God in a Bottle

I've just come from our church's annual weekend men's retreat where our speaker did a tremendous job. He began by challenging our inadequate views of God, very creatively showcasing the artwork of his young niece, whom he had asked to depict people's mistaken God-views. She drew pictures of God up in the clouds (the distant God), God as the fun-killer, God as Santa Claus, and many others. The point the speaker emphasized was that an inadequate view of God skews our whole life and its purposes. Home in on a truer view, at least one aligned with the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, and we will have a greater chance for an improved life--not to mention an intimate relationship with our Creator.

The speaker didn't quite get to another point in his outline, which was an acronym I recognized: MTD. MTD stands for a very prevalent God-view in our contemporary American culture. In fact, it may be the leading view of God among adults under age 60. Care to guess what it is? It's this: "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." Here's the definition I picked up some time ago: MTD casts God as a distant creator who blesses people who are good, nice, and fair. Its central goal is to help believers be happy and feel good about themselves (from sociologist Christian Smith). What's so wrong with this?

Unfortunately, many things! One of the worst, is that it keeps us and our feelings firmly at the center of our realities. God, in this case, exists chiefly to meet our needs and buttress our self-esteem. This is God as genie, granting me wishes if I ask just right. Not much possibility of spiritual transformation here! You see, the big problem with the human race, according to my tradition, is that our original rebellion against God cast us in the role of little gods and goddesses unto ourselves. Cut off from the true God, we now worship and serve the Almighty Self. In this religion, the enhancement of our comfort, the firm establishment of our control, these are our chief life aims.

However, if I read our scriptures right, the goal of the biblical God is to pry us off this selfish center and realign us as part of a Copernican spiritual revolution: with God at the center and us in an orbit of loving worship and service to our Maker. As it turns out, one of the chief things we need to be saved from is this enslavement to ourselves. So here's a question for you: what is the default image you think people struggle with--and how does it square with the one I've just suggested?


john said...

I think "God, the parent who is always watching over your shoulder" is one version of God that I see a lot. If you've ever seen a kid doing something they know they shouldn't, they'll glance over to see if their parent is watching. And, if they make an honest mistake, they will hide it from the parent. Not optimal. I think it's important to realize that we see through a glass darkly. As Robert Capon says: a human trying to describe God, is like an oyster trying to describe a ballerina.

Carl Hofmann said...

So true, John! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, my friend.

john said...

earlier, you said, a "default image". i wonder if that is like a graven image, but an image crafted in our mind?