Leaving Behind a Transactional Faith and Discovering a Wild, Untamable God

Monday, May 13, 2019

Formulas and an Easy A+

My favourite thing about high school was the five-paragraph essay. When the teacher announced that an essay would be required, I knew what was around the corner for me. Simple, clear expectations. Formulaic.  An easy A+.

But life is rarely like that. God is rarely like that.

I sometimes want my spiritual life to be a five-paragraph essay. I am looking for formulas, I desire if/then statements.

If I pray, then He will heal.

If I do my daily devotions, then He will shield me from harm.

If I fast, then He will speak.

If I write those five friggen paragraphs, then I will get an A+.

I tried it and it worked for a while.  I had prayed the sinner’s prayer and God had responded accordingly.  Like my high school teachers, I had God under my thumb.  But we have an untamable God. Real, authentic, messy faith is full of doubt and uncertainty and a God who won’t be turned into a formula.

A Transactional Faith

Sometimes I want my arrangement with God to be transactional. I do this, you do that. But my God isn’t transactional. He is relational.  He longs for us to enter into relationship with him and drink deep from the mystery that sometimes offers more questions than answers.  Our God longs for us to come to him empty handed and ready to bathe in the goodness of his being.  To lay down our will, our expectations, our worries, and trust that the God who formed us in our mother’s womb will not let us down. 

I think sometimes it starts with the way we talk about our turning point, the way we see our first coming to Christ.  We imagine that if we get down on our knees and say the right words in the right order with the right level of humility, God will spring into action and jump through the ring of fire like a circus lion on command.

Our Untamable God

But our moment of grace is not like that.

God is the father who runs to meet his son on the road home.  The woman who sweeps her house in search of the lost coin. The shepherd that leaves the 99 to bring you and I back into the fold.  He was never a telethon volunteer waiting idly by for us to call out to him, He was and is the fierce mystery enfolding us that beckoned us to call in the first place.

Isn’t this a counterfeit of grace?  A God who jumps through the fiery hoop to save me because I said some semblance of the right words in the right order, rather than a God who entered into my suffering in order to declare that my sin and shame is not the end of the story? Don’t we lose something in a transactional faith? We lose the father who picks up his garments and runs to us, the God-man who wears our sin and shame, the spirit that ministers to our innermost needs. We trade a mighty and powerful God in for a domesticated animal that can’t dream up any answers we can’t contrive on our own.

God is not a five-paragraph essay.

If God is a piece of literature, He is poetry. Steeped in mystery, deep with allegory, undissectable, untamable. He is the very face of mercy and grace that cannot be contained, organized and labelled into happy little boxes.

He is an untamable presence. The God who is near when we want him to be and when we don’t. The God who makes all things new. Who sees our whole story, not just the parts we shine up for dinner guests, and bids us to come. The untamable God whose love for us has never hinged on how well we can obey rules or follow instruction or read a prayer off the back of a pamphlet.

No friends, we don’t want a sanitized, domesticated version of God.  We want the wild and furious, sometimes unsettling love of a creator that won’t be mastered.  

Because when god becomes tameable, He becomes weak.  He bends and breaks under the weight of our frailty and sin. A God that can be tamed stops being a power greater than us and becomes a representation of our most pious self, on a good day, on our best behaviour.  He becomes the high school gym teacher handing out awards for most improved player, most devout pray-er, most justice-minded worker bee, most holy abstainer.  He becomes a feeble teacher instead of a mysterious and unfathomable maker of the universe.

Our God is not a tamable God. Thank God for that.

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