Over the years, I have come to understand something about Christian belief in God: a lot of folks, whether they are casual believers or weekly church-goers, whether they are Protestant, Catholic, or non-denominational, whether they are male or female, black or white, American or foreign-born, rich or poor, rural or urban, east coast, west coast, or Midwest – regardless of any of those things, many have a stunningly shallow conception of God.
That may sound like a harsh and blanket criticism, but it is not intended to be so. Certainly there are plenty of folks, from all those categories, who have very well-developed, consistent, deep, and meaningful conceptions of God. And one can argue over how to even establish what constitutes “deep” and “shallow” in such a metaphysical discussion. But it certainly seems, to this casual observer anyway, that the deep believers are heavily outweighed by those for whom God is just a sweater they put on from time to time, but mostly just gets moth-eaten in the drawer.
I was thinking the other day about some of the more typical and traditional views of God, as accepted by a lot of Christians and Jews around the world (and a lot of other religions, for that matter), and it struck me that a lot of folks pretty much treat God like Santa Claus for Adults. Or, reversed, Santa Claus is God for Children.
In any case, consider the following similarities:
1. Santa lives above us, at the North Pole, which is a magical place no one can see. God lives above us, in heaven, which is a magical place no one can see.
2. Santa gives us things we ask for in letters or in person. God gives us things we ask for in prayer.
3. Sometimes Santa doesn’t give us what we ask for. Sometimes God does not answer our prayers.
4. Sometimes Santa brings us things we didn’t ask for. God too.
5. Santa is a man. So is God.
6. Santa is old, with a white beard. God is the Old Man In the Sky.
7. Santa “knows when we’ve been bad or good” and can essentially monitor our behavior all year long from afar. God has this omnipotent quality too.
8. Santa is immortal. So is God.
9. Santa can perform miraculous feats such as entering and exiting locked houses and individually bringing toys to all the world’s children in a single night. God too can perform various kinds of miracles.
10. Santa is surrounded by a retinue of elves. God has angels.
11. Santa rides a sled through the sky, pulled by magic reindeer that can fly. In Jewish mysticism, God rides a chariot through the sky, pulled by magic horses that can fly.
12. Santa likes milk and cookies. God likes milk and honey.
Okay, so that last one was kind of a joke, but you get the point. Either way you look at it, Santa Claus is God for Children, or God is Santa Claus for Adults.
Do we want to live our lives putting God on like a sweater and viewing God as little more than Santa Claus for Adults? Or do we want, as the apostle Paul said, to give up our childish ways and come to a deeper, more meaningful, and life-changing understanding of God and our relationship to God? In following the example of Jesus, I have chosen the latter.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the road less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.