God is Not a Genie in a Jar

I remember lying on my stomach on the bed in my parents’ room during a school holiday when I read it:

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin…”

(Exodus 34:6)

I wasn’t paying much attention, just doing my regular reading…and besides, I’d read and heard this verse plenty of times before. But for some reason, this time was different. A chill went through me as the words seemed to reverberate through my mind like some kind of movie audio special-effects echo. And in that moment, I realized:

God is not who I think He is.

A writer once said that human beings have the unfortunate habit of creating God (or gods) in their own image rather than understanding that it works the other way around. In other words, when we think about God, we think about the nicest/strongest/best person we’ve ever encountered, multiply that by ten, and imagine that that is basically what God is like.

But we’re wrong.

God is not like us. God is totally alien to us. His ways are different, his thoughts are higher, his being is wholly other than what we are. If He did not reach out and reveal Himself to us, we would not know anything about Him at all.

But because we persist in thinking that God is like some kind of human-but-better-sort-of, we tend to relate to him in flawed, faulty ways that end up hurting ourselves.

This concept of God as a vending machine, for instance. Too many people, including professed Christians, act as if God is a comic genie, there to grant our wishes when we pray and do the “right things.” Then, when He doesn’t behave the way we expect Him to, we are disappointed, angry, bitter, resentful.

Some people become annoyed at a God who won’t give them what they want and think they deserve. Others are fearful of a God who seems to be a capricious dictator-in-the-sky, hurling thunderbolts when they toe the line. Both reactions are wrong, because they are based on a faulty understanding of God.

Song Background

Unlike most songs, which tend to come from the words, with a melody following close on its heels, this song came about when I was playing with my roommate’s keyboard.

The keyboard had some preset percussion patterns, and when one particular beat came on (piano left hand, in this recording), I decided to improvise some harmonies. It didn’t sound too bad, so next step: come up with a melody. Then throw in some lyrics, and voila! Part one of the song was done.

It took another couple years for me to come up with the B section, and that was a bit more inspired. Forcefully so: During a thirty-day-thirty-songs challenge, I decided to dig up unfinished songs to complete and found this one.

With some racking of the brains (and no doubt help from above), I came up with a B section that seemed to match the tone and first half of the song quite well. Here it is:

Lyrics

God is not a genie in a jar
is not a tyrant in the sky, who laughs when I cry
(Oh, and) God is not dispassionate and far
He’s not a petty, vengeful guy, who wants me to die

So why do I so effortlessly buy into these falsehoods and these lies?
How come these thoughts have come inside my mind, so I decide
to run away from you and hide, convinced in error, and in pride
that you are out to get me and to chide me?

God you are not who I think you are
You aren’t small, or mean, or hiding, cold and unkind
(Oh, and) God is not a Pharaoh or a Czar,
Not a dictator from on high from whom I must fly

God is truth, and love, and joy, and light; He separates the wrong from right
Can’t be manipulated or enticed to go against his nature, we must know
God is our friend and not our foe. That’s what, to people, we’re to show
with our lives

God is not a genie in a jar,
is not a tyrant in the sky, who laughs when I cry.
(Oh and) God from us is not so very far
He’s near to us He walks beside, speaks to us inside, our hearts.

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