I’m sure you have seen a picture of a child with Santa and the child looks anything but happy. The child may look confused. Or scared. Or curious. What about this stranger? This Santa? This old looking white haired man with a beard?
That description almost sounds like the traditional portrayal of the image of God. An old white man with a beard. This portrayal of God resembles Santa in other ways. People may think about God dispensing blessings like Santa proffering gifts. A cure to this address. A good grade at that school. A new job at this house. A baby to that home.
And what about naughty or nice? That’s the classic criteria for the bestowal of gifts by Santa. And, when we think about it, that can also be seen as the criteria used by the traditional version of God. If you are good, God blesses you and makes your life good. If you are bad, God will cause you suffering and trouble. Be good and heaven awaits. Be bad, and it’s to the gates of hell with you! Just like a parent using the carrot, “Be good so Santa brings you what you want.” Or the stick: “If you’re not good, Santa will fly over our house.” So, the traditional version of God has been used to gain cooperation from people. It has been used for control. We see this not only in Christianity, but in other religions as well.
If we are made in the image of God, then this kind of God breeds humans who are judgmental; who try to control others with the promise of favor or punishment and who take matters into their own hands. The beautiful verse in Luke’s Christmas story promises “Glory to God in high heaven! And on earth, peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.” Who gets to decide upon whom God’s favor rests? God? Yes, but who is the human arbiter?
In the news recently we learn of a Modesto, California pastor who was accidentally shot by his firearms safety instructor during class. Can we say this is God punishing the pastor for having a gun when a pastor should be following the anti-violent dictates of Jesus? No. That’s crazy, too.
The scenario of naughty and nice, blessed and cursed, favored and not favored, is a recipe for conflict and contention, like sibling rivalry in a family. It is not a set up for Wonder-Full Peace: Peace among people or between humanity and God.
It’s interesting that we don’t see the Santa version of God from Jesus. In the stories we have from Jesus, we see a God that heals whoever asks. A God that feeds all the people – no questions asked. A God that seeks out those who are lost and forgives whether they ask for it or not. The gospels show us a God with arms open to all raining blessings upon all.
We are right to question the version of God rewarding some and punishing others. We are right to question the image of God as an old looking white haired man with a beard. That version of God has spawned oppression, sexism, and racism. We should be confused or scared by that image of God. That image is not a God of peace and that is not the God of Jesus. Jesus shows us that God’s favor rests upon all people.
Give some thought to how you would describe “God” to someone who has never heard the word before.
Prayer: We pray that our God is as generous and forgiving as the God of Jesus. We pray that our God is vast and mysterious enough to encompass all people in love. Then our God will truly be a God of Wonder-Full peace. Amen.