Why does God seem to demand so much from his followers?
The Bible suggests that God demands us to love him – and to love him with all our hearts, minds…and our very souls. That’s deep! Why? Is he insecure? Does he have such a fragile ego – that he needs people to prop it up by singing songs to him each Sunday and promising to devote their lives to him? Does all this worship make God feel better?
But it goes beyond loving him – he also challenges us to prioritize him over and above ourselves. Jesus talks in the New Testament about the importance of taking up one’s cross to follow him. If you’ve ever watched Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” – you’ll know that bearing a cross in 1st century Palestine was a messy and brutalizing business for the one doing it. And Jesus seems to suggest that there will be an element of agony for all who follow him. Doesn’t sound much fun, does it? Elsewhere Jesus said – broad is the road that leads to destruction – but narrow is the gate and difficult is the road that leads to eternal life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13) So – why does the gate need to be so narrow? Why does our road need to be so hard?
In light of these difficult divine expectations, it is bizarre to note that some skeptics also criticize Christianity for just “making up” the God that they worship. The argument goes, life is so challenging to these insecure people that they need to make up some artificial divine comfort blanket to cling to. Jesus, meek and mild. Jesus, who will be their cosmic man in the sky promising to make everything ok for them.
Are followers of Jesus so weak willed and insecure that we need to cling to “a made up God” to get us thru our meaningless existence? I would suggest the general answer is probably not. Because the truth is that this God we are clinging to is making some very BIG demands of us – as I pointed out at the start of this blog. He’s challenging us to lay down our lives for him. Surely that’s enough to make any weak or insecure person run the other way. For myself – the call to take up my cross has meant that my life decisions have been made – to the best of my ability – with Jesus’ guidance and his wisdom. For other people in our world right now – in Sudan and Iraq for example – it has meant submitting themselves to persecution and sometimes murder. There are Christians today who are literally laying down their lives on planet earth. This doesn’t sound like a nice easy road made up to make us feel better. It sounds hard and sometimes brutal.
What is this all about?
Well – first it’s about asking the question – who is my God anyway? If I only love and worship my God when things are going well for me – it probably means I’m not actually worshipping the real God at all. I’m simply indulging myself with a projection of my own greed, need and selfishness. If the God revealed in the Bible is real – then it means that I am not him. If God is all wise – all powerful – then my little self-interested hopes and aspirations will sometimes get passed over or crushed because they are not in anyone’s best interests. Probably not even mine. And this is hard to take.
Second it’s about realizing what can truly satisfy me and what cannot. I think God demands us to look up to him because we are so easily satisfied with the lesser stuff we find down here. Friends, careers and possessions are great – but they will disappoint us if we look to them to ultimately fulfil us. He calls us to place our affections squarely on him – because only he will truly and completely fulfil those affections. He calls us to devote our lives to him – not because it makes him feel better about himself. It’s because he knows that loving him will fulfill US.
Author Krish Kandiah puts it this way. He and his wife are foster parents. They love to bring hurting children into their lives; to put a roof over their heads, to give healthy and regular mealtimes, etc. Yet more important than all of these good things – they give themselves personally to that little needy life. It’s not the material things that will ultimately make the difference. It is Krish and his wife pouring themselves into that little life. That’s what brings hope and healing.
Krish also uses the analogy of the surgeon and the psychopath. Both of these people can inflict pain with a knife. We would rightly run away from a psychopath! But we would also rightly submit ourselves to the knife of the surgeon. Why? Both people will cause pain! The reason we submit to the surgeon is because we trust his wisdom, his experience and his motives. Sometimes to save a life – pain must be inflicted for a short time – so that true hope and fulfillment may come soon.
The God of the Bible longs to be like our foster parent, and our personal surgeon. He knows that as he pours his love into a life that is submitting itself to him – he will nourish and enrich that life like nothing else can. And even tho he may play the role of cosmic surgeon sometimes – he knows what he is doing. Healing is on the other side of this painful procedure. We can trust him.