Friday, July 27, 2012

Why does God seem so needy?

Dear Rev. Know it all,

I went to religion class and all, but I don’t get it. If there really is a god and he’s all-powerful and all-knowing and all-loving and all that other stuff, how come I never get what I want when I pray? And another thing, if there is a god and you Christians are right about him, he seems to really have issues. What’s with the worship stuff? If he’s so great and big and perfect, why would it even matter that we worship him.  Your god seems like a colossal narcissist.

Matt Erialist

Dear Matt,

I don’t know who taught you about Christianity, but they really got God wrong. In fact that is the amazing thing about God. He’s absolutely humble.  Let me start by talking about worship.  One July 4th long ago when I was much, much younger, I was sitting on the church steps with a couple volunteers from a local university. The kids from the youth group were in front of the church blowing off firecrackers because of their great devotion to our nations freedom from the English crown. I, of course would never participate in such youthful hooliganism and I and the volunteers were sitting there shaking our heads in devout disapproval.  All of a sudden, a young  old girl offered a lit firecracker to one of the volunteers on whom she had a nearly terminal crush. She handed it to him as if it were a precious rose. He and I ran as fast we could, barely escaping the explosion. My ears still ring these forty years later. She was crazy about him and it never occurred that her devotion and un-self-centered generosity might have blown her hand off.  That’s worship.

To worship is to fall hopelessly, vulnerably in love with someone. When a young girl comes home and says “Oh, Daddy, he’s perfect and he doesn’t have that many body piercings or tattoos...” Daddy is thinking about an insanity defense because his little princess has fallen in love with a jerk who is not worthy of her total devotion. He’s not even worth the price of well-placed shoe leather. We fall completely in love with people who promise us the world and give us nothing. 

There is however one who is worthy of our love. To worship is to fall in love with God, who has fallen madly, unreasonably in love with us. He has fallen in love with us and He has given us His own heart, just as surely as if He had ripped it still beating from His open side. What is your heart if not your children? How often have you heard, “I don’t care what you do to me, but touch my kid and I’ll kill you!”  Haven’t you read, John 3:16 “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” or don’t you watch football?  

I used to wonder why God sent His son. Was He afraid? Did He have an appointment that day? No, it was His way of saying that He loves us more than He loves Himself. He gave His son, His heart, His logos. Usually the Greek word “logos” is translated “word”.  That’s not quite the exact meaning. “Hrema” in Greek means what we usually mean by “word”.  Logos is more than a thing said. It really means the heart of the matter, the core of the argument, the reason for something’s existence. When the Bible says in the first chapter of St. John’s Gospel that “In the beginning was the word,” it’s saying that God sent His very reason for being, His absolute, perfect, self-sacrificial love, into the world and that this logos took on flesh in a dusty little town, worked as a day-laborer in the construction industry and was called Jesus. A little implausible, no?  It get’s worse.

He was arrested for sedition and publicly executed. St. Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians (1:15) “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.” What Christianity is saying is that if you want to get to know the creator of the universe, get to know a Jewish day-laborer/carpenter who was born in a barn and died under arrest. There is no doubt that God exists. The greatest reality that exists we call God. If the universe is somehow self-creating, than the universe is God. The question isn’t “Does God exist?” He/she/it  most certainly does. Allow me to refer you to the web site “If you can read this, I can prove that god exists.”  The question isn’t about God’s existence, it’s about God’s nature.  

We Christians insist that we know what He’s like because He once visited His creation, and we treated Him very badly.  Still He didn’t give up. He remained in the world and is here still. This is where it gets really ridiculous. He is spiritually present, most Christians agree, but Catholics think He is physically present and is disguised as piece of bread. You must be thinking that Catholics should be sedated. That is the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard: The universe? Created by a piece of bread? Why not? Is it any stranger than thinking that all of reality was a little black dot 15 million years ago until it exploded in a big bang and here we are along with cockatoos and maraschino cherries?  (Personally I think the big bang fits in quite nicely with what Christians believe about God. In fact it was a Catholic priest,  Monsignor Georges Lemaître, who came up with the idea.) 

Where was I ? Oh yes...  This whole implausible idea of a tri-personal God is believed by 2 billion plus people. It is the largest religion in the world, despite being persecuted in  countries like China, Saudi Arabia and the United States.  The bread thing is believed by about 1 billion plus people,  Catholics and Eastern Orthodox who comprise the majority of Christians. Among them are scientists and philosophers and other types of people who hang around laboratories and libraries. I’m sure you’ve seen them there. Don’t you wonder just a little why people, some of whom are smart, would believe this? And more of them are believing it every day?  Perhaps they are easily deluded. Or perhaps it is all true. (Let me here recommend two really good books by C.S.Lewis “Surprised by Joy” and “Mere Christianity”.  C.S.Lewis was an English atheist who finally couldn’t fight the truth any longer, so he became a Christian.

I think your difficulty with God is that you think Christianity preaches a big God like most religions. We don’t. We believe that God is neither big nor small. He is both and neither. To the God of Christians the universe is very tiny and atoms and molecules are very large. He is not the universe but, His presence is woven through the every grain of sand, every sunrise and every birdsong, but He is none of these things. They are just pictures of Him, particularly of His beloved Son, and of the Love between them.  He made the universe for a very special reason. It is a kind of greeting card, an invitation. The laws of physics, the spinning of galaxies, the dying and the rising, one thing dying that another might live, it is all an invitation to adoption by the one who made it all, an invitation to become part of that relationship which is God. That’s what Jesus taught. God is not a solitude, but a solidarity, not an individual but a relationship, God is a family to which we are welcome. God is, in short, Love.

That’s why the very heart of God came from the heavenly throne and became one like us. That’s why He learned our languages and let us abuse Him, all to say that we needn’t be afraid. Read Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the 2nd chapter. In it he says that though Jesus was in the form of God, He left the power and privilege of divinity in heaven and though never ceasing to be who He was, He humbled Himself. He limited Himself and allowed Himself to be crucified.  Crucifixion was a symbolic death. A person was nailed to an upright pole usually transversed by a another pole to form a cross. He was hung there until dead, signifying that He was rejected by both heaven and earth. It was not only painful, it was the most shameful death possible because of its symbolism. 

I’ve already told you that I believe that Jesus disguised himself after His resurrection in the form of bread and wine. That’s right, after all this He came back to life and was seen by hundreds and hundreds of people. Everyone in Jerusalem knew about it at the time. Well, one day I was saying Mass and fruit flies were dive bombing the chalice.  Quietly, in my mind, I said to the Lord “I really believe that this is no longer bread and wine, but has become Your flesh and blood. Couldn’t you convince the fruit flies of this great miracle for a few minutes?“ 

A little voice in my mind responded and said, “With MY hands nailed to wood of the Cross, I couldn’t even swipe the flies from my face!” I could almost not go on with the Mass. To think that, if we Christians are right, the hand that made the universe, the hand that set the stars to spinning and that placed each atom in each molecule, couldn’t even lift itself to swipe away the flies. The All-powerful became powerless, and why? For love. For love of me and love of you.

I knew a Jewish woman who was in a Jewish school at a very young age because she was remarkably bright. Her teacher asked her a classic question “Can God make a stone so big that He Himself can’t move it. (Catholics and Jews say “no” because the creation is a reflection of the very nature of God. God, they insist is bounded by nothing except His own nature. Protestants and Muslims say “yes” because God can do whatever He pleases. He is bound by nothing, even His own nature. The little Jewish girl said “Yes! He can and He did! He made the human heart!” She was saying exactly what St. Paul said in his letter to the Philippians. God made something and gave it complete freedom and you and I are that something. 

As C.S. Lewis says in his Screwtape Letters, God does not overpower, He is like a lover courting. He must wait for us to respond. I don’t think you want God to be your lover. You don’t want a lover. You want a sugar daddy (momma) who will give what you want when you want and, in order to get what you want, you put up with His unwanted attentions. It is not God who is the narcissist it is you.  God is only God if He gives you what you want.  He however wants to give you Himself which is more wonderful than the things on which you have set your shallow, stony heart, a rock so big that God cannot move it even with the lever of the Cross.   

Perhaps you went to a religion class in your youth that taught you about Him, but they never helped you meet Him. You knew all about someone of whose existence you weren’t convinced. Perhaps you need to go back to the beginning. You are looking at the great mountains, but much lower down there is a hill called Calvary that you are overlooking. Some Christians can be very proud, but their God is very humble. If you stop to pray, He bends down to listen. If you want to know if He is God as He claims to be, don’t ask me. Ask Him.

the  Rev. Know it all


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  2. Dear Rev. Know-It-All,

    I have been reading your blog every since Fr. Z of WDTPRS posted your thoughts about Catholic weddings. I was hooked from the start and read all of your back entries over the course of a couple of days. I found them interesting, insightful, witty, informative, and hilarious.

    However this post in particular stands out as the most beautiful and moving. (Also the line about cockatoos and maraschino cherries is a scream!) Thank you for writing and publishing it. Thank you for writing and publishing ALL of your posts.


    1. Ditto to the above comment! Thank you Rev. Know-it-all.. I also came here from WDTPRS thanks to Fr Z