has God become god?

I am musing about a question that has bounced around in my brain for decades. I am not suggesting that I have just come up with THE answer: I have probably just discovered some more questions. I have decided to do some God-thinking here about it. Apologies if you came to this bloggage hoping for something different.

The perpetual question is: why do Christians (me included) keep on doing wrong things? I should make clear that ‘wrong things’ covers a multitude of sins. Literally. It includes the little things that don’t bother us (such as ‘a little white lie’) through to the things that create a scandal when they become public. And everything in between.

You see if we Christians really put into practice what we say we believe surely we would not fall down flat on our moral faces, would we? If we live in a relationship with GOD (caps intended to convey bigness, majesty, divinity, and all of the rest of the attributes we would give him) and are filled with his Spirit to help us to live in a way that follows Jesus and reflects that relationship then surely we wouldn’t give in to temptation, we wouldn’t get things wrong, we wouldn’t wander from the path, we wouldn’t trip up… or any other euphemistic metaphor you want to use.

inspired“Ah,” I hear some of your say, “but God has given us all free will and that means we can choose how to live and what to do.”

Yes he has. But having free will is as much the freedom to choose to do what is right, albeit with the potential that we will choose to do what is wrong. Why don’t we always choose to do what is right? The reality of free will does not explain why Christians let themselves and God down, it just explains how it is possible.

“OK,” others say, “But add to free will the reality there is evil in the world that tempts us and seeks to distort the way God intended things and mask our experience of God.”

Again, yes. Evil has the capacity to take what is good and use it nefariously. For example, ‘leadership’ is important for human organisation and society to run smoothly. At its best it can empower, encourage and serve the well-being of all. But it can become distorted towards tyranny and even dictatorship if unchecked. The presence of evil in the world explains what is happening behind the scenes when anyone does something ‘wrong’.

But it still doesn’t explain why Christians, who have had an experience / awareness / understanding (limited) of God would give in to unwise short-term pleasures in place of doing what they know would be right. However it’s important to recognise that nobody is perfect and we are all still subject to an inherent bias away from God that we have learned and perfected throughout our life. We won’t always get it right. Read what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome in a very honest admission of his struggles (Romans 7 (NIVUK):

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

The internal battle between the old and new, between the bias towards evil and the desire to serve God, between good and evil is clear in this passage. And it’s something that I know all Christians wrestle with. We are all a work in progress. The war has been won but the battles rage on. An eventual awareness of that is what stopped people stoning a woman who’d been dragged before Jesus when caught in the act of adultery: “The one who is without sin should throw the first stone!” was Jesus’ intervention.

Maybe there’s also something biological here (and that can be distorted by evil working on our free will). We humans are organic beings and our complex systems (created to allow us to respond to outside stimuli in appropriate ways) include the capacity to experience pleasure. In his generosity of creation God has made us with the capacity to enjoy. The hormonal surge of pleasure we can experience in positive circumstances can be very powerful and even diminish our capacity to think rationally. It can distort our thinking in the heat of the moment. How often have you heard, “I wasn’t thinking” as a pseudo-defence when someone has been caught out? Is it that the pleasure-urge is so powerful that for Christians it can override our consciousness of God in the pursuit of short-term pleasure? For example, a Christian should know that gossiping about another person is wrong but the pleasure of having an audience (and their reaction to us) and being able to denigrate someone else might take over before they have thought clearly about what they are saying.

There are some things everyone would classify as wrong – murder for example. But while there is a life-sentence for murder there would be an outcry of someone was given a life-sentence for parking on a double-yellow line (it’s a no parking zone for non-Brits who may be reading this). But with God there’s no hierarchy of wrong. If it’s wrong it’s wrong. But maybe because we have a judicial system that gives different sentences for different crimes we have inadvertently allowed ourselves (maybe subconsciously) to categorise things that way for God. Perhaps we have allowed ourselves to become tolerant of some things because we deem them to be less serious offences to him. We allow the occasional lie, the hidden malicious thought, the occasional cruel mockery because the harm is not so great.

And then there’s grace. God’s grace. Christians know deep down that God loves us and if we come to him genuinely seeking forgiveness and restoration he will do that. Every time. Is the knowledge of that aspect of God’s character distorted (by evil?) to cheapen God’s grace? Do we know so much about his grace and forget how much evil is abhorrent to him? As we remind ourselves of the lengths God went to in order to deal with the problem of human rebellion against him because he loves us so much, have we lost sight of how much that human rebellion offends / hurts / injures / scandalises / exasperates God?

Yet when the rubber hits the road I can’t help wondering whether the real problem is that for many Christians God has become god. Is it possible that in a well-meaning attempt to help people understand who God is we have diminished him? Is it possible that emphasising God’s love (which can never be over-emphasised) and approachability in Jesus we have lost some of the awe and wonder? Could it be that the many other things that demand our time and attention become elevated in importance above and beyond the primacy of our relationship with God?

This may all seem rather down-beat and depressing. So let me offer some positives too. I remind myself that with free will comes the freedom to choose good as well as the freedom to choose bad – bad is not inevitable. I remind myself that God has given us his Spirit and that he does prompt us in the right direction (even if we choose to ignore him) – he counterbalances the bias towards evil and can even diminish it over time. I remind myself that love wins in the battle between good and evil. I remind myself that God’s good plan for people is that we enjoy ourselves. I remind myself that God is for LIFE and not just for Sundays and when my relationship with him is a daily, hourly, constant experience I am more likely to choose God’s way. I remind myself that I am not alone – I have family and friends who encourage and support and pray for me (as I do for them).

I remind myself that Jesus taught his followers to pray “deliver us from evil” so praying about it is a good idea to reengage myself with his help. I ask that God will help me become more aware of who he is, how he is, what he is and ever more aware of him.

It helps.

I’m not perfect. I am not sinless. I want to be. But I know that I can’t be without God’s help and that this side of eternity I will always struggle with the allure of evil, as all of us will. But please God help me so that my relationship with you deepens daily and may one of the outcomes of that be that I sin less.

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

interview me baby one more time

I was in a conversation over lunch yesterday and for some reason I can’t remember I was reminded of an occasion (over ten years ago) when I was almost on TV as an ‘expert’ on a certain American singer (whose name sounds like she is a bit British and is into javelins*.)

I have never been a particular fan of this singer, and certainly am no expert, but a documentary was being prepared about her – to be broadcast on national terrestrial television. Her family attend a Baptist Church in America and the question they wanted address was ‘Is [the singer] good for Baptists?’

SONY DSC

I was asked to go to the TV studio and contribute as the closest thing the Baptist Union of Great Britain had in the national office to someone who knew about youth culture. I went with a certain amount of trepidation and found the studio tucked away in a normal street, above a parade of shops. Once inside I was impressed with all of the technology that was crammed into a relatively small space.

The person interviewing me was really kind and helpful – I imagine he has had to deal with nervous people before – and put me at my ease quickly. Then he said that when he was asking me questions he would like me to incorporate the question in the response so it appeared as if I had not been asked a question at all. For (lame) example a normal interview might go:

“Why do you like chocolate?”

“Because it is so tasty.”

But if you edit out the question it doesn’t make sense. But if the interview goes:

“Why do you like chocolate?”

“I like chocolate because it is so tasty.”

This way the question can be edited out and the response makes sense on its own.

So, I was asked questions about the singer’s lifestyle, her fashion choices, her risque song lyrics and much more, with the expectation that as a (Baptist) Christian I would be condemning her for these things.

Instead I spoke about how she had to make her own choices in life and while I might not agree with them all I was not going to condemn her for them – the core of the message of Jesus is grace not judgement. After a while (and a couple of retries at the beginning as I got used to answering the questions as statements that stood on their own) the interviewer said that they had enough and that he was very happy with what we had. The show was due to be broadcast on the following Sunday and I left the studio feeling pleased with how it went.

The following Saturday I had a phone call. It was the interviewer. He was most apologetic and told me that my interview had not survived the final edit. Apparently I was not controversial enough. While he had liked my positive approach, it was not going to make for a salacious programme, so it ended up on the cutting room floor (metaphorically).

A few thoughts occur to me:

  • Isn’t it a shame how there is an assumption that Christians will be negative, critical and judgemental? How can you help change that assumption this week?
  • Isn’t it also a shame that negative, critical and judgemental statements are considered worthy of broadcast but gracious, positive ones aren’t?
  • We need to be media-savvy. When someone makes a statement on TV or the radio it may be that it was in response to a question, not something that they volunteered to say. This happens more obviously on the radio when someone has been asked a question in an interview and then in a later news bulletin the question is edited out and it is reported as “So and so said…” which sounds like it is an opinion they wanted to share rather than something that was drawn out of them.
  • And we need to remember that what we see, hear and read in the media is edited. It comes through the filter of another person who chooses what we will receive and what we won’t. It does not come ‘neutral’.

These words written by Paul to the Colossian church (Chapter 4) seem appropriate:

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace,seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Prayerful, watchful, thankful – three good approaches to life!

A post script to this was that I had told some of my work colleagues about the programme and was unable to tell them that I had be cut out so they watched the whole hour documentary in the hope of seeing me – it’s one way to increase viewing figures I suppose!

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Britain-y and Spears