Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A "Santa Clause-Like" God

About a week ago I finished rereading one of my favorite books of all time: Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller. In this book, Miller moves past the non-theological stuff, and becomes a theologian. He retains the non-religious factor, which is great, but it is certainly a different animal from Blue Like Jazz. If you have not yet read it, put it high on your list.

Anywho, the first time I read it was over the summer, during one of the busiest months of my life. I didn't have time to blog about it, as you can imagine, so the second time through, I left note cards in the pages where I wanted to blog. there are about 20 of them, so there will be plenty of stuff on here in the next months about this book. Trust me, it is all good stuff.

In chapter two, Miller is talking about impostors, and he tells a story of meeting Santa Clause as a kid. He goes on to say that he had a view of God that was much like Santa Clause for a long time, and thinks that many people today do too, because it is very convenient. Here are some clips of what he says, along with my commentary.

"I realize grown up people should not think God is like Santa Clause, but you would't believe how perfectly convenient it was for me to subscribe to the idea. The benefits were astounding."

"First: To interact with Santa Clause, I did not have to maintain any sort of intimate relationship. Santa simply slipped into the house, left presents, ate half a cookie, then hit the neighbors'. There was no getting us out of bed in the middle of the night to have sloppy conversations about why I was still wetting the bed."

Isn't it astounding that the majority of the people who would call themselves Christians do not have (perhaps don't even want) a personal relationship with God? I think that most people who are "religious" would fall into this category. However, in scripture we see that God offers himself to us forst and foremost. Relationship is the purpose of everything. Repentance. Forgiveness. Morality. Love. Law. It is all relational and a part of the big relational dynamic. Yet, there are a whole host of people who feel that they are right with God, yet do not have a relationship with him. Perhaps they think it would be too "sloppy." It would violate their intimacy and sense of privacy. They don't want to let anyone in, and certainly not God.

"Second: Santa theology was very black and white; you either made the list or you didn't and if you didn't, it was because you were bad, not because of societal pressures or biochemical distortions or your parents or cable television, but because you were bad. Simple indeed."

This is interesting, because I think there are certain aspects of Christianity that are very black and white (Jesus said "If you love me you will obey my commands"), and others that are incredibly complex. I think the truth lies on both poles. I feel that we must continually boil the message down to the most basic parts (where possible and appropriate), while at the same time acknowledging the complexities and exploring the mystery. I suppose that just like any relationship, it is bound to be complicated. I love my wife; simple. How does that translate into important decisions about our life together; complex.

"Third: He brought presents based on behavior. If you were good, you got a lot of bank. There was a very clear reward system based on the most basic desires of the human heart: Big Wheels, Hot Wheels, Legos. You didn't have to get into the spirit of anything, and there was nothing sentimental that served as the real reason for the season. Everybody knew it was about the toys: cold hard toys."

Wouldn't it be great if the Kingdom of God was based on the American principle of instant gratification. You help an old lady cross the street, you get $500. You read to a blind kid, you get good health for a year. You go to church this Sunday...you get the idea. But it isn't really like that. Relationships generally aren't (that theme keeps coming up). Instant gratification is rarely relevant outside of a marketing context.

"Fourth: Kids who were bad got presents anyway."

Ahh, yes. the old "everyone is included" idea. The problem with this is that it doesn't promote good behavior, nor is it realistic. It would be like saying, "You can be a jerk husband, and you will still have a great and happy marriage." The real world doesn't work that way. We do see Jesus spending time with the sinners, but it was because those people were more real than the hypocrite Pharisees anyway.

To conclude, my goal is twofold: to get you to think and to get you to read this book. Let me know if I do either one.

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