… Many come into Christian faith with great expectations. They have heard stories of jubilation and salvation, of the power to overcome this world and experience the divine in expressible ways. But once inside the ancient halls of Christianity many are disappointed. Where is the light, where is the illumination? Our hearts seek God and the goodness, beauty, justice and peace we’ve been told he provides, but he often remains hidden behind the shadow cast by an evil world …”
With these words, Skye Jethani launches a brilliant discussion about what has hindered real communion with God, making use of the prepositions, under, over, from, for and with. My holiday reading has included “With – Reimagining the Way You Relate to God”.
Jethani talks about four forms of religion that he describes as variations of fear and control, life under God, life over God, life from God and life for God, then introduces a different vision: Life with God. In each of the first four areas, we seek to use God to achieve some other goal.
Life over God uses God as the source of rational principles or laws and ultimately breeds atheism, but Jethani says many Christians practice a faith that has little room or need for God. Life over God seeks control by discovering how the world works and then directly implementing the right principles.
Life under God views God as a capricious deity who must be appeased to gain blessings and avoid punishment. Life Under God tries to manipulate God through obedience to secure blessings and avoid calamity. This requires a list of rules and rituals which, if we follow, will result in God’s approval. Jethani describes this as potent mix of pagan superstition and biblical morality.
Life from God allows us to have our desires granted and is evidenced in the way we try to make God like us, assigning him our personalities, our values, and our biases. Those who follow the Life from God approach are primarily focussed on achieving their own happiness. This is evident in our current consumer thinking and the way consumerism has entered the church environment. Jethani talks about this type of God as a divine butler, a comic therapist, a holy vending machine.
Life for God uses him and his mission to gain a sense of direction and purpose. For many people the mission of the church has become the most important thing in life, so their whole purpose in life is working for God and doing things for him. This often leads to spiritual burn-out as people come to a place where they find all their work is not achieving any deep sense of satisfaction.
So Jethani comes to his proposal that we should be looking towards a Life With God. For many people, Life With God is difficult to find because people who have tried to live over, under, from and for God, have no reference point from which to start. They cannot imagine what Life With God looks like. Life With God is so far beyond our imagination that it must be revealed to us.
Jethani goes on to say that Jesus Christ came to shine a light onto a truth about the cosmos previously hidden from our sight. The Life With God posture is predicated on the view that relationship is at the core of the cosmos: God the Father with God the Son with God the Holy Spirit. And so we should not be surprised to discover that when God desired to restore his broken relationship with people, he sent his Son to dwell with us.
This was an excellent read for the start of the new year. I heartily recommend it.