As we chatted around the table at a restaurant the server came to take our order. One of my dinner companions began to order from the menu but then started making substitutions. “Can I have this instead of that? And can you leave this off but add that?” You get the picture; she wanted her meal customized to her particular taste. The server took the order without flinching and the food came out just as we had ordered. We had a very nice evening.
That’s how it should be, isn’t it? We can customize our food, get our tailor made clothes, order a car with our options, custom build our house. We customize our phones and create our very own music playlists. We watch the TV shows we want on our schedule. And why not? We should be able to get what we want the way we want it, and for the most part, that isn’t a problem. The problem is when we apply that same mind-set to our spiritual life. We want a customized Christianity that is designed around us.
Thomas Jefferson very famously took a Bible, cut out all the verses he liked and glued them into another book. That way he could read the Bible he liked and agreed with but didn’t have to deal with the parts he didn’t like. Now most of us would not be so bold as to take scissors to our Bibles, but we still do the same thing. We like the part that says we share in the “power of the resurrection” but we skip over the “fellowship of his suffering” (Philippians 3:10). We like that Jesus invites us to come to Him to rest (Matthew 11:28) , but we don’t like that He calls us to “take up our cross” (Matthew 16:24). We like that “God so loved the world…” (John 3:16), but we don’t like that “the wrath of God is poured out against all unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). Some of the things God says are uncomfortable, a bit difficult to swallow and simply don’t fit with how we want to live our Christianity. Unfortunately, we don’t have the option to pick and choose what we want to hear and ignore what we don’t. God gave us His Word as a united whole from beginning to end.
But let’s step back a moment and look at why we want to customize our Christianity, our relationship with God. I think that all those Scriptures that we don’t like and would rather ignore are precisely those Scriptures that challenge our own autonomy and self-determination. They grate against our still sinful self wanting to maintain some measure of independence. It is precisely because we DON’T want to be challenged that we say, “I don’t think God really meant THAT. He must have meant THIS instead.” And we go merrily on our way comforted by our re-interpretation of His words.
And yet we miss so much when we do this. We miss so much of His character. We miss so much of His multi-faceted greatness and wisdom. We miss so much of His boundless love when we constrict Him to be or act in a certain way. “God, you can only reveal Yourself in THIS way!” we say to Him, and yet there is so much more to explore. We have customized Him into a boring, two-dimensional caricature of who He really is. You see, if I start with the premise that He is good and loving and faithful, then I can look at those seemingly hard words and look for the good and love in them. I can let myself and my assumptions be challenged because I know I will get a greater and deeper revelation of who He is. And that only leads me further into love with Him and deepens my worship.
I don’t want a customized Christianity – one of my own design. I would gladly have my neat, comfortable world be disrupted if it means knowing Him better.