September 11, 2012 Permalink
Sometimes I think that most of us don’t really believe in God-at least not in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
I think that many of us, perhaps most especially Christians, believe primarily in some form of karma–what goes around comes around, you get what you deserve, clear cause and effect–and our “god” is nothing more than a shadowy embodiment of that. Somebody has to be there to reward us when we are good and punish us when we are bad to keep some kind of cosmic order. Good little boys and girls will get all kinds of beautiful presents underneath the tree at Christmas, but Santa god is also keeping a list of who’s been naughty so they don’t get any gifts. For whatever ways we might chafe against this belief system, it is ultimately helpful–because whether or not we actually believe in God, we need to believe in order. We need an ordered universe with a divine referee to ensure fairness so the rules can be enforced.
Even growing up in churches where we emphasized the power of God, there were many times when I could not seem to access that power and wondered whether or not God was real. It of course would have been the worst thing imaginable for God not to be there, because I was trying to be a good rule follower and I desperately needed someone to reinforce my ordered world.
Yet I am increasingly convinced that it would be far scarier for the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to exist than not to exist-precisely because He does not prop up our sense of order. He is not there to enforce karma. He does not make sure the good children get presents and the bad ones get a wagging finger. As Jesus said, He makes the sun to rise and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust (and in His context mind you, both the sun and rain were good gifts-rain was not a symbol for hardship).
Long before the extravagant grace of God is revealed in its fullness through Jesus of Nazareth, we get story after story in the Old Testament that demonstrates this. Belief in God is disruptive because He never allows Himself to be confined by the parameters we give Him of human fairness. He will not don the black and white uniform and run up and down the field making objective calls. He is subjective, passionate, and seemingly arbitrary.
When we were finishing up A Song of Ascent, the teaching series I did on David a few months ago, I could not get away from this-how often God insisted on being tender to David in a way that seemed to flagrantly violate His own rules, His own ordering of the world. I find myself reading narrative after narrative in Scripture and wanting to say the same thing to Him that I want to say in my own life-”you can’t still be kind to us NOW! I don’t deserve this.” When I break the rules, it is more painful to be treated as a son than it is a hired hand. But He doesn’t seem to care about our protests.
No wonder we do not want to believe in such a God, because He subverts our sense of order. It is not a deity we want but certitude, a tribal religion we can learn to manipulate. Religion generally says less about God and more about the human need for an ordered world we can understand. We don’t want God nearly as much as we think we do; we mostly want control over our lives and of the world around us.
In light of this, there is perhaps nothing more disruptive than real faith. No wonder so few of us choose it. When I was young and full of doubt, the worst thing imaginable was for Him to turn out to not to be real. Now that I am an adult living an ordered, well-constructed world, the worst thing may well prove to be that He is far more real than I ever cared to imagine. If the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob turns out to be real, my hope of maintaining order and control is forever lost.
I used to think that faith brought order and doubt brought disorder. Now it turns out to be quite opposite–there is in fact nothing more disruptive than to really believe in that God and that kind of love.
I do not blame Christians for wanting to choose karma over grace. It is much, much safer.