I am reading through Deuteronomy and have once again encountered God’s warning not to make a form, an image, or an idol representing God. This is a hard concept for us to grasp in our modern, mostly iconoclastic society, but today as I was reading, I think I caught a glimpse of something very distasteful that I have often seen in religious circles and (ugh) in my own practice of faith. It is hard to explain or put your finger on exactly, but it is a certain smugness at doing the right thing, an ignorant pride that comes with knowing partial truth, a bravado at having somehow managed to be on the winning team and looking pitifully at those still waiting to be picked. When a particularly gifted evangelist comes to town, the committed Christians crowd the place and knowingly nod at every profound point, giving a sideways glance at those poor sinners who have ventured into the meeting and surely must be on the verge of repentance, I mean, how could one not be under this anointed preaching? A brief organized group foray into the streets where we drop a few dollars in beggars’ hats and ask a few people questions about God and suddenly we are comparing ourselves to Mother Theresa, impressed with our own sacrifice and compassion as we head back to our four-bedroom homes with two televisions and food rotting in our refrigerators. A visiting missionary comes through and tells stories of difficult times and the faithfulness of God. We pray for her and give her some money to go back into harm’s way and feel tingly and warmed by our participation in this dangerous mission for the ultimate cause.
I fear that I have in some ways replaced the reality of a living, breathing relationship with the lover of my soul, with a two-dimensional representation of what I think the outward workings of a religious and devout person should look like if they were indeed a friend of God. It is like portraying all the characteristics of a happily married person when there is no one at home in your bed…you are simply basing your behaviour on what you have read and seen other married people do and you buy into the lifestyle. It is a form of marriage, a hollow image, without any substance at all. Intimacy and mystery seldom show themselves, and God has made a point of seldom showing himself (mostly for our own good, I suspect), but it is also part of his nature. Anytime we define something, carve it in stone, paint a picture of what it should look like in our minds, or imagine we know exactly what God would do in a certain situation…we are putting form to something God never intended us to put form to. A picture of Dean is a very poor substitute for Dean, in fact, I hardly have any pictures of him at all. I prefer to have him come home every night and experience the real thing. And if you ask me what he is like, instead of showing you a picture of him, I will tell you about his laugh, or his passion for music, or the funny thing he said last night. My description would be different every day.
If I thought I knew everything about my husband (everything had been revealed), then what would be the point of spending night after night together? People who truly have intimacy sparkle when they speak of the other person – they do not gloat at their incredible good fortune at finding such a fine specimen of humanity, are not smug about everything their marriage has produced, they are not presumptuous about what the other person might think or do, and above all, they value time together – not just the ideal of being married.
I guess what I am trying to say is that too often I see faith measured by how good it looks on the outside (I am guilty of this as well) and how well it measures up to the standard we have arbitrarily set for it, when in reality, intimacy is a difficult thing to decipher and manifests itself in variegated and colourful ways. I want to pursue the real thing, not a life-size facsimile.