When we study history, it is interesting to observe how little human nature changes over the centuries. Our New Testament lesson from Acts tells us that those first century Athenians in the time of Paul were interested in nothing but telling or hearing something new. And it could be a picture of us modern Americans, for whatever else we are interested in, we are always eager to buy or know or hear about whatever is novel.
We always want to be up-to-date, don’t we? We always want to be “with it.” We want to wear the latest fashions, and we want to be up on the latest news. We want to buy the latest gadget, and we want to follow the newest fad. None of us wants to be labeled an “old fogey,” who is stuck in the ideas and trends of the past.
And so, in our time, we have invented for ourselves something called New Age religion, the latest fad on the religious scene that is now found throughout this country.
According to that New Age religion, God is not the God we read about in the Scriptures. No, God is identical with the mysterious powers we encounter in nature. He — or she some would say — is a spirit in and through and under all things. God is the life-force, the primal matrix, the essence and being that holds all things together — in Wordsworth’s words,
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of thought,
And rolls through all things.1
God is some numinous great divine spirit that we encounter in the natural world. But according to this view, God is also the divine spirit that we find in ourselves.
And so in New Age religion, and also according to some radical feminists, the world of nature is not only permeated with the divine, but you and I also have divinity within us. And all things are one and participate together in the being of God. “Thou art Goddess,” writes the feminist Starhawk. “I am Goddess. All that lives…is Goddess.”2 All we have to do, then, in order to realize our divine and true selves, according to this new religion, is to raise our consciousness of the fact that we are gods and goddesses. Then we can change the earth, goes the theory, and make a brave new world.
Now whether that all sounds silly or sensible to you, this New Age religion has found a ready hearing throughout the United States — especially, of course, in California but also in places like Virginia Beach and wherever they love the novel and different. Indeed, the basic presuppositions of New Age religion are also shared by most of the ideological feminists. Now do not misunderstand me. When I talk about the ideological or radical feminists, I do not mean all those women who see feminism as fairness. All of us support them. But the ideological feminists are those who are constructing a new religion according to their ideology.
And strange as it may seem, the views found in New Age religion are also a temptation for us — for many of us who call ourselves Christian. For in this lovely place called Virginia, with its mountains and meadows and bays, what one of us has not felt transported and inspired, and believed that somehow God is found in the beauty of nature before our eyes — that somehow the God we worship is found in and through and under all things?
And the temptation to worship such a God of nature becomes even stronger when the New Age religionists and the radical feminists tell us that their religion helps preserve the environment. After all, they point out, if God is in all things, then all things and creatures in our environment are divine, and they must be preserved and treated with reverence, as, for example, the original North Americans preserved and treated nature around them. And that seems to lend support to the ecological cause, does it not?
Such religion presents us with an even greater temptation, however, for does it not give human beings dignity and recognize their true worth? These new religionists are claiming that you and I are divine, and isn’t that something we have suspected all along? All you have to do, then, is to raise the depths of your consciousness, and become aware of your divinity so that you can save yourself and your world. You no longer have to believe, as Israel believed in our Old Testament lesson, as she languished there in Babylonian captivity — that her way was hid from God. No, you are god. All our god. Deity is in all of us.
Well, such religion is misnamed, of course, because it is not new at all. The temptation that Adam and Eve faced back there in the garden of Eden was to be their own god and goddess. “Come, you can be like god,” the serpent told them, “knowing good and evil.” And the belief that God is in all things and nature is as old as the human race. You find it in Hindu monism and in the earliest pagan religion. And it takes the form of animism, pantheism, and panentheism. Its basic assumption is that God is one with His world. The Creator is identical with His creation, and everything is divine. Or as Sallie McFague at Vanderbilt has put it, the world is the body of God.
Such views have always been tempting for the human race because they relieve us of any command hanging over us. If all things are divine, including you and me, then there is no God who is Lord over nature and history, and who gives us sovereign commands. The God of the Bible says, “You shall not kill,” but since we ourselves are gods instead, we can abort one-and-a-half million children every year, or we can decide that an elderly person is no longer useful to society and urge them to commit suicide. The God of the Bible says, “You shall not commit adultery,” but after all, adultery is in fashion, and I am free and you are free to use your body as you like. The God of the Bible says, “You shall not covet anything that is your neighbor’s,” but let’s face it, the advertising industry and politics of envy run on covetousness. Yes, it’s a temptation to forget the God of the Bible and to be our own deities, because then anything is permissible and we can rule our own lives.
We should be aware of the fact, however, that if nature is divine, then we modern Americans are going to have to give up a lot of our comfortable lifestyles because, you see, if nature is God, then you do not dare tamper with it, do you? It is no accident that North American Indians still had a stone-age culture in the seventeenth century, or that nature-worshipping tribes in parts of Africa and New Guinea still are primitive. For science can work with nature only where nature is no longer worshiped. Some Hindus still worship cows and monkeys, as the feminist Starhawk would have us do. And some in India — along with actress Shirley MacLaine in this country — still believe in reincarnation and the transmigration of souls. So they do not kill a rat, because it may contain the soul of their grandmother. Hence, rats in India eat up tons of grain that otherwise might feed hungry children, and sacred cows often receive better care than the poor who sleep in the streets of Calcutta. Because, you see, the creation is worshiped, rather than the Creator.
Perhaps we should also realize that it is a terrible thing to worship nature in a nuclear age. For if nature is God, and God is nature, what happens if a terrorist who thinks he is god blows up the world? Has God been blown to bits too, and is that the end of it all — just one vast, incinerated joke with no goal or eternal meaning? Or is there a God who is not identical with nature’s life, and so one who can promise us that heaven and earth may pass away, but His Word will not pass away?
God tells us through Second Isaiah,
The heavens will vanish like smoke,
and the earth will wear out like a garment.
But my salvation will be for ever,
and my deliverance will never be ended (Isaiah 51:6).
Only the God who is not bound up with the natural world can make that promise to us.
And that is the God whom the Second Isaiah talks about in our Old Testament lesson, and that is the God whom Paul preaches to those Athenians who worshiped the idols of earth — and that is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is not bound by earth and time.
He is the Holy One, says Isaiah — that is, He is totally other, completely different from anything He has made in all of creation. And so, agree the Ten Commandments, you shall not worship such a God in anything that is in heaven above, or on the earth beneath, or in anything that is in the waters under the earth. For to whom will you compare me, that I should be like him? asks the Holy One through His prophet; the answer is no one, no thing, nothing in all creation.
To be sure, says the Old Testament, God has spread out the sky and filled it with His birds and flying creatures. He has summoned the stars to shine at night, and by His faithfulness He preserves them in their courses. He populates our lakes and oceans with fish and crustaceans and a million forms of life. And it all belongs to God, friends; it does not belong to us. We are responsible for how we treat His universe, but God is not in any of those things He has made, and He is not to be identified with them.
Moreover, the God of the Christian faith is not an unknown God — some unsearchable essence of Being that we cannot fathom or find. Some of our ideological, radical feminists tell us that we cannot know God, and so we can invent Him for ourselves — an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals, Paul calls it in our New Testament lesson.
And we think then that we can call our invented deity anything we like. But the one God, the true God, has named Himself for us. He has revealed Himself through His people Israel, and He has revealed Himself in the life, death, and resurrection of His Son. And we have seen His glory, Christians, in the face of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.
God has not left us alone in this world — that is the wondrous miracle. He has not left us alone to continue worshiping trees and lakes, or moon and sun and stars — as if your zodiac sign determined your destiny! He has not left us alone to grope our way through our days, wondering constantly what course to take and being forced to make up the rules as we go along.
God has not left us alone to imagine that we are divine. Can we be gods, good Christian friends, with all of our selfishness and pride, our fears and suffering and violence? Heaven help us if you and I are the feeble and dying deities who alone are in charge of this world! But no, God has not left us in the clutches of such a religion, for it brings with it no new age but only the terrible dark ages of death that humanity has known so long. And God in His revelation of Himself in His Son has said “enough” to that.
So now we have hope, don’t we, and the possibility of a truly new life. For nothing, nothing is this world now determines how our lives must turn out.
If we have a religion of nature, it is natural to hate our enemies isn’t it; to try to get back at those who have wronged us, to carry a grudge, to vow vengeance, to give back evil for evil? And so marriages and families fall apart, communities are full of violence, and the earth is smeared with the blood, the awful fruits of our hatreds. But the God who is not bound by this world speaks into it His love in His Son. And we can be changed by the power of that transcendent love to forgive and be reconciled with one another.
It is natural to think we can’t change our past, that what we have done is with us forever — that nothing can wipe out the mistakes we have made, and the awful wrong decisions — that the guilt we carry cannot be relieved, and that we will always be shaped and molded by it. But the God who is not bound by time can wipe out the past. “If anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come.”
It is natural to think that our suffering and pain, our fears and weaknesses and trials, may overcome the strongest and ablest and brightest of us, and that there is no help for our lot. After all, says our Scripture, “even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted.” But have you not known? Have you not heard? The Creator of the ends of the earth does not faint or grow weary. So in the midst of suffering, He can sustain us with His comfort and endurance. In the midst of pain, He can give us joy. In the midst of weariness and toil, He can lend strength so we may even be able to soar above the trials of life. But above all, by His power and love, lent to us by the Spirit of Christ, we can walk steadily, steadfastly, unafraid, day after day.
It is natural to think that death is the end, the door closed forever. After all, everything in nature and human history hastens toward the grave. If some nature god determines our life, we die as nature dies — absorbed back into the ground as nothing but compost for the next generation; so feminist Rosemary Ruether would have us believe. And if that is true, there has not been much point to it all, has there? For we have loved, and struggled, and toiled, and suffered, and then we are extinguished in death. And one wonders why bother to go through all the joyous but also miserable experiences that we know in human life.
Ah, but you see, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is not bound by nature’s ways. He is the Holy God, the everlasting Father, who is totally other than His creation. And He does not die, as nature dies; He is not subject to the bonds of death. And He is holy love, who has given His Son to overcome our bondage to the grave. And He has raised that Son to eternal life, which He promises can be ours as well, if we will trust that He alone is the resurrection and the life.
Our sinful society’s new age religion, friends? It is not new at all, but made up of humanity’s age-old delusion and idolatry because it worships a fictitious god whom it identifies with this world. There is one God, Christians, who has made Himself known to us in our Lord Jesus Christ, and of this He has given assurance by raising Christ from the dead. Have you not known that? Have you not heard it? Then trust that holy God with your life. Trust the only God who can truly make you and all things new. Amen.
1. Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey.
2. “Witchcraft and Women’s Culture,” Womanspirit Rising, p. 263.

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