One of the most important lessons we can learn in this life is that God can’t be manipulated. There is no ritual act we can perform that will change God’s mind. We can’t compel him to act by our good deeds. There is no magical incantation that will stir him up and cause him to act in our favor. So why do we always try to pull this kind of crap with God?
I just finished reading a great book by John Oswalt called The Bible Among the Myths. (Book Review coming on Friday.) The core thought of the book is that the Bible is radically different from the other sacred texts of the ancient world in that it presents a completely new way of seeing the world.
All of ancient Israel’s neighbors (and many cultures today) viewed the world as an extension of a greater, unseen reality—the realm of the gods. The two were connected the way that you are connected to your shadow (with this world being the shadow). John Oswalt calls this idea Continuity. The physical world and the spiritual world are continuous.
This means that what you do in this world is also being done in the spiritual world. For example, the ancients understood the earth and the sky (and the sun and the moon and the clouds) to be gods. In order for crops to grow, it had to rain, which was the act of the earth and the sky having sex. So if you wanted it to rain so that your crops would grow, you would have sex with a prostitute at the shrine of your god. Your sex act in the physical realm meant that the gods were having sex in the spiritual realm. In other words, the gods could be manipulated.
But the Hebrews did not believe this (or at least their scriptures did not teach it). They believed that there was only one God and that this God was not continuous with the physical world in any way. He was utterly separate from it. The word for this is Transcendence.
Because this God was transcendent, he could not be manipulated. Whatever ritual act you might perform would have no corollary in the spiritual world. God is completely other than the world, and therefore every divine action is an act of grace. This means that you are not in control.
But the good news is that this God is fundamentally characterized by love, truth, faithfulness, and integrity. He deeply, deeply loves you. He has our ultimate good in mind, always. He is a God who is safe to surrender to, one to whom you can hand over control. He is a God who desires relationship—he wants to be known by you, and for you to fully and willingly reveal your heart and mind to him. Unlike the gods of the ancients, he can’t be manipulated, but he can be loved.