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

 

the cup of tea, the robotic dog and the precocious child

Christmas was brilliant. It was great sharing the Christmas Day service with my colleague Lynsey (taking a quick break from her maternity leave). We had a lovely day together as a family. And on Boxing Day we posted Sally’s relatives (Sheila, Norman, and Pat).

Christmas Crackers 1

We even managed to play a silly game during lunch. We all chose the name of a person, place or object and wrote it on some rather silly headgear for the person on our left. We each then had 20 questions in order to try and work out who we were. [If it wasn’t for the two sentences before the last one you might have thought we were trying amateur psychology!] The catch was that we could only ask questions that would result in an answer of ‘yes’ or ‘no’. That all added to the fun and games. There were some very creative ideas – my mother-in-law Sheila had to work out that she was a cup of tea; my son Thomas was K9 (the robotic dog from Doctor Who); and I was Karen from Outnumbered.

I was particularly interested in the artificial parameters around the game. It would have been considerably easier if we had been able to ask any question at all rather than being constrained to asking questions that could only be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It seems to me that we are often guilty of applying the same sorts of artificial parameters to life. We want cut and dried answers to our questions. We hope that we will be able to come up with simple and yet comprehensive answers to complex scenarios such as how God can allow suffering in his world. And we insert an artificial dichotomy into the apparent debate between science and faith.

Somehow when it comes to the big questions of life we forget that life is almost always about fuzzy edges and grey areas. Why is it that we assume that we can come up with clear and concise answers to the most complex of questions when we struggle to answer simple ones with ‘yes’ or ‘no’? So, I have heard very intelligent people mocking those who articulate their faith in Christ because “you can’t prove that God exists using scientific methods and standards” and yet they are quite comfortable with the notion that there is no easy answer to the question posed by Thomas as K9: “Am I alive?”

For the most part when you look at Jesus’ teaching he does not offer us unequivocal answers. [Please put down those virtual stones until you have finished reading this bloggerel, at which point you may throw them if you still feel that it is appropriate.] When asked whether it was right to play Roman taxes Jesus did not say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, instead he offered a principle that we should follow. When asked about how to get into heaven he did not give three simple steps, instead he turned the question back on the questioner and, when pushed further, told the story of the good Samaritan which challenged preconceptions. On another occasion when he was asked about the route to heaven he did not offer a roadmap or even a first century satnav, he said that he was the way, the truth, and the life and that no one could come to the Father except through him.

I do believe that there are clear answers to many of life’s questions. But they’re not always simple, often aren’t concise, and because they are of a different order may not stand up to interrogation by scientific methods. But then again neither do appreciation of beauty, unconditional love, grace, serenity in the face of tragedy, or forgiveness.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Cracker jokes (you have been warned!):

How do hedgehogs make love?
Very carefully.

What did the Policeman say to the stomach?
You’re under a vest

What wobbles and flies?
A Jelly-copter.

What goes ha ha ha clonk?
A man laughing his head off.

What do you get when you cross a cat with a lemon?
A sour puss!

“Waiter! This coffee tastes like mud.”
“Yes sir, it’s fresh ground.”

What athlete is warmest in winter?
A long jumper.

Why did the man get the sack from the orange juice factory?
Because he couldn’t concentrate.

What has four legs but can’t walk?
A table!

Why did the hedgehog cross the road?
To see his flatmate!

What goes up and never comes down?
Your age.

What do you give a man who has everything?
Antibiotics.

What did the fish say when it swam into a wall?
Dam.

What’s brown, steams and comes out of Cowes?
The Isle of Wight ferry.

What is Good King Wenceslas’s favourite pizza?
Deep pan, crisp and even.

Why would you invite a mushroom to a Christmas party?
He’s a fungi to be with.

Why was Santa’s little helper feeling depressed?
He had low elf-esteem.

On which side do chickens have the most feathers?
The outside.

What do you call a woman who stands between two goal posts?
Annette.

Did you hear about the man who bought a paper shop?
It blew away.

How do snowmen get around?
They ride an icicle.

Who hides in the bakery at Christmas?
A mince spy.

What do you call a penguin in the Sahara desert?
Lost.

Did you hear about the two ships that collided at sea?
One was carrying red paint and the other was carrying
blue paint. All the sailors ended up being marooned.

What’s ET short for?
Because he’s only got little legs.

Where do Snowmen like to dance?
At Snowballs.

What did Cinderella say when the chemist lost her
photographs?
Someday my prints will come.

What does Santa suffer from if he gets stuck in a
chimney?
Claustrophobia!

What kind of motorbike does Santa ride?
A Holly Davidson!

What does Santa do with fat elves?
He sends them to an Elf Farm!

What do you get if you cross Santa with a duck?
A Christmas Quacker!the

What’s the most popular Christmas wine?
‘I don’t like Brussels sprouts!’