Is God involved in our lives?

After a month long break for the Christmas holidays, here's part 5 in a series of posts about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, a religious phenomenon which the National Study of Youth and Religion suggests is the largest religion among young people in the United States. For more, check out Kenda Creasy Dean's Almost Christian.

So here on the blog I've been reflecting on our age's most popular heresy, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. One funny thing about MTD is how odd it is to attack it. It is a funny thing to attack because the core underlying assumption of MTD is that religion is not that big of a deal. No one would die for this religion; it would hardly be worth it. But ironically this religion is threatening to kill Christianity in the Western world.

I don't mean to be alarmist here. God will win his victory with or without the North American church, so in a manner of speaking very little is at stake. But the more Christians and their churches cling to the "benign whatever-ism" of MTD, the fewer of us will enjoy participating in that great victory of God and his kingdom. So I guess it is you and I and the folks we sit next to on Sunday morning who are at stake here.

So, let's keep looking at the beliefs of MTD:

1. A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth.
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God is not involved in my life except when I need God to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
— "Guiding Beliefs of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism," Almost Christian, p. 14

We've looked at #1-3 already. What about #4? Is God basically indifferent to our lives, showing up only by request if he's needed to get us out of some kind of bind?

I'm sure you won't be surprised to find me claiming that Christians can't really get behind this idea at all. It tends to reduce god to a puppet of my desires, powerless to critique my life or behavior and voiceless to command or call or invite me to anything greater than myself.

In a way, this god is indifferent to our lives as a favor to us - I get to be and do whatever I want as a result, after all. This is a god worthy of barter and bargaining, but is not at all a god worthy of worship. This god is a handmaid, a divinely ordained self-justification, a permission slip to go create myself, since my creator is too busy or too sublimely transcendent to give a rip about what I'm up to anyways. This god's kingdom must actually be a democracy, his salvation leads us to an entertaining good time, and his grace bestows on us good luck and better parking spots. May our will be done on earth, because the heaven this god inhabits has only a cool indifference to anything that goes on down here. 

Contrast this with the Christian God. 

When God introduces himself to Moses by means of a burning bush, Moses asks for his name. Most famously, God identifies himself as I AM WHO I AM - which Christians often rightly interpret as meaning a sublime and unmovable eternal being. But what we sometimes overlook is that God doesn't stop there. I AM is not the only thing God has on his nametag in Exodus 3; in the very next verse God identifies himself in a rather different way:

God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ 

“This is my name forever,
the name you shall call me 
from generation to generation.”
— Exod 3:15 NIV

God identifies himself with a people, namely the descendants of Israel that, at that time, were enslaved in Egypt. In fact, he says "This is my name forever." And through the parting of seas, a cloud during the day for shade, a pillar of fire at night for light, manna from heaven, water from a rock, and your occasional poultry dinner, God sticks with his people as they wander through the desert, and he continues to do so in countless other ways once they get to the Promised Land, and even beyond.

And then God does something even more remarkable. God draws even closer to humanity. The King of kings, Lord of lords, and God of gods, the Great I AM doesn't stop at being the God of this people. He becomes God-with-us. God steps into humanity so that we can walk in step with him.

In case you missed it, that's what we were celebrating a few weeks ago on December 25th: the Eternal One entering time for the sake of the world, and for the sake of jerks and punks like you and me.

"God is not involved in my life except when I need God to solve a problem."

Thank God that isn't true. Thank God for being infinitely more than our personal deus ex machina. We don't have a divine problem solver. Instead we have a God who loves, and calls us to live for him. If we heed this call it might seem at times to create more problems for us than it solves. But when all is said and done if God's involvement in your life becomes more important than your own self-involvement you will find that it's solved much more than a problem.