They think that God is out to get us and, in a sense, they are right. He is out to get us like a suitor is out to get the object of his dreams, like adopting parents are out to get the child for whom they have longed.
If you were dropped alone into the deep wilderness with only a pocketknife and the clothes on your back, would you have what it takes to survive?
I probably wouldn’t — or at least that is what the online wilderness survival quiz says. “It wasn’t pretty,” was its evaluation of my efforts.
According to the quiz results, I was in danger of eating poisonous plants, dehydrating and being drowned while crossing a river. On the upside, I would be able to tell which direction was north and I would know for certain that the spider that bit me was a black widow.
Real wilderness survivalists know how to get maximum efficiency from minimum effort. They can light a fire without matches. They can build a shelter, forage for food and purify water. They know how to use every available resource to increase their odds of survival.
The guys on the wilderness survival shows can turn a parachute into a fishing net, use a plastic bag to collect rainwater for drinking and capture and eat snakes, fish and various insects and their larvae.
It occurs to me that many people feel like guest stars on a survival show that God produces. Their wilderness is not the Amazon rain forest, but Small Town, America. The dangers they encounter are not black widows but philandering spouses. They don’t face death by exposure but by cancer. They’re not worried about running out of water, but about running out of money.
The link between these different scenarios: In both cases, the person struggling to survive must make due with inadequate resources. He may have what he needs to get by, but he certainly has nothing to spare.
Even religious people share this sentiment. In one breath they quote St. Paul, “My God will meet all your needs,” and in the next they caution, “But the Bible says that God will meet all our needs, not all our wants!”
And there they sit, lost in the confusing wilderness of modern life, with the barest essentials, unsure of their ability to survive.
It is a sad commentary on the way people view God, who is the producer of this survival epic called life, and is thus responsible for the resources we are given. They see him testing his people — contestants in the deadly game of life — by throwing them into the wilderness without supplies, then kicking them off his show when they fail.
But this stinting and miserly God has nothing to do with the God that is presented in the Christian Scriptures. He is the One “who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” That idea — that God wants us to enjoy life — has never dawned on people with the survivalist mindset. They regard it with suspicion. The very notion smells to them of heresy.
They think that God is out to get us and, in a sense, they are right. He is out to get us, but not to get rid of us. He is out to get us like a suitor is out to get the object of his dreams, like adopting parents are out to get the child for whom they have longed.
The idea that God is just waiting for us to fail is at odds with the picture of God presented in the Scriptures and by the people who have known him best. The biblical picture is of a God who is on our side:
“If God is for us, who can be against us?”
“How will he not ... graciously give us all things?”
“We say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper.’”
This image of a God who is on our side –– who is for us and with us –– sets Christian theology apart. We may be dropped into the confusing wilderness of modern life, but we are not alone. We have a guide who will see to it that we’re “ready for anything and everything,” as the message paraphrases 2 Corinthians 9:8, and “more than just ready to do what needs to be done.”
Shayne Looper is the pastor at the Lockwood Community Church in Michigan. He can be reached at email@example.com. His column appears each Saturday.