On July 4, I was at a party, and I got into conversation with a woman I had just met. You know the rule about not talking about politics or religion, especially at parties? I often run afoul of it. Except this time, it wasn’t I who initiated the conversation.
This woman started telling me how she had left her church because of its teachings on sexuality. She asked me about whether my religion had similar teachings, because she had deeply held beliefs and commitments that she didn’t want to give up.
Not one to sugar-coat things, I told her my church had the same precepts that she rejected. But then I added, “But it’s far, far worse than that. The God I follow doesn’t just want you to conform to His views on sexuality. He wants to own your every thought, your every plan, your dreams, your career, your hobby, your choice of movies – everything! If you don’t want to have to conform to an endless list of demands on your life, you wouldn’t want to follow God. God is totally unreasonable. I don’t know who He thinks He is!”
She paused, gave me a confused look, and quietly replied, “Well, He’s God.”
“Yeah, that’s the problem. And He acts like it, too.” She got my point and smiled, and we went back to enjoying our talk about mixed drinks.
I totally get not wanting to subject your life to God. Really. It’s annoying. His demands on my life have been frequently unpleasant, unwelcome, and intrusive. He’s asked me to say no to all kinds of things that I’d much prefer to embrace. The list is long – including not just the specific prohibitions in the Bible – but many otherwise good things that, for reasons of His own, He wants me (not everyone) to forgo.
For instance, I don’t drive the car I’d most like to drive, because I don’t feel His permission to spend the money. He has the annoying habit of often interfering with what I want to buy, read, and eat. Perhaps hardest of all, He wants to own my thoughts, demanding I not think about some things but do think about other things. He says in His Word, “Whatever is true, whatever is right, whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.” Geesh. That’s exhausting.
And it’s worse still, because he doesn’t just want me to follow rules and listen for His voice. He wants to own my heart. He wants me to live for Him, be smitten with Him, and desire Him. He’s not looking for a vassal but a lover.
By now, you might be thinking how my God sounds like a megalomaniacal tyrant. Yep. But I get this view of Him from the Bible.
One of the things that is so striking about Jesus is how often He demanded totally unreasonable things. He regularly told people to leave their jobs and their family to wander across the country, often sleeping outside. He told one rich guy to sell everything and follow Him. When the guy “went away sad,” Jesus starts talking about how hard it is for rich people to enter heaven. He tells people to be true to Him, even to the point of being tortured to death, lest He block our entry into heaven. He says to deny yourself daily. Like I said, He’s totally unreasonable.
There are plenty of benefits that I receive by obeying Him. The list is long. But I don’t do/not do these things principally for the benefits, but out of trusting obedience. If there were no God, I’m confident I would live far differently, even if I knew it would hurt me in the long run. I just would.
But since God is my creator and, more importantly, my savior, I agree with the Apostle Paul who wrote, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.”
If this all sounds terrible to you, you might want nothing to do with God – or at least not my God – and I would respect your decision. He’s not reasonable, and He’s frequently annoying and meddlesome.
But here’s the thing: He’s a good tyrant. He makes these totalitarian demands out of love for us. I confess that I would love to live in a world where I can sleep with whomever I want and whenever I want. (Sorry if you’re shocked.) I also know that would be bad for me and for my family and community. Even for those demands that my more sober self can’t see as critical to my well-being, I’ve come to trust Him enough to submit anyway.
Plus, He’s so good. Perfect, actually. He doesn’t just love, He is Love. And I believe He freely laid down His divinity, walked the earth as a humble man for 33 years, and then willingly took on the sins of the whole world in unspeakable torment (far, far beyond just the visible agony of crucifixion) so I could be in right relationship to God the Father and I could have the promise of eternal life free of sin, suffering, or death. This promise makes me look forward to my death (though I could do without the dying process) because of what – and who -- awaits me. I can’t wait to be with God, because I know He’s not a tyrant but the lover of my soul.
I’ll call that a bargain, the best I ever had, and gladly accept His holy tyranny.