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July 26, 2004

A Natural God

This cartoon, by Dan Lacey of Faithmouse, is a bit dated in its specifics, but its message remains relevant:

The view that actuality is destiny pervades our culture, as a balm of simplicity for dealing with life's problems. Theologically, it's Oprahfication, tangling in knots with the merest tugs of thought. If the fact that God created one's desires (supposing that's how it works) renders those desires inculpable, how does one determine the direction of growth? If God made us whom we are meant to be, whom ought we to become?

Reader Mike S. directed my attention to a piece by Gina Dalfonzo about the infantilization of Christianity — about Churches' attempts to be "seeker-friendly":

As Vicky Thompson, the author of Jesus Path: 7 Steps to Cosmic Awakening, recently told the Detroit News, the new trend is "saying not that Jesus is my savior, but He's my best friend and buddy. . . . We have a huge population of unchurched people [in America], but often, they aren't leaving spirituality behind. They still have a desire to feel a spiritual connection, but on their own terms. They're embracing Christ, but from a different viewpoint." A church that believes it has to water down its message so that people can find Christ "on their own terms" is the kind of church that, in trying to please everyone, winds up pleasing no one.

That last sentence, if I'm reading Dalfonzo's meaning correctly, is misdirected. It isn't so much that taking pieces of what each person wants creates a whole that answers nobody's needs, but that our "own terms" aren't adequate ones through which to find Christ. The sciences invent words and languages for a reason; although it is helpful toward learning heady concepts to associate them with something a bit more tangible and a bit more comprehensible, such analogs are merely examples that must be left behind to truly understand the ideas before us.

I can't help but think it has something to do with an underlying sense, even among the most spiritual, that religious stuff just isn't real in the sense that scientific stuff is. As I've written before, the idea of "Jesus as my pal" makes Him more a reflection of ourselves than of Truth. A soothing story. But if God is God, His demands aren't always going to align with our whims, and He isn't always going to be comprehensible. If He "is who is," then He isn't what might be thought of as the "soft spot" of Nature, the ever-relenting comfort in a harsh reality.

Posted by Justin Katz at July 26, 2004 11:06 AM

As the Doobie Bros. used to sing, "Jesus is just all right with me...."

The "soft spot" God is almost a 180 degree shift from the God of the Old Testament. But he's much far more just than the God who gave us Noah's flood of the Book of Job.

Posted by: Jon Rowe, Esq. at July 26, 2004 9:41 PM

"What a Friend We Have in Jesus" was my Grandmother's favorite hymn. She died 48 years ago. So having Jesus as a friend might not be such a new idea after all. B

Posted by: Bill Ware at July 27, 2004 6:04 AM

"So having Jesus as a friend might not be such a new idea after all."

The question is how one defines 'friend'. In a friendship, you take your friend as they are, not as you wish they would be. The point is that modern liberal theology, and pop culture, tend to create a version of Jesus that 'they' feel comfortable with, while ignoring things He said and did that make them feel uncomfortable. There's a lot of theological content in that hymn:

"Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised Thou wilt all our burdens bear"

The point is, Jesus accepts you as you are - but you have to accept Him as He says He is, too, if you want to develop a true friendship.

Posted by: Mike S. at July 27, 2004 12:32 PM

"Jesus accepts you as you are..."

As in: "Neither do I comdem thee"? Remember that's followed by, "Go, and sin no more." B

Posted by: Bill Ware at July 27, 2004 8:02 PM