08 August 2008

Ceasing our Worship of the God of the Lost Keys

This post has been brewing in my mind for some time, but before I get too far into it, I do want to make clear that in no way am I suggesting that God does not care about us personally or that He is unable (or unwilling sometimes) to intervene. The thrust of my post intends to force us all to rethink the way or ways in which we approach the true and living God. So without further ado...
We all know the pattern of the story, a desperate moment of searching for the lost keys followed by an intent prayer that leads to the rediscovery of the missing keys. Although not involving keys, I have had similar experiences myself, both in the literal sense, and in the spiritual/symbolic sense. So I do not say that the stories do not stem from faithful individuals approaching the God of the universe and receiving from His tender mercies. Usually, these stories come from spiritually sensitive individuals who love God and seek to find His hand in their lives.
That said, I wonder if we (more accurately if I) have become complacent or idolatrous in our (my) approaching God as a result of such experiences? I find, sometimes, that my experiences in prayer have been shaped negatively when I reflect on such "lost keys" moments, and extend that reflection to my worship as a whole. In other words, I find that my overall outlook may have been distorted through the lens of the "god of the lost keys." This phrase merely serves as shorthand for the larger phenomenon. Sometimes our experience with God seems more pragmatic than spiritual. We approach Him more as the latest, best technology--as the truly universal remote control which can function in ways that science could only dream. We ask (and expect!) blessings that short-circuit the growth process, then complain when we perceive any so-called failure of the "technology."
Religion, at least in my view, should entail more than perfunctory statements of thanks, followed by a wish list that could as easily be directed by a child toward Santa Claus. The "false gods we worship," as so aptly taught by President Spencer W. Kimball, do not only include the temporal. Perhaps more commonly, we transform the true and living God into our own personal god, complete with our own personality (granted, with improvements to achieve our perception of what perfection should be), with our desires (sometimes adding what we wish we desire, too), and with our perspective.
When we fall prey to President Kimball's "false gods," we disobey God and give preference to the things of the world. Perhaps more insidiously, though, when we fall prey to the "god of the lost keys" worldview, we obey--but our obedience is to a degenerate form of the true God which we have created through our interpolations. Rather than making idols out of the things of the world, we create a false god by reshaping God to more completely match up with our preconceived notions of what "God should be like" regardless of scripture or revelation. We pave our own shortcut to "god" by molding notions of the divine to conform to ourselves instead of transforming ourselves as a response to the divine presence in our lives. We cling to our self-created characterization of god (idol worship, if ever an idol has been worshipped) instead of opening our minds to accept that perhaps His thoughts really are not our own, nor His ways ours--instead of acknowledging that our understanding of God must continue to grow or our line-upon-line learning must come to an end and we will lose that which we have been given.
To elaborate further with an example, we may decide based on our opinion or "learning" that God desires for us to take a certain course of action which we have found desirable--perhaps something significant like marrying a certain partner, pursuing a particular career, or having children. When we decide that this is God's will for us and make it a matter of prayer and worship, we effectively limit God's role, setting up a "god of the next decision." This god wants us to act a certain way, and if this god fails to bless us in ways that we perceive would open the way before us to arrive at our desired destination, the god may fail us. If we do receive the desired blessing(s), we instincitvely attribute the result to the desire of this god.
Behind all of this, however, lies our discernment in ascertaining whether our own desire may have departed from the will of the true God, or whether God really has left the decision up to our own exercise of agency. If such is the case, attributing the success or failure of the venture to the "god of the next venture" or to our version of god merely reinforces our own conception of god as technology. We think that God should function as the power which enables us to achieve that which science is still too limited to do for us. In effect, we rely on ourselves and on the arm of flesh to a point, then when our own power finds its limit point, we turn to the "god of the lost keys" to do what we want, when we want it.
Recognizing that we too frequently transform the workings and will of God into our own degenerate form of divinity, we may reflect back on our experiences to discern when we are projecting our "god of the lost keys" onto our lives and when God truly has a hand in directing us. We may find that what we thought several years ago must have been God's influence was instead our own frailty convincing us that God intended one course when it was merely our own god usurping the throne and enticing us toward that which we had wanted more than we wanted to accept God.
The perspective that I find opening a way for "tender mercies" while maintaining a more proper worship of the true and living God recognizes my limitations and God's power. With this altered orientation toward God and the world, I still find myself in the same desperate times when I need my keys (literally and figuratively) more often than I would like. However, at those moments of need, I find myself striving to approach God without an expectation that God will act as a key-finder, and instead with the perspective that I worship a good, just God, who will listen to me and permit me to struggle. I may ask for help, but leave it at that, or ask for help to overcome my forgetfulness and to remember, rather than help to find. A very subtle difference, yet reflective of a different relationship with God. One which strives to worship Him as a son of God, and one which acknowledges His hand in my life, even when I may not always recognize it or may mistake my own hand for His. Yet one which is shaped by His undying love despite my amateur attempts at discerning and at worshipping.
Replacing our worship of the "god of the lost keys" requires a willingness to continue learning, and to abandon the dross and filler that we have permitted to enter into our conception of God. We must realize our limitations and act in faith by acknowledging the existence of God and becoming better acquainted with him through His hand as it truly acts. Such faithfulness embraces much of the gospel, but goes deeper, grounding itself in a relationship between God and man, Creator and creation, Father and son, which only remains a true relationship for as long as it has no endpoint, no moment (at least during mortality) when we feel that we truly "know" what we need to know. For the moment that we think that we have figured it out or that we know enough, our knowledge evaporates.
Thus, the quest is to authentically experience the divine in our lives and to respond appropriately. When we depart from this to suggest any arrival, we have surely arrived, but at a destination we thought we were avoiding. Therefore, let us cast down any idols, whether of wood or stone or plastic or merely individual conceptions of God, and bow before Him who is mighty to save, for this is our only authentic response to His voice.


Tim said...

As Mormons, we have understandings about the nature of God that differ greatly with our Christian friends. Because we view the Godhead as three separate, individual beings, and because we reject the view of God as an absolute, independent being, we probably have greater tendency to assign human characteristics to Him that do people o other faiths. I think that these underlying beliefs influence our understanding of how God deals with His children. Even our understanding of us being His children is a large difference with others.

Crusty said...

Good stuff...I've spent a lot of time thinking about this. I often find myself in paralyzation due to analyzation when I think about prayer. I want to avoid idolatrous prayer, and more importantly, I want to avoid mockery (building my own Tower of Babel).

I would guess, in most cases, God would want us to obey him by making good choices for ourselves, which lead to desirable results, rather than asking God to instantly fix something for us (e.g., please bless this food to nourish and strengthen...rather than using God's advice/inspiration to choose good foods that nourish and strengthen our bodies without God's blessing).

I also wonder if there is anything I should ask for from God, other than inspiration, as everything else could possibly be a physical infringement on other people's agency/lives (e.g., God, please bless that guy that he'll have a change of heart...or...please bless this river that it will change course and run closer to my house, rather than other people's houses).

Then...I wonder for which things I should really thank God. Should I only thank God for the good things that happen to me or should I thank God for all things that happen to me, good and bad? Wouldn't perceived good and bad things both combine to create experiences to help me learn and grow? I wonder which things actually came from God and which things actually came from me (or elsewhere). It would be superstitious/idolatrous to blame God for things he didn't do. I also wonder if it's right to thank God for something that seems good to me but may be disastrous for someone else (e.g., God, thanks for this rain...I needed it). So then...I wonder if I shouldn't just thank God for life in general and all the experiences within my life, good and bad. And, since it would take as long to thank God for everything as it would to live everything, I wonder if I shouldn't just say, "thanks for life...good and bad."

I also wonder how much of what I say to God is for the sake of actually communicating with God and how much is for my own sake, as a way of reminding myself of something. For example, "God, please bless me with the Spirit," is really just a way to remind myself and others (in oral prayer) to seek the Spirit, since we are blessed with the spirit by seeking the spirit and doing what we need to do to get the spirit. In fact, asking for the Spirit is a mockery of God, since asking for the Spirit without doing what I need to do to get the spirit is like building a Tower of Babel.

Then...there's the prayer in which we attempt to motivate other people or teach other people through prayer, and I wonder if we shouldn't just say those things outside of prayer, and save prayer for times when we are really talking to God, rather than eachother (e.g., God, we're glad to be here together with people we love...please bless us to remember to apply today's lesson to our daily lives...and help us to start loving our families and stop yelling at them so much).