Before I committed my life to Christ I believed in a god I refer to as the Santa Claus god. I called Him that because I believed God exists solely to give us everything we need to insure our lives are comfortable. I believed that the only thing God wants from us is to love Him and to love others. My Santa Claus god is pervasive in our culture. Prosperity preachers assure us God wants us to have everything our heart desires. When things don’t work out like we expect them to, many conclude God is dead or “sitting this one out.” False teachers have reduced God’s Truth to His loving, caring attributes, throwing out all references to His wrath and judgment. We have decided that we will determine what’s right and wrong so we don’t have to control our desires and we twist Scripture to support those decisions, asserting that God needs to change to conform to our culture. C.S. Lewis refers to it as “God in the dock” in his essay of the same name:
“The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. .… Man is on the Bench and God in the dock.”
Our world has decided we will define who God is. We have decided that in many areas, He is just wrong. We dismiss the idea of God’s judgment so sin becomes a non-issue. Lewis writes in his essay that his greatest barrier in leading others to the Christian faith was “the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin.” My own life attests to the price we pay when we determine what sin is instead of understanding God’s view of it. I chose to believe that God loved me unconditionally so as long as I loved Him, I could do whatever I wanted to do. Obedience was not something I felt I owed Him. On those rare occasions when I read the Bible, I either ignored the parts I didn’t like, explained them away, dismissed them as old-fashioned, or interpreted them in a way that fit my life choices.
Adrian Rogers once said laws without punishment are nothing more than advice; without judgment, God’s laws become advice but God is not in the business of simply giving advice. The world has decided His laws are outdated and those who choose to follow them are old-fashioned, narrow-minded and naïve. I was happy to accept that line of thought because it meant I didn’t have to change anything I was doing. As long as I defined God in my narrow way (loving and forgiving), there was no need for me to let go of any of the bad habits and behaviors that controlled my life. We all know how hard it is to fight natural desires and urges. My Santa Claus god allowed me to give in to them and the culture’s approval provided further validation. As a result my unchecked desires for material possessions, worldly success, and intimacy determined how I was going to behave.
I was never afraid of the consequences of my behavior because I believed a loving God would rescue me from them. Because I ignored the fact that God does run out of patience with us, that He does anger (albeit slowly) and will judge us, there was nothing in my belief system that made me accountable to Him. I never really tied the struggles I was having to my behavior; I blamed something or someone else.
I Kings 19:11, 12: “…but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.”
On December 10, 2009, when I committed my life to God, it was initially a cry out to my Santa Claus god. My “Christmas list” included my need for Him to fix everything that was wrong in my life, to show me how to cope with life, and to give me peace. I threw in joy but didn’t see how that would be possible, given my history with depression. But as I kneeled by the side of my bed, crying out to Him, I heard that still, small voice we are told Elijah heard. It was real enough for this stubborn, hard-headed, skeptical woman to take note. As I think back on it, it wasn’t demanding, it wasn’t threatening. It was a gentle urging, a settled thought that assured me I could trust God, no matter what I would discover about Him in the months to follow. I knew I had to decide to believe everything I was about to learn, whether I liked it or not and I made a commitment to that. My Santa Claus god disappeared from my life on that day.
Isaiah 30:18 “Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.”
As I learned about the complete character of God, I always kept at the front of my mind the fact that I know God to be loving, good, fair and just. Even when I don’t understand why He does certain things, I must always go back to this truth about Him and view everything through that lens. Serving God based only on the fact that He loves me didn’t provide me with anything to hold on to when things went wrong or when something happened that seemed to contradict the fact that He is good. I was left questioning Him and I was afraid of Him.
Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
I’m very careful about what I tell unbelievers and new Christians. The first thing I want them to know is how much God loves them and that He wants the best for them. I want them to know that He offers them forgiveness that requires they do nothing but believe in His Son. I went to God because I needed His love and forgiveness. But I couldn’t stay at that point. I had to grow in my understanding of God in order for my faith to grow. As I studied Jesus’ life, I realized that following Him isn’t always going to be easy. I had to accept that and I can’t lead a new Christian to Christ with a lie that His path results in a cushy, comfortable life, that all it requires is to love God and others. The first time they experience struggles and disappointments, they will want to know where God went. New believers must know that Jesus died on the cross to save us from judgment of our sin. Introducing my Santa Claus god just won’t cut it!
Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
I see my Santa Claus god in the attitude our country has about God. We believe somehow America is a privileged country and we expect everything to be done to insure our affluent, excessive lifestyle is left intact. We call on God when disasters strike but insist on keeping Him at bay when it comes to our principles and values, clinging to the false conclusion that He will protect us no matter what. He does anger, He does judge and He will whether we choose to believe it or not. We don’t understand the history of God’s judgment on nations and how He has used pagan, evil nations to judge His people. We don’t want to accept that God might be capable of doing such things. It is helpful to read the comments written by J.W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton in their book The Fourfold Gospel, “we must be cautious how we derive arguments of our own from the analogy between God’s attributes and the corresponding characteristics of man. …The fallacy in the argument consists in assuming that the feeling in question must work the same results in every particular in God that it does in man.”
Isaiah 60:12 “For the nation and kingdom that will not serve you shall perish; those nations shall be utterly laid waste.”
As Christians, we know that the world is going to come to an end because man continues to turn from God. It surprises me when Christians fret over world events. Allistair Begg said it best (loose translation): “It’s not about politics or nations, it’s about His kingdom.” We have to come to terms with the fact that America no longer follows God’s direction and there’s a price to be paid for that. As believers, we know how this will end and we know we will overcome it all. We have hope, not in our country, but in our God.
2 Chronicles 7:14 “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
I love reading the Old Testament and the stories that come to my mind as I watch world events are those about Rome, Babylonia, Greece, Assyria and Egypt. These governments controlled the world at the height of their power and nobody thought they could ever fall. But they did. God’s purposes aren’t going to be fulfilled by any government or nation. Even the nation He set apart to demonstrate His love to the world failed Him! His plans will survive the downfall of any nation, including America.
In our personal lives and as a nation, we must focus on spreading the Gospel to avoid God’s wrath. We must also understand that, as the world draws to a close, there are going to be more things that don’t look like we want them to look. We can’t cling to a “Santa Claus” god. That belief system will only leave us angry at God because we don’t fully understand Him. He has warned us about how He deals with rejection and provided us with plenty of history to know that He judges and why He must do so. We have no need to question His ways if we know His entire character. My Santa Claus god provided me with no basis for any hope or understanding. I had to dig deeper to find His full character:
“No life can be founded upon Christ’s teaching unless it be founded also upon faith and trust in His personality. For this we must dig deep, for as St. Gregory says, “God is not to be found on the surface.” J.W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton “The Fourfold Gospel”
Simply loving God and believing that was all He required of me was not only self-serving but, more importantly, it totally negated my need for Jesus. As long as I didn’t believe in God’s judgment, I had no debt to pay and Jesus’ death on the cross was pointless. The fact that God’s character includes wrath and judgment doesn’t mean He loves me less – it allows me to see how great His love is. He’s provided His word to inform and guide me and knowing that He does judge allows me to see His patience, grace and mercy.
Colossians 2:14 “By canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross”