Looking For God
I'm Ed The Protestant. Greg Smith (creator of Considering Catholicism) has invited me to not only consider the Catholic faith, but to record our (already ongoing) conversations for his podcast. You can follow my walk toward Catholicism not only on the podcast, but here on the blog.
It’s late in the evening and a guy is standing under a streetlight, peering down at the ground. Another guy comes by and says, “Did you lose something?” The first guys says, “Yeah, I dropped my car keys.” They look around for a few minutes, and the second guy says, “Where did you drop them?”. The first guy, pointing, says, “Over by the bushes.” The second guy says, “So, why aren't we looking over there?” First guys says, “Because the light’s better over here.”
One of the things that moves me along toward Catholicism is the really horrible theology I hear among Protestants. Basically, people are making up their own version of God. If you want to invent your own Almighty, here are some common starters:
How about a God who approves of everything you do? That sounds good! No matter what you do, He says, “Aw, I don’t care how you behave. You go right ahead—I won’t judge you for your actions.” A God who only loves, and that’s all. He never gets mad, He never says no, He just lets you be you. That sounds like a pretty good God! Kind of a happy, drowsy uncle who gives you money to get ice cream and tells funny stories. And when you mess up, he says, “That’s okay. You didn’t mean it.” Wouldn’t you just feel so good about yourself if you had a God like that? Come on—doesn’t God want us to feel good about ourselves?
POWERFUL AND JUST
Or how about this: a God who’s really, really powerful, like a Marvel Comics character who goes around righting every wrong. When those nasty people over there—you know, those ‘other’ people—start doing their nasty things to people, He steps right in and just squashes them like a bug. Thieves, murderers, rapists, those people who take too long at the McDonald’s drive-thru…those people. How much fun would it be to have a God that was always on your side? Who stepped up to anyone who threatened you and said, “Hey—knock it off! Don’t you be messin’ with my kid!”
Here's a good one--a God who, no matter what you do, says, “I know you didn’t mean it. I know you’ve had a hard time. That’s okay. You’re basically a good person inside. You couldn’t help it. I won’t be mad.” How easy it would be to get through your day if you didn’t have to worry about messing up! You could just do whatever seemed right to you, and God would back you up.
It's fun to dream up a God that fits just right.
Turns out, it's been tried. Remember the story of Cain and Abel?
Cain was a farmer. Nothing wrong with that. Abel was a shepherd. Nothing wrong with that. Cain probably loved farming. If he spent his life at it, he probably took satisfaction in it. He probably knew all about fertilizer, when to plant, when to water and the exact right time to harvest. He went to bed with a sore back from pulling weeds, and proudly served his family the stuff he grew. God made him with a mind and temperament for growing things.
Cain probably watched his brother, who was good with growing animals, and saw a reflection of his own satisfaction in a job well done. Abel grew animals, Cain grew plants. And then God comes along and asks for an offering. Specifically, an animal offering. So Abel brings an animal, but Cain…he brings fruits and vegetables. Cain brings the things he’s proud of--a sample of his crops. This is him. Surely God will be okay with this!
And God turns it down, saying he wants an animal. Cain gets mad. Cain is hurt. Cain feels rejected and insulted. Doesn’t God love him? Doesn’t God care that Cain loves growing things? Doesn’t God want Cain’s best? God made Cain this way, and now he doesn’t like what he has to offer? It just isn’t fair.
But the only answer that means anything is this: God wants what He wants.
Cain has made the mistake of thinking "Oh come on. Surely that’s not what God actually wanted. I feel bad when I think that way, so I’m probably not thinking about God the right way. Because if I WAS, I’d feel happy.” Cain brings vegetables as an offering because he’s reinvented God into someone who wants vegetables.
Cain made the mistake of thinking this whole thing is about HIM. But it's not. It’s about God. And make no mistake—God gets to say what it’s about, or, well...He wouldn’t be God. Why did God want a sheep, instead of vegetables? He had his reasons, but they DON’T MATTER. What matters is what God’s asking for. He doesn’t have to explain Himself to Cain.
You might say that Cain created God in his own image. To quote Greg Smith: "You don't change God to fit you, you change yourself to fit God."
Okay, but what if you go looking for God and you don’t like what you find? I’ll give you a warning: it is, in fact, a dangerous thing to go looking for God.
Back to my earlier suggestions:
You want a God who’s approving? A God you just lets you do whatever you want? Then you’re going to have to be okay with him letting everyone else do whatever THEY want.
You want a God who’s powerful and just, who goes around stomping everybody that does anything wrong? Then you’re going to have to be okay with Him stomping you when you do something wrong.
You want a God who’s forgiving? Then along with him forgiving your wrongdoing, you’re going to have to let him forgive others who’ve wronged you.
Otherwise, you’ve turned him into your personal God, the God you keep in your pocket and pull out when you need Him.
In a nutshell, here’s my advice: Go looking, and don't ever stop. Ask God to reveal Himself to you—the real Him, not someone you’ve invented because it just works out better that way.