I have been reading a really interesting book for my master’s program. It is called With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God. The author, Skye Jethani talks about the four postures people typically take when relating to God. The following describes these four postures:
Karen’s teenage son was struggling with severe depression and coping in unhealthy ways. His drug use only exacerbated the problems and led to more destructive behaviors. “It isn’t supposed to happen this way,” she said, with equal doses of anger and pain. “We have always honored God in our home. We have always done what’s right. We raised our kids God’s way – on biblical principles. There’s even a verse from Proverbs framed and hanging in our house: Raise up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Why is God punishing us? (1)
Karen relates to God in the life under God position, using simple cause-and-effect terms: we obey his commands and he blesses our lives, family and nation. People who live under God try to decide what God approves and disapproves of, then work hard to live life under God’s expectations. Karen tried to control God by her obedience.
The irony of life under God is that we are seeking to exert control over God through strict adherence to rituals and absolute obedience to moral codes. Through our obedience, we put God in our debt and expect him to do our bidding in exchange for our worship and righteous behavior. This is the posture I most relate to. The problem is, if I do everything “right” by following what I believe God wants me to do, and then my life falls apart, (and everyone’s life falls apart at some point), what do I do with that? Many teens growing up in Christian homes are told that if they worship God, give financially to the church, and abstain from immorality, God will bless their lives. But living righteously does not guarantee our lives will go well. When they don’t, these youths often become cynical and abandon the church and their faith in a God who doesn’t live up to their expectations.
We don’t want to believe that disaster, disease and death are distributed to all of us by chance, so we try to control God through our obedience in order to prevent these things from happening. But when disaster happens anyway, our fears are now compounded – we not only fear God’s creation, we now fear God as well. This posture does not deliver us from fear. It does not connect us to God. In many cases, it only adds a burden of guilt, fear and empty religiosity onto our backs.
Mark was a pastor who read every business leadership book he could find. “The problem with most pastors is that they think they’re immune to market forces. They don’t understand the basic principles on which every organization rises and falls. I can’t stand all the spiritualizing that goes on at ministry conferences. Do you think the managers of Walmart sit around and contemplate?” (2)
Mark focuses on organizational principles rather than on prayer. He does not have much room for God in his ministry. He lives life in the life over God position. He seeks to control the growth of his ministry by employing “proven” principles. The mystery and wonder of the world is lost as God is abandoned in favor of proven formulas and controllable outcomes. Many Christians see the Bible as a divine instruction manual for life, where every problem can be solved by following God’s principles. The Bible is no longer a vehicle for knowing God it is demoted to principles we can used to control our world. When we view the Bible this way, we no longer need God. We might praise, thank and worship him for giving us wise precepts for life, but a relationship with God is now optional.
Some people (like John Lennon) believe that if we irradiate religion from the world, we will all live in peace. After all, according to Lennon’s song “Imagine,” if we had no religion, there would be nothing to kill or die for. That sounds good, but is it really true? Some of the twentieth centuries’ worst atrocities were brought about in secular atheistic regimes. In Stalin’s Soviet Union, twenty million people were killed. Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China resulted in sixty-five million deaths. Clearly getting rid of religion is not a one-way ticket to world peace.
Using the Bible for life’s principles, or ignoring God altogether do not take away the burden of fear we all carry. Instead of alleviating our fears by giving us control over our lives through using proven formulas, it actually saddles us with a degree of responsibility we were never intended to carry. The need to manage every variable, control every aspect of our lives to ensure we are following prescribed principles makes our fear even more potent.
Joel was a Christian who had a weakness for alcohol, women, and gambling. His latest run of bad bets was now jeopardizing his business. He said, “I don’t go to church, but I know what is wrong and right. I am concerned God isn’t going to bless my business because of what I’ve done. I want to make things right with him. I can’t afford to have my partners and God against me.” (3)
Joel sought to use God to bless his business. He lives in the posture of life from God. People who see God this way want God’s blessings and gifts, but are not particularly interested in God himself. Sometimes living in this posture is called consumer Christianity, the prosperity gospel, or health-and-wealth preaching. Those who live their lives wanting something from God see God as a cosmic Santa Claus. Joel wanted to get back on God’s good side so that he could control the outcome of his business.
American Christians are raised with a consumer worldview, so we often believe that God exists to satisfy our consumer desires. This posture is appealing because it doesn’t ask us to change. Whatever we desire, seek, or do (all shaped by a consumer mindset) is not disrupted. In this posture, God’s value is determined by his usefulness to us. There is nothing wrong with asking God for things, but if this is the only way we see him, we place ourselves at the center of the universe, and expect God to orbit around us.
Consumerism serves to distract us from the pain we all experience. Is your marriage falling apart? Buy a sports car. Your relationship with your kids a mess? Get a new big-screen TV. When we use God as a means for repairing our families, or as a financial planner, we fail to experience the peace of his presence in our lives.
Rebecca is a senior at a Christian college. It has always been her dream to become a cardiologist, but she is debating whether to pursue her dream. “I’m not sure that’s what God wants me to do. I mean, does the world really need another cardiologist? I want my life to matter more than that. I want to something really significant, like becoming a missionary. I don’t want to reach the end and feel I missed out on a more significant life.” (4)
Rebecca is living her life for God. She believes she must sacrifice her own desires to do something really great for him. She wants to ensure significance and to control the outcome of her life by achieving great things for God’s kingdom. While it seems admirable to deny yourself and live your life for God, is this what he really wants?
Sometimes people will point to the Apostle Paul as someone who did great things for God. Yes, he did do amazing things. But, was working for God his primary motivation? In his letter to the Ephesians, (3:17-19), he writes this:
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
When we live life for God, we subtly believe our value is determined by how much we achieve for him. Yes, we are meant to serve God, but we are not meant to be motivated by our fear of insignificance, but motivated by our communion with God. God’s work is important, but it cannot replace God himself as our focus.
So, living life under, over, from or for God is not the answer. What does living life with God look like? Tweet This
I’m so glad you asked that! Check out my next blog in which I will be sharing Jethani’s description of what life with God looks like.
Question: Have you related to God from any of these four postures?
May God bless you all today.
(1) Jethani, Skye, With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011), page 5-6.
(2) With, page 4
(3) With, Page 4
(4) With, Page 5