Sunday, November 13, 2011

Last Chance Friend

Have you ever asked to hang out with a friend, only to be met with a response like, "oh, well let me see if anything else comes up first”? Or has it happened to you that you ask your friends if they're busy some upcoming weekend, and they respond, “I don't know yet,” but you know what they're really saying is they won't make plans with you, lest something better come along, and it feels as if you are only worth their time if every other option fails them? This probably doesn't happen to you, but trust me when I say it has happened to me once or twice. To be treated as if you are a mere time filler, a last resort your friends might turn to in order to avoid being lonely on a Saturday night, it doesn't feel so great.

This may sound harsh, but it's the premise to an analogy, so bear with me. I wonder how often we treat God like this, like a last chance friend. How often do we say to God, “I want happiness, and if I can't find it anywhere else, then I'll turn to you”? Sadly, this is the paradigm in which we find ourselves. In American Christianity we fit God into the cracks of our already-established lives, and if He doesn't fit in anywhere, well, there's always tomorrow to be a Christian. And before anyone thinks I'm pointing the finger outward, allow me to state for the record this is me. I treat God like the last resort for my happiness everyday. I say to God the old Augustinian prayer, “Lord, make me good. But not yet.” I don't say it consciously, but my life speaks it loudly enough.

Allow me to carry on with the friendship analogy for a moment. God clears His plans, shows up at the agreed-upon location to meet with us, out in the cold November air, but then our other friends start returning our text messages, our other plans pan out, so naturally, we leave God high and dry. How heartbreaking it must be for God to constantly seek after us, moment after moment, day after day, when we forget Him every time things get so good we think we can do it on our own, or so bad we assume He's abandoned us. Sure, the few times we do hang out with God, we enjoy it. He listens to our hurts without judging, offers great advice, and we know He'll always be there for us when we need Him. But it seems God's constant availability just makes it that much easier to take Him for granted. What's God to do though? Will He stop pursuing us? Will He ignore us so we appreciate Him more? No, no that's petty. Something I'd do. God's bigger than I am, bigger than such pettiness. God is always available, always pursuing, always loving us. And then we follow Him, so long as there's nothing better or more fun to do.

Is this Christianity? Is this what I get to tell kids when they ask me about the Gospel? “God makes things a little better Johnny.” Yeah, that's what I'll say. That's the good news people have been killing and dying for for years. This is the reason Christ died on the cross, so Johnny could have a slightly better life than he would have had without God. I'm sorry, but we have to be able to do a little better than that. If this garbage is the Gospel, I understand why most people aren't interested. Heck, I'm not interested. One of my professors said something to me last year that stuck with me. I can't remember more than a portion of a phrase, or much of the context, but it goes something like, a Christian is called to be “different, not in degree, but in kind.” God doesn't offer some happiness to fit into the cracks of our life, God offers a new way to be human. God makes each of us into a new creation, and we thank Him by doing lunch with Him once every other month when our other friends ditch us.

God doesn't just want to make us “moral” people. That's not the Gospel. Morality can be found without God. If you don't believe me look around, there are almost definitely some atheists and Buddhists who are better people than you, just being honest. God wants to give of Himself to us, every minute of every day, He wants to lavish on us His love, fill us with eternal joy rather than illusory, temporal happiness, and teach us how to love others selflessly. But even this isn't the whole picture. I couldn't write in a single blog all the extraordinary things God offers His people, nor could I write it in a book or an encyclopedia or a library. In a true Christian life, sincerely lived, God doesn't get the back room of our house. God doesn't even get the master bedroom. God is the house.

The woman at the well asks Jesus for something to drink, and he offers her salvation. Living water. A new life. Are the old life and new life compatible? Can you have both? Oh I don't know. My guess is, probably for a while, but not forever. You can't live two lives for long, it'll catch up with you sooner or later. Just ask a secret addict. Ask a megachurch pastor who's secretly cheating on his wife. 

You can try to fit God into your comfortable life. And I believe God will try to meet you there, because God is willing, and actively trying, to meet us everywhere. But that's not Christianity. That's not the Way. God wants to live with us and in us, transform us, give us something we can't find anywhere else. All of this happiness apart from God, this life of compromise, it's not what we were made for. It's not the source of true and abundant life.

And I wish I could tell you what this looks like in the day to day, but I just can't. I'm not God, and frankly I don't know what this even looks like in my own daily life yet. I'm working on it. I'm a work in progress. We all are, at every moment. The question is, progress toward what?

“Lord, make me good, but not yet,” we pray. “Lord, make me whole, but not yet.” And God sits. And He listens. And He cries. And we sit stone-faced, because we can't allow emotion to compromise our resolve. He cries because He would give us the world, and indeed, He is trying to give us the world. But we choose everything else. He is our last chance friend, patiently waiting to give us a life worth living.


“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

-Matthew 6:33

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