Two weeks ago, I ranted eloquent about how Evangelicals surrender their “weapons” by surrendering their reason and good judgment with regard to scripture. I also noted that often this surrender seems curiously to impair their judgment concerning the nature of God himself. Evangelicals seem to err by either making God unapproachable and distant at the expense of God’s love and mercy or embracing the more recent trend of doing just the opposite: making God so personal at the expense of God’s majesty and power. All too often Evangelicals buy into this false dilemma that God is either majestic and infinite, or God is personal and caring. Now a false dilemma can be resolved in one of two ways. One way to resolve the false dilemma is by realizing that two sides of the either/or aren’t the only options. There could be a third option. The other way to resolve a false dilemma is to realize that the two sides of the dilemma may not be mutually exclusive—the two claims are compatible. A story attributed to the former editor of Christianity Today magazine, Kenneth Kanzer may help to illustrate this point. He received a telephone call from a trusted friend to let him know that the daughter of another friend had been struck by a car while crossing the street. She was not fatally hit but was rushed to the hospital. A little while later he received a phone call from another trusted friend about the same girl. He was told that she was riding in a car and when going through an intersection a truck had gone through a red light and struck her side of the car killing her instantly. Both phone calls came from trusted friends and were talking about the same girl. As it turns out both were true and compatible. The girl was standing on a corner and when the light changed she stepped in to the intersection and was struck by a car. She was injured but not killed. The driver quickly put her into his car and headed for the hospital. While in transit as he passed through an intersection a truck ran a red light and struck his car on the side she was on and she was instantly killed. Both claims were true and compatible. Someone not taking the time to check the facts or making assumptions could easily create a false dilemma when none exists.
With regard to this dilemma of a loving God or an infinite deity, it’s interesting that the agnostics and atheists with whom I have conversations, tend to find the idea of a personal relationship with God to be incompatible with their idea of an infinite being. Recently, I was talking with one of my professors about Abraham’s friendship with God and he found the idea of the traditional Christian deity who is infinite, omnipresent, etc. having a friendship with humans dumbfounding to say the least. He said, “I’m sorry but if God exists (and I don’t care if he does,) then God would be soooo big that any relationship with he or she would be a non sequitur.
Contrast this with the average Evangelical who finds a personal relationship with God incompatible with strong emphasis on the infinite nature of God. In my previous post, I mentioned how it never ceases to amaze me that I have to remind Evangelical Christians who live in the buckle of the Bible belt that God:
1) Doesn’t have a body
2) Isn’t really blue like Jazz
3) Is more interested in righteousness than whether or not:
A) You have self-esteem
B) Churches are purpose driven, seeker sensitive, or creatively decorated
C) 12 steps to anything
In other words, why is it that Evangelicals err on the side of God as the warm and fuzzy therapist/social worker while Agnostics and Atheists wonder how we could conceive of a loving relationship with the infinite and the ineffable? It’s a question worth pondering. What is it about the ineffable mystery of the ages that non-believers find so difficult to embrace? What is it about the super-cool college roommate version of God that seems to be found so attractive that we so willingly ignore the warnings of scripture to not go after that which tickles our ears in favor of the latest 12 step audio-series? Perhaps C.S. Lewis’ ole demon Screwtape gives us some clue as to why it is easier to make God either useful or unreachable rather than accept who he says he is. Screwtape, a senior demon, gives advice to Wormwood, his subordinate, on the dangers of prayer for corrupting a soul:
You must keep him praying to it—to the thing that he has made, not to the Person who has made him. You may even encourage him to attach great importance to the correction and improvement of his composite object, and to keeping it steadily before his imagination during the whole prayer. For if he ever comes to make the distinction, if ever he consciously directs his prayers “Not to what I think thou art but to what thou knowest thyself to be”, our situation is for the moment, desperate. Once all his thoughts and images have been flung aside or, if retained, retained with full recognition of their merely subjective nature, and by him as he is known by it—then it is that the incalculable may occur.
The incalculable that both Atheists and Christians fear is a relationship like no other. A relationship not of equals—for God is soooo big and we are so small. But rather a relationship of mystery and dare I say it, audacity, that wrapped in the grace and colored by the Cross, we approach the throne and find not just the High King of Heaven, not just the Ancient of Days but a God dangerously devoid of all our images and pretensions, gloriously absent of all our machinations, but none-the-less unquestionably near us, most definitely for us and mysteriously longing to be with us.
For make no mistake, the mystery of the grace of God cannot be the great ineffable mystery unless God is both infinite andlonging—unless the dilemma truly is false and its resolution is found in the compatibility of Infinite majesty and Godly desire:
Behold now the dwelling place of God is with men. And they shall be his people and he shall be their God.
This is not a useful relationship. This is not a contradiction. This is both the majesty of God and the desire of the ages.
In the Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the children are about to meet Aslan, the great Lion, and Lucy asks if he is safe. The answer she receives is just as relevant for those of us looking for a safe God as it was for a child looking for a tame lion: “Of course he isn’t safe. But he is good.” There is no such thing as a safe lion or a safe God. Something we would do well to keep in mind the next time we are either tempted to see God as unapproachable and cruel or the next time we walk into a Christian bookstore looking for a book, or CD, or sermon series that promises to make God useful for our needs.
Don and Joy, Well written and a view of “evangelicalism” growing in many sectors today. They throw “white supremacy” and…
Hello, Deborah, thank you so much for reading this and for your comment. Yes, this has been seeping into the…
I’ve just come across your articles and am very thankful for your clear exposé on the problem with contemplative prayer…
Greetings, I appreciate your zeal. Even so, there is a difference between attempting to answer the question of how god…
Thank you for your reply. I wanted to point out in love that Colleen Tinker has abandoned the gospel to…