So often our race has treated God as a mere convenience — a crutch to lean upon in times of need, only to be tossed aside when man yearns to stand on his own. This deplorable disposition is nauseating to the Lord.
The Jewish nation — God's own people — frequently participated in this form of backhanded duplicity.
Six-hundred years before Christ, during Jeremiah's ministry, the leaders of the land, both spiritual and civil, had each "gone far from" God, "followed idols," and had "become idolaters" (Jer. 2.4, cf. 26-27). Not even the pagan nations had shown such flippancy toward their gods (which were not even real). Yet, Israel had "forsaken" the true God, the "fountain of living waters" (Jer. 2.11). The mind of man is truly perplexing.
Remarkably, Israel denied these charges, saying, "I am not polluted, I have not gone after the Baals" (Jer. 2.23).
In response, the Lord provided evidence to the contrary. "See your way in the valley," he says, "know what you have done." They chanted to a tree, saying, "you are my father;" they told a stone, "you gave birth to me" (Jer. 2.27).
Sadly, modern man, with his devotion to macroevolutionary theory (i.e., that we are all descended from chimps, fish, and amoebas), has not substantially amended this ideology.
In view of such evidence, how could they deny forsaking God, and claim to be "innocent" (v. 35)?
Here's how: though they devoted themselves to idolatry, yet they still tried to keep God nearby, even attempting to "wash" themselves with "much soap" through keeping Mosaic ceremony and ritual (v. 22). They had their idols, sure; but, they reasoned, at least the divine system was still on their radar!
God describes them as turning "their back to me, and not their face" (2.27). They were walking away from God, showing him their backs. Yet, their faces were still looking in his direction, peering over their shoulders just in case they should ever need him to "save" them from "trouble" (v. 27).
In short, theirs was a religion of convenience. With one hand, they shoved the Lord away; with the other, they kept him within arm's reach. They were simply using him out of mere expedience.
Jeremiah calls this "casual harlotry" (Jer. 3.9) — keeping a tenuous connection with divinity, while pursuing other spiritual lovers.
God's response is chillingly appropriate: when they get into trouble, he will "show them the back and not the face" (Jer. 18.17). He will simply walk away, refusing even to look over his shoulder in their direction. When they cry to him for help, he will ask:
"where are your gods that you have made for yourselves? Let them arise, if they can save you in the time of your trouble" (Jer. 2.28).
Eventually, the day of their calamity came, and since they refused to repent, they were carried off into slavery for seventy years (cf. Jer. 25.12; 29.4-10; Daniel 9.2).
The Carnal Opportunist
Make no mistake, "casual harlotry" is still rampant in our time.
Some live in selfish carnality and materialism habitually, until a crisis knocks them off their feet, causing them to "get religion" for a while. Who can forget that brief bump in church attendance after 9/11, which eventually subsided once the initial shock of that event began to abate?
Though not a full-fledged atheist, the materialist practically forgets God in normal times — earthly living reigns supreme; that is, until that way of life is seriously threatened. Then they come running to God for help.
James wrote of those who only prayed to God so that they might "spend it on [their] pleasures" (4.3). Their religiosity is performed with mere, carnal "pretense" (Jer. 3.10) — not genuine dedication.
The Roman Governor, Felix, was of this sort. Paul preached to this adulterer "about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come" (Acts 24.25; cf. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20.7.2). Upon hearing this message, Felix became afraid and said, "Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you."
Unfortunately, too many foolishly react to the sacred message in similar fashion. Convenience often trumps conviction.
The Lord still says, "you cannot serve God and mammon" (Mt. 6.24). Either put the "kingdom of God and his righteousness" above earthly matters (cf. Mt. 6.33), or let the idols of "mammon" save you in your hour of need, for God will have no part of it.
The Social Moralist
Some keep God mildly involved in their world-view, but refuse to honor him on his terms.
This kind of "casual harlot" will talk well of morality, believes in helping others, and stresses the importance of family and its attendant social boons. He may even quote the Bible occasionally when it suits his purpose. But that is the extent of his "religion."
To him, church attendance is a matter of personal choice (contrary to Acts 2.47; Eph. 5.23-32; Heb. 10.25; etc.). Regular study of the Bible and faithful adherence to biblical instruction are viewed as "extreme" — or, at the very least, things which should be between God and the individual alone. Making a "better world" for ourselves is really what God desires.
By adopting this view, social moralists make God serve them. Rather than let God define what form of human conduct is pleasing to him through the Bible (cf. 2 Tim. 3.16-17; 1 Thess. 2.13), this sort insists that God ought to be pleased with what pleases them. They become the standard-bearer of their own morality.
Sure, they will have a little bit of "God" in the mix (the items they like: e.g., a few moral precepts here and there, helping others, family, etc…), keeping him at a safe distance, but they turn their backs to the full discipline and rigor which God requires (cf. 1 Cor. 9.27; Acts 2.41-42, 47; Heb. 10.25; 1 Tim. 3.15; 4.6, 16; etc…).
The social moralist must learn that pleasing God sometimes comes at the expense of social/earthly pleasure (cf. Heb. 11.24-26; Mt. 10.21-23; 34-39); that this world is not our home (cf. Jn. 17.16-17; Col. 3.1-2); that being religious matters (cf. James 1.27; Rm. 12.1-2).
Let him heed these timeless words:
"trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil" (Proverbs 3.5-7; cf. 2 Cor. 10.5).
The Religious Revisionist
The Jewish people were often guilty of this form of "casual harlotry." Though they attempted to maintain a wispy connection to the divine religion, they often revised Jehovah's religious ordinances to suit their own fancies.
Jeroboam, ruler of Israel, is infamous for his innovations to Jewish worship. He modified the object of worship (1 Kings 12.28), the place of worship (vv. 27-30), the priesthood as ordained by God (v. 31), and the time of Jewish holy-days (v. 32). These alterations, which he had "devised of his own heart," were done in the name of convenience (vv. 28, 33). God says he caused Israel to sin (1 Kings 14.16).
How often have our religious neighbors revised Christian precepts in the name of convenience? Infant baptism, sprinkling or pouring instead of immersion, going to the "church of your choice," offering "drive-through communion," attending church for "special" services only (e.g., Easter, Christmas) — unfortunately the list could go on ad nauseam. Modern religious organizations are more concerned about developing a consumer-centered market niche than they are about the glory of God and faithful instruction from the Scriptures.
All such religious innovators have "gone after the Baals…in the valley" (Jer. 2.23) and have "turned their back to [God]" (v. 27), though they are still trying to look over their shoulders in his direction. They still pray to God, call out his name in worship, refer to themselves as God's people (as did the Jews). But they have "forgotten [God] days without number" (Jer. 2.32).
The religious revisionist needs to put God and his Word at the center of his religion (cf. 1 Pet. 3.15; Titus 1.9). Those who participate in "self-imposed religion" (Col. 2.23) have no sanction with God. Though they attempt to maintain a casual connection to the Almighty, their pursuit of other spiritual lovers is vividly "marked before..the Lord" (Jer. 2.22).
The religion of convenience is far too common. Turning one's back to God, while looking at him over your shoulder, will not due. Seek the Lord with your whole heart, and put away your religion of convenience.