Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Splash into God!

As we were traveling to and from Philadelphia for a wedding recently, we zipped by a church VBS sign that caught my attention. It was hand-stenciled on plywood with the headline, “Splash Into God!”

The phrase sloshed around in my head for the next several hundred miles as I wondered what it meant to splash into God. It seemed a rather irreverent proposition and I couldn’t imagine God being happy with people splashing into him.

Nor could I imagine the kids participating in this program learning anything of value about God, how he is involved in their lives, and how all things hold together in him through Christ.

Your God is too small, again

In 1961, J.B. Philips issued an excellent little book titled, Your God is too Small. It was required reading in my college Bible classes. In the introduction, Phillips explains,
“The trouble with many people today is that they have not found a God big enough for modern needs. While their experience of life has grown in a score of directions, and their mental horizons have been expanded to the point of bewilderment by world events and by scientific discoveries, their ideas of God have remained largely static. It is obviously impossible for an adult to worship the conception of God that exists in the mind of a child of Sunday-school age, unless he is prepared to deny his own experience of life. If, by a great effort of will, he does do this he will always be secretly afraid lest some new truth may expose the juvenility of his faith. And it will always be by such an effort that he either worships or serves a God who is really too small to command his adult loyalty and co-operation.”
Phillips was addressing the problem of his day in which many people attended Sunday school or church and had some idea about who and what God was and is and is to come. These ideas, he rightfully lamented, while noble, were too small.

In other words, however God was viewed by people, they believed he was in need of help to truly be a god.

Today, this sentiment is still valid although for different reasons. Where God has not been totally written off, he has most certainly been squished and trivialized to the point of being irrelevant.

Just a “splash” of God is all we need – if he even exists – everything else we can accomplish without him.

Even to those who lay claim to faith and relationship with the Almighty, he’s often viewed as anything but mighty.

Honey, I shrunk the God!

Christianity as practiced in our churches, evangelical and otherwise, is to blame for shrinking God down. In order to make him relevant and accessible to successive generations, we have contextualized God into our culture to the point of making him irrelevant and pointless.

The God many Boomers grew up with often tended to be big, noisy, scary, distant, punishing; not exactly an attractive image for Seekers. While there are elements of God’s character that evoke these “negatives,” He was and is much more.

Still, God seemed a bit too thunderous and needed new marketing. We wanted a cool, with it, happening God.

So the church in all its permutations got busy making God over into a friendlier, kinder, gentler, warmer, fuzzier, grandpapa-fied deity.

We emphasized his love, forgiveness, graciousness, patience, and other more “positive” characteristics, putting a more attractional face on God and faith. It was like saying, “God loves you and he always has candy in his pockets for you dear.”

The problem with this is that we have made him into a sort of magic-genie-pet you can hold on your lap; rub him, feel him purr, and get your wishes. He’s the god who gives everyone a trophy and a free pass to heaven.

In this cute and loveable form, while he seems very approachable, who would call on him for help in the midst of life’s storms? Why would you lean on him for real moral support? How is his “candy” going to help you as you grapple with all the challenges of a messy life on earth? He’s too frail and fragile and, well, not God-like!

We’ve made God into a god who is a nice but inadequate idea, rather than Someone you can and would want to know and believe in.

So Vacation Bible School offers a romp in the kiddie pool with an adorable old useless go.

The God who is really there and has a pretty awesome personality

It’s easy to get caught up in extended theological discussions of God’s attributes, but we’ll not do that right now. Here are two links where you can find more on the topic of God’s attributes:
For now, let’s just hit some highlights which are pretty mind-boggling and reveal a God that is truly Supreme.

God is a person in the sense that he has a personality and expresses himself personally, connecting with us, his created persons. As with any person the personality of God is multi-faceted and complex, more complex than any other being in the universe.
  • He is triune, meaning that he exists as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
  • He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things.
  • He is omnipresent, meaning that he exists here, there, and everywhere to infinity and beyond, simultaneously.
  • He is omniscient meaning that he knows the known knowns, the known unknowns, the unknown unknowns, and everything else.
  • He is omnipotent meaning that there is no one or no thing, real or imagined, that is more powerful in any way than him.
  • He is sovereign, just, righteous, wrathful, beneficent, jealous, loving, and, while approachable and knowable, he is also infinite and incomprehensible.
The bottom line is that God is more than adequate to be the Supreme Being and the One to protect you, care for you, provide for you, and help you make sense of this crazy world.

He is not your pool buddy, splash mate, magic lamp, or fuzzy purring pet. He is beyond awesome, in the truest sense of the word, and worthy to be worshipped, loved, and trusted.

The huggable yet transcendent God

The reality of who God is can be found in and between Genesis 1 (“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”) and Revelation 21 ("Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”).

There’s nothing wrong with thinking about God in endearing ways. But we must never let any sense of coziness with God become an idol that blurs who he really is.

Here are a few more aspects to consider…

Being flippant in our attitude and talk about God puts us at risk of reducing him to the equivalent of a spiritual stuffed toy. This does both God and ourselves an eternal disservice.

God is more than a pool party theme. He is “the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty [God] will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life” (Revelation 21:6).

Stay thirsty, my friend. Don’t merely splash into God, get to know who he really is and be blessed beyond belief.

How are you thinking about God? Is your God big enough to truly meet your needs? Does he need your help to accomplish your goals?  Is he something you want to splash into or Someone on whom you can depend? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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