Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Can't See Reality for the Spiritual

Christians sometimes pray for God to make something come about in their lives that they are completely capable of bringing about themselves (e.g., gaining muscle mass, losing weight, quitting smoking, finding a first-rank parking spot, etc. and ad naseum).

It's an attitude of neglect, I personally think. I think people speak those kinds of prayers because they have a confusion that salvation offers a special 'spiritual entitlement'; one that is removed from the normal strictures of real life. It's almost as if Christian belief in the salvation offered by Christ, once accepted, must mean we can mine God for all our desires now because why wouldn't He want to operate in a fundamentally different alignment to reality? Especially when it comes to 'me' -- whoever 'me' is, and whatever psychological parameters that go into such a histrionic mindset.

Perhaps my view is cynical. Even if it is, it also reflects a sadness I feel when in the company of Christians who think in such ways. I do have to wonder what sorts of things s/he has been taught about God, the ways He empowers us -- most specifically, and wonderfully in the imago dei -- and what our real responsibilities are as stewards of creation. Why create us in His image, give us incredible attributes, skills, and abilities just so we can pawn off our responsibility to use these gifts in the vague and unfounded hope that God will do it for us anyway? I mean, really, when you weigh the cost of having to apply yourself against all the common barriers of life, why not let God step in and veto your chances to strive? It's certainly cheaper to let an omnipotent being do something for you than to have to make an effort on your own, hey?

I do feel sad that, on this point, Christians seem to miss reality for the spiritual. The maxim "can't see the forest for the trees" comes to mind. That causes me to wonder that if reality encompasses spirituality, then why is the spiritual life of the Christian suddenly the overlapping reality? At what point can we get away with the (ill)logic that the part (spirituality) is greater than, or somehow definitionally more important than the whole (reality)? And then why do we feel somehow entitled when we need something from the whole of reality, but only go to part of reality to suss things out?

I just don't understand this particular line of (un)thinking.


Anonymous said...

Now, being the good, disciplined believer that I am, I will wait for tomorrow to comment on this.
I love the cartoon. I'd like to download that to put up at church.

Anonymous said...

God relates to us in real time. And I think He even (even!) understands when we don't understand ourselves or when our prayers reveal our simple understanding of who He is (because that is always growing).
True enough, we often ask him to solve things that we have gotten ourselves into. And sometimes we treat him like "that big vending machine in the sky", but it is comforting to know that he knows our hearts. He knows our frailness and He still loves us.
I have, at times, asked for the desire to do what I know He wants me to do. I think that that is an honest prayer, rather than saying, "God, do it for me."
But then, who am I to judge what is honest for one person and not for another. I have enough just figuring out where my own heart is at with God.
I have always believed that we complicate things far too much. God is more than a friend, but he is also a friend.
We are to take our relationship seriously, but not legalistically. It is a relationship -- one of discovery and growth, but also of thankfulness and obedience.
And it is always changing. He isn't changing, but we are, hopefully.
A lot does depend on us, on our part: If He abides in us and we in Him, his love will be perfected in us (well, not this side of heaven).
J ...

Anonymous said...

Salvation does offer a special spiritual entitlement, but we are not to be like spoiled children as we grow.
I have seen people that seem to get stuck at a certain point, behaving like children in the faith when they have been saved for 20 or 30 years -- or more.
But again, it's not my relationship with God. I do not walk in their shoes. It's not my place to judge.
There is a verse in the King James that Jesus spoke to Peter. I don't normally read the King James version, but I love the candor and the cadence of this verse, simply: "What is that to thee, follow thou me."
It is a verse that has stuck with me and one that comes to mind if I start "wondering" where someone else is at spiritually.
I have oft wondered how we are to be discerning without being judgmental, but I think I understand (emphasis on "think").
There is a certain heart attitude and purpose in discernment, which is, I believe, always redemptive at its core.
Judgment, however, is a bird of a different feather. It is often more about self than it is about someone else.
I have come to realize that the church teaches much about God from their interpretation, which is all any of us have, and that not everything I hear about God is true.

Anonymous said...

One more (and hopefully I don't get kicked off the blog!) ...
There are things shared and things prayed that make me feel a bit sad, too, but that is often about me, too, because I remember what I thought about God and how it affected my life.
There are things I refrain from saying because I don't want to be arrogant. Someone else's journey is their journey with God and it would be arrogant of me to jump in and think I could/should redirect what they believe about God.
And then there are those other times ... hopefully spirit-led, with gentle correction in love.
I love the words Imago Dei. I spent a good bit of time pondering that and letting its meaning sink into me.
I believe that we are creative because He is a creator. We reflect his image in many ways. And something that is radically different than my Baptist roots is the understanding that God is not just male. I believe the Spirit of God is female, as well, or we wouldn't be "made in the image of God".
That is an area I would love to search deeper into. I believe that understanding that is winning a victory over the evil one and that this is one of the more misunderstood teachings held by churches.
When children look at us with wide-eyed wonder, I think about what a responsibility we have for what comes out of our mouths.
But again, it's never going to be perfect because we are not perfect.
We are earthen vessels being moulded.
I definitely agree that reality encompasses spirituality, if I understand that statement.
I also believe that flesh is good, not evil, even though people can do evil things.
We can not divide ourselves into spiritual and non-spiritual.
How do we separate that part of ourselves out like cream that rises to the top? We can't. And I don't believe God ever expected us to.
Thanks, Christopher. I enjoyed hearing your thoughts. They are like a spark and I hope they will ignite great thoughts in return.

Anonymous said...

Dude, you have touched on one of my pet peeves. Jesus always prayed within the context of what was needed to achieve His Father's purposes at any given moment. His prayers where never seated in selfishness or carnal want. Even His pray of asking for the cup to pass (Matt 26) was cradled in what God's will was for His life. I have, especially as I've aged, found the "I need a parking spot" prayer trite, glib, and lazy. It is akin to a soldier using his loaded rifle as a club or worse, a toothpick. Christianity is not an exclusive club where its members have special privileges such as free parking, free healthcare, life insurance, etc. Sadly, it is this kind of thinking that has led to the quasi-Christian culture we live in that has raped the planet of its resources, pillaged its cultures, and had little to no thought to the future other then a drooling anticipation for a quick escape in the so-called rapture.
Yeah, I am cynical, too. What amazes me, is the sheer volume of such prayers that head for the heavens, and then are quickly forgotten or bumped out of the que by yet another trite prayer. Proving, to me at least, that they are not truly serious prayers, but more of habit fueled by a wrong understanding of what it means to be imago dei.
Of course, having said all this, I am sadly guilty of buying the occasional lottery ticket while silently bargaining with God to promise to pay off the church's debt if He lets me win... sigh. So human...

Anonymous said...

I don't throw out "cheap" prayer requests, usually, although "cheap" may be a matter of perspective.
But I have, in the past, asked for a parking spot.
Perhaps I am naive enough to think that my Father in heaven cares about the smallest details in my life as well as those that others would consider to be worthy of his time.
I do believe that he understands each prayer that is lifted to him.
I have prayed things for friends that others might consider frivolous, except I knew what those prayers meant. I have seen God answer those prayers, as well, and it confirmed that he does indeed care about the desires of our heart and he does indeed delight in giving good things to his children.
If we pray without ceasing, there will be prayers that others may consider trivial. Thank goodness He sees what is on the inside and that we are not living to please others.
I have thought, as well, about paying for our church building ... but I don't buy lottery tickets (not because it's against my religion, I just never have).
Amazing that we all, probably at one time or another, have done some bargaining with God ... plea bargaining. If you do this, I'll do that -- almost like trying to manipulate God to get what we want or what we think we need.
I'm sure we must spend a good part of our life trying to be "comfortable". I have noticed that the greatest times of growth in my life have come through suffering. And I know He cares about every detail in that.
If the psalmist could get mad at God and gripe and complain, I'm sure that God can handle our "small" as well as our not-so-small requests. He has broad shoulders.
As the dearest friend in my life, He wants to hear my thoughts. They don't disgust Him or make Him cynical. I'm sure they have grieved Him at times, but He knows my heart and understands where those things come from.
As you said, Wyatt, and I agree, we are all human ... so human.
My thoughts on prayer. Prayer and belief and faith are linked. It's a relationship.
One thing for sure, we will never be laughed at by God.