Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Objectification of God

"I'm struggling with my faith."

"The experience increased my faith."

"My faith gets me through the day."

Have you ever heard or said anything like the above sentences? Here's my problem with them: they mean almost nothing. Why? Because this way of speaking makes faith into an abstract concept. The word can be applied to anyone or anything. It is, at least, one step removed from the object of that faith.

I don't like talking about faith as if it is a thing in and of itself. To talk about our faith makes us sound very spiritual, but our faith is only so good as the object or person in which it is placed. If I have faith in a chair to hold me up when I sit in it, my faith means nothing if someone came along before I got there and removed all the screws. If I have faith in God, my faith is only so good as my relationship with Him as a Being.

That last sentence is very important. Read it again. My faith is only so good as my relationship with God as a BEING. It is essential that we recognize God as a BEING, as opposed to a BELIEF. Many of us good, well-meaning, "spiritual" Christians find the fact that God is an actual Being very inconvenient. That means He has a personality. He has opinions (that I may not agree with). He experiences emotions. He thinks about things differently than I do. He has His own goals and methods of accomplishing them. He works on His own timetable. (That last one is a big problem for me, actually!)

It's much easier to think of Him as a belief and just try to fit that belief into our world and our plans as best we can. That way, I can go to church and "fellowship" and try to be good and even pray once in a while, but I don't really have to rearrange my entire life to fit with Someone else's agenda. I don't have to sacrifice my lifestyle (as long as it's "good enough" to sooth my conscience) to step out of my comfort zone into the unknown realm of relying on a Being I can't see. I don't have to study the Word in it's minute details to learn how to hear His voice in my life and then wait and listen for Him to speak to me.

Adding god to my life is so much easier and less messy than aligning myself to God.

But, do I really need another belief? I have lots of them. I believe dark chocolate is better than milk chocolate. I believe it's scary to drive on icy roads. I believe Nietzsche would have made a very good Satanist. I believe my husband would get upset if I went out and bought a car without his knowledge. I believe my dog is prettier than my neighbor's dog. (Tru dat.)

Do I really need one more belief? Isn't it better to have a relationship?
Think of it this way. What would you prefer--to believe that you have a spouse who loves you or to actually have a spouse who loves you?

I want the spouse. I want the love. I want the messy. I want the challenge and the disagreements and the making up. I want the sounding board for my insane, crazy emotions and my deep, profound thoughts about the meaning of life. I want the discovery of the depth of who he is--weird or not. I want the teasing and the wrestling and the love making and the rolling of the eyes. I want it all. I don't want just a belief in him, I want HIM.

Without Him, I'm stuck with just...


The difference I'm talking about is a difference in the kind of knowledge we have a right to claim. It's the difference between propositional knowledge ("I know that God exists.") and interpersonal knowledge ("I know God.")

Knowing a fact is propositional knowledge and it's fine, for what it is, but it's very impersonal. It's no more important than knowing the moon exists. OK. Got it, but what does that really matter for my day-to-day?

Knowing a person is interpersonal knowledge (IPK) and it is a vastly different experience than knowing a fact. It's the difference between knowing Shaquille O'Neal exists and knowing Shaquille O'Neal. Which is more dynamic? More life-changing? More involved? More intrusive into our world?

So, when we think of using the word "faith," perhaps we should instead use the Name of the Person---the BEING--we really mean: Jesus Christ.

"I'm really struggling in my relationship with Jesus Christ."

"The experience with Jesus increased my dependence on Him."

"Jesus Christ gets me through the day."

Suddenly, these statements start to make sense. I want to hear more. I want a glimpse inside a relationship that is dynamic and real. I want to know this Person, too.

Closing thought:
The word "faith" isn't the only word we use to objectify God. Consider the words/terms: "moral right," "religion," "justice," "hope," etc. There are many, many ways we push God away through the way we conceive of Him and substitute abstract words for Him. When we think of Him as a belief, our word choices betray us. When know Him as a Being, our word choices reflect that relationship. This week, listen to the way people talk about God. Is He a belief or a Being to them? How about to you?


Anonymous said...

Good post. The whole purpose of religions across the world is supposed to be transformative. Including Christianity. Saying words and considering yourself saved, and thus objectifying your faith isn't transformative. For Christianity, one is supposed to die to oneself and be born to others. Somewhere the past 500 years, many Christians have thought their actions on earth didn't matter. Maybe true, maybe not. Regardless, there is no transformative power in this. Jesus said follow me.

I think actions matter.

Thus, I think your relationship matters.

So I agree with you.

One thing, you say "I know God." I think it has to be "I know my concept of God." I can find millions of Christians who will tell you they know God, who would then disagree with each other when they get into the details. How can that be, unless they know their concept of God. Early Christianity was cool with this. Different sects debating, finding answers, etc was accepted. They recognized they weren't all knowing on beliefs (can I use this word?), nor were they supposed to be, and that was okay. Then, it evolved to different sects saying only they were right and others were damned. Somehow their ideas, even though different from 90% of others became the only way.

S. E. Thomas said...

Thank you for your comment. However, I have to point out that when I say "I know God," I in NO WAY mean, "I know my concept of God." That is precisely the opposite of my point in this post. I'd be willing to bet that when you talk about the people in your life, you will say, "I know my mom," or "I know Steve." I doubt you would ever say, "I know my concept of my Mom," or "I know my concept of Steve." That's just weird and deflects focus from the person to an idea. God is not a belief. God is a Being. Doesn't He deserve at least as much recognition for being a Person as other people we know?