Thursday, November 3, 2011

God in a Box

One of the most startling things about the Christian Faith is that it is always greater than we are.

We can't get it under our belts because we can't get Him under our belts.

One of the problems I keep running into in others is a problem I keep running into in myself. When God becomes a tool for us, either by being an excuse for improving our self-esteem, or a hammer we knock other people around with, we're abusing the greatest of gifts. For instance, there's the Puritan who is convinced that his Faith has given him membership in a special club, and that the rest of humanity, excluded from this club, is doomed to hell - and nothing could make our Puritan happier than the dreadful and eternal damnation of others.

"I'd like to join a club and beat you over the head with it," in the immortal words of theologian Groucho Marx.

And then there are those of us who emasculate God, turning (in Peter Kreeft's phrase) Christ the King into Christ the Kitten. Or, as my friend Tom Leith put it, Jesus was Nice, You be Nice, Too. At least the Puritans have a God with a shape.

Such Indifferentists have a God that is an amoeba. The Puritans at least have a weapon to wield - a club they can beat you over the head with; the Indifferentists have a fluffy pillow.

And then one might make the mistake of thinking that the true Christians are the ones who make the biggest show of it. But an unlimited number of Hail Marys, daily Masses and pro-life bumper stickers won't stop even a self-styled Devout Catholic from revealing that it's often not a question of the Humility of Christ or the Grace of God, but a question of I Want What I Want When I Want It. Challenge their tribal allegiance, their political affiliation, or their vested interest, and they'll turn on you in a minute.

And while we can understand the Liberals for Dissenting for the sake of Unlimited Sexual Indulgence, we can only stare in amazement at "Conservatives" standing proud for Torture, Lying, Usury and Criminal Negligence. I can understand selling your birthright for hookers and parties, but for a bowl of pottage?

But the galling thing is the fault is not just theirs.

How fun it would be for those of us with a satirical bent to spend all day mocking the Christian Church - a holy Church comprised of sinful men - this disparity of what we aspire to be and what we manage to be is the perfect material for satire. The problem is we're making fun of ourselves when we make fun of all the other misfits and moralists around us.

For we simply do what they do. We put God in a box. And then when He emerges from it Living and Moving, as He did from the tomb and as He always will, we stare in amazement, certain that the Church can't be what He is making it; it must be what we want it to be in our own little narrow hearts.

C. S. Lewis somewhere says that once one becomes a Christian, things go pretty smoothly for a while and you begin to think, "This ain't so tough. I've got this Christianity thing in the bag." And then you realize God doesn't fit in a bag. And woe to you if you make the mistake of praying, "God, make me a better Christian," because He'll answer that prayer.

As Lewis describes it ...

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of — throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

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