God Is Spirit
by David Strain
Ours is a consumer culture. It schools us to demand that all things accommodate our appetites. Everything from diet to biological sex must bend in obedience to the dictates of private desire.
But when a consumer comes to Christ, a radical reordering takes place. Our appetites change. We come to desire God in Christ by the Holy Spirit above all else. We begin to say with David: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25–26). Of course, the old drive toward self-indulgence does not cease to exist, and sometimes, even in a regenerate heart, it flares up, like a long-dormant disease freshly active once more.
One particularly acute expression of that soul-disease is the way we allow our tastes and comforts to govern our choices in worship and devotion. We do want to worship the Lord. We love Him, and we rejoice in His love for us. But we prefer to express our love for Him in ways most convenient to ourselves. In church, we prefer a certain “vibe.” A particular vocabulary conforms to our contemporary sensibilities. We don’t like to speak of God, much less think of Him, as transcendent, as holy, as Other. “Have it your way” was Burger King’s famous slogan, and it has proven all too easy, even for Christians, to apply it to our understanding of God. We think we can have Him our way.
When Aaron made a golden calf, he peddled his idolatry as an aid to worshiping Yahweh. He called a solemn assembly for worship before the golden calf and designated it a “feast to the Lord” (Ex. 32:5). The Israelites were still worshiping the true God, after all. This was simply the latest craze, intended to help everyone worship Him well. Where’s the harm in that?
But the people had forgotten the spirituality of God. “God is spirit” (John 4:24). He is incorporeal. He is pure spirit, independent of the creature. Therefore, He is not capable of being depicted or represented or drawn. The second commandment forbids idols, whether golden calves or mental images, not because God wanted needlessly to restrict human creativity or limit choice but because to do otherwise is to cease to worship the God who is actually there. He is spirit, “and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
Some might complain that God’s spirituality renders Him unknowable and out of reach. Indeed it does. The wonder of the gospel is that while “no one has ever seen God, the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, has made him known” (1:18, author’s translation). Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9). We needn’t tax our creativity in knowing the God who is spirit. We need only look to Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15). In Christ, we have everything we could want to satisfy our soul hunger for God. Why ever look elsewhere?