Friday, September 7, 2012

Pigeonholing God (or, God-In-The-Box)

It surprises me as I go about my outreach program how many people pigeonhole God, stuffing him into a convenient box in the back of their mind and opening it on Sunday when they “go to church.” I recently met a woman in her 70s who, after my introduction, piously announced, “Well, I believe in the Lord Jesus as my savior” and then arrogantly challenged, “do you?” I affirmed that I do indeed believe in Jesus but before I could get another word out of my mouth she cut me off and said, “well then, there is nothing more for us to discuss” and closed her mind (and door) on me.

As I reflected on the conversation I thought how clever she was with her question. Regardless if I had said “yes” or “no” to her question, her response would have been the same, “Well, there is nothing more to discuss.” In actuality, this person, like so many I’ve met do not enjoy talking about their faith. I’ve had some use the excuse that I’m cheapening God by talking about him outside of “church.” (They likewise abruptly ended the conversation because they likely knew I would point out that Jesus preached publicly, and not just in the Jewish religious meeting place known as the Synagogue.)  I have also met those who say they don’t discuss their faith with strangers. In saying that, I have to wonder if they even know they are completely disregarding what Jesus told his disciples to do (Matthew 28:19,20) Finally, there is vast multitude of those I meet that say, “I have my own religion” or “I just went to church on Sunday” and then turn aside from me. All of these people put God in a very convenient little box that they open whenever they feel they want to.

So for those claiming to follow the Christianity that Jesus outlined and not whatever flavor of belief the “churches” of today espouse, what is the Bible-endorsed, Bible-promoted attitude and actions to incorporate into your life regarding your relationship with God? First of all, the two “Greatest Commandments” come to mind. The first was to love God with every fiber of our being (not stuff him into the back of our mind and relegate him to one day of the week). Think about it: If we loved God like we love so many other things in our life, wouldn’t we enjoy talking about Him? For example, I have interests in photography and wireless technology and engage in lively online discussions about those topics—as do hundreds of others. So for those that excitedly discuss personal hobbies and interests but then turn around and treat God as of little consequence, what does that say about them? If that were your best friend, your girl friend, you mate or someone else in your life and you treated them that way, how would they feel?—Unappreciated, unimportant?

Even in everyday mundane things such as sports scores and teams, politics, and such, if the person we are talking to doesn’t agree with everything we say, we still enjoy their company. Why does talking about God and the Bible have to be so different, so rigid? In my observation, there are two classes of people that act this way. First are the ones that really have not come to know the Bible (and hence God) that well, so they are embarrassed when they meet others that do know and can show them things they may never have considered. Second are the ones that adamantly have a closed mind to anything but their own opinion on matters related to God and the Bible. These self-righteously condemn anyone that doesn’t agree with their viewpoint. They don’t even want to share what they DO know and demand you leave them alone.

The second of the two Greatest Commandments was to love our neighbor as ourselves. Anyone reading the book of Acts (following the “Gospel” accounts in the Christian Greek scriptures) can readily see that Paul, an “apostle to the nations,” made every earnest yet respectful & calm effort to reason not only with the common people but even with Roman leaders of the time. In like manner, those who adopt the Christianity taught by Jesus and practiced by his early followers recognize that the greatest love we can extend to our neighbors is to bring them the same message of hope and comfort that helped us. We don't just accept the message and then bottle it up inside, not willing to discuss it. Instead, we let our light shine.

"But what if opposing views surface?" That actually is bound to happen. In those cases, I remember advice I was once given: “Its okay to disagree, but you don’t have to be disagreeable.” I was told that by a friend one day when, years ago, I used to become argumentative. Now I’ve learned to respect that others are entitled to their viewpoint just as much as I am to mine. I also remember that when I go from inside to outdoors, my first reaction is to squint and block my eyes from the bright light. Metaphorically, our eagerly sharing the light of Bible understanding can have the same effect. Sometimes people feel the light is intrusive. So I respect their choice and try to part company on a friendly note.

I hope that anyone reading this gives consideration to their viewpoints regarding discussing God. If you truly love your creator, talking about him should be as natural as anything else you discuss. If someone has a differing viewpoint, consider why they view it that way. See if you need to adjust your viewpoint, but don’t shut them out and don’t relegate God to some box called Sunday church.

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