Where is your god now?

Your younger daughter’s on the pipe, robbed you and your mother blind.
On an Internet site, she blew your mechanic. Your wife’salbum-wolves-in-wolves-clothing
Overdose was a success, humiliation was too great.
Now with your estate foreclosed, you will surely lose your head.
Was in a bad place when you punched your supervisor in the throat,
“An inadvertent fatal blow, “were the words your lawyer used 
On the unsympathetic judge, who was having a bad day 
So he threw your life away. Is your faith a comfort still?
I know the answer. Still I ask, “Where is your god now?” 

You thought it was the Christian thing to do–breaking up that fight at school–
‘Til the gun came into play, and the sight was set on you.
Running was ironic ’cause it was the last time you would.
‘wish the kids you tried to help wouldn’t laugh when he saw you. 
Are the invisible man. No one looks you in the eye.
You’ve become an anecdote for “the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The worst case scenario. the proverbial “that guy.” 
You never did question your faith, you flushed it with your first piss bag.
That’s why I have to ask, “Where is your god now?”

NOFX, “You Will Lose Faith,” Wolves in Wolves Clothing (2006)

Sorry for the colorful language. In college and high school, I listened to NOFX a lot. And in my years of struggling faith and against the Christians that were around me, I remember finding comfort this song because I really wondered at times where God was. Their hypocrisy, anger, substance abuse, and general mental health problems didn’t seem to cause me to question their message–and part of me internalized it, to be honest, and I had to really undo it to regain some faith.

Now when I listen to this song, I really do feel bad for Fat Mike and his bandmates. His image and understanding of God is so damaged and confused and it seems to me like he’s longing for something more. We might be offended before we are anything else, but there’s more to the story here than what meets the eyes. Of course, someone would write a song so vulgar to see if any of us so-called lovers of humanity are going to love him, despite his major issues and offensiveness. How do we see him? How do we see ourselves? How do we see God?

Our image of God informs our faith, by and large, and I think it we need to work it out with some sensitivity. We’re trying to believe that Jesus is Lord of All and everyone and everything can be redeemed. We’re working through this idea and applying it to various areas of our lives and faith over the next few weeks. Today we’re focusing on our concept of God.

This is hard to get, since for the most part, Christianity in the United States seems to be a subculture that we are trying to protect, an institution that needs defense, one whose principles are under attack, and so the idea that Jesus is the Lord of All is a bit foreign. We separate the sacred and secular all of the time. “Christian” is a much better noun, of course, than it is an adjective. All things are redeemable.

I think we want to be on the right side of things, we want to make the right choices, be the right people, believe the right things, live in the place—and so rather than discerning things with God and in community, we try and come up with rules and literally start a culture war.

I want to unpack this idea that Jesus is Lord of All, that we serve the God of everything, and try to undo some myths that we and our society has about God.

It’s a hard conversation to God because honestly a relationship with God and understanding him is a lifelong and infinite process. Our process of self-awareness is lifelong itself, and we are finite beings. If God is indeed infinite, then we might not ever have a clear image of who he is. But let’s try to do something together.

I want to draw some caricatures of how we might see God and then lead us to a real understanding of what it means that Jesus is Lord of All.

The first one is the that Fat Mike was referencing in the song we played earlier. The image that Fat Mike and NOFX draw is of a God that is in control of everything that happens in the world and everything that happens to us. God wills everything.

And though I’ve come to learn that the image it paints of God is both inaccurate and damaging, I can’t help but it this image that many of us have of God. We might struggle with faith when things get as bad for us as they do for the hypothetical characters in this song. Fat Mike, as he terms himself, is describing a relationship with a God who wouldn’t let bad things happen to his followers—and as soon as the bad stuff happens, the question of where God is becomes unanswerable. If God is really “in control” than he wouldn’t allow any bad things to happen to is followers.

This is a popular idea I think, and so that I think what makes it such an easy target for NOFX. We can really tend to think that God doesn’t let bad things happen, that everything is in His will, that no matter the tragedy, the illness, the holocaust, the war, the natural disaster, God’s controlling it all.

We might find some comfort in that idea. I think we want to serve a God who “won’t let bad things” happen to us. But I think the danger that we face with that is two-fold. On one hand, we might be inclined to lose our faith and ask “where is our God?” On the other hand, we might just reinvent our perception of the entire world, just so that we can keep our faith in God, despite circumstances that are painful.

I was visiting my hometown a few weeks ago, addressing a family that had recently lost a 21-year-old brother and son. And I was hesitant to every say something like “God does everything for a purpose and with a reason.” For me, it wasn’t a helpful, useful, or truthful to say something so bullheaded—and trust me, I’ve been known to say a lot of bullheaded things.

And even as I avoided that, I spoke one member of the family whose faith was seriously questions as a result of the tragedy he experienced. I assured him God was here and he had a hard time believing that even for a moment.

On the other hand, we may have this idea that “God is here,” so everything will be OK. And instead of grieving and mourning a loss appropriately, we end up in a delusion about how wonderful it is.

We either create a reality where God no longer exists, or we create one where reality on earth as we know it is altered. It’s a dangerous cycle. We try to explain things like Hurrican Katrina, or the earthquake in Haiti, or the tsunami in southeast Asia, or the cyclone in Burma. We try to give meaning to the most tragic things in life and end up hurting people’s faith altogether.

Of course, I think we do that to protect ourselves. We actually want to believe the world is bigger than us and if God really is, then why would something so devastating happen.

For some of us, rather than blaming God for all of the bad things in the world (or blaming ourselves for all of the bad things in the world), we just turn inward and actually think that our own self-actualization, self-realization, and self-consciousness is a relationship with God. That’s the second myth—I am everything, including God.

That the path to spiritual well-being is indeed merely a process of self-awareness, introspection, and self-discovery. That our experiences, perceptions, and understanding begin and end with us. That God is only alive through us and through our own experiences and interpretations.

The myth is that prayer is nothing more than introspection. Spiritual development and psychological development are on in the same. And our relationship with God is really learning who we are.

And I see the amazing point to this, to be honest; for so long it seems like we’ve removed ourselves from our own faith; our upbringings, our experiences, our ideas, our thoughts, and feelings have been separate from our faith and from God. And so who we are as people, and loving ourselves, is central to our Gospel and central to loving God and others.

But let us also be reminded that God isn’t merely who we define him to be and isn’t just based on our experiences or our ideas, but understanding ourselves is central to knowing God. God is someone to be known too, but like in an relationship, our self-awareness is critically important.

We run into this problem a lot because the idea of a bodily resurrection of Jesus can be a hard pill for some of us to swallow; it doesn’t really make sense within our modernistic, materialist framework. And so rather than working through that, it seems like we idolize Jesus’ teaching, or how they are recorded in the Bible. We use the “red letters” of the Scripture, interpret them individually, and solicit wisdom from them—all of this is subject to what we think. And we choose to apply them randomly in our lives. Jesus doesn’t need to be resurrected because his teachings are right here, and he’s still really alive, because we have the Bible or something.

Well, I’m not sure that totally works out, because though the Gospels are of critical importance to my faith, so is the living God, Jesus in me, and the Spirit. That’s not to discount me in all of it, but God is outside of me, and isn’t me.

In Corinth, Paul was working with a similar group of people. He was constantly contrasting between a group of people who, in Christ, thought they were still bound to rules—the other group, of course, thought they were above the law, because in Christ, their relationship with him would determine all they needed to do. We need to make sure that what we are discerning is indeed from the living God, and not just a manifestation of our own ideas.

We actually have to get to a place where we believe that God isn’t us, but sometimes the temptation is to then believe that God is everything. I don’t think we have many pantheists among us. But it is a noteworthy that there is a distinct philosophy where we think God is everything. He is no more our collective experiences and ideas than his is our individual ideas and experiences.

That’s a myth that the idea of the Jesus being Lord of All probably comes closest to confusing. It’s hard to believe that life in Christ in one whole cloth, that we’ve all been redeemed by God and everything can be, without mistakenly thinking that everything is God. If we indeed serve the God of all and the God of everything, it can be cumbersome and hard to believe that God is in everything without God being everything.

Furthermore, if God is in everything, than isn’t everything by definition redeemed? Why criticize pantheism, a philosophy deeply rooted in Hinduism and Taoism, if those faiths can be redeemed to. The universality of God, in the fact that everything can be redeemed, might make us inclined to a pluralistic and universalistic understanding of our faith. But let me be clear, just because everything can be redeemed, doesn’t make everything redeemed. Just because we are redeemed, doesn’t make all of our actions redeemed.

Life in Christ is a whole cloth—everything can be sacred. God can redeem it all. That’s how we are working it out. So here’s a few ways that we can practically apply what has otherwise been a philosophical speech.

Be in creation. See God is his creation. Watch a sunrise, take a swim in a lake, a hike up a mountain, camp in the forest, fish in a stream, pick flowers in a prairie, go birding with the newlyweds Mike and Al, start a garden and eat the veggies that you grow, go apple-picking, visit a pumpkin patch. In all of the mystery and wonder of the creation, know your creator.

Be generous. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t write off the song because it was vulgar and offensive—in this case, sympathize with NOFX. Try to see God in the people with whom you interact, the media that you consume, and in the world that’s around you. Don’t be dominated by all of the evil in the world, try to see God in it all. It doesn’t have to be just God that you see, but as you expand your eyes, you’ll notice even more.

Be humble. Be slow to judge what you deem to be Godless. Try to see God in all things, try to see the good in them, try to see the same love that God offers us to other things. Don’t be so certain that you are right about where God is and who God is. But understand too that you have an idea and a perspective that is very noteworthy. God is also in you.

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