There are a lot of people who object to my God because of the rules. Well, they generally object to any God who lays down rules. Rules more specific than, say, “treat each other with respect and don’t hurt anyone without cause.” They see this life I live, and how I abstain from different things, and they wonder why anyone would submit to that willingly. It’s gotten so far that there’s a common belief that God is too picky for humans.
“There’s all these things God hates!” people say, listing off a dozen or so actions that some church or other objects to. “He won’t take people who do such-and-such, and he makes people stop doing that-other-thing. Look at those huge ‘books of the Law’, like Leviticus and Deuteronomy. You Christians are so narrow-minded, so restricted, so bogged down with rules. What kind of killjoy God is that?”
“It’s called ‘holiness’,” say the theologians, and go into long discourses about what that means. But I’m gonna go with ‘picky’. ‘Cause that’s what I think is sticking around in the backs of people’s minds. Even Christians: God is not broadminded, they believe. God wants uniformity, he has standards he holds us to. He tells us what we can and cannot do. We talk about molding and shaping and becoming “Christlike.” “Following God.” “Discipleship.” “Imitators of Christ.” Of all Christianese, I don’t mind the terms that have a root in Scriptures, but I think we still get into trouble when we forget their meaning, their original flavors, the theology buried in the words.
For we see a God who says he’s going to cut away all this stuff from us, who is going to make us stop doing some things and picking up others, and we think that he is picky.
Because we have a way we want to be. We have an image of ourselves that we like. We think that to change it is to lose it. We won’t take a God who is too picky to let us be what we think we are.
But I think it’s just as reasonable to say that it’s we who are too picky for God.
Ever watch those reality shows about changing someone’s life? Arguably for the better? It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a house, or a lifestyle, or a wardrobe, or anything else, but inevitably there’s something involved that the subject (victim?) refuses to give up. It could be a deep-rooted aversion to short hair. It could be a lamp straight out of the wrong side of the Eighties. It could be something petty like a ratty old t-shirt. It could be something life-threatening like towering piles of rotting newspapers. Whatever it is, the person refuses point-blank to part with it. It’s become an integral part of their identity. Some little fear in the back of their heads tells them that if they lose it, they lose themselves.
And okay, maybe it’s not that important. I keep a couple old t-shirts myself, packed away in a box. I’d be sad if they got thrown out – they’re part of my history, and have memories in them. Making a big deal over them would be blowing the issue out of proportion.
And sometimes the people doing the makeover might be wrong. They’re only human. Let the girl keep her long hair, it looks fine on her. Somebody might think the lamp is cute. I tend to yell at decorators who have a grudge against ceiling fans because as passé as they may be, they make all the difference to those of us who know the torture of humid summers.
“It’s all a matter of taste!” I want to say to the decorator. On the other hand, what exactly is so important about this one contentious thing that someone can’t give it up? Would I cease to be me without my old t-shirts? Which sounds silly, but there are those times when those whose health is failing refuse to change those things that are slowly killing them that I feel sure the picky one is not the show’s hosts.
You could argue that a guy with emphysema who’s on a respirator should be allowed his cigarette, because what else does he have? He’s addicted, and it would hurt so badly to give it up. But a part of me can’t help but wonder if he may be a man who has been so picky that he has refused any life that does not include smoking. Regardless of the cost. It may be too late now, but it didn’t use to be.
Back when I was student teaching, the part that hurt the most was watching all these kids, these gorgeous young children, who were too picky for school. They would not obey, they would not listen, they would not do their work, and they would not learn. They fought everything. They wasted hours in detention instead of hanging out with friends. Their inability to admit they might be wrong turned so many against them. It wasn’t about some noble principle, like a protester defying injustice, or a soldier refusing a bad order. They rebelled simply because someone—anyone—was telling them what to do. The wisest direction was still direction. Any life that had obedience in it was simply not to their taste.
They were ignorant. They had few useful skills. Their world was narrow and poor (in mind and heart as well as money) and they had no means to change it, nor any way to survive outside it. And they were miserable. Because they were picky.
Now, when it comes to obeying people, there’s reason to be picky. You see a bad student rebelling against a bad teacher, and you kinda start rooting for the student. (After all, the teacher should know better.) I obey laws, but I do think there’s lines that the government should not cross. There are things no police officer can tell me to do. I reserve the right to question directions if they don’t make sense to me. I reserve the right to disobey an order I think is wrong. People make mistakes and they believe wrong things. There’ve been times I’ve hoped someone would disregard me because I’d realized I’d messed up. Because I’m human, and I don’t know everything, and I have no right to order someone else’s life according to my whims. I may be picky towards someone because I have a good reason for my “taste”. Others may rightly do the same to me.
But this is not people. This is God. I have to wrench myself out of the little space I live in and turn my vision inside-out. I have to get the order right. If I genuinely, honestly believe that the Almighty One created the universe and everything in it, that he is the God of the small and trivial as much as he is the God of galaxies and dark matter, that he designed the very foundations of human love and joy, then I must believe that he is truth, that he is rightness, that he is the very origin and heart of anything that might be called Taste.
It’s we who are picky.
We find so many reasons to turn him down, so many problems with who and what he is. We deny God because we are too picky to give up a pet theory. We refuse God because we cling to grievances like a security blanket. We ignore the future he unfolds before us because it’s not what we chose. We won’t trust a will that isn’t our own, won’t listen to words that aren’t our own, won’t follow a path that we didn’t plot, and in the end it starts sounding like the haughtiness of a two-year-old who won’t try the gourmet strawberry-rhubarb pie because it “looks funny.”
This is God, and he loves us. This is God, and we are his children. This is the source of all Creativity, of all Inspiration, of all Joy and Love and Beauty, the Author of the epic that is Human Existence, one who would inflict his eternal wrath on himself just to spare us. He is the one who made us a universe full of wild and incomprehensible grandeur, who can take a great ball of incandescent plasma and filter it into something as simple and gentle as sunlight, who mirrors the fragile bloom of a day-old flower with the lightyears-spanning blossom of a nebula. He invented family, he invented friendship, he invented sex. He has made every pleasure and made it to be enjoyed. He has made every hunger and made it to be satisfied. The length and breadth of life in all its complexity and all its wonder is all of his design.
We fear he will make us all the same. Are we blind? Have we seen the universe? It is stuffed to the gills with diversity and variety. We fear we won’t like what he’ll do to us. It’s worse than what we do to ourselves? We fear our weakness and hunger if we give up the thing we’re feeding on. Like he doesn’t know how we work.
If anything, it is God who is too liberal for us. He takes us where we are, however we are, whatever we’ve done, wherever we’ve been. He wants us, without reservation or condition, breaking down all barriers between us and him. He redeems us, full of all the things we already hate about ourselves, all our fear and failure and bias and cruelty and despair. We cling to our pickiness even then, denying love to people as ruined as ourselves, building walls and drawing points of no return. We’re the one writing entrance exams and exacting tolls. We’re the ones using background tests and shibboleths. Sometimes against ourselves. We smudge the picture he’s trying to create, and censor the story he’s telling. We want to include people we approve of. He wants to include everyone. We want to leave out our shameful parts. He wants to transform them all.
We are each unique. We each have talents and strengths peculiar to us. Our voices are not all the same, and our lives are not all the same. But we do not understand ourselves the way our Creator understands us. He sees the whole of our existence laid out at once and knows what turns here and there will lead to the most incredible outcome, most suited to who we each of us is. He knows what we want most, and he knows the best way to give it to us. When your friend’s a master chef, you let him pick the menu. When the director knows your voice, you let him pick the solo. When your fiance knows your dreams, you let him pick the honeymoon. Because it may not be what you expect, but it will be exactly what you want.
We are small and so are our imaginations. We can’t grasp what we’re capable of, and what worlds we might discover. If we won’t surrender our talent, we can’t unleash it. If we won’t surrender our dreams, they can’t grow. We’re the kid in minivan complaining that the view outside is cornfields not knowing that soon it will be mountains. We cry over calloused fingers and ignore the seeds of virtuoso guitar. We won’t give up itchy rags because we won’t believe in clean and vibrant silk. We stay in the slums because we can’t see the mansion. We cling to our chains because we’re too picky for freedom.
It is part of growing up that we learn to let go of things like training wheels and hands to hold and little phobias of the dark. By the grace of God, he doesn’t ask us to give it all up at once, because we really are only children. We need the time to grow. But eventually we must be grown. We have to learn not to be picky.