The Everyday World.
We get the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) as part of our free cable. The lion’s share of their programming is sugar-pop gospel clap- alongs and gimmicky self-help style preachers; with occasional Left Behind style Stephen Baldwin movies, and programs catering to creationist junk science. The kid’s cartoons about the Old Testament are a particular disappointment.
CBN’s obsession with the end of the world and with miracles is very pronounced. In some ways it is confusing why they do this. Miracles happen rarely, and are hard to verify, and predicting the end of the world has a history of failure as long as the human race. Neither topic seems particularly sturdy or knowable. Why obsess about either one?
Perhaps this is all related to a fundamental paradox at the heart of those who run CBN. Consider this: CBN executives all firmly believe that there was a time long ago when God, for some mysterious reason, deemed it fitting to enter the everyday world. You could have God “over for dinner”, in a literal way. You could talk to him as easily as you could talk to your friend. You could pose questions to him. He lived in the everyday world of corrupt clergy, whores, and government bureaucrats. He was a construction worker, living in a town no more heavenly and metaphorical than Tomah, Wisconsin. That was God.
But what about now? If it was so fitting and necessary to have God in the world then, and if those people needed to see him like that, what about us? I don’t want to hear any of the tiresome metaphors about how “God is still with us in our hearts…” zzzz. If this is the only kind of “presence” God has with us, i.e. if God is no more present than Caesar or Lincoln (i.e. in books), then according to normal human discourse, we would say he isn’t with us at all.
And yet he must be present, right? Why? Why do we feel the need to have God in the everyday world again, as he once was? This is perfectly reasonable to expect. If God felt it fitting to manifest himself to the human race, he has to do more than pop in for 33 years and then leave. The human race has lived in places other than a first century middle-eastern suburb. A God who felt he had manifested himself enough by showing up in such a place would be a God who cared more for the human race than for individual people.
There’s the paradox. The folks at CBN firmly believe that God wants to have “a personal relationship” with every individual, and yet they offer a personal relationship that is no more personal than I can have with Lincoln or Caesar (i.e. by reading books about them). Pointing to some vague feeling in my heart is of no use. If all God wanted to be was a vague feeling in the heart of a man, then why did he even bother coming to first century Palestine? Was it simply so that he could die? If so, why did he insist on doing so much else, like having “personal relationships” with repentant hookers, construction workers, commercial fishermen, farmers, fruit vendors and government bureaucrats? These people had personal relationships with Christ. What about us?
I am not diminishing the role of faith here. All the people in the first century needed faith to recognize that this burly construction worker was God. But what thing in our everyday world can the people at CBN point to and say “this is God”?
The scandal, even to themselves, is that they have nothing. Their book is not God, a collection of clapping people is not God, no preacher is God. All they are left with is to chase after traces of this God, like a detective who is always one step behind the criminal. “God was Just here! He healed my bad back!”… “I saw God for a moment when we all were clapping!”…”God just solved my credit card debt!”…etc. When they aren’t chasing after the God who perpetually flees, they are fantasizing about the time when he will come back to the everyday world: “Man, one day I’m going to be driving along, and God will come out of heaven an snatch me out of my car”…”Oh yeah, I can tell that ever since Israel decided to sign the Oslo accords, God has been getting ready to come back”…”These new microchips that they developed are a sign that God will come sometime before the end of the year”…blah, blah, blah.
CBN is orphaned. Their only relief from this is not to think about it. At best, God is always someone who just left, or someone who is coming soon- and in either case he is decidedly not in the everyday world like whores or carpenters. Any talk of “a personal relationship” is muddle-headed and untenable. Any talk of a personal relationship requires, um, a person. Until you can point to Jesus (even if I have to hold he is there by faith), then give up the idea of a personal relationship. Content yourself with a God who loved Mankind in the abstract, particularly the minute portion of mankind that is educated enough to read his book.