Friday, July 25, 2008

Where to draw the lines on our "God box"

Dennis the Menace has a dilemma. Alice, his mom, has taken him shopping for "church clothes" at the department store. As she checks out the fit of a sports jacket on him, explaining "this is for church" he has a theological epiphany.

"But if I wear this to church God will never recognize me!"

Oh, that most adults had a combination of both the innocence and the depth of a four year old. And let’s assume that Dennis’ objection to the new clothes is sincere and not just an excuse to get out of wearing them. Let’s assume his concern as he expressed it is real.

You see, Dennis knows that God created him. And give Alice and Henry Mitchell credit for that little boy's knowledge of spiritual matters. He knows that his life isn’t an accident, and that there is a God who keeps track of him. This little guy has apparently put a lot of thought into his theology. At least he understands that much. But his grasp of God goes much deeper - perhaps even deeper than Alice's.

Here are some things God has revealed to us about Himself and how He relates to us.

He does indeed "recognize" us. Jesus said that God knows us so well that He even keeps up with the numbers of hairs on our heads. I don't know about you, but with me, a middle aged man, that sounds like quite an accomplishment! But it tells me that He must care an awful lot.

He knows us as we really are. I think that's what Dennis was expressing. Unlike so many of us, who only think about or truly focus on Him for an hour in a room with stained glass windows (where no one can peer in but God!), God sees us 24/7. We can't hide from Him or disguise ourselves so that He is confused as to our character or our whereabouts.

He's not really interested in our fashion styles. In fact, He doesn't pay attention to what's on the outside, but what's on the inside. Jesus had some blunt things to say to those in His day and culture who made the assumption that "the clothing makes the man spiritual". To think that we can garner God's attention by what we wear would make Him a pretty shallow and materialistic person.

But also, like so many of us naturally tend to do, Dennis still has God in a box. Breaking out of that box and seeing God in His infinite nature is one of the hardest challenges to humankind like me. Like Dennis, we perceive God as possessing our own limitations. Why? Because if we can convince ourselves that God is who we understand Him to be, then we can excuse our own weaknesses. After all, if God could fail to recognize us because we changed clothes, then I can fail in some areas of life and be cool with it, too.

If the Creator is simply what the creation deems Him to be, then who is really God? That’s one reason why God prohibited His people from making idols or images of what they thought He might look like. He’s too beyond us for that. If I can design my own God, then I can control Him as well.

The great thing about this Creator is that He has revealed Himself to us in real and tangible ways: from everything as general as nature and creation itself to the very specific revealing of Himself through His Son Jesus. And our boxes are always too small for Him.

You’re right, Dennis. You don’t have to wear that sport jacket to be noticed by God. But neither can God be fooled of who you really are if you do. So, humor (or perhaps I should say “honor”) Mom and wear the uncomfortable coat (and probably a tie, too) if that’s what she wants. It’s just for an hour or so once a week. Then you can change back into your overalls. And God won’t miss a beat.

Rick Lawrenson is the Lead Pastor of Nags Head Church.
© 2008 Nags Head Church


melissam2 said...

Reminds me of one of my ALL time favorite songs - "Inside Out" by April McLean.

Keep chipping away at those masks we handed everyone at the door of our churches for so many generations.

Preach it!

Sara said...

What a great post! I appreciate your perspective!

~Sara in MD