Thursday, December 6, 2012

God Is Not Like Santa

A few years ago, I realized something for the first time. 

"You better watch out, better not pout, better not lie I'm tellin' you why-- Santa Clause is coming to town! He knows when you are sleeping, He knows when you're awake, He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness' sake! He's making a list, checkin' it twice, gonna found out who's naughty or nice...."

That is probably some of the worst theology I've ever learned. "But Hannah," you say, "This is about Santa, not God! It's just a fun little story for kids." Well, yes. It is about Santa. But Santa was part of my worldview! Promulgated  by parents, teachers, peers, and the media-- basically everyone with an authoritative voice in my world-- I grew up believing that the giver of good gifts at Christmas time gave them based on my performance. 

I'm sure the adult consensus is that this "story" is just fun, and that it has no real or lasting impact on the way children see the world or perceive reality. Well, it has taken me becoming an adult to realize that's not true. It's taken me becoming an adult to realize that I may have "learned" more about God from Santa-- a capitalistic god who appeals to my selfishness by promising me "goodies" if I am "good" and who employs fear-mongering to keep me from being "bad"-- than I learned from God Himself. The problem is, I didn't know it even happened. One theology just collapsed into another. 

That is syncretism. We in America may not have household gods that are made of bronze and sit on the mantle, next to an altar, but we have household gods that make their home with us through the television, the mall, the radio, the political system and the cultural climate. And what I learned about the household god Santa and his character became part of what I believed about God and His character. In other words, I somewhere, somehow, believed God was like Santa:

"If I'm good, He'll give me goodies. If I'm bad, I'll get nothing."
"Since I want goodies, I better be good."

Here's what that might look like contextually: 

"I've obeyed God's commandments. Where's my husband?"
"I've sinned sexually. God will never bless me with a good man."
"I want people to think I'm really spiritually mature, so I'll be really nice to everyone and tell them I'm praying for them."
"I want God to like me and answer my prayer, so I'll go to church. I'll even donate to the offering." 

I want to stop here and clarify: I'm not saying "Santa" is bad. I'm just pointing out that the narrative I learned from "Santa" actually confused me about who God is, because it was presented to me as true. When my parents told me Santa's not real, they never told me that his morality wasn't real either. 

But since God is real, He's begun clarifying a few things to me about who He is and how reality works. He's shown me that I don't always get the carrot I think I deserve. He's taught me that sometimes obedience and doing the right thing come with no visible "reward" or goodies. He's shown me that when my motives for righteous behavior are to get something I want in exchange for it, it's not really righteous at all. But most importantly, and most difficult to accept, He's shown me that He gives good gifts not on the basis of my performance, but on the basis of His character. That is, in fact, the bottom line of our relationship. 

I was "bad," and deserved punishment. I deserved the removal of His blessing, His favor, His kindness, His good gifts. But He didn't give me what I deserved, what I "earned." Instead, He gave me more good than I could possibly imagine-- He gave me Himself. He invited me into relationship with Him as His beloved daughter and continues to pour out His grace in my life, despite what I "deserve." Does He discipline me? Yes. But He doesn't do it by withholding good from me. Does He teach me to live righteously? Yes. But He doesn't do it by bargaining with me.

God is not like Santa. And that is very good news.


1 comment:

Robyn said...

So sorry to have messed with your trusting sweet self regarding santa. So glad that youre right about the savior.. Mom