My friend CJ wrote something for me this week as he continues to reflect on faith and life and a book that he recently read. I enjoyed this piece and wanted to share it on the blog:
I recently finished reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman. It was a very interesting book. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but I will warn that it is in no way a Christian book by intent.
Why, then, am I writing about it? In it, I saw a very deep and telling narrative about how religion shapes the way we think, act, speak, write, and observe. American Gods puts it best: “Religions are, by definition, metaphors… Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world.” Shadow says, “People believe… People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales.”
The meat of the book revolves around a coming battle between gods of the old worlds (Egypt, Africa, Norway etc.) and the new gods of America (Credit, Media, Technology etc.) The old gods were brought to America by immigrants who held on to their beliefs. But without the history their beliefs quickly faded as they bought in to the new gods. The old gods were dying in America.
These themes seem to collide with a lot of themes that I’ve been seeing in Christian literature that I have been reading lately. Is Yahweh an old God? Is He having a hard time keeping up with the gods of credit, technology, and media? I would say, for most of America, yes.
One author asked if God was like Oldsmobile: simply a relic of the past, of an era forgotten in time? That is what many Americans seem to think. But I would not stop there. In my opinion, Yahweh’s biggest threat is the modern evangelical “God.” What I have seen preached in several places in America is a God that has been reduced to an idol. He is something that can be grasped, obtained, or understood. The God I know, Yahweh, is one who shatters these notions, whose very name screams that He cannot be understood, that He cannot be obtained or grasped. Encounter with this God is jarring, unnerving, and sometimes terrifying. He is a God that calls us to embrace life in its fragility and its hardships, not a God that promises to deliver us from present day hardship.
So many people I encounter, and myself at frequent times in my life, want a religion (metaphor) that allows them to see life as a puzzle. We want there to be an answer to the cosmic question of “why?” Before too long, we find the darkness of uncertainty populated by something that looks very similar to Yahweh, but is altogether different. The only certainty that Jesus seems to grant us in Scripture is the certainty of suffering, and the certainty of eternal hope through the resurrection and restoration of all things.
The certainty that God will deliver us from whatever our present struggle is can be found nowhere in scripture, and it is when we embrace that tension that we can find ourselves truly joyful and free from anxiety. My prayer for myself in this coming year is that my faith can become a vantage point from which I can see the world as irreparably and beautifully broken. And that the taste of beauty that can be found in the broken parts of our world can propel us forward in hope for the coming restoration that has been promised to us.