catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 9 :: 2008.05.02 — 2008.05.16


Not a lap God

I would rather believe that God did not exist than believe that he was indifferent.
George Sand, Impressions et Souvenirs

Last weekend, my husband Jordan and I had our friends Ben and Amy over for a visit. We hadn’t seen them in awhile—since their wedding last summer, actually—and it felt good to reconnect and reminisce. Ben had been Jordan’s roommate at the Oregon Extension, the off-campus program where Jordan and I first met seven years ago. Although he in his faux cynicism would probably spit and swear to hear me say it, Ben is a person whose life perspective truly refreshes me. In mulling over our weekend spent talking and hiking and having an all-around jolly time together, something Ben said years ago floated to the top of my memory heap. I have forgotten the exact context in which he said the words, but the honesty with which he said them has remained with me since. He said, “I want a Christ who grabs me by the balls.”

As irreverent as it might sound, I love the image—a God who won’t put up with our grousing, our procrastination, or our excuses. A God who is willing to reach out—not to pat us on the head or to massage our temples, but to kick it to us where it hurts, to make himself known to the vulnerable parts of ourselves that we would rather keep private. “I want a Christ who grabs me by the balls” tells a story about God that often remains untold, perhaps because we prefer to remain universally accepting and unassuming members of an organized religion, or perhaps because we simply don’t know what, exactly, that story or that kind of God is all about. Who is this God, kicking down doors and putting the C-clamp on our still beating hearts? Who is this Christ whose lullabies sound like marching orders? And if our God is really like that, what does that mean for us, his followers?

Sometimes I think I’d rather have a quiet, self-absorbed God—a God not unlike the father who would rather yammer on his cell phone than cheer his son on at the junior soccer match. This kind of God wouldn’t expect much of me, and if I failed, he wouldn’t notice. Life could go along swimmingly, and he would be there to drive me to and from games, but that would be about it. The passivity of God’s character in this scenario is somewhat sickening, but I’ll admit that it is a story that I have often told myself. If God is the way Ben describes Him, however, such a distracted deity is the antithesis of the Truth.

If the flaccid, yammering on his cell phone soccerdad is not the Real Deal, then what is? If, in this story, we’re the dorky kid on the soccer field of life, does it jive with our sensibilities that our God just might be that very father who gets in trouble with the referee? You know the one—the red-faced Daddy who’s sweating and screaming and throwing his stainless steel water bottle to the ground every time a shot is missed or a foul goes uncalled. The one whose passion and fervor is both enlivening and embarrassing? Seriously folks, could we handle such a Christ? Isn’t this fiery God the same one we left in the dust with burnt sacrifices and pestilence?

I’m just about as familiar with the Old Testament as the “average” (quote-unquote ad infinitum, please) Christian, but that isn’t saying much. Sure, I took “The Pentateuch for Dummies” in college, but that doesn’t mean I can tell you how many inches to a drachma or cubit or whatever it was the kids were calling it those days. I do know, however, that although I am no longer five years old, the stories that the elders in my life tell about the five-year-old me are nevertheless true today, 22 years later. No, I wouldn’t willingly pull out my front tooth for Tooth Fairy money (well, okay, maybe, if it were a sure bet) in 2008; I still did it in 1985. Time does not erase the past; in fact, the stories we tell about years bygone only serve to add dimension and flavor and perspective to the here and now. God may not have unleashed any plagues on his people in the past year, but at one time, he did. At one time, God grabbed his people by the balls. I wouldn’t put it past him to do it again, although we’d probably call it something prettier and more mysterious. Nevertheless, point taken.

Truth is, we’re always telling ourselves stories about God, stories to pacify, to comfort, to heal, to chasten. Usually, most people, myself included, prefer the G-rated versions of such stories. We like names like “Big Guy Upstairs,” “Personal Fill-in-the-Blank,” “Friend.” Yet God is God is God—we don’t have to drink coffee with the Unitarians or smoke a peace pipe with the Pantheists to talk about how the triune God of the Christian faith, like most of us humans, can be more than one thing—loving mother, listening friend and gasket-blowing, crimson-faced soccerdad—to more than one person at the same time. His nature may not fit nicely into a Venn diagram, but it is nevertheless evident in the myriad of stories that we Christians tell about Him.

If you asked me to tell you a story about God, I’m not exactly sure what it is I’d say. I can’t even really say for sure what God looks like to me, but I do know that, for most of my life, imagining him as an overzealous soccerdad would not have been a very appealing exercise. I don’t know what’s changed, but for some reason, I am really liking that kind of Christ right now. I am liking this God who would wrestle with me from twilight to sunrise without any time-outs or bathroom breaks. A God who would play “Say Uncle!” for hours on end, without patronizing me by holding back his strength. I am liking a Christ who is sick and tired of my wussy-ness, and who loves me enough to do something about it.

This kind of God may not be cuddly and soft—he may even be divisive and sort of scary. People might give him the stink eye and bend to whisper about him to their neighbors. These neighbors might talk and rumors might spread.  I’m a bit afraid to say it, but I think that’s okay with me, having a God who is so hyper-involved in my life that he sweats through his shirt and has to check his pulse for fear of a heart attack. Yeah, I think I’m okay with a God who loves me like that. So Ben, it took some time, but I think I get what you were trying to say all those years back. It’s true, the jury’s in. I want a Christ who will grab me by my, er, balls.

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