Distant God

(I’m well-aware of my promised posts. This is not one of them. The promised posts will come.)

I think we have this idea in the world that the supreme being, creator, maker, master: GOD has set the world in motion and then steps back thinking very little else of us. If nothing happens when we pray it is because we have not prayed hard enough, have not believed deeply enough, have not set ourselves right with heaven, have not kept all of the laws, aren’t being geniune, have messed up too many times, or maybe the gods or God just doesn’t care at all.

And the fact is– I think most of us think in this way to at least some extent. It’s an ancient idea, that we would have to grovel before heaven, that we would plead our case. From the ancient worship of Baal to modern Indian religion, the practice of inflicting pain on the body was popular to gain the attention of the gods. In 1 Kings 18 Elijah devises this great contest between the prophets of Baal and their god and himself and the his God (YHWH). THe prophets plead, they sing and dance, they cut themselves with swords in order for Baal to light their alter with fire from heaven.

Elijah does none of these things. In fact, the only thing he really does is soak the alter in water. Then fire of heaven consumed not only the sacrifice, but the entire altar and the ground underneath it.

I recently heard a quote from Reinhard Bonnke who says: “When I stand up to preach the gospel I often preach to people who have no idea who God is because they worship idols, very terrible idols. They spread the table for their gods, and I tell them that the Christian God does it the other way around. He spreads the table for His children. And the other religions, the people always seek God; in the Christian faith, God seeks man.”

In our story about Elijah he taunts the prophets of Baal, saying “Oh well, scream louder, maybe your god is sleeping, or travelling, or eating, or busy with some other thing.”

But we know, that the most powerful– the only TRUE God, YHWH, is all-powerful. It is us, we are the ones who are travelling, sleeping, eating, working, too BUSY for God. The fact is that God has never been distant from us, we are distant from God.

God has outlaid for us an entire earth, woven together our lives, poured out every sacrifice for us, and he has not turned his face from us, but we have lowered our heads to him–not in reverence so much as ignorance. God has not forgotten us, we have forgotten him. Because it’s not that we have to sacrifice everything, he’s given us everything, we have NOTHING to bring to the table. That’s why he spreads the table for us. He has opened his heart and his arms to us and we struggle with vulnerability.

He gave so much to people who have nothing to return except our love. And our love is so insignificant when compared with his.

My mom and I have this favorite movie: “The Proposal” with Sandra Bullock. She plays a single woman, Margaret, she’s a bitch, all she has is her book publishing company in New York, and to avoid deportation she forces her assistant into an engagement with her, she’s seemingly in charge of her assistant’s fate. I think sometimes this is how we think of God. He’s the one, who if we do everything he wants, we can get “promoted,” and that some how he needs us, that some how he’s pushing us around. But isn’t that how we think? It’s not really how God thinks. God doesn’t need us. He wants us. He doesn’t go playing with our emotions. Everything is already on the table. He’s already made his sacrifice.

Margaret is us. She realizes she has nothing to offer, she runs, because she’s fallen for him, and him for her. And he chases after her because even though she has nothing to offer, he loves her. That’s conditionless love. It’s UN-conditional.

If someone cooks you dinner, prepares you a feast, they have sacrificed their time, maybe their finances, and their effort for you to eat. And we think that following God is our sacrifice, but how is it a sacrifice for us to eat food that was not prepared by our own hands, but by someone else’s.

We’re the servants of God, but he is the one who prepared the table for us. He sacrificed first. He loved us first. We’re just struggling to love him back. He’s the husband we never deserved. He offered us an engagement knowing that some of us wouldn’t accept. And yet he didn’t only offer it to those who would accept. He’s not afraid of rejection but he loved us too much not to offer everything.

God doesn’t have our limitations. Our fears. Our ways. We think when someone loves us it is because of what we can give, how we give it, who we are, but God loves us unconditionally. He needs nothing from us and he doesn’t love us for how we prepare our table for him– He prepared the table for us.  The host has not forgotten any of us in the guest-list. We don’t have to beg for the scraps at his table, we only have to accept the invitation.

Let’s not get so wrapped up in our daily lives, in working too hard, so much so, that we would decide that some how we don’t have time to dine with God, or that we forget we’ve been invited to this feast. How absurd of us to say God is distant when he is waiting for us at the feast prepared for our homecoming?