“But what every man has not a right to do, is to make others believe that faith is something lowly, or that it is an easy thing, whereas it is the greatest and the hardest.” – Soren Kierkegaard, “Fear and Trembling”
I know what you’re thinking.
“Jack Nicholson wasn’t in Pet Sematary, he was in that other Stephen King movie…the one where he played the guy that goes psycho in the empty resort hotel and tries to kill his wife and kid…and that picture of Nicholson is from neither of those movies!”
Okay, cinemaster, good job. Here’s your 10 points, give yourself a hand. Now that we’ve got our films straight, we’ll come back to Jack in a minute. Let’s get down to business.Let’s stop making God our pet.
“What do you mean, Preston? I don’t think God’s my pet.”
Well, you’re right, He certainly isn’t a pet. But I think we all have a tendency to put a leash on Him.
For instance, some of us like to think of God as nothing but thunder and lightning; just all-powerful hell-fire and brimstone. We want Him to be belt-fed ammunition that we can use to fire away our lead-bullet judgement at other people. We hold up our signs declaring who God hates, and we revel in the thought of all the murderers and druggies and pedophiles and alcoholics and pro-choicers – anybody who we consider worse than us – finally getting what they deserve. If we think God belongs only in the “wrath” box, we’ve got Him on a leash.
Some of us prefer the opposite incarnation: a fuzzy-ball-of-hunky-dory-sparkles God, one that wants us to be happy and feel wonderful and give us stuff. He’s pretty, He’s pleasant; He wouldn’t hurt anybody. He’s the God that’s “blessed” us by making our life comfy, giving us all sorts of material “blessings.” He’s the God that will make all the bad things that we don’t like go away. If we decide God is nothing more than our cozy blanket of good vibes that we can curl up in, we’ve got Him on a leash.
There are dozens of potential ways we might do this.
Maybe we make Him out as just our buddy. God the Chill Dude. He’s just somebody to chat with when we need it. Maybe He’ll hook us up with a favor every now and then.
Maybe we make Him our invisible wizard or our lucky charm. Good things fall into place, happy accidents, and suddenly we’ve seen “God at work,” doing His magical wizard-things, rearranging reality just to help us out.
I could go on, but I think I’ve made myself clear. We make a box, stick God in it, and click! On goes the leash.
Let’s wake up and smell the coffee with what is actually going on here. We take the different attributes we understand to be true of God, and then we proceed to cherry-pick the parts we like and ignore the parts we don’t.
The issue isn’t that we get the attribute wrong, it’s that we zero in on one or two and think of it as all that there is to God. We create a God that suits us, one that is made in our image. We might still call our creation “God”, but the truth is that it’s straight-up idolatry.
It stands to reason that an understanding of the fullness of God can never be reached in our human form. The only human to comprehend the total fullness of God was God in the flesh: Jesus Christ. We can grasp that His fullness exists, and that His fullness is able to be completely known, but to know everything about God and completely understand Him is beyond our current capacity. Therefore, if we’re seeking Him we can always learn more about Him than we already know. We can’t run out of things to discover about a God who is infinite.
When we put Him in our man-made boxes, we’re essentially saying we have discovered all there is to know about Him. If that were true, what reason would we have to seek Him after that? If we can get to the bottom of the depths of God, what sort of God is He?
A pet-God on a leash, that’s what. A phony shadow of God that we willfully mistake as the real thing.
Why we do this?
There’s three pieces to this puzzle that we’ve laid out here – God, us, and the leash (or the box) – and one of them doesn’t belong. Obviously, God can’t be removed from the equation. And neither can we, for that matter, since having a relationship with God requires both us and Him to be present. All that remains is the leash. So why do we think we need it?
Answer me this: why does a strange dog running loose unsettle us more than one on a leash? For all we know, they could be the exact same dog, but
Because no leash means the dog is out of our control.
We can’t predict what it might do. If it does something we don’t like we can’t reign it back in. It won’t obey our commands. It’s going to do what it wants, regardless of what our plans might be.
That lack of control is scary. Expand that from the trivial level of the stray dog to the unfathomable level of an all-powerful God, and that fear becomes enormous. And if we operate on the basis of that fear, we’ll keep winding up trying to get God under our control. We try to deal with the fear by reigning God in, by telling Him “No, you can only come this far.” But exerting more control isn’t the solution to the fear of losing it.
In A Few Good Men, Nicholson’s Colonel Jessep explodes across his witness stand at the lawyer played by Tom Cruise:
“You can’t handle the truth!”
I’m trying to say the same thing.
If we put a leash on God, it means we believe we can handle Him. If Scripture tells us anything, it’s that nobody can handle God. He is the Truth, and His completeness is too much for us to wrap our heads around. If we’re trying to handle Him, it means we’re afraid of what might happen if we don’t. It may sound counterintuitive, but the only way to move past that fear is to surrender control. When that happens, when we give up trying to do things on our own, God gets unleashed in our lives. But what does it take to get to that?
Faith in Him.
That faith is incredibly hard. Easy to profess, perhaps, but intensely difficult to live out. We’re so prone to doing things our way, to gripping with both hands that semblance of control over our lives, that to relinquish it means totally overhauling our existence. It changes us so profoundly that we are transformed, made new – born again.
“Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Galatians 5:34
So those pets, they have to die. They are made of our own designs, so we must crucify and bury them, along with the rest of our fleshly passions and desires. We have to give up trying to handle God, give up trying to handle the Truth. Seek to know Him, and let the Truth handle us.
We need to have faith in the God He is, not in the God we want Him to be.