September 1, 2014

Looking For A Bigger God

bowI have been exploring  in recent posts some of the reasons I am leaving evangelicalism after 40 years. As I have stated, these are my reasons alone. Each time I post, some will comment to the affect that I am trying take others with me on my journey. I have never said that or inferred that. My experiences are just that—mine. Many of you are very happy in your evangelical churches, and that’s great. I encourage you to stay right where you are. I am describing why I am leaving, not telling you what you should be doing.

I made some upset on Sunday when I said that God does not have our best interests in mind. That he has his best interests in mind. Now, making people upset does not really have much of an effect on me. I don’t try to do that, but I can’t control other’s responses to what I say. Yet this is a good jumping-off place for explaining another reason I am leaving evangelicalism. In the evangelical circles I was raised in, and then was a vital member of, for 40 years, I heard over and over that God cares for my every need, is concerned with the smallest detail of my life, wants to meet all of my physical, emotional and financial needs.

And that is very true. He does. He knows the number of hairs on my head. He cares for me more than the birds of the air, which he cares for. He clothes me greater than the lilies of the field. There is no detail in my life too small for his notice or care. And his love for me knows literally no bounds. Yet for so many evangelicals, God’s concern for us becomes the all-consuming reason the universe exists to begin with. And that is just not the case.

I mentioned Job in my Sunday Homily. To many evangelicals, Job is an example to us of persevering through hardship. Of how good people will win in the end. Of how things may be dark now, but God will give us back all we have lost and more if we simply stick with it. This is the God of evangelicalism: He is most interested in my well-being. Job is not a character study of a man who perseveres. It is a play, where God and Satan meet, and God decides to put his own interests on display. In this play, Job loses all he has, but does not curse God, because God is worthy of our praise no matter what. This is what God wants to put on stage: his glory.

We can even say all of creation from the Garden to the Incarnation was Act One of a great play called God’s Glory. Act Two was the life of Jesus to the Cross. And Act Three was the Resurrection. It is a great play put on for the angels and all the universe to show that God is worthy of all honor and praise, that even though we continually break his covenant, he will go to the greatest length possible to show his glory, even to the point of becoming one of us. The author stepped into the play, as Lewis said. The author is also the plot of the play, which gets more complicated. But let’s just stick with the author being the primary focal point of this play we call Life. Yet we have gotten confused and believe we are the focal point. That God is most interested in our needs and wants rather than in his glory.

I want a bigger God than one who is focused on me and my needs. I did not find that God in evangelicalism. The God I found there is a Jeff Dunn-centered God, one who is there to meet all my needs like a great snack machine. I want a God who is much bigger.

In the Catholic Mass, the focus is not not me. Once the Mass begins, I am not the main player. I am part of the audience calling Author! Author! I come to the table Jesus has laid, and enjoy the bread and wine he himself provides. And this happens every day, all over the world. It is not about me, it is about God and his glory.

I did not find this in evangelical churches. I am finding it in the Mass. Again, this is my journey. You don’t have to come with me. But I think you will find the view from the Mass to be spectacular.

Comments

  1. Debbie Kaufman says:

    You mention Job Jeff and I agree with your statement on him. But…at the end of the chapter of Job, God put him though what none of us would wish for ourselves for his purposes, and then he restored what Job had plus more.

  2. Debbie Kaufman says:

    that should be…God put him through what none of us…

    • Christiane says:

      Hi DEBBIE!
      I agree . . . the Book of Job tells us to be patient and to try to understand with longsuffering that God’s ways are high above ours and we may not understand now how His Plan works providentially in a unified way for all of His Creation.

  3. Travis Sibley aka BigLove says:

    Thanks for sharing, Jeff.

    It seems that the majority of evangelical Americans see God as focused primarily on their happiness as individuals. What I call “God in a box,” “slot machine God” or such. Is almost superstitious sounding here in the South.

    If I say the right words, chant the right song, smile no matter what and “sew seed” God HAS to bless me (give me what I want!). And it sickens me and saddens me to know that this is how God as seen.

    It is a simplistic and selfish view of God, IMHO.

    Thanks again for sharing!

    • @Travis…..and this sadly leads to the corollary, that if you are sick, scared, poor or otherwise having a tough time on this earth, then it is because there is a weakness in your faith and/or you are being punished. If you believed better, you would be rich, healthy, and surrounded by people who love you.

      I am a cradle Catholic, and there is no running away from suffering in the Church, no pretending that it has anything to do with level of devotion to the Lord. After all, look at the life of Christ Himself, the Apostles, and thousands upon thousands who have had a tough life on this planet while serving God with all their hearts. There is evil in the world, and I trust that it is somehow woven together in a master plan for creation that I am too dumb to understand while in this body!

  4. @Jeff, While I have an opposite journey (RC to Evangelicalism), I am starting to miss transcendent liturgy. But I feel there is too much baggage from my childhood to go back. I know of many evangelicals embrace Eastern Orthodox (Catholicism without Rome?) for similar reasons you are drawn to RC. Why RC and not Eastern Orthodox?

    • The Orthodox church looks really scary to me, Patrick.

      And it seems to be very heavy.

      And I don’t want to grow a beard.

      • Hey Jeff, I’m currently an orthodox catechumen. Orthodoxy definitely is heavy, and I can see how it’d be scary, but I think it depends on which voices you listen to. The Priest at my parish says that there’s “ultra-orthodox” that are extreme (like the one who told me to burn my Thomas a Kempis copy of The Imitation of Christ) and there are the rest – the ones who understand nuance, and who might even be ecumenist (a heresy according to the ultra orthodox). I’m not sure exactly where i fit, as far as those categories go (somewhere in between for sure; and leaning toward ecumenist — i can’t fathom how someone like Pope Francis does not have the Spirit of God upon him, as well as many many evangelical friends), but all in all my experience in Orthodoxy is positive (with a few bumps along the way with the ultra-orthodox).

      • Yes, EO can get scary…at least the Russian churches I have visited. I was at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow and got a scolding from a babushka “security guard”. Maybe I was smiling too much? I grew up in old world RC with Latin mass and went to parochial grade school, which can get scary in their own ways. My wife grew up Russian EO and I in RC, so we’re both scared to go back to these ancient institutions, so we remain as “non-denominational” as possible ;-)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I think a lot of the appeal of ORTHODOXY ORTHODOXY ORTHODOXY is that the Eastern Rite is exotic to us Westerners; in another milieu, they’d probably be going pop Buddhist, splinter Hindu, or even Wiccan to put as much distance between their New Spirituality and the Western Christianity that was the Old Normal.

      And judging from the ORTHODOX ORTHODOX ORTHODOX I’ve seen on the Web, they’re just as prone to sticking in the Cage Phase as Hyper-Calvinists. Where the solution to anything and everything is MORE ORTHODOXY ORTHODOXY ORTHODOXY; more fasting, more devotions, more icons, more Divine Liturgy, more Pascha, more Great Lent, more Greek. At least Fr Orthocuban has a sense of humor about it; a lot of these guys DON’T. Dead Serious, More ORTHODOX Than Thou. (Fr Orthocuban wrote of “Monk-a-bees” — wannabe ascetic Monk imitators, big beards, cassocks, more ascetic, more devotions, still more devotions, and all — as the characteristic way for EOs to flake out.)

      • Naw, Buddhism and Wicca are for liberals. EO is for people trying to escape liberalism in their old churches, by joining the most right-wing denomination available. If not EO, then they might have become neo-Calvinists or something. The idea is zero tolerance and zero compromise. And who better to stand for that than the butchers of Srebreneca? So it’s not like becoming a Hare Krishna, it’s more like joining the Nazis.

        • Josh in FW says:

          Whoa there buddy. Let’s turn it back a notch. It’s ridiculous to compare a group of Christ followers to the Nazis.

          • Even the KKK have crosses. And most of them have never killed anybody, they just wear the same hoods as the ones who do.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          EO is for people trying to escape liberalism in their old churches, by joining the most right-wing denomination available.

          Like how Communism begets Objectivism?

  5. You’ve distilled my utter distaste for the common phrase “personal relationship with God” perfectly. Thanks, Jeff.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Make that “PERSONAL Relationship with God”. They pronounce it in all-caps.

      And with all the “PERSONAL LORD and Savior” rhetoric, I wonder what they would do if they couldn’t use the word Personal(TM).

  6. God’s best interest is in our best interest. But it takes a lot on our part to learn to think that way. Some of us just can’t see past material comfort and security, and it’s not just the prosperity-gospel folks who project that upon God.

    • Very succinct summary of my beef with last sunday’s homily: we often don’t know (sometimes can’t know ??) what our “best life now” really is, but GOD does. FWIW: I found this post a better explanation of the gospel and the GOD of the gospel than last sunday’s.

      • The preaching at my Anglican parish is solid, but the part of the service I ALWAYS look forward to is communion: a continual reminder of why we are there, and where Christ is to be found. I can well understand the draw to any group that offers that weekly.

  7. “This is the God of evangelicalism: He is most interested in my well-being.”

    I’m not sure what evangelicalism is anymore. That’s certainly not true of Protestant Christianity, which Evangelicalism was once associated with.

    “The story is not about us.”

    Amen, Jeff. I will be surprised if you find a diocese which teaches that. As a Catholic, I found most places were just like the Evangelicalism you are fleeing.

  8. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    As I have stated, these are my reasons alone. Each time I post, some will comment to the affect that I am trying take others with me on my journey.

    They’re just accusing you of sheep-rustling for Romanism(TM).

  9. I don’t know you, I do not want nor do I have the right to judge your path,
    I humbly apologize if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that the main player of this post is not God, but you. The focus in this story (at least in this post) is you, not God.
    Maybe you are more “evangelical” than you think :)

  10. David Cornwell says:

    The story of Job is not one that proves there is always a happy ending. Many followers of Christ have suffered unimaginable loss, tragedy, and devastation right up to the end. Yet, in their hearts they held on the great hope of resurrection and a glory not their own, but the One on the throne of history. And this is that to which the Mass is pointing.

    This is not the glory to which many evangelical churches point.

    And, by the way, I am not a Catholic.

  11. Jeff, I gotta ask: Why the mass, specifically? Why not the Divine Service (Lutheran), Holy Eucharist (Anglican), or Divine Liturgy (Eastern Orthodox)? Is there something offered by the church of Rome that cannot be had elsewhere? I mean, chances are your local LCMS congregation doesn’t know what a Divine Service is (unless you life in Tulsa, of course: http://gracelutherantulsa.wordpress.com/lutheran-worship/), but I’m curious as to how you decided so specifically from similar, comparable options.

    • I do live in Tulsa, Miguel. And I hope to explain more fully at some point why RC over the others. Suffice it now to say that I do not want to turn away from 2,000 years of tradition and doctrine. They’ve already made most all the mistakes that can be made.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        They debugged the wheel long ago instead of constantly having to re-invent it.

        • Might be a few bugs left. Just sayin’. But who knows, maybe this new pope will stop preening for the media long enough to…clean up the church some. (I hesitate to use the word “reform.”)

  12. Jeff, I understand your point about ego-centric Christianity missing the point that, as Bonhoeffer put it, Christ is the center.

    But though suffering and self-denial and mortification and ascesis may carry the day of our mortal life, and beyond, there is no way of avoiding that we are made a huge promise in the gospel of Jesus Christ: we shall be resurrected on the last day, and live a life we cannot even begin to imagine.

    Yes, we must lose our life, but we are not lost it for nothing; we are to lose it so that our redeemed, resurrected life may be incorporated in the very life of the Trinity. This is what Eucharist is about.

    It’s impossible to imagine a greater promise of a richer life than that.

    • Personally, I stopped trying to lose my life for nothing when I stopped being a Zen Buddhist; now I’m striving by God’s grace to lose my life for the sake of the greater life that is in Jesus Christ. This greater life feeds me in the Holy Eucharist, putting to death my old life and raising me into a new life.

  13. Thanks again, Jeff, for sharing your glimpses of your current journey.

    You wrote: “I want a God who is much bigger. In the Catholic Mass, the focus is not me. Once the Mass begins, I am not the main player. I am part of the audience calling Author! Author! I come to the table Jesus has laid, and enjoy the bread and wine he himself provides.”

    I just wanted to share a glimpse of my own journey that’s related to this. A couple Sundays ago in my church (evangelical Protestant) I had such an experience. The song selection – the LYRICS of the song selection – blended perfectly to present the case of a God who is MUCH bigger than I am and the only God worthy of praise. During the singing, I wanted to throw myself at the foot of the cross in humble gratitude, praise and awe.

    Blessings on your continued journey with God.

  14. Jeff, here is a prayer from someone in the 8th century. How God-centered is this? How evangelical is it? An Old Testament professor of mine recited it in class years ago, and it could start a brawl if I said where he got it.

    “O, my Lord, the stars are shining, and the eyes of men are closed, and the kings have shut their doors and every lover is alone with his beloved, and here I am alone with thee.

    O, my Lord, if I worship thee from fear of hell, burn me in hell, and if I worship thee in hope of paradise, exclude me thence, but if I worship thee for thine own sake, then withhold not from me thine eternal beauty.”

    • I recognize the quote, al-hamid’ullah, but I won’t spoil it.

    • I wonder how many would pass this litmus-test prayer; I wonder if even the 8th century pray-er could pass such a test.

      We do not need the same degree of purity of heart as Jesus Christ to be accepted of God, and our loving Father knows that we follow no path without hope of attaining a goal. As C. S. Lewis wrote somewhere, there are some desired goals that do not degrade the ways by which they are reached.

      The goal of being incorporated into the life of the Trinity is unquestionably such a goal; in fact, it not only does not degrade but ennobles the path we take to get to it.

      • I am certain that I would NOT pass that litmus-test prayer. It makes sense that it was a woman who prayed that because women are usually more honest and spiritually inclined than men (big whoppin’ generalization, but proves right more often than not in my experience).

        As for me and my house we have chosen the “middle road” of Anglicanism. In the particular congregation we are becoming part of the liturgy and the Eucharist is very catholic–except for the exclusionary table policy of RC. The primary focus constantly articulated in this Episcopal congregation is the reality of Christ having included us in Himself and how we live out of that truth and beauty–especially to the benefit and blessing of those around us.

        Jeff, be that as may, I totally understand your move to Rome. And, this Pope is shaking things up in a wonderful way. As Merton anticipated from Vat. 2, the dusty staleness is being flushed out by throwing the windows wide open.

        • Guys, I don’t see it as a litmus test. I suppose one could see it as a works-oriented effort: “IF I do this (worship God for his sake alone) THEN maybe God will accept me (although I can never worship sufficiently, therefore I am condemned)”. Rather, I see this as a genuine focus on God and his worthiness, not on our own.

          • I don’t know, Ted.

            If one worships God for God’s sake alone, that means that we are worshiping God for his goodness, his love, his creativity, etc. God doesn’t exist aside from his qualities. Your 8th century mystic is defining these qualities in a different way from the name-it-and-claim it clan, and I probably agree with some of her alternate definition, although as a 21st century Christian I probably understand God differently than an 8th century Muslim woman would.

            But when she looks to God, she is looking to a God who has made his qualities known through his acts, as she experienced them. How would she separate God from those qualities, qualities which inevitably have implications for what she expects from him?

            She’s not as non-mercenary as she seems to think; and if that’s true it, paradoxically, may reveal a deep, hidden streak of spiritual pride.

            My old Zen roshis were wary of such claims, even when the boddhisatvas made them.

          • You may have a point, or you may be reading too much into this.

            Either way, this prayer is superior to most of the CCM praise music I’m hearing.

          • I have a tendency to read too much into things; it’s a nifty way of entertaining myself, and of avoiding too much reality. I just have to be careful not to go paranoid.

            Sorry about the music programming at your church.

          • Did I say it was at my church? You’re reading into things again.

            But you’re right. It is. ;-)

          • Well, I didn’t think you’d expose yourself to CCM anywhere else. You’d have to be crazy to do that!

    • It was a trick question. It’s from Rabi’a of Basra, a Sufi (Muslim) mystic, and a woman besides. I expect that she was a bit outside the box, whether Muslim or Christian, and not many of us have had this kind of focus on God. It’s all about us instead.

      • I suspect that, like the rest of us, she was unable to worship in the way her prayer indicates, and that God didn’t hold her to it because he knew that she was only human.

      • Debbie Kaufman says:

        It’s not about us, it’s about God and who He is. Read Psalm 77 along with the book of Job. I have been reading a booklet by Radio Bible Class entitled “When God Doesn’t Answer Your Prayers” that as I studied it became a “I could have gone with this” moment when trials enter my life.

        In the beginning of Psalms 77 according to Ray Stedman, the psalmist focuses on his pain, to the point of being depressed. He talks to God about the pain, then in the last part of Psalm 77 something happens that keeps him in his faith and in fact deepens it. He focuses on what God has done and his miracles of leading the children of Israel out of Egypt. God was working even when they did not see it. The Egyptians were so hot on their trail they could hear the footsteps pounding. It’s how any of us would react. They panicked and didn’t believe God would help them, they didn’t trust Moses any longer but griped and spoke with panic. It’s what we do. But God parted the sea and they crossed. Most know the rest of the story. The Egyptians followed and perished in the water.

        Same with the story of Job. The story of Job is that he was faithful to God and his friends were wrong in their accusations. In the end and in the midst, Job thought of who God was, not his pain or trouble. It’s not that God is not personal and we do not have a personal relationship with Him. We do and Psalm 77 along with the story of Job shows us that. But greater than that is that we have to remember who God is and the miracles He has done. We have the NT to give us even greater insight into that by Christ on this earth and what He did. Focus on God and his greatness. That is the meaning.