According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the chief end of humanity is “to enjoy God and glorify God forever.” How many of us actually “enjoy” God?
A former missionary told me a childhood experience of being taught in church that if he prayed diligently enough, God would heal his ailing grandfather. So he prayed three times a day on his knees. When his grandfather died anyway, he felt terrified, believing that God must be some sort of monster to let such a beloved man as his grandfather die. He told me that’s why, a few weeks later at a revival, he “accepted Jesus.” He wanted to be on the good side of this Monster God.
That week, walking my dog, I noticed lettering on a fence that was intended to read, “Beware of the dog.” But two of the letters were missing—so that it read “Beware of the g.” My mischievous mind couldn’t help but think, “Beware of the god,” and I thought that would be an appropriate sign to have on too many churches: BEWARE OF THE GOD. Believe me, you can’t enjoy a God of which you have to beware, nor can you enjoy God in a church that bites you.
As a teenager, C. S. Lewis was the first intellectually rigorous Christian writer that I read. He gave me a framework of reason on which to hang my more intuitive faith of the heart. Not long ago, I picked up Walter Hooper’s C. S. Lewis: Readings for Meditation and Reflection, and began using it during my morning prayers. But in the weeks that followed I found I disagreed with some of Lewis's notions and switched to a different writer. Lewis was too reminiscent of the God I had grown up with, who, while not a monster, is not the God I enjoy today. Not long after, I gave Lewis another try and decided that there was enough helpful stuff to put up with areas of disagreement.
As with the Bible, we may read all inspirational books critically, as well as listen to every sermon and reading and hymn with the questions:
Does this speak to me?Does this match my own experience?Do I really believe this?What’s wrong with this picture?What part is really helpful?
One entry from Lewis was entitled, “We delight to praise.” He pictures our ultimate enjoyment of God to be like lovers spiraling higher and higher in their love as they praise one another’s attributes: “You have such a great sense of humor.” “I like the shape of your nose.” “Your eyes are so expressive.” “I admire your integrity.” “I appreciate your honesty.” “I love being close to you.” “I love holding you…you holding me.”
He writes that such heavenly praise:
…Does not mean, as it can so dismally suggest, that it is like “being in church.” For our “services,” both in their conduct and in our power to participate, are merely attempts at worship; never fully successful, often 99.9 per cent failures, sometimes total failures. We are not riders but pupils in the riding school; for most of us, the falls and bruises, the aching muscles and the severity of the exercise, far outweigh those few moments in which we were, to our own astonishment, actually galloping without terror and without disaster.
As a runner, I love getting into a similar “zone,” that delightful focus “galloping” for miles in the sun and the breeze. One time, someone from a car distracted me with annoying questions, and I fell headlong onto the sidewalk, bloodying my hands and knees.
For many of us, our disappointments in church or with God may distract us from enjoying God, and we can fall headlong into anger or resentment or self-pity. I was tempted in my running mishap to fall headlong into anger or resentment or self-pity. But I remembered the Brazilian marathon runner in the Athens Olympics who had his dreams of Olympic gold dashed by a priest knocking him out of the roadway in a crazy attempt to make some religious statement. The Brazilian, who came in third, receiving the bronze, was so gracious that he was also awarded the medal for the most sportsmanlike conduct of the games.
It’s too easy to be knocked out of the zone, enjoying God, by some misguided theology or religious zealot. Getting back on the horse or back in the race is too frequently our challenge.