TONY ELDER: Avoid depicting God as either wrathful or tame, to suit your needs

This October I'm doing something I haven't done in years. I've purchased and am putting up a Halloween decoration. I didn't want anything ghoulish or gory -- just something to get a little reaction from my grandchildren and others as they come to our door looking for treats.

So my wife found a rather hideous-looking spider for us to hang up on our porch. Nearby movement or sound will cause the creature's eyes to light up as it slowly descends on its web while eerie noises fill the background.

When I first took a look as to where we might hang our new creepy crawler, I discovered that a real spider had already spun its good-sized web in that prime location near our front door. Not only did it interfere with where I was thinking about placing our decoration, but I was afraid it was so close that its presence might be a little too realistic for anyone who stepped up on our porch.

I decided that if this creature hung around, I was going to have to remove it in order to make way for its mechanical cousin. Fortunately, it chose to move its web to the far end of the porch a few days later, and then it disappeared altogether.

Let's make sure that we don't try to treat God in a similar manner.

We sometimes concoct our own manmade version of God, an image of Him that doesn't line up with what He has revealed about Himself in the Scriptures.

Maybe it's the image of a frightening God with wrathful eyes blazing who is always looking for an opportunity to descend on us in order to do us harm. Or maybe it's the opposite picture of a tame God who is as cute and harmless as a little kitten. It's an image that only emphasizes the loving nature of God, seeing Him more like a doting grandfather or a gift-providing Santa Clause.

There are numerous other models of God which people have built, over-emphasizing some of His characteristics while completely ignoring others. It should serve as a reminder to us all that we need to know what the Bible tells us about God -- not just one or two verses, but the whole of Scripture.

As in the case of the spider, we are sometimes guilty of pushing the real God out of the way in order to make room for our alternate version. When the reality of what He is truly like ventures into our living space and interferes with what we want to do or what we prefer to think, we try to get rid of Him.

Some people might rather have an angry God they can curse and fight against rather than to have to come to terms with a God who actually loves them. A God who loves them more than anyone else. A God who loved them so much that He gave His Son to die for them.

Others would rather have a God who loves everybody so much that nothing anybody could do would make Him mad or cause Him to allow anyone to suffer punishment.

When they encounter the God of the Bible who labels certain actions and attitudes as sin, or One who warns people of judgment and hell, they quickly want to relegate Him to a museum of antiquities. They prefer to substitute their modern, more docile, more politically-correct version in His place.

So let's be sure to look at our Bibles and at Christ and accept the real God for who He is.

And if your kids stop by my house on Halloween, watch out for the spider. It might be the real thing.

The Rev. Tony W. Elder is pastor of Wesley Community Fellowship Church. He can be reached at 770-483-3405 or by email at RevTElder@aol.com.