This holiday season I have heard the infamous song "Santa Baby" a few more times than necessary. When you hear this song, you can almost see a provocatively dressed woman putting on her best innocent act and batting her eyes at Santa, shamelessly flirting to try to get what she wants. And the things she desires are numerous: a convertible, a yacht, a duplex, jewelry, money- and more! And, of course, she takes care to mention just how good she's been, as if to remind him that she really deserves all these things. How could Santa resist?
I realized that a lot of times Christians approach God in the same way and with the same expectations. We make ourselves look as good as we can, smile and act innocent and "flirt" with him, to try to get what we want. And just in case that isn't enough, we remind him how good we've been and how deserving we are of material and financial blessings. Nice cars, nice houses, nice clothes, expensive electronics, money- and more! "How could he resist?" we think.
Think of all the fun I've missed, think of all the fellows that I haven't kissed. Next year I could be just as good, if you check off my Christmas list...
This attitude of deserving and even demanding things from God is, sadly, becoming all too common among mainstream Christianity. Watch the Christian television networks or read up on the prosperity gospel and see for yourself. So many people truly believe that if they look and act in just the right ways, and if they're good enough, and if they flirt with God just right, he will have no choice but to give them material and financial blessings.
I really do believe in you; let's see if you believe in me...
What's sadder, though, is that this attitude cheapens the gift God has given us- the gift of grace. Grace is unmerited favor, given to those who have done nothing to deserve it and can never do enough to deserve it.
As we know, humans are all kinds of screwed up; we have a hard time wrapping our minds around the concepts of unconditional love, grace, and the power of those things to then transform our lives. All too often we approach God the wrong way, believing that we first have to change our behavior and then we will be rewarded with his favor. On top of that, many of us have been raised to expect that our good or bad behavior will result in certain rewards or punishments. It's no wonder,then, that people so easily buy into the idea that we deserve certain material rewards from God for our good behavior, and that we can do things to gain or lose his love.
I wonder, then, if this idea of a God who loves unconditionally, who gives us the gift of unmerited favor, who sends blessings to the "just and unjust," frightens and confuses many people. It doesn't make sense, it doesn't fit with the way we've always approached life, and so we repackage God and the gift he gave us- Jesus- in a way that we do easily understand. We live our lives trying to do all the right things in order to avoid punishment and obtain rewards, all the while missing the real heart of the gospel, the real reason God humbled himself and was born as a tiny baby and lived and died- so we can have a relationship with him. That we can have a relationship with a God who loves us so much is a far more precious gift than any car or house or amount of money ever could be.
My hope is that we can stop treating Jesus like a big Santa Claus in the sky, as a God that can be flirted with and manipulated, and instead see him for who he really is. Grace and love are not easy gifts to understand, but they are so very precious.