When you have a person in your office hysterical because their son completed suicide and they are worried about where they’re going or the most pious lifelong Christian worries on his deathbed that he hasn’t done enough to please God or some of the most generous people you’ve met in your life can’t have a conversation with their siblings about their faith because theirs isn’t conservative or evangelical, you start to realize how much we’ve messed up the task of talking about God.
We make choices. The church makes choices. Individual denominations and followers make choices. And some are truly terrible.
Right now, a hurricane is bearing down on Florida and may go up the coast. Must be God’s doing.
Demographic shifts and changing cultures in our community. Must be God’s punishment.
Republicans run a candidate for president at complete odds with evangelical values. Well, God used both Saul and David, so…
Or maybe we got a windfall. God must love us.
I’ve got a great life. Must be blessed.
So what about mine? Am I cursed?
How active is God?
We see how God is active on the big scale. But what about the little things?
- Does God turn traffic lights green or red?
- Provide us with free cash in raises and lottery wins?
- Grant our wishes or bail us out of jail?
- Is God a divine butler?
No. The answer is no. Don’t even try it.
How can God be active without pulling the strings?
God is not a micromanager. Or a genie. God isn’t Jeeves at your beck and call (though Batman’s Alfred is pretty badass).
As I said yesterday, presence and activity isn’t the same as being a puppet master. A God of love and grace is not one who goes around looking for excuses to punish. Nor is wealth, power, status, and ease of life proof or righteousness. The gospels are full of counter arguments to both of these from Jesus.
God doesn’t spend every minute of every day dealing with the blessing and cursing of humanity.
A fantastic visual of this old canard comes in Bruce Almighty when the title character, given the chance to be God for a little while is overwhelmed by the volume of prayer. Literally millions of people every day praying. For healing, safety, work, freedom, happiness. He can’t keep up. He tries to develop filing systems. None of it works.
So to deal with the onslaught, he makes an autoresponder on his email which gives everybody what they ask for. He grants their wishes like a genie. Of course, disaster follows.
The idea that God deals with us so individually, so actively is attractive for its comfort and inclusion. But it is a total disaster as an authoritarian father model of parenting, with punishments and rewards, the sticks and carrots of behavior modification. That view turns God into a monster. A monster of punishment or of indifference. God responsible for everything. This is one option.
Taking care of business
While we’re in the mode of choosing what we believe, let’s recognize the choice of choice. Of free will. That we believe in a God who doesn’t plan out our mistakes and then punish us for them. And the end of our story isn’t unjust suffering. We are loved and given grace by God who embodies love and is embodied by love.
How active is God?
The answer is the same as another question: how active are we?
In reducing the commandments down to love of God and neighbor, Jesus gives us the point of reference for the divine operation; what we might call the kin-dom. Love in relationship. Love as verb. And a love embodied in the incarnate God in Jesus and in the embodied in the incarnate love found in humanity.
In Matthew’s gospel we get it more plainly. Jesus gives us a teaching in chapter 25 about king who describes these acts of mercy and love as reflection of his love; in feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned.
Jesus doesn’t give us illustrations of a God who’s all up in our business, rewarding and punishing every decision we make. Blessing the most pious with wealth. That’s the exploitation of faith by capitalism.
We do get a vision of repentance and returning. Of changing our lives and the grace found in mercy. We don’t earn blessing and our struggles aren’t a curse. Instead, our lives are a testimony to the light and life of Christ.
It isn’t found after we take care of business, like a reward for a job well done. It is found in the taking care of business, with Jesus as our partner. And the work is sharing with one another in love.
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This is from a series on Choices. We have plenty more choices to make!