Santa Claus Theology?!

Hum this with me, will you?

(J. Fred Coots, Henry Gillespie (c) 1934)

Oh! You better watch out,
You better not cry,
You better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town!

He's making a list,
Checking it twice,
Gonna find out who's naughty or nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town!

He sees you when you're sleeping,
He knows when you're awake.
He knows if you've been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!

Oh! You better watch out,
You better not cry,
You better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town!

I was humming this little ditty in the shower the other morning and I burst out laughing: this unassuming Santa song is theology for many people!

Think of it: there’s the thinly-veiled threat of God’s punishment—“You better watch out.” There’s the anthropomorphic projection of an angry parent—“You better not cry, you better not pout.” There’s overwhelming preoccupation with the Day of the Lord, coming soon to mete out punishment to the unrighteous—“Santa Claus is coming to town!” (Sounds a bit like Clint Eastwood riding into town on his horse to get revenge on the bad guys, but that’s beside the point…)

We also hear reference to the names written in the Book of Life, opened on judgment day (Revelation 3:5)—“He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who's naughty or nice.”

As if that weren’t obvious enough, we get frightening reference to God’s omniscience, that “all seeing eye” spying out every manner of transgression—“He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good.” All of this followed by the overtly shaming and legalistic—“So be good for goodness sake!”

This Santa sounds kinda scary! And that’s unfortunately how a lot of people view God: for them, God is someone who’s carefully keeping count of their sins, ready to put coal in their stocking…or much worse. And so, “Buck up,” they tell themselves, “get your act together; put on your ‘A game’—or else!” I think many people default to this kind of theology.

Amidst my chuckles, I’m glad to be reminded that the God revealed in Scripture--and supremely shown in Jesus Christ--is one who keeps no record of wrongs, but freely forgives (Psalm 130:3-4). I’m grateful that in Jesus God comes a first time into our world not to punish or to judge but to save sinners (1Timothy 1:15). Santa Claus theology is bad theology—but it’s awfully prevalent. “Better watch out,” indeed!


Anonymous said...

i really struggled over this issue when my daughter was young. if i had it to do over again, i don't think i would actively promote the santa myth at christmas time. i think the delight in receiving gifts is awesome and fine. but the psychological drama wrapped around the santa story is a big thing for a kid. i want my daughter to know that the best gifts are unconditional, and even undeserved!

p.s. great santa pic! where did you find that?!

Carl Hofmann said...

Ah, you raise the related question of what to do with the Santa myth. I wrestle with this too: sometimes, as with the Tooth Fairy, it feels like lying to me, something which feels all in good fun now, but may be received as deceitful once our kids get older...

Google "evil Santa" and you'll find this image.

Thanks, John.

mbpbooks said...

I found it impossible to talk about Santa, so the boys had one parent who did the Santa thing and another who said, "ask your Dad." How's that for confusing?