Humankind, in moments of fear or suffering, has usually looked beyond itself for some kind of divine help; fertility gods who would bless families with offspring, agricultural gods who would bless crops with rain and sun in season, warrior gods who would protect a village and destroy its enemies. And so it goes. A god for everything and everyone.
Appeasement has always required obedience, submission, and offerings. If we feed the rat god, he will hold back a plague. If we appease the god of thunder and lightning, he will not destroy our home. If we offer a sacrifice to the god of the underworld, he will treat our deceased relatives with kindness. There are a thousand permutations.
It’s not hard to see that Christianity could slip into a similar pattern.
Over the past 15 years, researchers have identified Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as a prevailing spiritual worldview in our culture and among Christians. In it’s simplest form, this worldview asserts that there is a God who exists to make our lives better and if we do the right thing then God will too. It’s karma by another name. Good begets good; evil begets evil. But more than that, if we do the right thing, then God is obliged in some way to bless us.
I recently finished reading Tim Keller’s Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (2013) and was struck by the suggestion that it is possible to love what God does for us, what He provides for us, and how He helps us, without loving God for who He is. This is what men and women have done since the dawn of time; looked to their gods to help them, and “loved” those gods when things went well, or rejected those gods when calamity struck.
Do we not see the same thing in so many Christian lives today?
It’s not just the prosperity gospel at fault here: “God does not want you to suffer. He wants you to succeed beyond your wildest dreams. Just give or do x, y, and z – get the formula right – and he’ll come through for you.” Mainstream Christianity slips into a version of the same thinking when it softens the expectations but advances the same mindset: “If you’re doing your best, God will not let you suffer or fail.“
Before we know it, our prayers are all gratitude for what we have received; what we have and what we enjoy. While the Bible encourages gratitude and thanksgiving, it’s our exclusive attention to gratitude and thanksgiving for material things that can surreptitiously distract us and undermine our theology.
Ours is a different God.
Gracious, patient, merciful, wise, powerful, loving, and so much more. He is sovereign over all creation and over all eternity. He is neither our cosmic servant nor our divine water-boy.
When everything is stripped away, yet will I praise Him. When all is lost, yet will I extol Him. Come what may, He is wise, and He is worthy.
Do we love Him, or simply love what He does for us in this moment? The one leads to hope and joy. The other leads to confusion, shame, fear, or worse. It’s worth a moment to prayerfully consider.
Ours is a different God.