When the band 30 Seconds to Mars sung about children of a lesser god between heaven and hell, I’m pretty sure they weren’t thinking that there could be a Christian truth in that. Let’s face it, a lesser god between heaven and hell doesn’t exactly exist in Christianity at all – it would be a pointless existence, with no real power and no place in the universe that I believe in. A god between heaven and hell, a lesser god at that, would be impotent in the face of the Christian God, who is believed to be all-powerful and all-knowing. It would be morally ambiguous, neither wholly good nor wholly evil, but presumably capable of both. It would be unable to correct anyone’s morality on his own authority, being a flawed being itself, and would have to rely on the sovereign God’s authority, assuming that it was able to wield it, or give an impotent judgement that, at best, would condemn itself along with the accused.
Such a being would, essentially, be inconsequential alongside the real God of the universe. Such a being would be, in fact, remarkably similar to a human. I want to take this in a couple of directions from here. The first is to recognise the wonder of our place in the universe, given the description I have just provided. As I have sketched out for you, we have no powers, privileges, or even rights in the universe under the sovereign God. In such a universe, that God is the supreme authority, and the person through whom and for whom everything else was created. Any moral code we could create apart from him would be hypocritical, and any judgement self-condemning. That is, unless God decided to do something completely unnecessary, and infinitely merciful, and grant us real autonomy, even allowing us to face the consequences of our own choices.
This says something to me about the character of God. It says to me that he had little interest in creating a puppet world, tugging us all about on strings. He was not interested purely aesthetics and surface level beauty of a machine-like world running under his thumb with an artificial, manufactured perfection. It says to me that would God actually desired to create was a race of beings capable of knowing him and choosing to know him, capable to shape their world and their futures. Oh, such beings wouldn’t always choose right. Nothing could always choose right without the full wisdom of God himself, but for those that made the most important choice of all, to love and follow God, there would be a world of real perfection, a world not of artificial perfection, where everything looks good but is sterile and in stasis, but a world of authentic, lived perfection, the perfection of a community united with God through choice, knowledge and love. That is a beautiful thing.
There is another direction that we can go in from that initial sketch. Given that the image of a lesser god that I have provided is remarkably similar to humans, it is not surprising to me that it is also the image of a god created by human hands and minds and positioned in the place of the real God. I’m not actually talking about idols and false gods here, though I could be, I’m actually talking about the watered-down God of a Christianity that seeks to compromise the teachings that have been held for centuries, the ‘teddy bear god’ that I have written about before.
This is a god that we claim is sovereign, holy, all-knowing, and all the rest, but that actually isn’t. This is the god that actually doesn’t give one about all of our sins, the god that doesn’t actually love us enough to change us, the god that doesn’t actually care enough to work today, and the god that isn’t actually wise enough to ever have a difference of opinion to us on any issue. This is a god made in our image, with no moral authority that we actually recognise, but a slave to our whims and desires, caught in between the heaven and hell that, to borrow an image from Milton, exist within us.
We create this god because we think it makes life easier, because it’s just so much more convenient. A god like that is pretty easy to present as attractive to non-Christians, and his expectations are so much easier to live up to. The problem is that such a god is the impotent being that I talked about in the first paragraph, a being that mirrors us more than the real God. The real God is intensely interested in how Christians live, concerned when we get hurt, ready to discipline us if necessary, all to help bring us, in his mercy, to that perfection that I described above. He is loving enough to change us when we need it, shaping us into the best people we can be. He cares enough to work now, speaking to us and prompting us, healing us, bringing glory to his name so that more people might see him and know him. He is wise enough to know better than us, to know answers to the questions that confound us, to see more of the bigger picture than we ever could. He is a God that asks for faith and love in the knowledge that he is more faithful, and more loving towards us than we could ever imagine.
I don’t want that lesser god between heaven and hell, however convenient it may seem. I want to know the real God, because I know who I really am, and I don’t want that person to be a god in my life, and because the real God is the only thing in existence that’s actually worthy of giving my life to.