Imaginary God

The older I get, the more aware I am of my weakness for dreaming up an imaginary, warm fuzzy god who exactly suits my needs, desires, prejudices and priorities. This is much more comfortable than seeking the real God whose ways are higher than mine.

“If You Choose”

‘When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”’ (Matthew 8.1-4 NRSV)

“Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” This is a similar prayer to “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” The man with the skin disease (not leprosy as we understand it today, but serious nonetheless), doesn’t doubt Jesus’ ability to heal, but he’s not so sure about Jesus’ desire. Maybe Jesus is too busy today. Maybe he won’t want to be associated with a social outcast with a disfiguring skin disease. Maybe (and you just know this had happened many times in the man’s experience), it just wasn’t going to happen today.

I expect this man was very familiar with disappointment. Many of his hopes and dreams had not come about as he had hoped. Many of his prayers for God’s help had gone unanswered. Maybe he had often protected himself from further disappointment by quietly whispering that phrase so many of us use: “Don’t get your hopes up.”

Can you identify with this man? I must confess that I can. Many things I’ve wanted to happen just didn’t come about, at least not in the way I was hoping. Many of my prayers haven’t had the results I’d longed for. And I’ve used that phrase myself—maybe not in so many words, but I’ve certainly felt it—”Don’t get your hopes up.”

Jesus is not slow to rebuke his disciples for their lack of faith, but he doesn’t rebuke this man. He understands what the man has been through; he feels for his hurts and disappointments. People with skin diseases like this were social outcasts in the time of Jesus, and it may have been years since anyone had touched this man. But Jesus stretches out his hand and touches him. “I do choose; be made clean.” And immediately his skin disease is healed.

“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” Don’t feel you have to pretend to God that you have more faith than you actually have. If lack of faith is the problem, make that part of your prayer as well (“Help my unbelief!”). But don’t fixate on it. Fixating on our lack of faith takes our eyes away from God and fixes them on our own feelings instead. A better plan is simply to turn to Jesus and ask for help. The answer may be quick, or it may be slow. It may be a healing, or it may be extra strength to go through the difficulty. But let’s not doubt his compassion. He wants to help. He has the time. He won’t turn us away.

Picture from ‘The Chosen’, used by permission of a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International Licence (for further information go here)