The Placebo Presence of God

Robert Wurtz II

Robert Wurtz II

“And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD.” (Exodus 32:3–5 KJV)


No matter how many times I read Exodus 32:3-5 it still hits me with the same repulsion as at first. Indeed, it never loses its ability to profoundly shock me. This is especially true when I recall Paul’s words that these stories were recorded for our learning and instruction. What could we possibly learn from Aaron’s actions? God was manifesting Himself in theophanies that would make the earth tremble and yet the people, under the leadership of Aaron, were about to worship a gold calf as if it were Jehovah! This was a “bait-and-switch” for the ages!  The sad thing is, this basic deception has been the common means of deceiving the people down through the centuries. The enemy is forever trying to counterfeit the manifest presence of God. We must not ignore this fact. We have a responsibility to rightly represent God in the earth and convey correctly what is and what is not of Him. 


Can you imagine for a moment how much confusion Aaron caused the Israelites? Seriously, after this debacle, the children of Israel were so utterly confused as to what and who God is that they probably didn’t know their right hand from their left (in spiritual things). Moses can’t even get down the mountain to read off the first two commandments and Aaron and the people have already broken them. What is worse is that the peoples’ minds were being poisoned by  Aaron’s flagrant compromise. This man was supposed to be a leader in Israel and yet he is contributing to the peoples’ ignorance. It was incumbent upon Him to sanctify the Lord in the eyes of the people. That is to say, to demonstrate to them that God is a holy God and is utterly unlike the false gods of the Egyptians, Canaanites, or anyone else. Instead, he mixes Jehovah with the Idolatrous golden calf of Egypt. This was an utter misrepresentation of God. Aaron’s colossal failure and dereliction of duties has proven to be a lesson for the ages. 


Aaron turned the people’s minds away from the one true God and fixed it on a man-made idol. It was what the people wanted God to be — not what God is in reality. They wanted to shape God according to their own lusts. Instead of pointing the people to Jehovah, Aaron pointed them to the golden calf of Egypt. He then took the unconscionable step of calling it “A feast to the LORD.” What? The whole experience was false. Aaron had mixed God and the world together so that the people could identify with God and worship him in their own way. They superimposed the golden calf over God Almighty and tried to worship their man-made God as “A feast to the LORD.” However, that’s not how it works. This was madness! The reason why God brought His people out of Egypt in the first place was to teach them about Himself and His ways. They were about to learn a whole new way of worshipping. It would be unlike their experiences in Egypt. Aaron sought to build a bridge between the pagan experiences of the Israelites in Egypt and the One True God of Israel. The results were catastrophic beyond comprehension.


A Generation of Aarons


There is a generation that is seeking to bridge the pagan experiences of sinners and the worship of Jesus Christ. They are shaping peoples’ concept of God and His presence — not by breaking off the earrings from the peoples’ ears and shaping a golden calf — but by shaping the atmosphere of a meeting with music, decor, and ambiance. When the electricity begins to flow I can almost hear Aaron proclaiming down through the ages… These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” Can you imagine for a moment how much confusion this is causing? The atmosphere that these worship artists has created is no more the presence of God than was that golden calf over 3000 years ago. If the children of Israel were so utterly confused as to what and who God is (that they probably didn’t know their right hand from their left in spiritual things) — how much more confusion are these things causing people in our times? Children, young people, and new converts are being made to believe that these things are the presence of God. I have to ask, was this the presence of God in the Bible? Did these type of things happen in the book of Acts and then get labeled “the presence of God”?

Worshipping With Themselves 


Similarly to how the Pharisee “prayed with himself” in Luke 18:11, it is very possible for people to “worship with themselves.” The Greek words “with himself” is pros heauton. This was a soliloquy with his own soul, a complacent recital of his own virtues for his own self-satisfaction, not fellowship with God, though he addresses God. (A.T. Robertson) When the “worship” is all about what we want and according to our tastes, etc., it is as self-centered as this Pharisee’s prayers.  

When a person “worships with himself/herself” it is likewise not fellowship with God — though God is being addressed. One can sing in order to admire the sound of ones’ own voice. This is not worship. One can play an instrument in the name of worship — but truly they are admiring the sound of their instrument. This is why some desire their instrument to be loud. Their admiration is a sort-of “self-worship” — but addressed to God. 

True worship has God alone in view and does not divide the worship with anyone or anything else. Moreover, the children of Israel did not like the God who consumed with fire on the mountain — so they created a God that they could control. They didn’t have to fear or reverence the golden calf. Not so with the God of Israel in Exodus and not so in the book of Acts. We have the fear of God being manifest as well as great movements of Holy Spirit conviction. When God is truly near there will be conviction of sin. God will pull back the cover of our hearts and expose in us the controversies that He has with us. He will show us the error of our ways. So much of the modern-day “presence of God” functions like the compromisers of old who “healed the wound of the people slightly saying ‘peace peace’ when there is no peace.” 


It has been said that “Religion is worship in the absence of God.” Sadly, Israel reached the point where God was not present with the people, but they still went on with their worship meetings. What happened? They created a golden calf, a substitute for the presence of God. It was a placebo. It was something to direct the senses to. However, God cannot be made into a golden image or anything else. One might exclaim, “We would never do that!” Really? Not so fast. In modern times a whole generation believes that God is a feeling… a similar feeling that one would get listening to a power ballad at a rock and roll concert.


The Holy Spirit is not a feeling. He is a person — the Almighty. God is not tingles, goose bumps, or strange emotional feelings one gets when a beautiful musical arrangement is played. As sad as it is, too often the band starts to play and the music leader (much like Aaron) has knowingly or unknowingly fabricated an imposter. Colored lights begin to flash into the manufactured smoke… the feeling begins to build… and someone proclaims, “Look saints! It’s the glory of God! I feel the presence of God!” Or in the words of Aaron, “These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” It didn’t happen overnight. It happened one compromise at a time. One carnal leader influencing another carnal leader until a whole generation has been deceived by these false spiritual experiences. Somewhere along the way, someone knew better — but they did it anyway and defended the practice. Many were on paid staff — receiving a check to deceive people concerning the true presence of God. Whole companies now exist that sell products designed to facilitate the very things that this entry talks about. It has now become big business. What? The presence of God big business?


What were the children of Israel doing? They were trying to worship God with sin in their lives. They substituted the true God with something else so they could keep going through the motions. It could have been anything so long as the people could direct their need to worship at it. Yet one cannot worship and rebel at the same time without self-deception, but this has not stopped multitudes from trying. If the book of Isaiah teaches us anything it is that repentance-less worship is worthless. Man may fabricate a host of sights, sounds, and feelings that counterfeit God and His holy presence, but God doesn’t buy it. He says, “… in their affliction they will seek Me early.” Not counterfeits or figments of mens imaginations, but Me, the real Me. Indeed, when the people were finally ready to get right with the one true God they declared, “Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight.” Again, notice the personal pronouns. When God is at work in the lives of sinful people the feeling they will have is Holy Spirit conviction. Only the devil would comfort a person who had a controversy with God so as to make him/her believe that God supports the compromise. When a person stops rebelling against the Holy Spirit He will come in with love and joy, but while there is striving with the Spirit it will not be comfortable or enjoyable.  


The consequence of repentance and seeking the one true God is that, “…we shall live in his sight.” This is a way of saying that we will live in the genuine presence of the LORD — not the placebo presence that is so often experienced. Moreover, we will finally forsake the notion that this type of worshipping God is a substitute for obedience. Again, the one true God says, “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early.” Notice the personal pronouns, I, my, me. The people may go through the motions worshiping as they always did… but God was absent. It was dead, empty religion — surviving off the life support system of false emotional worship experiences. Is God saying to a generation, “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence”? Repentance and acknowledging our sin is always the first step. We must agree with God. There can be no way forward until we acknowledge our offenses. God will simply “return to His place” until we do and leave us to our false experiences.   

One thought on “The Placebo Presence of God

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  1. Is God saying to a generation, “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence”?
    Words to make one tremble. But yes, He has been saying this for a good while.

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