I have this suspicion that extends even to my own faith: that God is this utilitarian thing. This thing I use to make me happy. This thing I wheel in when I’m scared. This belief that gives me meaning. This assurance that everything will turn out okay, that there really is this deep meaning to life. It’s what Bonhoeffer called the Dues ex Machine. This is why everyone should work in some really good atheist literature into their reading cycle. Not to critique them, but to let them critique you.
I have a friend who has drifted away from church and his Christian faith in recent years. I asked him why and his answer surprised me, “It’s exhausting” he replied dryly, “The whole thing is just exhausting”. His answer caught me off guard, not because I couldn’t relate, but because it resonated with me so deeply.
Seek God, read the Bible, analyze yourself, work on yourself. Obsess. Stop your sins. Purify. Repent. Cry out to God, pray to God, give to God. Save the world. Love everyone. Love Love Love until you just want to puke everywhere. Of course you feel like giving up. The enemy wants you to feel that way. It’s the trick. The more resistance you feel the closer to the breakthrough you are. The answer is to push in harder. Word harder. Pray harder. Sing harder. Press into God. That’s your salvation. Of course, we’d never say this because we’re saved by grace. But don’t listen to what we say, look at what we do.
I heard a story of a women who went to a psychoanalyst because she was compulsively sleeping around with men and couldn’t stop herself. She knew it was unhealthy but it didn’t matter. The worst part was the guilt. She felt so incredibly guilty for the wicked things she’d done. Of course, the analyst gave her the only reasonable advice there is. He told her to go ahead and do it. Sleep around all she wanted. It didn’t matter. And of course, that was the day it ended. Sometimes the prohibition stokes the desire.
I wonder if many Christians are addicted to God. Not in a good way, a way that thrusts them back into the dirt and smut of the streets with a love that astounds, but in a really bad way, a Joel Osteen kind of way that says God is here to make you happy. God is just another product, a commodity. Remarkable. Shame on us, on me.
It reminds me of Nietzche’s parable of the mad man running through the streets bellowing on about the death of God. But in my spin of the story, instead of Him dying at the hands of science or secularism, he’s found dead of Christian “love” that turned out to be nothing more than weak sentimentality. Not murdered, just completely irrelevant and wasting away in some cosmic nursing home – a hand-maiden to the state and the powers that be.
But of course, I have hope. Hope that the there’s something to that apocalyptic preacher who had good news for the poor. And so I’ll keep reading and praying for the kingdom to come. Not that Jesus would return on some sort of stallion in the sky… but in much subtler ways, in quiet acts of service through our hands and feet.