Years ago there was a song that was quite popular for awhile, its title was, “God is watching from a distance”, well if not the correct title, it was the central phrase used in the song, from which all else flowed from. It was a good song, though I found the picture used interesting. Of course it was a song, not a theological statement of any kind, just an artist rendering about God; incomplete like any representation of divinity has to be. Though, it did give me time to reflect on the importance of the depiction used, when thinking about the eternal, the unnamable, that from which no image can capture.

People often think of idols as something ‘out there’, a representation of divinity that occupies time and space and can be prayed to. Now I am not sure such a thing exists, for any representation has first of all to come from the inner being of the one who created the form that is supposed to be, well God, in the first place. So even if an inner image is not manifested in some form of art, it is still there nonetheless at work and if not replaced regularly by a closer version about that which cannot be comprehended, then trouble can really start.

Let’s go back to the song. If God is watching from a distance, then some space out there has to be occupied, automatically giving God form, limitations;…for watching is a limiting factor, something outside us making judgments; from way high up there somewhere. If really thought about, it can be kind of creepy actually. Transcendence without immanence makes no sense if really pondered and thought about. Is God actually watching? Sort of like Zeus, looking down to see if there is someone he can throw lighting bolts at.

God can’t be anywhere, for that implies form and yes limitations, which are usually placed there by the one who has these kinds of ideas about God. God is watching, God gets angry because we can somehow surprise God by our actions. God’s anger for some strange reason resembles our anger, which is really hormonal based, and so really, best to fear this God, who is unknowingly made in man’s image and likeness, instead of the other way around. Ok I do this, I am an idol worshipper, for any ideas about God that are clung to are limiting, no matter how elevated, mine have not reached that elevated level as of yet.

The good news is, idols are outgrown, and a better and bigger one takes its place. So it goes, one after another they fall over the threshold of the temple and well just stays there, dead and lifeless. So the slow movement towards the mystery continues, though I guess some get stuck; I have at times. When this happens fear often becomes the central emotion felt in relating with the down sized god. When Christ said “fear is useless, what is needed is trust”, is very true. We distrust what is like us, so idols are just projections of what is going on inside. Nothing infinite or transcendent about many of our ideas of God; though the processes itself of replacing images are important and necessary, for personal growth in our relationship with the ever deepening mystery of the infinite.

Why we do it to each other all the time. Any kind of relationship with another human being will stagnate if an ever increasing understanding of the deep mystery of the other is lost. So we can make each other into idols as well, pegs on which we hang our worst and yes also our best aspects of ourselves; which have course are finite, limited. When idols die there is the danger that the relationship will also cease, so there are perils in any kind of an ‘I-Thou’ relationship, for non-objects (a Thou) grow as we do, there is a flow, our boundaries while real, or possibly not what we think they are. We are channels, or perhaps mirrors to each other, the actual ‘seeing’ is a process that is unending, well eternal I believe. So it goes with God. Even the word God is a generic term used to represent different theories about divinity, and each unique individual has their own images and theories; though hopefully constantly growing and expanding.

So as we grow, as grace works, so does God, or at least our image of God. Scriptures can be either freeing or restraining on our journey. There are threads of fundamentalism that can become a prison for some, who often represent an image of God that resembles more a bi-polar father having a bad weekend; yeah, or yet again, Zeus comes to mind.

I think the book of ‘Job’ in the Old Testament is a great idol breaker. People thought back then, and incorporated in to the canon that evil doers are punished in this life and those who do well are rewarded. Well Job was a good man who was not punished, but whose life went downhill fast. He lost everything, children, livestock, servants, homes, the whole bit. His friends came, good men, intelligent, well versed in the current understanding of God and how he worked in the world. They were eloquent in their presentation about why Job must be suffering. In the end, they were wrong. The shattering of their image of God for something bigger was most likely terrifying. Job is a story and in the end all was given back to him, but that is not the point.

Evil happens to everyone, it is not a statement of one stance before the ultimate reality called God. So yes scripture also develops and grows. People mature as well as religions. Now those who get stuck in one image get into trouble for it does not line up with reality, and rigidity comes into play which is based on fear. Many still believe that if they are good, then nothing bad will happen to them; I guess they don’t read the newspapers or look at TV very much. Yes God envisioned as Santa Claus.

There is an experience awaiting each and every one of us, one of constant expansion and growth, of a dying and rising, as each outmoded image of God is let go of; which by the way takes courage. Which most have, unseen, unacknowledged; yet there nonetheless. Idols only become a problem when they are clung to after they really have been outgrown and the beckoning of the Spirit is ignored. The fire of God’s love burns to ash one concept after another, deepening faith and trust. For without trust then letting go is impossible, unless it is one towards atheism, which could be (though not always, for there are true atheist) a rejection of a god too small.

Infinite love and mercy; who can understand such a thing? Surely it is much more than any human thought, no matter how deep and insightful, can conceived of. So slowly we journey with grace’s influence, often hidden but leading us, helping us to ascend into the dark cloud where all images fall away and only the naked union with God is possible. A union of love beyond understanding, and yes outside any kind of personal experience, for what is left when all idols die…… well no-thing, that which is without form, leading to a full consummation of our desire for union and love.

Mark Dohle

Mark Dohle

I am 62 years old and have lived in the Atlanta area since 1971.  I am Catholic and my faith is important to me, yet as I age the mystery continues to deepen, so I read broadly and try to keep things somewhat open ended. I work with the aged and the dying. I was in the Navy for four years and I guess I am life of center when it comes to politics, but not too far left. Actually, I am kind of a political moron.

I am the third of  11 children; ten still alive, one died in in 1958, three days after birth.

  1. Great Piece Mark,
    I suspect that all God seekers live through a period of idol worship until some epiphanal moment when God becomes God to them. This takes an act of revelation because we can no more realize the Godness of God anymore than the blind mouse can realize the fullness of the elephant. Thankfully God has revealed God’s self in the person of Jesus Christ. When one truly comes to know Jesus as he is, not based on myths or half hearted attempts of categorizing him, one comes to an understanding of both the imminence and transcendence of God and idols disappear.

    Unfortunately a large portion of the church, I fear, is caught up idol worship because people are programmed to believe a certain way and not taught to do heir own theology. This leads to all kinds of evil things being done in the name of the Holy One.

    Have a most blessed New Year

  2. Dear mark – there is a reason that among the ancients (and even some today) the name of g– is never pronounced or even written down. To write it down, to speak it, is to place limitations. Even to do it the way I just did is suspect. The kaballists call it the unknowable, the limitless, the nothing that is something, and even those names are inaccurate and poor attempts by mere humans to describe the indescribable. Arrogant indeed are those who believe they can know the unknowable, and yes that arrogance – the polar opposite of humility – masks a fear so deep and frozen it may never have hope of thawing. But that too is typical of mere humans, who often fear walking in this wide and confusing world alone. And so the very base invention of religion, and the accompanying religious leaders, to keep us further from Truth. Our purpose in this life is to rejoin that from which we emanated, but that requires true free thought, and most of us are as far from that today as we were tens of thousands of years ago when we looked at the sky, saw the inexplicable and set about explaining it. Or, I should say, making up stories out of whole cloth to explain it.
    Thanks for a thought-provoking article. May at least one read it and finally understand that s/he understands nothing at all.

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