I know many Christians that serve God because they know he is powerful and that he is going to win. They don’t seem to particularly like him. Their description of God makes it sound like he at best tolerates them. Love isn’t really part of the equation. They say he loves them but the practical application of their faith doesn’t demonstrate that. It seems like they are betting on what they think is the winning side with the expectation that things will go better for them if they do.
God gets portrayed as a taskmaster, or at least a mean boss. He will reward good work. Maybe. He definitely will punish shoddy work. It is almost as if the purpose of serving such a God is to avoid being fired. Or stuck by lightening. Fear is the driving force relationally, not love.
And if this truly is God, then perhaps there is logic in trying to be on the winning side. You’d hate to be punished by such a God. After all, the wrath incurred for failing to serve him well can’t be as bad as that for opposing him. Can it?
Obviously, I am exaggerating the extent to which people serve God like this, but when fear drives the relationship rather than love such an exaggeration is not that far away. It is the way a victim stays in an abusive relationship. As wrong as that is when it’s two humans, isn’t it worse when the abuser is supposed to be all-knowing, all-loving and divine?
The best picture I can think of to this approach to God comes from Harry Potter. This is the way Voldemort’s servants respond to him. They fear him. Often, they hate him but he is the most powerful being in their world. He is the one they expect to win. Best to side with him than oppose him. As vindictive as he is, the punishments he will one day dole out will be horrendous. When his evil reign ensues, his friends will be ill-treated but not as ill-treated as his enemies.
What a lousy platform for faith. I don’t want a Voldemort for my lord. Jesus speaks of God being a loving father. I sometimes struggle to understand what that metaphor means, but I much prefer it to the mean boss.
I have to think God would much prefer not to be treated as Voldemort as well. I wouldn’t want people to think that of me, no matter how much power I could derive from it. If God truly is the fullest manifestation of love, then this has to tick him off. Love wants to be freely received and freely returned. Fear driving a relationship can never get to this place. God wants us to know him as loving, to engage him as loving, to wallow in his love. That is the lord I desire.