“When your god is small, you can still be the biggest thing in your world.”
I heard that on Sunday. It’s been in the back of my mind ever since. Small god. Small God. It’s a fascinating thought.
I can’t get it out of my head.
See, I know people who worship the small God, the God that is more concerned about rules and uniformity than about redemption and transformation. The small God doesn’t change you; he gives you rules and demands that you change. The small God doesn’t disciple you; he disciplines you for committing errors you didn’t know you’d committed. The small God doesn’t love you; he demands you love him.
The small God is not the true God.
Even now, there are people who are reading this and going ballistic. They hear words like love, redemption, transformation, rules, discipline, and they hear something very different from me. I am teetering on the edge of heresy by suggesting that God is not concerned primarily with rules and discipline and order and obedience. I’m leading people down a wrong path, a path of easy-believism.
The reality is the opposite. Easy-believism is when you tell people that if they’ll live their lives a certain way, according to to certain code, then God will make everything work out, and if it doesn’t, then it’s their fault for not living right. Easy-believism says that everyone else is wrong and you’re right, so there’s no need to have a conversation. Easy-believism says that only people who live by certain rules truly get God.
True belief is hard. It’s challenging. There are black and white areas to be sure, but there’s also a lot of gray. And it’s in that gray that a person is forced to lean into God, to dig into the word, to search Him out for answers. It’s in that gray that a person finds themselves being transformed. It’s in that gray that a person discovers that the small God is pathetic and mean and not to much different than a petty human being; that if God exists, He must by definition be something more than we can create on our own.
And that’s why the quote above resonated with me so much: people who worship the small God want to be bigger themselves. They want to be able to say that they are special, they are unique, they are gifted or holy or any other adjective that places emphasis on them and their ability to be blessed by the small God.
Maybe that’s the tell: if your God exalts you for following him, you’re worshiping the small God.
Because the big God, the real God, the God revealed in the Bible and in the person of Jesus Christ, isn’t concerned about you being exalted through Him. He wants to be exalted through you. And He does that not by piling the rules on you to the point of suffocation, but by freeing you up to be who He created you to be. He is exalted most when you live a life fully free in Him.
I get scared writing stuff like this. I get scared pushing against the small Gods out there, the gods of abusers and bullies who use religion as a weapon to secure their own power. I get scared because I know those types of people don’t like being called out, don’t abide people who stand up to their scare tactics. I get scared because I know people who live that way, and I don’t wish them any harm or want to hurt them. I get scared because I don’t want to become like that myself.
More and more, though, I find that this is something I want to write. That I feel driven to write on. More and more I feel like I need to say something that presses back against the small Gods so the people who wonder if there’s something more can know the truth: there is.
And He’s so much more than you’ve been lead to believe. Or dared to dream.
Don’t settle for a small God. Don’t settle for a world where, by simply following rules you become the biggest thing. Don’t settle for anything other than the one true God.
I haven’t been keeping up with the devastation in Moore, Oklahoma. From what I’ve read, it’s a sad and horrifying natural disaster, and the response of countless people with donations of time, money and supplies has been heartening. Sometimes, we forget that people are capable of tremendous acts of sacrifice and kindness. It’s a shame that we only remember when something like this happens. In fact, there are a lot of things that we don’t think about until something like this happens. The value of human life, the need for community, the presence – or absence – of God in everyday life.
Depending upon where you fall on the religious spectrum, you might have very strong feelings about that last one. Some people will tell you that the tornado is a message from God, a statement of destruction to wake us up to the various moral failings of our country. Some people will tell you that God wasn’t in the whirlwind at all, that nature just strikes at random and we are all held hostage until Jesus returns and reboots the universe for God. Others take a middle road.
And there are a great many people who will simply say they don’t know.
Why is it that we only look for God in times of tragedy? I’ve heard a lot of preachers expound on the topic, and the consensus seems to be that we’re selfish by nature; that human beings, by default, will seek only those things that satisfy themselves. Therefore in good times, there’s no need to seek God, because the circumstances of our lives dictate Him as unnecessary. Since we have what we need, we obviously don’t need Him. It is only when the universe becomes cruel, when we see rubble piled atop the tiny hand of a child, that we seek out God for accountability. Where were you? How could you let this happen?
The problem, this view suggests, is that we don’t see the world correctly.
I think there’s truth in that idea. But I don’t know that I agree with all of it anymore. I think we are self-seeking creatures, but for some folks that means seeking God in good times as well as bad; I think we do tend to take the good times for granted, but I think we often look harder to see the evil in the world than we should; I think we do turn to God in times of trouble, often in anger or despair, but we do so seeking for some sense of answer, some idea that the things that scare us can also offer us wisdom for healing.
We turn to Him for hope that we might not otherwise see.
Sure some might turn Moore into a referendum on God’s character, but they assume that God is capable of the evil found in the destruction and not the good that comes from the people who respond. They suggest that God is an impersonal force, and thus cannot be present in the humans who are there to help rebuild. They give Him credit only for those things that would discredit Him, as if His only purpose is to be the cosmic bad guy, a reverse deus ex machina that gives us a target for a rage we otherwise wouldn’t know how to express.
It’s funny, but in denying God, they embrace a big part of what makes Him God: His ability to absorb our anger, fear and frustration, yet still love us all the same.
I suppose I should answer a few questions before I close this post out. Do I think God caused the tornado? No, I don’t. Do I think God could have diverted the tornado? It’s possible, sure, but that line of thinking is usually a zero-sum game. Do I think God was present with the victims? Yes. Do I think God is still present in the aftermath, working through the people who will rebuild – both physically and mentally – the town and people of Moore, OK?
In the Old Testament, an ancient prophet of Israel went up on a mountain to see God face to face. There was an earthquake, but God wasn’t in it. There was fire from heaven, but God wasn’t there either. There was a great whirlwind, but still the presence of God wasn’t there.
It was only after those events, only after the cataclysmic natural phenomena that left the prophet still searching for the presence of God, that the prophet found Him. The Bible says that God came in a still small voice that the prophet heard. And when he heard it, he knew he was in the very presence of Almighty God.
It is a story well worth considering.
If anyone would understand the power and wisdom in that statement, it would be Dawn; diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant, she not only survived the surgeries, treatment and pregnancy, she came away with a fantastic son and a heck of story. The words, obviously, stuck in my head.
And now I’m living them.
After much prayer and consideration, I resigned from my position as the Youth Pastor of Chestnut Grove Baptist Church on May 2. It was hard. I was graciously offered a three-month severance to help my family through my time of transition because I’m leaving with nowhere to go. No job offers. Nothing immediate on the horizon. Just the overwhelming sense that God wanted me to stop and listen for His direction.
I know it will involve writing. That much has become clear over the last three years. It’s a passion I’ve had forever, one that I almost followed but turned away from because I wasn’t ready. I am, I think, ready now. What that will look like, what that will mean, I don’t know. But I can only do what I know God has directed me to do, and that is put my life completely in His hands and wait on His timing.
And that’s hard.
Not because He’s unfaithful. Not because He won’t deliver. It’s because I’m so used to having things lined up – so used to “helping” Him move me from place to place that being completely out of the loop on this round is a bit unnerving.
It’s also hard because of the people it affects. I spent a bit of time on the phone this evening with a wonderful, sweet woman who was just in tears over my resignation. It’s hard – or it should be – to break good people’s hearts. It should never be easy; at least, not to my mind.
And so I come back to Dawn’s words: “God is good. Life is hard. Don’t get the two confused.”
I’m hoping I can still say the same tomorrow.