the fruit of endless depth. But I digress…
Story time, via 2 Samuel 5 & 6…
David was on cloud 9. God’s blessing and provision came together in some big ways. First, he was officially made king of Israel after countless years of running and hiding and fighting the madman king before him. Secondly, he and his men conquered Jerusalem, a political, national, and religious treasure. Thirdly, David defeated the long standing enemy of Israel, the Philistines (remember that Goliath guy?) which also meant getting back the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol where God’s very power and presence resided in a special way. With all these aspects coming together, David was living the fantasy.
So David, rightfully so, wants to throw a party and gathers all of Israel for a worship celebration, including a parade of sorts having the Ark brought into the capital city. So imagine thousand of people in this national and religious celebration, dancing and blowing horns and waving banners and singing. The Ark starts on it’s path being pulled by some oxen and it’s like someone throws an ecstasy switch on the rave and takes the shin-dig to the next level. But then the oxen stumble and this priest named Uzzah reaches out to make sure the Ark doesn’t topple over, and Bam!, God strikes him dead.
This is a worship architects’ nightmare.
I want to focus on David in the story rather than the Ark and Uzzah, but its important to point out something. The priests (under David’s orders) brought the Ark in on a cart with oxen pulling it. That’s a big no-no. God had direct commands to have the priests carry the Ark with polls when it was to be moved, not a cart and oxen. This later method is what the Philistines (Israel’s enemy) did and what Israel continued in. If you’re the Polish people, you don’t go ahead and say, “Well hey, that worked for the Nazi’s, so let’s keep doing that.”
So after the whole anger of the Lord scene, David puts God to the side… literally. He puts the Ark in another city. David is angry, he’s afraid, he doesn’t know what to do. Somewhere in the midst of this season of blessing, David forgot the fullness of God’s character and flippantly disregarded God’s holiness through the manner of how the Ark was moved. David fell prey to an exclusive mindset that just saw God as a giver of good things, while neglecting to remember His God-ness. David saw God as a Grandfather who gives his grand-kids anything they want as long as they are happy. But God is a father, a Father who is loving and strong and gives good gifts, but who also puts us in our proper place, growing us, disciplining us and hence legitimizing us as His children (Hebrews 12).
It takes David three months to align his mind to reality, scorning the fantasy that he, somewhat ignorantly, created. He throws another worship service. This time as the priests bring the Ark in there is not only celebration, but sacrifice; there is not only external rejoicing but a heart of reverence. It seems David remembered a psalm he penned earlier in his life, when things weren’t going his way… and it seems that to some degree David learned that at all times, whether in abundance or pain, he should seek God’s presence.
You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
“Your face, LORD, do I seek.”
The grace in all this is that despite our brokenness, both chosen and inherited, God will not allow our fantasies of Him to continue. God is jealous for two things. He is jealous for His people as their one and only (exclusive) God; they are His, He is theirs. He is also jealous for His own name and for the fullness of His character to be rightfully known. He won’t allow His name to be mistaken or defined by anyone besides Himself, especially amongst those He loves. “I am who I am.”
In conclusion: Don’t forget your Father’s face.
Listen to Skye Jethani preach on 2 Samuel 5 & 6 in this sermon: Three Ways to Worship.
Read further into the Problem of Pain and how it correlates with our view of God through this review by Jacek Bavz.