The Unavoidable Reality of God
In every place I've lived - Omaha, St. Louis, Florida, and now Connecticut - hobbies and leisure are a big deal. It's the American way to work really hard... and then play really hard. After the nine to five (and then some), schedules are filled to the brim with soccer practices, swim team meets, dance recitals, day trips, and golf outings.
Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with having a thick schedule. However, the thickness may spread us thin in our commitments. We often do many things at seventy percent commitment/quality rather than doing a few things with precision and focus. But, if we find ourselves spread too thin - lost in a mess of knee pads, swim goggles, soccer balls, and hurried, conflicted commutes - we can always drop one of these commitments, since, being hobbies, they are by definition optional.
I would venture to guess that many people in America have come to see God in the same light - only as important as we want him to be - like an optional extra-curricular activity. Like hobbies, some people have worship or God as their “thing,” while others just don’t. I’m not sure that people intentionally believe this, but their actions often reveal that God has become, like soccer or being a Patriots fan, something you’re either into or you’re not.
The Roots of Our Misdirected Routines
Why do we often approach God this way? I would argue it’s because we often hold onto a skewed version of who God is, as well as a skewed version of what it means to be human.
In the Bible, God is always assumed without apology. He simply is. He exists at the center of everything, worthy of all praise, honor, and glory. A reality in which he is optional is no reality at all for the biblical writers, for “from him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36) and “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Simply stated, the Scriptures teach that God is the unrivaled center of everything. The Bible opens up with the words, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) and ends with a redeemed and restored humanity gathered around this same God in unbroken adoration and praise. God is not optional. He is not a hobby. To put it another way, without God hobbies do not exist, and we only enjoy our sports and skip worship for the golf course on a borrowed existence that he has ordained and defined.
Gorging on the Gifts, Not the Giver
Imagine that you accepted an invitation to a lavish dinner at a friend's house. The friend invited you to enjoy the food he carefully prepared at his own expense, but more than anything he shares the meal and drinks with you for the purpose of a deeper relationship with you. You arrive late, and enter the house without even looking your host in the eye. You proceed to sit down at the table, ignoring his repeated invitations to share in conversation. You hastily stuff your face and guzzle the expensive wine, all the while ignoring the one who invited you. You rise and wipe your face, and then leave quickly. You do this repeatedly until it becomes habit.
Isn’t this what we do so often with God? We love his gifts in creation (the hobbies!), but we ignore the giver of the gifts as an optional reality. But if the hobbies are so excellent because they dimly reflect the even greater glory and goodness of the giver, does he not have the right to be angry? Perhaps even to judge us as unworthy of his presence, especially since we treated his unavoidable reality as an optional hobby? This is one reason why the Bible speaks so frequently of God’s judgment, even when it runs up against our sensitivities.
Inseparably Tethered to God
We also treat God like a reality we can take or leave at our whim because we don’t fully understand who we are in relation to him. Secularism has ingrained within us the idea that we can live fully human lives apart from the God who created us. We may live under this illusion for a moment (and Scripture calls our lives a moment in comparison to God), but we cannot live in this alternate universe forever.
In his massive work The City of God Augustine writes, “Departure from God would be no vice, unless in a nature whose property it was to abide with God” (pg. 274). In other words, living a life without God, or treating him as an option among many other options, would be no problem if we were not created for God. But, as Augustine wrote elsewhere from his own experience, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they can find peace in you” (pg. 210).
As mentioned before, God is the unavoidable reality. From our experience, he turns out to be the unavoidable need. We cannot live without him. We need God in the same way we need oxygen, water, and food. Our contingent human existence relies upon such physical necessities regardless of whether we think them necessary or not. Spiritually, the same is true of God. C.S. Lewis put it this way in Mere Christianity:
God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our human spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself because it is not there. There is no such thing (pg. 50).
Hobbies, entertainment, a Super Bowl win, the glow of a computer or iPhone screen... all of these provide the momentary, numbing narcotic of happiness. We may even be able to have these as our first affections, all the while convincing ourselves that either we're happy, religious, or both. We may be happy - but only happy until the painkillers fade and we stand before the only source of happiness, who will call to account our deepest affections and secrets of the heart. And we may even be religious, but this only reveals that human beings are incurably religious - just very often offering worship to the created rather than the Creator.
All self-sought happiness and counterfeit worship will eventually fail and fall under non-negotiable divine justice. However, God is so merciful that he often allows us to experience the futility of these things before the full collapse comes. That sense of dissatisfaction, that listless longing for more, that disappointment with what we find at the summit of our satisfactions... are these not the merciful beckonings of a God who created us for so much more?
Rev. John W. Rasmussen - Our Savior Lutheran - South Windsor, CT