Sunday, September 4, 2011

Domesticated Shelf Gods

(Joshua speaking on behalf of God) "I handed you a land for which you did not work, towns you did not build. And here you are now living in them and eating from vineyards and olive groves you did not plant. So now: Fear God. Worship him in total commitment. Get rid of the gods your ancestors worshiped on the far side of The River (the Euphrates) and in Egypt. You, worship God. If you decide that it's a bad thing to worship God, then choose a god you'd rather serve - and do it today. Choose one of the gods your ancestors worshiped from the country beyond The River, or one of the gods of the Amorites, on whose land you're now living. As for me and my family, we'll worship God." The people answered, "We'd never forsake God! Never! We'd never leave God to worship other gods. God is our God! He brought up our ancestors from Egypt and from slave conditions. He did all those great signs while we watched. He has kept his eye on us all along the roads we've traveled and among the nations we've passed through. Just for us he drove out all the nations, Amorites and all, who lived in the land. Count us in: We too are going to worship God. He's our God." Then Joshua told the people: "You can't do it; you're not able to worship God. He is a holy God. He is a jealous God. He won't put up with your fooling around and sinning. When you leave God and take up the worship of foreign gods, he'll turn right around and come down on you hard. He'll put an end to you—and after all the good he has done for you!" But the people told Joshua: "No! No! We worship God!" And so Joshua addressed the people: "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen God for yourselves - to worship him."
And they said, "We are witnesses." (Joshua 24:13-22, The Message)


"We need to stop trying to domesticate God or confine Him to tidy compartments that reflect our human sentiments rather than His inexplicable ways." - Francis Chan in Erasing Hell.

That's exactly what the Israelites said they would not do in this passage. Joshua had challenged them to make up their minds, to choose God or some lesser god that very day and make their commitment. He reminded them of what Jehovah had done in bringing them out of Egypt and giving them the land that lay before them. Of course, they cried out with a fervor that they would commit to the same God Joshua had chosen. Then Joshua comes back with a pretty powerful retort.

He tells the people that they just aren't capable of choosing and following God. Oh, he knows they will serve something or someone, but he challenges the depth of their voiced commitment. He knows from his personal history that the God of Israel is not just some domesticated shelf god ... some pretty little carved image that you can set on a shelf and go visit when you want something. After all, he's just given an address to the people where God has spoken through him in a most powerful way. And he knows that choice is not just a one-time deal. The people, however, seem to see it in a different way. The history we read about them confirms that.

I don't doubt their passion in the responses they give. They too knew their history with God. But this wouldn't be the first time they or their ancestors made a passionate embrace of some ideal. The very valley they are standing in holds multiple reminders of things that have gone on before in their lives. No, they are not strangers to a challenge such as this. Yet in their enthusiasm to respond to the call that day, they overlook the basic concept that "choice" isn't just a matter of decision.

It is a matter of the heart as well. And that takes it to a whole other level in their lives. This is why Joshua challenges them after their initial agreement. He is pointing out their agreement with a shelf God rather than a wild, unpredictable God. The former is the safe choice they will make many times. The latter is the true heart of what has been presented to them ... domesticated shelf God, or the Almighty God Who has brought them this far?

It would seem that we, knowing the full history, would make the choice for the more powerful God. Yet, as Chan noted in the quote I used, we have a habit of trying to domesticate Him even today. No, we may not carve wood or stone and place it on a shelf in our house ... but does our heart choice really reflect something different than what the Israelites chose and did? Have we really embraced God as God and allowed Him to be that powerful?

The Crooked Path offers me a choice between a domesticated shelf God or a wild, unpredictable, all-powerful God. When I try to mold Him into to my ideas, I am looking for a domestic shelf God. And, in His wisdom, He may appear to me that way for a season. He may limit what He will do in and through me as a result of my choice. But that doesn't change Him in the least. It is far better that I understand God is beyond my comprehension ... and that I take Him off the shelf, letting Him be the God He really is. It's a choice I must make daily. May my heart echo along with Bill and Cindy Foote in You are God Alone - "You are God, that's just the way it is."


  1. One question and only one ... which God are you going to choose today (and every day) - the domesticated shelf God, or the all-powerful one who doesn't have to explain Himself?

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