Ironically, the best way to live “godly” might be to ignore God.
I can easily imagine God saying, “You’re best off just ignoring me and focusing on what’s in front of you.” How much energy is wasted trying to understand God or define God? I have spent truckloads of time and energy building, tearing down, rebuilding, and renovating my theology. For the most part it’s a joy to me. I’m fascinated with God—always have been. Its kind of a hobby. How many times have I thought, “I got it! I finally have a theology I’m comfortable with,” only to change it a few weeks or months later? I understand that it’s a lifelong process, that wisdom comes with age, that arrival would be even sadder than demolition and rebuilding. So its not necessarily “wasted” energy. But there’s an even greater reason to ignore God: often, my devotion to God (or my image of God at the time) produces unpleasant behavior and attitudes that would’ve been easily remedied had I just focused on the truth right in front of me.
I like this comment in I John 4:20-21,
If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.
It seems obvious that interacting in any way with a physical person in the room would be easier than interacting with an invisible, unknowable God, let alone loving them.
THE SON WHO SAID NO
Another NT passage (Matt. 21) that strikes me comes from a story allegedly told by Jesus,
A man had two sons. He went up to the first and said, ‘Son, go out for the day and work in the vineyard.’ “The son answered, ‘I don’t want to.’ Later on he thought better of it and went. “The father gave the same command to the second son. He answered, ‘Sure, glad to.’ But he never went. “Which of the two sons did what the father asked?”
Apply this to ignoring God. You can be the son/daughter who says “no” and yet does the father’s will. I take this to mean even atheism. Say no to God. God doesn’t care. God shouldn’t care about lip service anyway. Or even mind service. So I’ve spent countless hours studying the holy books, praying, meditating, and contemplating the lofty things of God. Who gives a fuck if it doesn’t make me a better person? One could save themselves a lot of time and energy if they just said no to God and got busy figuring out how to be happy, how to be kind, how to navigate this hard life. It’s hard for me to watch Christians criticize Oprah and “self-help” movements when I think she’s done so much to improve people’s lives. This type of work is godly even though it often ignores God.
Jesus goes on to say,
I tell you that crooks and whores are going to precede you into God’s kingdom. John came to you showing you the right road. You turned up your noses at him, but the crooks and whores believed him. Even when you saw their changed lives, you didn’t care enough to change and believe him.
They probably didn’t believe John because his doctrine didn’t match theirs. The truth is that even John didn’t have perfect theology any more than the rest of us but the “changed lives” is all the evidence we need to know that they’re on the “right road”. Don’t you just love the simplicity of knowing somebody by their actions? It cuts right through all the mystery and speculation and theology about who’s right and wrong. If they’re good people, they’ve got good beliefs; if they’re assholes they have shit for beliefs. It doesn’t require a Masters in Theology to see that. “By their fruit you will know them.” –Jesus
Christopher Hitchens was one of the great prophets of our day. He died December 15, 2011. I cried. His book, God is Not Great, is a must read for anyone wanting to subject their theology to harsh scrutiny. Like God, Hitch doesn’t give a damn about your theology, its all gibberish to him. He cares about your morality. As a young teenage Christian, the image I had of atheists was Anton LeVay, angry satanic rock bands, pure evil. (Demonizing one’s enemies is a common method of self-preservation.) Hitch took the moral high ground and I’d never seen this before. It was so exciting to see righteous indignation coming from that camp. He was one who said no to God and yet did the work. Well done, good and faithful servant!
John Lennon was another who said no to God and did the work. His song, Imagine, invites us to dream of a world where our only loyalties are to each other. I can’t think of a higher vision. If God is good at all, this has to be It’s dream too. This is the only definition of a successful creation. Anything less and God gets a big FAIL. Obviously humanity would too. The notion of separation is the chief opponent of God’s dream for the planet and theology is the chief source of this notion. Ignore God, PLEASE! I beg you! So does God. Or at least ignore God enough to be a good person.
“With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. ” –Steven Weinberg
Obviously, this ignoring God stuff is only possible outside the context of fear. Its not an option if humanity is in a hostile relationship with God. In fact, the last thing you want to ignore while on earth is God. Your naïve little ass will slide right into an eternal lake of fire.